Thimble teaches kids STEM skills with robotics kits combined with live Zoom classes

Parents with kids stuck learning at home during the pandemic have had to look for alternative activities to promote the hands-on learning experiences kids are missing out on due to attending class virtually. The New York-based educational technology startup Thimble aims to help address this problem by offering a subscription service for STEM-based projects that allow kids to make robotics, electronics and other tech using a combination of kits shipped to the home and live online instruction.

Thimble began back in 2016 as Kickstarter project when it raised $ 300,000 in 45 days to develop its STEM-based robotics and programming kits. The next year, it then began selling its kits to schools, largely in New York, for use in the classroom or in after-school programs. Over the years that followed, Thimble scaled its customer base to include around 250 schools across New York, Pennsylvania, and California, who would buy the kits and gain access to teacher training.

But the COVID-19 pandemic changed the course of Thimble’s business.

“A lot of schools were in panic mode. They were not sure what was happening, and so their spending was frozen for some time,” explains Thimble co-founder and CEO Oscar Pedroso, whose background is in education. “Even our top customers that I would call, they would just give [say], ‘hey, this is not a good time. We think we’re going to be closing schools down.”

Pedroso realized that the company would have to quickly pivot to begin selling directly to parents instead.

Image Credits: Thimble

Around April, it made the shift — effectively entering the B2C market for the first time.

The company today offers parents a subscription that allows them to receive up to 15 different STEM-focused project kits and a curriculum that includes live instruction from an educator. One kit is shipped out over the course of three months, though an accelerated program is available that ships with more frequency.

The first kit is basic electronics where kids learn how to build simple circuits, like a doorbell, kitchen timer and a music composer, for example. The kit is designed so kids can experience “quick wins” to keep their attention and whet their appetite for more projects. This leads into future kits like those offering a Wi-Fi robot, a little drone, an LED compass that lights up, and a synthesizer that lets kids become their own D.J.

Image Credits: Thimble

While any family can use the kits to help kids experience hands-on electronics and robotics, Pedroso says that about 70% of subscribers are those where the child already has a knack for doing these sorts of projects. The remaining 30% are those where the parents are looking to introduce the concepts of robotics and programming, to see if the kids show an interest. Around 40% of the students are girls.

The subscription is more expensive than some DIY projects at $ 59.99/per month (or $ 47.99/mo if paid annually), but this is because it includes live instruction in the form of weekly 1-hour Zoom classes. Thimble has part-time employees who are not just able to understand teach the material, but can do so in a way that appeals to children — by being passionate, energetic and capable of jumping in to help if they sense a child is having an issue or getting frustrated. Two of the five teachers are women. One instructor is bilingual and teaches some classes in Spanish.

During class, one teacher instructs while a second helps moderate the chat room and answer the questions that kids ask in there.

The live classes will have around 15-20 students each, but Thimble additionally offers a package for small groups that reduces class size. These could be used by homeschool “pods” or other groups.

Image Credits: Thimble

“We started hearing from pods and then micro-schools,” notes Pedroso. “Those were parents who were connected to other parents, and wanted their kids to be part of the same class. They generally required a little bit more attention and wanted some things a little more customized,” he added.

These subscriptions are more expensive at $ 250/month, but the cost is shared among the group of parents, which brings the price down on per-household basis. Around 10% of the total customer base is on this plan, as most customers are individual families.

Thimble also works with several community programs and nonprofits in select markets that help to subsidize the cost of the kits to make the subscriptions more affordable. These are announced, as available, through schools, newsletters, and other marketing efforts.

Since pivoting to subscriptions, Thimble has re-established a customer base and now has 1,110 paid customers. Some, however, are grandfathered in to an earlier price point, so Thimble needs to scale the business further.

In addition to the Kickstarter, Thimble has raised funds and worked on the business over the year with the help of multiple accelerators, including LearnLaunch in Boston, Halcyon in D.C., and Telluride Venture Accelerator in Colorado.

The startup, co-founded by Joel Cilli in Pittsburgh, is now around 60% closed on its seed round of $ 1 million, but isn’t announcing details of that at this time.

 

 

 

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WJR Business Beat with Jeff Sloan: Oakland County Debuts Small Business ReOpen Kits (Episode 72)

On today’s WJR Business Beat, Jeff shares news of Oakland County’s program to distribute 10,000 COVID-19 ReOpen Kits to local business owners.

