Category Archives: Startup Chile

Hemos llegado en Chile (We have arrived in Chile)

So, we have arrived in Chile. First impressions? Santiago is lovely. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I think it was a cramped, crowded city with everyone living in skyscrapers and choking on car fumes. What we found was a leafy, spacious city populated by friendly, open, smiling people.

Most of our problems so far seem to stem from language issues. The continental Spanish we learned before we came here has not helped us with the local dialect, Chileno, or with the speed issues. However, yesterday I partook in my first ‘language exchange’ with my madrina Johanna and her friend Jenny and I discovered that when the pace is slowed down I can understand and speak far more than I thought.

We arrived on Wednesday after an 18 hour flight from Heathrow to Santiago via Sao Paulo. We payed over the odds for the taxi bus that took us from the airport to our apartments, but while Ian was busy negotiating, Kyran and I were so tired that we were willing to pay anything just to get to where we were going. We were told the taxi should be about £20-£30. I think we payed £45 in the end.

Our apartment is lovely. Situated on the leafy street of El Vergel in the quiet, trendy suburb of Providencia we’ve basically moved to the Hove of Santiago. We are about a 15 minute walk from Kyran’s flat in Ricardo Lyon and 20-25 minutes from Los Leones, our closest metro station on the main line. There are cafe’s, shops & supermarkets within a few minutes walk of the flat and yesterday we discovered a fantastic running track that goes for kilometres down the main streets of Tobablaba and Pocuro. From asking around we appear to be paying quite a bit for our place, but everyone agrees that the location & the fact that it is fully furnished makes it well worth the price.

We have met lots of lovely people since arriving. Much of that is due to how lucky we have been with our respective padrino’s who have been very welcoming. Johanna met us on Thursday morning and took us on a tour of the city. She also arranged a dinner our for us with Strong Steam‘s padrino Fernando at a lovely restaurant, Como Agua Para Chocolate. I met Johanna again on Saturday afternoon to discuss Tiny Ears, and towards the end of the meeting she had invited along Jenny, her best friend who spoke little English (although far more than I spoke Spanish), and we had a small language exchange as I tried to talk (badly) to Jenny in Spanish. Later Saturday night we had been invited to Fernando’s apartment for dinner. From talking to other SUPpers we have already had more contact with our padrino’s that many have had with theirs for 6 months!

We also were fortunate to have friends here already and seeing Jon and Anna again has been great. They met us at our apartment on Wednesday with a bag of cold beers and then took us out into Providencia to dinner that evening. They also accompanied us on the tour of Santiago and to Fernando’s on Saturday night.

I am also fortunate to have Ian who researched all the companies on phase 1 as well as phase and contacted the ones who sounded interesting before we left. Therefore on Friday night we ended up invited to 2 parties by outgoing SUPpers and met some truly lovely people including Fernando Mejia from SQMOS.

All in all, our first few days here have been fantastic. We have fallen in love with Santiago and are really looking forward to the Startup Chile program starting tomorrow.

 

As a side note, I’m posting all my photos from my trip here on Flickr if you’re interested at all in seeing them. Ian is also blogging about our time here

Startup Chile Ahoy

Well, Startup Chile is about to start. We leave on Tuesday 10th January to join the second intake of the second round. While we were trying to decide whether or not to apply we tried to find information about the program and what it was like to be a part of it. At the time, back in August, there was not much about apart from comments about the successful drinking that was being done by the participants. Since then, there have been a number of well publicised successes from the program and international news coverage, but little that I have found from a more on-the-ground perspective. I have therefore decided to blog as much as I can about the program, what it’s like to be a part of it, how useful it is to us and what we have to to during our time in Chile.

To start with, a few weeks ago I was contacted by my madrina, Johanna Angulo, a Chilean entrepreneur interested in my project whose role is to introduce me to the Chilean business scene, smooth the initial Startup Chile introduction process and generally look after me during my time there. Each business involved with the program is assigned a madrina or padrino (godmother or godfather) which seems to be a really nice way to help new arrivals get orientated.

