Prior to starting Playwerks, an ed tech gaming startup, Shirin Salemnia worked in the toy industry. Playwerks was started to bring engaging STEM-focused games to girls. Erik Huberman, CEO of Hawke Media, talks to Shirin about Playwerks.

Erik Huberman: What made you want to become an entrepreneur?

Shirin Salemnia: I had a dream job, I wanted to be like Tom Hanks in the movie “Big.” So I became a Research Manager for the toy industry. I started listening to parents coming in to the focus groups for Bratz and Barbie, because I worked for both sides: Mattel and MGA Entertainment. The parents were complaining about how the dolls weren’t positive role models for their daughters. I started doing a lot of research in the space and then STEM gaming specifically, and that’s why my company was born.

EH: Tell me about Playwerks.

SS: Playwerks is an ed tech gaming startup. Our first project is focused on getting girls excited about STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — through gaming. If you remember “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” in the ’80s, we’re building something similar but with all new characters and all STEM-based.

EH: How are you changing the world?

SS: I started being asked by parents if I would teach their kids how to code at a Hackathon event at Cross Campus in Santa Monica. I kind of resisted for a while, but I realized there was a big need for it. That’s basically how Girls Academy was born, which is my other startup. With Girls Academy, we use Playwerks games to teach girls (and boys) how to code. We partnered with General Assembly originally on their curricula. We’re teaching UI/UX, HTML, CSS and mapping to inner city kids. We’re teaching them how to survive and thrive in a tech world.

EH: Why Santa Monica?

SS: I’ve always been on the Westside. I think Santa Monica is the place to be right now in the tech space. There’s a lot of activity happening. It’s a great place and time to be an entrepreneur.

EH: Do you have one piece of advice for an entrepreneur starting their own business?

SS: It’s really about following your passion and finding a niche to make a difference in the world. Follow your passion. Find something you think you can make a difference in and follow it.

EH: Is there anything you’d like to share with the Santa Monica community?

SS: I’d love to bring our hackathons and after school programs to Santa Monica. We’ve done neighboring cities, but not yet Santa Monica. We’ve worked with schools, libraries, Boys & Girls Clubs. Our original focus is 8- to 13-year-olds but we’ve done programs up to 16- to 24-year-olds. We’re totally open to suggestions!

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