It has become something of a meme that young kids take to smartphones and tablets like fish to water. Today sees a development that could foster that idea along with more content for them to consume. Mindshapes, an educational games publisher started in 2010 by five execs with a track record of founding and selling startups, is announcing its first round of investment totaling $5 million, along with the launch of two of its latest projects, immersive aggregation sites for children’s e-books and language learning.
The $5 million comes from a group of angel investors and the five founders of the company: chairman Shukri Shammas; CEO David Begg; CTO Sami Lababidi; chief commercial officer Christian Dorffer; and CFO Tareq Naqib. Shammas and Lababidi co-founded Playfish (Naqib was its CFO), and sold it to Electronic Arts (NSDQ: ERTS) for $400 million in 2009. Begg, meanwhile founded and sold a company to Priceline; while Dorffer had been an product executive working for companies like Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and WPP.
Mindshapes’ unique selling point, according to Begg, is that it artfully combines the addictive element in gaming and entertainment with educational material as a way to encourage kids to learn: “We sit very firmly at the crossroads of the two,” he said, with a staff populated with education experts as well as former employees of Sesame Workshop, Scholastic and Sony (NYSE: SNE).
While the company has so far stuck to content that keeps kids firmly on the device, the idea, eventually, is to introduce more apps that turn the tablet or smartphone into a learning aide on the go, using functions like the device’s GPS and mapping capabilities, or camera.
The company already has seven apps published — they include titles like “Meteor Math,” an Asteroids-type game to focused around arithmetic; and “Hickory Dickory Dock,” designed to help teach children how to tell time — and it will be using this new funding to launch its two latest projects, Magic Town and Language City, aggregation platforms respectively for children’s books and foreign language learning.
Up to now, Mindshapes, like so many other app developers, has focused on creating content for iOS, but in a bid to expand its accessibility, Magic Town and Language City will be also available as web apps.
These newest apps will be the most ambitious yet for Mindshapes, in that they are the company’s attempt to establish platforms that can serve as the building blocks for significantly more content in the future.
Magic Town is perhaps the more exciting of these right now: it will be launching with some 200 titles under license already, “and that number is growing very fast,” says Begg. Launch titles include stories from the Elmer elephant series, Winnie the Witch and the Little Princess. Begg notes that some deals cover only the rights to put the stories into Magic Town, while others “go much deeper,” potentially covering multiple apps.
While that is still a far cry from the 1,000 children’s titles that Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) has prepped for the Kindle Fire tablet — or the hundreds of storybook apps that are available through Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) — Mindshapes hopes that its interactive “world” will prove to be a sticky way of keeping kids and parents coming back for more. Begg also hints that, in time, there could be more deals in the works with companies like Amazon to take those platforms more directly to its tablet consumers.
Language City, meanwhile, may not have the star wattage of popular children’s brands, but it potentially could find an audience outside the three to 12-year demographic through its simple language-learning scenarios.