Can Elementari boost literacy by helping kids author interactive stories?

Can Elementari boost literacy by helping kids author interactive stories?

This small but ambitious startup draws on an international community of artists, educators and translators to help children create interactive stories and game books.

The pitch
Elementari is an online platform that allows anyone, especially children, to write interactive stories that can be embedded into websites or read directly on platforms like Medium and Reddit. The stories can be programmed to animate characters, play sounds and voice overs, and build non-linear game books.  Published stories automatically credit and promote the artists whose art and music have been used, and classroom features are available for teachers.

The team
Co-founder Nicole Kang and David Li work full time on the project, based in Arizona. Kang is an MIT graduate in Management Science, with a background in teaching and research on game-based learning and digital literacy. Li is an systems engineer and the core developer behind Elementari’s authoring tool.

Elementari also boasts advisors Len Smith, creator of Disney’s Toon Town in Who Framed Rodger Rabbit, and Richard Walsh, creator of the the Math/Reading Blaster world. They also provide additional illustration support.

Finally, Elementari draws on an international community of artists, educators and translators who contribute their skills to the platform.

What’s the gap in the market?
Elementari was founded in response to two educational trends: the decline in literacy skills and the emerging importance of computational thinking skills such as coding.

"Educators and parents are looking for ways to engage their kids to be more active in their learning and develop these skills," Kang says. "Elementari provides a platform for their students to read, write, code, and share their stories to world."

The team also hope to boost the careers of illustrators and sound designers who are posting their work on social media in an attempt to establish a presence, yet only getting a handful of ‘likes’ for all their efforts. "Elementari can be another channel for them to share their work," Kang explains. "However we are different as we automatically credit and notify them when their work is used as well as profit share with our partnered illustrators."


Success so far?
The Elementari library now has over 9,000 illustrations and sounds that can be used to create stories. Last month, the team has just released a host of classroom features as well as premium pricing, and are now working with about 150 different educators around the world to develop curriculum and case studies for open educational resources.

"It’s incredible that we’ve had such a widespread interest from educators of students from as young as five up to adults," Kang reports. "Furthermore, the subjects taught include writing, foreign language, coding, and even science. With our free tier for teachers, supplying one classroom of up to 30 students, we’ve seen a steady rate of signups and classes using Elementari. We are also finalizing the steps to comply with the US Student Privacy Pledge."

Biggest challenges?
As a  team of two, Kang and Li have found themselves facing a steep learning curve. "Although we both came from engineering schools, we did not have expertise in website development," Kang says. "Rather than hiring someone, we invested three years of our time to develop the technology and fine tune the value proposition.

"Now that we have the product out, our challenge is getting the word out. As we are self funding the entire project, our strategy is to rely on our educators to spread the word, embed their students’ stories on their websites and blogs, and help us grow organically."

Ultimate ambition?
Elementari at its core has an educational mission: to promote arts and literacy in an engaging and collaborative way. "We want anyone, especially kids, to be able to write beautiful interactive stories that they can be proud to share to the world," Kang declares.

However the team also has ambitions to become a new way for illustrators to promote themselves and monetise their work. "By profit sharing with our partnered illustrators (and later writers) in a way similar to Youtube or Kindle Unlimited, we hope that creators can become more flexible to do what they love."

In terms of the future, the company is looking to develop personalised animated characters (similar to those found in games), comic book layouts, and more supported languages. "There’s tons of possibilities with the technology we use, and we’re excited for the future."

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?
"There’s a French saying that translates to ‘Alone you walk faster, but together you walk farther.’ You need a great founding team that will be there for the long haul from the highs to the lows."