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Interview with Bethany Koby, CEO and co-founder
– Tech Will Save Us

In 2012 Bethany co-founded Tech Will Save Us. They have a mission – to inspire kids to use technology to create new things, solve life-changing problems, and invent their own future. With her co-founder, Daniel Hirschmann, Bethany created the now iconic DIY Kits, and has gone on to partner with companies such as the BBC, reaching tens of thousands of children around the world – both as part of a curriculum and informal learning.

What was the catalyst for starting the business?

There are really three main reason as to why we started out.  Firstly, my co-founder and I are from an education background and we were both very aware that education was not moving fast enough to keep pace with the speed of technological change.  There needed to be other ways to introduce cutting edge technology into the sector.

Secondly, we found a laptop in a trash can where we live.  It was weird to see.  It gave us this realisation that technology is a closed box with very little understanding of its potential.  Users of technology are often seen as overly technical, even nerdy.   We saw a need to make relationships with technology more accessible and open.

Lastly, my co-founder is also my husband and we have a child who is part of the iPad generation with no knowledge of life before the internet.  Also, the toy department hasn’t progressed – it’s dictated by gender with very little active engagement with technology.  There are app enabled toys but they’re passive and create singular paths of learning.  We wanted to create a shift to play based learning for the 21st century.

 

To disrupt the toy category through technology, parents must be your primary focus. This must be tough when in reality it could have been a parent who chucked out that laptop?

We have very distinct audiences – kids and our adult educators.  We need to empower the adult to appreciate the importance of learning these skills.  It’s tough to get your head around the reality that 65% of kids in primary schools will have jobs that we don’t even know exist yet.  But that’s what we’re up against and that’s also the opportunity.  We need to give a young person an inspiring and open ended opportunity to experience the joy of discovering technology.

Are you a product or a movement – an educator?

We are a play experience business.  We have physical product but it’s about an experience of digital and play.  We are an education offer but we aren’t trying to fit into the current curriculum.  Our products can be mapped to the curriculum but how these are applied is flexible.  For example, we have a primary school that used our speaker kit for their topic on recycling.  They visited a recycling plant, learnt about different materials and forms and experimented with the materials through sound – so what happens when you use a cardboard vs. Styrofoam material for the speaker?  They then hosted a Demo day to share their creations with parents and teachers.  The process allows kids and teachers to see the opportunity areas that they’re good at – things they might never have had the chance to see before.  The process uncovered some incredibly talented designers in the making and one girl discovered she was an expert at soldering!  It really brings these abilities to life that otherwise may go unnoticed.  It’s hugely empowering, especially for kids that might struggle in traditional topics across the board.

What changes do you see in the education sector?

Approximately 15 countries in Europe and every state in America requires computer science or STEM as part of the curriculum.  This is a significant shift globally.  There is also much greater interest and celebration in problem solving as part of education.  Creative problem solving because you care about a desire to change something or make something better.  Sort of an agency led approach to learning.  There’s also a big shift to the co-created learning environment and educators are getting better at having the tools and resources to activate and ignite the learning experience.  It’s quite tough for some more traditional educators to realise that in technology, many kids may know more than their teachers.  But this isn’t just happening in education, it’s happening in businesses everywhere.  It’s no longer about the traditional gurus –  great ideas can come from anyone and anywhere.  Businesses that are open to this are more likely to succeed.  It’s the same in education.

You’ve had a very successful partnership with the BBC.  Who’s on your list of future dream partners you’d love to work with?

We’re doing some of them already!  We are partnering with Disney collaborating on a collection of properties.  This is particularly exciting as we are tapping into those already established, loyal and trusted relationships with characters and building on existing narratives.   It’s exciting to be reaching more people, raising awareness and increasing the accessibility of technology through already loyal relationships.  We have a few other exciting things in the pipeline that we can’t yet talk about, but at the core of any partnership for us is a shared vision for what the world could be like – shared values in terms of making technology accessible through play.

When a business is first starting out we often see a singular focus on the product, often with little regard for the brand.  You have a brand background – how has this helped you as a business?

We started the organisation with a very clear purpose of what we were trying to achieve.  It is a people focused vision and all our products and services are built around that.  We also had a very clear mission – we believe kids will save the world using technology – which attracted talent who believed in what we had set out to do and shared our belief.  This in turn meant that we had the right people who have built the right culture inside the business.  We also have a long term perspective – so we can see our relevance for generations to come.  We have set out to achieve what we stand for and this keeps us focused on the long term ambition.

This is branding – having a clear purpose, mission and an unwavering commitment to achieve what we’ve set out to do.