Our start-up of the week is ThoughtBox, a new venture that’s on a mission to disrupt the way kids learn maths and science via interactive games. The company’s first app Numerosity is set to launch in September.
ThoughtBox has already been in the news this week, as the start-up won the Blueface Elevator competition, gleaning €60,000 worth of business services after it won over the competition judges.
So, for the week that was in it, with Dublin having just wrapped up the Euroscience Open Forum, we decided to talk to Cristina Luminea, the founder of ThoughtBox.
Luminea, originally from Romania, has four degrees under her belt, including two in software development, a degree in marketing, and a master’s in engineering. She studied for two of those degrees at IT Sligo, while she has also worked for the educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) here in Ireland.
According to Luminea the idea for ThoughtBox started in 2011 when she won a place on the NDRC Launchpad programme. It was while she was involved in the start-up incubator alongside 14 other teams that Luminea started working on the concept of the company’s first app Numerosity.
"ThoughtBox is based on the very simple notion of letting your imagination run wild with a cardboard box. In the hands of a child a cardboard box could be a playhouse, a defendable fort, an evil robot or a ship sailing the seven seas," she explains.
Luminea said the start-up centres around creativity, imagination and gameful learning, transforming subjects such as maths and science into games.
Genesis of the start-up
So how did she come up with the idea for ThoughtBox? "I’ve always been a maths geek. I loved maths in primary and secondary school, and never understood why other kids didn’t enjoy it as much. I always saw maths as a puzzle and I strongly believe that maths is structured as a game, but it lacks some of the gaming elements to make it fun."
She says that when she first played with a tablet device she was struck by the power of being able to touch and manipulate objects and numbers.
"This is when I decided to start ThoughtBox and give kids the opportunity to discover the rules of maths by themselves rather than being spoon-fed the information," explains Luminea.
Other members of the ThoughtBox team include Dr Christian Luedtke who Luminea describes as having "extensive experience" in the educational start-up space. He is the founder of Scoyo, one of the biggest educational platforms in Germany and ia the former senior vice-president of the new ventures and innovation group at the aforementioned HMH.
"Throughout the different stages of development I’ve worked with experienced interaction designers, illustrators and developers. Recently, I have engaged a marketing and social media expert who will join ThoughtBox prior to launch of Numerosity and we are currently building our technical team of software developers," adds Luminea. The company is also working with the Irish start-up Redwind Software.
As for the first game Numerosity is due to hit the marketplace in September. It will be initially be available for the iPad, but Luminea says that she is considering developing it for the iPhone as well as for Android down the line.
She says that the iPad app will be aimed at kids who are aged between 8-12 to make maths into a game.
"Numerosity will encourage players to progress at their own pace, learn from their mistakes, and gain the satisfaction of figuring things out on their own. It allows kids to play around with the numbers and observe the results of their actions, learn from the immediate feedback and discover the rules of maths by themselves."
And the Numerosity launch in September will be targeted at the Irish and US markets.
"We expect to have over 15,000 downloads by the end of the year," says Luminea, who adds that the feedback from teachers so far here in Ireland has been positive especially with all of the debate around the STEM subjects right now. She also thinks that the Numerosity app will appeal to kids who are home-schooled, especially in the US.
As for setting out, the biggest challenge, says Luminea, was figuring out a way of transforming her idea and passion for maths into a business.
"I had a very steep learning curve while on the NDRC Launchpad programme which helped me formulate a business model and identify a route to market."
Since finishing up at Launchpad the company has stayed on at the NDRC where it has some incubation space.
Luminea says the company is also in the middle of a Feasibility Study programme with Enterprise Ireland, which she says has allowed it to work with different experts in the software space.
She says that winning the Blueface competition last week was also a great boost. "It came at just the right time and the €60,000 in services will be hugely beneficial to us in growing our business."
And her advice for others who may be thinking of going down the start-up route?
"Do it for the right reasons and concentrate on the problem! Building a start-up is really tough; it requires a great commitment. Your passion and understanding of the problem you are solving will be the only things keeping you going forward when everything else seems to go wrong," says Luminea.