Literacy Planet founder Shane Davis and chief executive Chris Roberts have harnessed the power of gamification to teach English online. Photo: Glenn Hunt
Fairy bread and red cordial are not obvious learning aids, but kids were so mad for a new online educational game launched in 2010 that they were hosting Literacy Planet parties.
Three years later the party favours have been swapped for Hello Kitty lollies and bubble tea but the strong take-up is the same. Gold Coast venture Literacy Planet has signed three Asian distribution deals in the past six months.
For the family business backed by James Packer-linked fund Ellerston Capital, the Asian growth story has two main benefits apart from sheer population, chief executive Chris Roberts says.
"More important is their propensity to invest in education," he says. "As a percentage of disposable income it is much greater than in Australia. [And] the rapid roll-out of broadband and 4G networks is really opening that market up" to penetration by digital media.
Local start-ups are gradually opening their eyes to opportunities in Asia, outside of the well-travelled path to Silicon Valley. Two venture capital-backed app developers, biNu and Paloma Mobile, are focusing on emerging markets, while Sydney technology incubator Pollenizer opened an office in Singapore in August 2012.
A lot of entrepreneurial success relies on being wise to new trends. But the team behind Literacy Planet has shown that it is adept at both economic and technological developments.
LONG LEAD-IN FOR START-UP
Founder Shane Davis began importing educational mathematics CD-ROMs in the late '90s. He doubted the quality so he began producing the products himself. By 2006, Davis, working with his two sons, saw that cloud technology was a potential disruptor to compact discs.
In 2008, he began work on Literacy Planet, but it would be two years before a product was on offer.
The start-up is a web and tablet-based collection of games, like Wordmania and Donkey Dash, that teach English to primary school aged kids. Each student has a login and an avatar. By completing tasks correctly, students move levels, unlock prizes and earn points that allow them to dress up their avatar and interact with other users, such as giving a friend a high five.
"Gamification and the sense of community that we've enabled are probably the top drivers of that high degree of engagement from the children's perspectives," Roberts says.
About $8.5 million in funding has been injected into the start-up. About $6 million has come from backers Map Capital Partners and Ellerston Capital, which own more than 50 per cent of the business between them. The rest has come from family, friends and grants.
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