Toronto-based Robot Playtime has been named the winner of The Next 36 Mastercard Challenge.
In August, the company pitched in front of Mastercard executives and employees with six other Next 36 startups to earn the win. As part of the Challenge, the six companies — which spanned across industries from FinTech to AI — spent part of the day with Mastercard executives for mentorship on growing their businesses.
Robot Playtime teaches young students to code by allowing them to build a robot, called Pixel, on their mobile phone or tablet. As the platform lets users build the robot’s personality and emotion, the idea is to make coding education more accessible.
“Students love it. They think Pixel is a movie star, or Pixel can do anything, so it’s very interactive,” Robot Playtime founder Alex Hong told BetaKit. “And [it helps] kids with autism to recognize emotion, and put words and attach it to an emotion. So if they say ‘happy or sad,’ they can see a robot be happy or sad. That’s an interesting fact we found.”
“I really like the idea that they invest in you and not in the company.”
– Alex Hong
Hong had the idea to launch Robot Playtime after he struggled to build his own robot for a school project. After overcoming his frustration and completing the process, Hong was inspired to make STEM education more accessible; he and his future co-founder went on to build Robot Playtime during a hackathon, and started presenting their solution at Maker Festivals.
“There’s a huge gap in the market for parents actually trying out different products to teach their kids how to code, how to do robotics. A lot of the products on the market right now are very limited in their capabilities. So we want to try to push the imagination of kids,” said Hong.
Hong completed his M.A.Sc. Research in robotics at the University of Toronto, working on emotion recognition architectures for human-robot interaction.
The company officially launched shortly after the Challenge and so far boasts 500 downloads across the world. The team plans to launch in North American private education centres, and said it is working with Scholars Canada to build a formal curriculum, while engaging parents to download the app to get children learning basics of coding.
“It’s top notch education,” Hong says of the Next 36 program. “You learn all about entrepreneurial financing, how to read terms, how to grow a business from starting an idea, doing customer market research and data driven business decisions.”
At the same time, Hong says that the mentorship he received from Mastercard was “invaluable,” and stays in touch with his mentor weekly.
“I really like the idea that they invest in you and not in the company, because if your company may fail in the future, since they invested in you, they’re still betting on you that you’ll build something bigger or better in the future,” said Hong.
Robot Playtime — along with runners-up Aquova and Propel — will have the opportunity to continue connecting with Mastercard executives at a Raptors game.
“At Mastercard, we are getting as much out of this as the startups,” said Brian Lang, CEO of Mastercard Canada. “We have a strong culture of employee volunteerism and it’s great to see our team spending time with businesses poised to be the next generation of technology in Canada.”
Related: Awake Labs named 2016’s winner of The Next 36 Mastercard Challenge
Photos via Robot Playtime Twitter
BetaKit is a proud media partner of the Next 36 Mastercard Challenge