Parents with children who were unable to study at home during the pandemic have had to look for alternative activities to encourage the hands-on learning experiences that children are missing out on from taking classes virtually. New York-based educational technology startup Thimble aims to help solve this problem by offering a subscription service to STEM-based projects that allows children to use a combination of home delivery kits and live online lessons Can manufacture robotics, electronics and other technologies.
Thimble began as a Kickstarter project in 2016 when it raised $ 300,000 in 45 days to develop its STEM-based robotics and programming kits. Then, over the next year, the company began selling its kits to schools, mostly in New York, for use in the classroom or in after-school programs. In the years that followed, Thimble expanded its customer base to around 250 schools in New York, Pennsylvania, and California who purchased the kits and received access to teacher training.
But the COVID-19 pandemic changed Thimble’s business.
“Many schools were in a panic. They weren’t sure what was happening and so their expenses were frozen for some time, ”explains Oscar Pedroso, co-founder and CEO of Thimble, who has a background in education. “Even our top customers I would call would only give [say]Hey this is not a good time. We think we will close the schools. “
Pedroso realized that the company had to switch quickly to sell directly to parents instead.
Around April, it made the change – effectively entering the B2C market for the first time.
The company is now offering parents a subscription that allows them to get up to 15 different STEM-focused project kits and a curriculum that includes live lessons from an educator. A kit ships within three months, although there is an accelerated program available that ships more frequently.
The first kit is basic electronics where kids learn how to make simple circuits, such as a doorbell, kitchen clock, and music composer. The kit has been designed so that children can “make quick wins” to keep their attention and whet their appetite for more projects. This leads to future kits like those that offer a Wi-Fi robot, small drone, glowing LED compass, and synthesizer that kids can use to become their own DJ
While any family can use the kits to make it easier for children to experience hands-on electronics and robotics, around 70% of subscribers are those with whom the child already has a knack for these types of projects, according to Pedroso. The remaining 30% are those where the parents want to introduce the concepts of robotics and programming to see if the children are interested. Around 40% of the students are girls.
The subscription is more expensive than some DIY projects at $ 59.99 / month (or $ 47.99 / month if paid annually). However, this is because it includes live lessons in the form of weekly 1-hour Zoom courses. Thimble has part-time workers who not only understand the material, but can also teach it in a way that appeals to children – by being passionate, energetic, and able to help when they sense a child has a problem or becomes frustrated . Two of the five teachers are women. One teacher is bilingual and teaches some classes in Spanish.
During the class, one teacher teaches while a second moderates the chat room and answers questions that children ask there.
The live classes will each have around 15 to 20 students, but Thimble also offers a small group package that reduces class size. These can be used by homeschool pods or other groups.
“We started hearing about pods and then microschools,” notes Pedroso. “These were parents who were connected to other parents and wanted their children to be part of the same class. They generally required a little more attention and wanted to make some things a little more individual, ”he added.
These subscriptions are more expensive at $ 250 / month, but the cost is shared among the group of parents, reducing the price per household. Around 10% of the total customer base falls on this plan as most of the customers are single families.
Thimble is also working with several community programs and nonprofits in select markets that are helping to subsidize the cost of the kits to make the subscriptions more affordable. If available, these will be announced via schools, newsletters and other marketing measures.
Since switching to subscriptions, Thimble has restored a customer base and now has 1,110 paid customers. However, some have an earlier price, which is why Thimble needs to continue to scale the business.
In addition to the Kickstarter, Thimble has funded and worked on the business through several accelerators over the year, including LearnLaunch in Boston, Halcyon in DC, and Telluride Venture Accelerator in Colorado.
The startup, co-founded by Joel Cilli in Pittsburgh, is currently about 60% closed in its $ 1 million startup round, but is currently not disclosing any details.