Johanna has been really nice and helpful during our email conversations, including pointing out useful resources to learn the local Spanish dialect, Chilano, and offering to take us on a tour of Santiago when we arrive. Our situation is a little odd in that Ian and I are a couple, and yet we are there with two separate projects and therefore have separate godparents. Johanna and Strong Steams padrino, Fernando Mejia, seem to have teamed up though which is really useful.

Kyran, Ian’s business partner in Strong Steam has been arranging the accommodation for us in Santiago and has arranged for the agents through which we are renting our flats to pick us up from the airport and take us and our baggage to the flats. Johanna has offered to meet us at the airport also and to take us out for a late lunch after we’ve sorted ourselves out with our flats.

Once we’ve arrived, we’ll need to sort out our Chilean ID. Apparently we need this for a lot of things, not least to leave the country at the end of the program. The process seems fairly simple but I’ll keep you posted on that front. Otherwise, there will be some sort of induction occurring on the 16th January and an internal demo day where we have to pitch our projects. Not really sure what that will entail but it’s quite possible that my pitch from Startup Weekend will do the job nicely.

For now, it’s back to packing up the flat, packing for the flight and getting the last few bits and pieces together – including a rather large shopping list from Jon & Anna Markwell of all the things that they’ve missed from the UK since they’ve been away. The next update will probably be after we’ve arrived. How exciting.

What a #SWEL party this is

Last weekend I participated in Startup Weekend Education London (SWEL), the first Startup Weekend Education to occur outside the US. Held at the Free Word Center in London, SWEL is a startup ‘Vertical’, an event aimed at helping startups get from idea to company in 54 hours. I went along with Tiny Ears to see what I could see and hopefully to find some passionate collaborators to help bring the project into reality.

The format of the weekend was this.

6:30 Friday night, participants turned up and networked while eating pizza before taking it in turns to give a 60 second idea pitch before the entire room in what was termed ‘pitchfire’. Those that pitched then had to drum up enthusiasm for their projects by gathering votes for their idea in the form of post-it notes. Educators, being uniquely powerful at an event dedicated to education technology, had ‘power up’ pink post-it’s to give an extra boost to projects they wanted to get behind.

Votes were then totted up and the top 15 ideas got brought through as the ideas that were to be worked on throughout the weekend. Pitchers then had to try and recruit a team that would work on their idea for the rest of the weekend.

Finally, after all that hard work, the weekend culminates in the pitches, selling your idea to the panel of industry notables, business honchos and money types. These judges then decide who the top three startups are and the overall winner gets a goody-bag of awesome prizes.

Despite crashing on my pitchfire 60 seconds, I got voted through and managed to persuade a small group of 3 people to Tiny Ears’ cause. These were Stefan Kreitmayer, a game designer, David Jennings an educator and psychologist and, part time, Mike Mompi,  who actually worked for one of the sponsors but decided to join in the Startup fun.

Over the course of the three days we defined how we were to approach the learning experience that the app was going to use and built a small prototype based upon one of those theories. It was great to get going on a prototype and now there are lots of ideas to put into a series of prototypes that we can user test against real children further down the line. We also thought about the business side of things and put some actual numbers based on customer research against those ideas.

Sunday was spent largely preparing for the final pitch. Everyone worked really hard over the weekend, but it was during this period that my team really came into their own. Mike was amazing at helping to construct the pitch and listening to me fumble over it until I got it right. His feedback was invaluable and I’m sure it was because of him I didn’t crash and burn as I did during pitchfire. Stefan was a rock all weekend, but his last minute video editing, Illustrator and logo creation skills really helped turn the pitch into something that looked professional. And not to leave out David, who was unable to attend on Sunday, but spent Saturday doing all the research that we used during the pitch.

