Biography

Ayah Bdeir is an engineer and social activist. She is the inventor of littleBits, the electronic building block that has transformed STEM education for millions of kids around the world.

For over a decade, Bdeir’s work has centered around empowering everyone to be an inventor — by modularizing and democratizing electronics, by pioneering new ways of learning through play, and by reimagining the relationship between technology and creativity. Bdeir has been particularly focused on empowering underrepresented communities with the tools to become tomorrow’s changemakers.

A graduate of the MIT Media Lab, Bdeir coined the term “Electronics as Material” in 2009 to encapsulate the central thesis behind littleBits. By abstracting electronics from low level components — like resistors, capacitors and transistors — and turning them into interaction-based modular building blocks — like light, touch-sensitivity and music, Bdeir transformed electronics into a creative material just like cardboard, screws, and software. Suddenly, everyone could be an inventor.

To further her mission of democratizing invention, in 2009 Bdeir co-founded the Open Hardware Summit and helped shape the principles by which Open Source is applied to hardware. The definition led to the CERN Open Hardware License and the “Open Hardware” mark today appears on hundreds of millions of hardware products.

In 2011, in order to bring littleBits to classrooms, maker spaces, and after school programs around the world, Bdeir founded a company, littleBits Electronics Inc., and raised over $100 million from prominent investors in Silicon Valley and New York. The company was acquired by Sphero in 2019 and together have become a leader in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) education. Today, more than 20 million “Bits” are in the hands of kids, teachers, parents, artists… in over 70 countries. And littleBits has won over 150 awards including Toy of the Year.

In 2019, when a revolution broke out in Lebanon, Bdeir’s home country, she went back to Beirut and co-founded a platform to help political and civic activists use technology to further democracy. The platform, called Daleel Thawra (translation: Directory to the Revolution), organizes the revolution’s information (protests, political organizations, NGOs, economic whitepapers) but also makes critical connections between detained journalists and pro-bono lawyers, or between individual donors and activists with urgent needs from the ground. Today Daleel Thawra reaches over 35,000 people in Lebanon and continues to grow.

In recognition of her work, Bdeir has received numerous awards, including: BBC 100 Most Influential Women (2019), New York Times Groundbreaker (2019), Inc Magazine Top 100 Female Founders (2018), CNBC Next List (2015), MIT Technology Review’s 35 Innovators Under 35 (2014), and Popular Mechanics 25 Makers Who Are Reinventing the American Dream (2014). She has received fellowships from Creative Commons and TED, and her TED talk, “Building Blocks that Blink, Beep and Teach,” has garnered more than a million views. Bdeir has appeared on the covers of The New York Times Magazine (2011), WIRED UK (2016), Marie Claire (2018), Forbes Middle East (2015), MAKE Magazine (2019) and others. She was most recently featured on 60 Minutes (2019).

Her inventions are included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and have appeared in The New Museum, The Royal College of Art, and Ars Electronica. She holds over a dozen patents. Bdeir is a Board member of the Fund for Public Schools, a non-profit partner to the Department of Education dedicated to raising funds and developing pilot programs for New York City Public Schools

Bdeir received her Masters of Science in Media Arts and Sciences from the MIT Media Lab and has taught graduate classes at NYU and Parsons. Prior to MIT, she earned degrees in Computer and Communications Engineering and Sociology from the American University of Beirut.

Born in Montreal and raised in Beirut, Bdeir now lives and works in New York.


Awards

2019

  • NYTimes Groundbreaker – DealBook
  • BBC Top 100 Most Influential Women for 2019
  • Crain’s Notable Women in Tech
  • Novim Group’s Science Courage Award

2018

  • Inc. Magazine 2018 Female Founders 100
  • STEM Hero of the Year award – VEX World Championship Competition
  • 2018 Connected World Women of M2M (WoM2M)
  • #MadeofMoxxie Award Winner
  • Silicon Republic The Game-Changers of 2018

2017

  • Forbes Women @ Forbes Under 30
  • Silicon Republic The Game-Changers of 2018

2016

  • NYSCI Creative Entrepreneurship Award – The New York Hall of Science
  • Marie Claire America’s 50 Most Influential Women
  • Crains New York 40 Under 40

2015

  • The Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards – Disruptor Awards Honoree

2014

  • Inc. Magazine 35 Under 35
  • Popular Mechanics – 25 Makers Who Are Reinventing the American Dream
  • 2014 Entrepreneur Magazine – 10 Up and Coming Leaders to Watch
  • MIT Technology Review – 35 Innovators Under 35
  • CNBC Next List
  • New York Business Journal Women of Influence winner

2013

  • Fast Company – Most Creative People in Business
  • TED Senior Fellowship
  • Ozy Rising Star

2012

  • TED Fellowship

2010

  • Creative Commons Fellowship
  • INK Fellowship

2008

  • Eyebeam Senior Fellowship

2007

  • Eyebeam Fellowship