Education company Zyrobotics‘ founder/CTO Dr. Ayanna Howard comes from an extensive career in robotics — while at Georgia Tech, she received an NSF grant that helped her explore developing technologies to teach children with motor disabilities how to program robots. Following her findings, Howard laughed her company, bringing on CEO Dr. J. MacCalla to launch a startup focused on providing robot-building therapy to these children.
However, after seeing the challenges of developing financially-accessible robot kits and hearing customer feedback, Howard and Zyrobotics pivoted last year, changing their focus to STEM games and learning tools for early childhood education.
“We decided to look at areas where we can still address the needs of children with special needs, but broaden it to something that other people also recognize as an issue in the world. There’s been a really big push on STEM education,” says Howard.
“The child is struggling in school because the world is not accessible to them. Can I give you the tools to then figure out how to learn and think, so then you can then create your own solutions for later on in life?”
Following the pivot, the startup released three products — TabAccess, a bluetooth switch that helps children with motor limitations use a table without touching the screen; the Zumo Learning System, a STEM-focused learning environment; and STEM Storiez, a series of immersive books that merge play with learning STEM subjects.
In addition, Zyrobotics released a series of phone/tablet educational applications as well.
“Whatever the learning needs of a child, the games actually adapt based on where the child is,” says Howard. “If you have a child who’s really, really smart, and just needs some reinforcement, you can interact with a game that way. If you have a child who’s struggling, or needs quiet because the child may have difficulties concentrating, it adapts based on that.”
To follow the learning process of each individual child, a parent or teacher can track back-end analytics through the subscription-based STEMDash product. It helps parents work together with teachers, adapting the educational content depending on their child’s progress.
Currently, the company is working with 25 school districts and hopes to expand the product to show real-time analytics for each district to help lagging students get caught up early.
“We’re focusing primarily on Pre-K and Kindergarten, just because kids are still open,” says Howard. “Even if you have a child who has a disability, even if they’re behind, it’s not way behind. By the time they’re in the fourth grade, if they haven’t been given the necessary support, then they’re going to be too behind. You can still give them the tools early on and it makes a difference.”
After a stint this fall at the Google for Entrepreneurs Exchange in Durham, North Carolina, Zyrobotics is ready to scale. Funded by grants up to this point, Howard says that they’ve received sufficient feedback from customers to focus their product and are ready to market to the masses. Next up, they’re looking for an angel investor for a seed round to boost traction.
“We still struggle here with funding in certain domains,” says Howard. “If you’re in finance, there’s funding here. It’s harder if you’re in certain areas like education. Everyone’s telling me to go to Silicon Valley, but I’m like, ‘I want to stay here.’ This is home. I like the community here. So I see that being an issue, but not something that can’t be overcome.”