More than 500 technology leaders converged at downtown Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium last week for this year’s WIT Connect 2016.

Hosted by the Atlanta-based non-profit Women in Technology (WIT) and presented by Dell, the event is a unique, auction-style fundraiser where companies and individuals bid on “time” with executives from top Georgia corporations.

“We need both men and women to continue to support, inspire and challenge our women and girls in the world of STEM,” said Sandy Welfare, Executive Director, Women in Technology. “As you will see demonstrated in our scholarship recipients tonight, we are advancing our mission.”

Emcee Dana Barrett, a TV and radio host who spent the better part of her career in the technology industry, echoed the sentiment: “Along my way I have worked with dozens of women and hundreds of men. We need to change that,” she challenged the attendees.

Sterling wants to “disrupt the pink aisle”

Debbie Sterling, founder and CEO of GoldieBlox, featured as the keynote speaker.

The Stanford University-educated engineer shared her inspirational story about her company GoldieBlox. Launched in 2012, GoldieBlox is an interactive toy firm that teaches engineering skills to young girls through a doll/figurine set, a book series, and a board game.

Sterling recalled how she and her friends attended their weekly brunch, where they’d come together to give advice and discuss ideas over a cooked breakfast. One of Sterling’s friends expressed her frustration at the gender-based compartmentalization in toy stores, where toys are sold in designated pink and blue aisles. She believed she would have been more interested in STEM early on if she had her own Lego set and didn’t have to play with her brother’s hand-me-downs.

Right there and then the idea popped into Sterling’s head and GoldieBlox was born.

Sterling wanted to “disrupt the pink aisle,” so she began to tinker and create the makings of a girl inventor named Goldie with anything she could find at the hardware store.  The vision? Get girls more interested in science and engineering by creating problem-solving toy sets.

GoldieBlox launched successful Kickstarter campaign

Once completed, Sterling signed up for the New York Toy Fair. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, she headed to the toy fair ready to become the next greatest inventor but quite the opposite happened. Sterling received negative feedback from many toy companies who made comments such as “You can’t fight nature” or “Boys like building and girls like dolls.”

Luckily, Sterling is stubborn and didn’t give up. “Just because it doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t,” she told the audience at WIT Connect.

Sterling was right. The GoldieBlox Kickstarter campaign is one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns, ever.

Three years later, GoldieBlox has received nationwide recognition. The toy maker won the People’s Choice Award for the Best Toy of The Year in 2014. The toy sets are now sold in thousands of locations around the world — including big-box stores such as Toys ‘R Us and Target.

In Sterling’s closing remarks on stage, she said, “We so desperately need their [women] voice and their perspective to build the solution to the world’s greatest challenge.” The audience members agreed and applauded Sterling for writing her own future despite the status quo.

WIT Connect 2016 handed out scholarships to four young women

This year’s WIT Connect acknowledged four young ambitious women who received awards ranging from $5,000 to $20,000. On stage Allison Higgins, a rising senior at Clayton State University addressed WIT sponsors: “Thank you for investing in me and my future in STEM.”

Since its inception, WIT Connect has raised over $2 million toward WIT initiatives and programs including WIT Girls, WIT Campus, and other STEM-focused nonprofits. These pre-career programs help young women write their own future by encouraging middle, high school, and college-aged women to continue pursuing their interests and education in STEM.

One of the many ways WIT and sponsors increase representations of women in STEM fields is through scholarships. Recipients are either graduating high school seniors or young women already in college pursuing a STEM major.

WIT continues to lead and support women in STEM by telling the stories of successful women and by helping more women write their own future. With over 2,500 professionals attending WIT events and programs, over 500 students, and over 250 volunteers there’s no doubt WIT is on track to fulfill their vision of making Georgia the state with the highest percentage of women in STEM become a reality.