From Irvine startup to Nickelodeon

Sisters tap into the city’s innovation ecosystem to launch a company.

Gina Heitkamp likens the UCI Beall Applied Innovation program to the TV show “Shark Tank.” It’s an incubator for entrepreneurs – and the reason she just sold her very first brand to Nickelodeon.

“Basically I have a business because of UCI,” she says. “The ecosystem they are building for entrepreneurs is amazing.”

Gina Heitkamp turned Middle School Moguls into a successful TV show.

Heitkamp was in her last year of UC Irvine’s MBA program in 2014 when she came up with the idea for Middle School Moguls, a line of dolls and books to “instill the entrepreneurial spirit in young girls.”

She entered her idea in the school’s annual New Venture Competition. And she won: $15,000 (now winners get $100,000). That was just enough money to make a prototype of a doll.

As luck would have it, the university was about to launch its Applied Innovation program, a campus incubator for startups.

Heitkamp enrolled, along with her older sister Jenae, a child therapist, who had brainstormed Middle School Moguls with her.

Jenae and Gina Heitkamp created “Middle School Moguls,” a cartoon now on Nickelodeon.

The program connected them with investors and mentors, including a Mattel executive who now sits on their board.

“That took us to the next level,” Heitkamp says.

Within a couple of years, she and her sister raised $1.8 million to develop Middle School Moguls.

“The brand chronicles the ambitions of friends Valeria, Winnie, Celeste and Yuna, who are striving to create their own companies while attending Mogul Academy, an entrepreneurial school where kid-business dreams come true,” Heitkamp says.

The cartoon just finished its first season on Nickelodeon.

Now, under the company name Gengirl Media, the sisters are preparing to launch a new brand sometime this summer.

What is it?

“That’s still a secret,” says Heitkamp.