It was summer day sometime in the 80s. “Lets have an invention contest. We have one hour to think of invention- then mom judges.” This was to be the first first of many, (what the sisters would now refer to as) pitch contests. The winner that afternoon was a make your bed contraption- a set of jump ropes tied to the top corners of a comforter. Healthy sibling rivalry ensured several more rounds. It would be 25 years later that the sisters would pitch something together.
iBesties: Middle School Moguls is the culmination of the two sisters’ careers and passions. The company’s product is a line of books and dolls that inspire technology learning and entrepreneurship for young girls. The characters are middle schoolers by day and tech moguls by night.
iBesties started as a passion project for sisters Jenae and Gina Heitkamp. Jenae, a child therapist had worked with young girls for over a decade. After receiving her undergraduate degree in psychology from CSUF and her Masters from USC, Jenae became a licensed MFT and passionately helped children work through the hardest aspects of their life. During her work she came to understand the importance of aspirational, open-ended play in child development.
Gina’s background is in business development. As a graduate of CSULB’s comparative literature program, Gina went on to get her MBA from UCI. After working on tech projects for an investment group, it became Gina’s goal to help more women enter into the fields of technology and entrepreneurship.
The sisters came together to figure out a way to empower young girls in these areas. Their first idea was to create a workbook that inspired friendship and teamwork along with STEM related games. Soon, characters were drawn for the pages, and personalities of the characters began to form, and the story took on a life of it’s own. It became the first book in the iBesties series. It was the story of six girls—all with different backgrounds and STEM related talents—who must learn to juggle middle school homework, friendships and running a successful tech startup after their blog becomes an overnight success.
It has now been two years since the story was conceived. The sisters have written the first and second book in the iBesties: Middle School Moguls series, have had the first doll proto-typed, won the UCI business plan competition, was a finalist in the Blackstone competition, is beginning work on an animated short and will officially launch the brand in April 2015 on Kickstarter. Together the sisters aim to inspire girls through stories and open-ended play and help to create the next generation of female moguls.