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Games Girls Play

Hot high-tech entrepreneurs.

Laura Groppe is 35, but she'll freely use the word "terminal" to describe her ever-present teenage mentality. So it's pretty lucky for her--and for girls everywhere--that she's the conceptual force behind entertainment company Girl Games Inc. in Austin, Texas, a workplace where blow-up furniture is standard and achieving "absolute chaos" is encouraged.

But this freedom didn't always reign: Before starting Girl Games in 1994, the former film and video producer/director (who's won Academy, MTV and Sundance Film Festival awards) grew weary of Hollywood and of following directions when she couldn't be boss. You didn't read it here, but she even got canned a couple of times.

Seeking a new direction, Groppe returned to her native Texas and began researching a business idea that would, as she puts it, "get girls to be more effective in the evolution of technology." She knew the dynamics of producing entertainment but wasn't proficient in software, so she attended computer conferences to enlighten herself. She also teamed up with Houston's Rice University in a National Science Foundation-funded study to research how sixth- to 12th-grade girls felt about different computer products.

The interaction worked: After raising $1 million from private investors, Girl Games' first product, a Simon & Schuster-published, interactive CD-ROM diary called Let's Talk About Me, hit the shelves in 1996.

Successfully infiltrating the once-paltry girls' market, Girl Games now has 13 employees and is developing products and brands for virtually every medium. This year, look for the company's ShredBetty.net Web site (an "edge-driven" sports-lifestyle community for girls) to expand into a Fox Sports TV show and maybe even print. Heading to The Disney Channel this spring is the pilot for animated series Bernice Takes a Vacation. The company is also developing another CD-ROM with game-maker Activision to follow the success of Teen Digital Diva, the official Teen Magazine CD-ROM.

Girl Games' sales success is top secret, but one thing we do know: Groppe has no qualms about going to the office every day. She explains: "Who doesn't want to be able to wake up and say `What I'm doing is going to make a difference in a kid's life?' "

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