Chicago-Based STEM Dolls Strive for Girls to Dream Big

Local woman bets everything, including her 401(k), on this forward-thinking doll brand.

Kristel Bell thinks today’s girls need dolls that inspire them to grow up to be more than a princess or even a mom. That’s why she’s thrown every cent she has and all of her energy into creating a new line of dolls to encourage them to embrace the world of science, technology, engineering and math.

Bell, founder and CEO of Surprise Powerz, a Black-owned and Chicago-based company that launched in late May, says she believes in her heart that girls will fall in love with Codie The Coder, Astro the Astronaut, Vera the Vet and Maria The Mathemagician (who speaks both English and Spanish.)

Why was Surprise Powerz created?

All of the dolls were created with the idea to embrace diversity, break barriers and solve problems. Even more unique, with just a squeeze of her hand, each doll speaks more than 75 phrases about their passions recorded with real girls’ voices that match their race.

“There is definitely a lot of under-representation of girls in powerful positions and girls of diverse backgrounds in these powerful positions. We need to start showing our kids at an early age, ‘You can be this, you can be anything you put your mind to. You aren’t limited to being a princess, which you likely won’t be when you grow up,’” Bell says.

She says she hopes encouraging girls very early to embrace careers typically dominated by men will make a difference in how they look at STEM fields as they grow up. She says it’s also good for boys to see women in powerful positions from an early age.

Kristel Bell, Photo courtesy of Surprise Powerz

“I genuinely want to see a world that is dominated by powerful girls who become the next generation of STEM leaders,” she says.

The 16-inch-tall soft dolls are $59.99 and geared to ages 2-5, but Bell notes the phrases have lessons that even parents can learn from. The dolls also are created to let little girls know they can be trendy and beautiful and also super smart, she says.

What’s next?

The four dolls are just a start; Bell, also the founder of the charity Black Girls Movement, has big plans to create more types of dolls.

“It was definitely a journey,” she says about bringing her idea to reality this far. She grew up with five siblings in Detroit playing with white baby dolls. As she got older, she wondered what parents are teaching little girls by giving them baby dolls and princess dolls.

“I want more of our girls, whether you are Hispanic, Black, white, whichever background you pull from, to see yourself as someone who’s valuable and not feel like you have to disregard your own culture. I think these dolls create a lot of opportunities to see beyond their current situation,” she says.

Find the dolls — and how you can sponsor a school to receive the dolls — at

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