They will include face masks, no touch thermometers, gloves and sanitizer in order to give small businesses the essential materials they need to foster their reopening plans and to give customers the confidence they need in order to return to the store, knowing they can have a safe experience.

Tune in to this morning’s segment for more details!


StartupNation exclusive discounts and savings on Dell products and accessories: Learn more here

“The kits serve two purposes. We want to give our small businesses essential materials that have been difficult to acquire and are necessary when the OK comes for businesses to reopen safely. At the same time, we want customers to feel confident that our businesses are doing all they can to keep their customers and their employees safe. This is a priority for everyone.”

– David Coulter, Oakland County Executive

Tune in to News/Talk 760 AM WJR weekday mornings at 7:11 a.m. for the WJR Business Beat. Listeners outside of the Detroit area can listen live HERE.

Are you an entrepreneur with a great story to share? If so, contact us at editor@startupnation.com and we’ll feature you on an upcoming segment of the WJR Business Beat!

This segment is brought to you by Dell Technologies

WJR Business Beat Transcript

Good morning, Paul.

As we kick off this week, we wanted to highlight good things that are happening in our communities to support one another and to get the cycle of commerce rolling again in our local communities so that we can return to some level of normalcy.

So, to that end, Oakland County has announced a program to distribute 10,000 COVID-19 safety tool kits. They will include face masks, no touch thermometers, gloves and sanitizer, in order to give small businesses the essential materials they need to foster their reopening plans and the execution of their reopening and to give customers the confidence they will need in order to return to the store, knowing they can have a safe experience.

Oakland County executive David Coulter has announced that the Oakland Together plastic totes will be taken to around 50 locations throughout the county for distribution by downtown development authorities, city managers, economic development officials and Chambers of Commerce.

Coulter says the kits serve two main purposes: “We want to give our small businesses essential materials that have been difficult to acquire and necessary as our businesses begin to reopen safely. At the same time, we want customers to feel confident that our businesses are doing all they can to keep those customers and their employees safe.”

The kits are designed for small businesses with 50 employees or less that operate in Main Street, Oakland County communities, other small businesses not in a downtown or faith-based organizations, among others.

The bottom line?

Here’s a great example of public private cooperation, driving to a common goal of helping businesses reopen in our communities while keeping our citizens safe.

We applaud you David Coulter and team and thank you for the initiative.

I’m Jeff Sloan, founder and CEO of StartupNation.com and that’s today’s Business Beat on the Great Voice of the Great Lakes, WJR.

This segment brought to you by Dell technologies.

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StartupNation

London-based Hyris close Series A round for its food safety and COVID-19 surface testing kits

UK startup Hyris has successfully completed a Series A round led by Astanor Ventures, alongside participation from Italian investors including NEOS Medica, Idb Holding, the holding company controlling Indena, and Pi Campus, a venture capital firm that invests in AI-applied startups.

Since its founding in 2014, Hyris has built a leading integrated platform for DNA testing. With food scandals on the rise in all parts of the world, and more companies laser-focused on quality assurance and supply chain transparency, Hyris offers high efficacy lab-quality testing that’s convenient and scalable. Hyris also offers an at-scale library of food safety data, to help global industries stay up to date. 

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the startup has also leveraged its products to test for the presence of COVID-19 pathogens using World Health Organization compliant reagents. Together its bCUBE (miniaturized device for the analysis of nucleic acids), bAPP (a web app software that controls multiple bCUBEs), and bKIT (a SARS-CoV-2 Environmental testing kit, developed specifically to test environmental surfaces) work together to test and monitor environments. 

The fresh funds raised will allow Hyris to strengthen its commercial deployment and marketing, and make real-time and transparent food safety testing viable, available and scalable for any market player. Hyris will also strengthen its offering for the pharmaceutical, virology and epidemiology sectors. 

“With as much as 10% of all foods we consume tainted by adulteration, there could be no better time to disrupt the market and create a healthier, more trusted food system”, explained George Coelho, co-founder and Partner of Astanor Ventures.

Stefano Lo Priore, Hyris’ founder and CEO, commented: “We are excited to join forces with Astanor, a top deep-tech venture capital fund. With the support of Cross Border Growth Capital, we were in the position to choose the best investor among different international VC funds interested in us.”

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