And what, might you ask, was I during while my team designed user interfaces and created pitch content? Well, mostly programming to be honest, as always. But also networking and selling the idea, talking to educators and feeding back what I learned into the UI and design of the prototype.

The pitches were great. It was inspiring to see so many unformed ideas from Friday night had morphed into fully functioning, well structured, feasible business models. Many of the teams gave really fantastic pitches, including the best pitch intro video ever from Youny. My pitch went well and I was really pleased with what we achieved over the weekend.

The judges deliberated over dinner and my nerves were on edge when we all sat down to hear the final judgement. To my joy, Tiny Ears came in 3rd, with really good feedback from the judges. It was just the enormity of the task ahead that seemed to weigh against the project, which was a perfectly valid point and one which I agree with totally. But as I’ve always said, I know it’s hard but that’s no reason not to try. And if we pull it off it will result in something amazing.

Second place went to Edevents, a startup around streamlining the process teachers have to go through when organising things, from simple form filling in to organising and communicating large school trips. The winners, completely deservedly so, were Night Zookeeper, an inspiring and fantastically executed creative learning world for children to enjoy both in and outside of school. If you want to encourage your child to learn through creativity, then I really do suggest you check them out.

All in all the weekend was well worth it. Tiny Ears progressed in leaps and bounds over the weekend, the idea was validated many times over and I made some fantastic contacts. There are a number of projects that I will be following closely over the next few months, as I know many will be following mine. If you have an idea and need help to move it out of the idea stage and into reality, I highly recommend the Startup Weekend experience.

Finally, here is a video of the Tiny Ears prototype that we built over the weekend. Once again, thanks team. I couldn’t have done it withut you.

Tiny Ears Prototype from Emily Toop on Vimeo.

Storybook Project Overview

I recently wrote a basic overview for the Storybook project that I’m taking to Chile, and I’ve realised having it on here is probably the best place to put it, so here it is.

Project Overview of Interactive Storybook for iPad
from Radical Robot

The Interactive Storybook for iPad project is designed to create an educational storybook for children between the ages of 4 and 7 that will help them learn to read sentences while providing an engaging and entertaining experience. The age range is designed to target children moving from reading single words, to sentences.

Many interactive storybooks are designed to entertain and tell a story, but provide little towards assisting the child to read the story for themselves. In most cases, this assistance is provided by parents or learning professionals, however these people are not always available to assist the child when they want. This project will utilise Speech Recognition technology to listen to the child as they read the story out loud, so as to provide encouragement, feedback, assistance and rewards at the point at which it is needed. Face detection will be used to determine whether or not the child is reading from the app rather than talking to someone off screen and will therefore serve to provide more accuracy to the speech recognition. Speech recognition can be disabled for adult led enjoyment.

As the child reads the story, the app will listen to their progress. When the child reads a word incorrectly, stumbles on pronunciation or takes a long time to read the word (the app only ‘listens’ when the child is looking at the app). It will then step in and prompt the child with assistance using the Phonics learning system. When the child correctly pronounces the word, then audible (‘Well done!’) and visual (animations) feedback is used to provide rewards.

The app will monitor the child’s progress over time (between readings of the story as well as within a reading session) so that feedback can be adjusted to the child’s progress. This means that words that are consistently mispronounced will receive more intervention and greater rewards for success than words that are more often correctly read. The actual form that the feedback/reward system will take is currently in development.

As additional rewards, at the end of every page, the story so far can be animated and interacted with. These animations can be expanded into games that will assist the child with learning the words that they have been struggling with in a fun and interactive way.

The app is designed to be a fun experience whether read together with a parent or alone. When read with a parent then the speech recognition and face detection can be disabled so that mum or dad can provide the learning value and assist their child in playing the games. However, whenever the child wants to play and mum’s busy, then the Speech Recognition can be activated to provide the required assistance and encouragement during self directed play.

This app is still in development, with a working prototype expected around March. Development at this time is focused around creating the speech recognition technology for children.