Tamar Neter-Gans worked for many years in the marketing & sales department at an online marketing intelligence agency. Since 2017 she is founder-owner of RobotWise. A start-up that currently has four employees and about 20 self-qualified trainers, together with whom she provides all kinds of education-related and training services.
The goal is to make technology more accessible but also make it ‘fun’ for young and old. RobotWise does this by letting people interact with social educational robots in a playful way. The focus is not only on technical skills, but especially focuses on gaining an understanding of the soft skills that people need in order to work together.
What was your eureka moment? When you thought – I’m going to start a business!
“At the company where I worked for a long time, I acted as the linking pin between engineers and consultants, both for my clients and within the agency. That role suited me perfectly. But I also noticed that these two professions often didn’t seem to understand each other’s language.
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Besides that, I have two children, they’re now 15 and 13 years old. My daughter was in primary school at the time. One day she came home with some extra schoolwork she had been given because she had finished one of her assignments sooner. My daughter got angry when I accidentally threw away that piece of schoolwork. But it was just more of the same kind of things! There was absolutely no challenge or depth to it. My daughter told me that this was never tackled like that at school either. And I thought: is this really what the Dutch education system is all about? It was truly a confrontational moment. But in the end this incident ‘triggered’ me to do something with what I really care about. Namely, the gap between different professional groups on one hand, and the lack of depth and up-to-date education in the Dutch educational system on the other.”
What exactly is your product?
“We focus our efforts on education, both for children and teachers. But also on the business world. The goal is actually always the same: talent development with the aid of robot activities. I also call it ‘Socializing through Technology.’
I started out with cross-disciplinary lesson programs for primary education. After that incident with my daughter’s extra schoolwork, I visited all kinds of schools and offered to provide lessons with robots. This eventually resulted in a series of lessons for grades 1 to 8 (4 -12 year-olds in the Dutch pre-school and primary school system, ed.).
Meanwhile, we are also developing lesson programs for secondary education and vocational training. Programming robots acts as a tool for teaching subjects and developing social skills. For example, you can use robots for a biology lesson to show the workings of the digestive system.
We also organize workshops which take the form of Robot Playgrounds: a space with a variety of robot activities. Participants can play around and gain experience with physical robots in a circuit form. The aim is that participants gain a good impression.
But we also organize holiday camps for groups of children with diverse social, cultural and economic backgrounds. Again, this is not necessarily about programming, but mainly about cooperation and interaction. Lastly, we offer all kinds of training courses and workshops through RobotWise. Like team building and leadership programs. We use the proceeds from the business training sessions for activities that ultimately really matter to me: more effectively preparing children for the future.”
What problem do you resolve with your product?
“I want to enhance interaction between various groups, like the ‘techies’ and the ‘non-techies.’ At the same time, we need to equip people, and children in particular, for a society that is subject to constant change. And robots can play an important role in this.
It’s just like football. Put a ball in a field, make two teams, and explain what the goal is. And you’ll see that the teams will naturally start playing together in order to score. The same thing happens with robots. Put a robot somewhere, discuss a common goal, and everyone goes for it. And there’s interaction.
With the evolving labor market, it is essential to train not only technical skills, but also social and cognitive skills – such as problem-solving abilities and analytical skills. But also communication skills geared towards cooperation. Which is hugely important in (corporate) life.”
You are a woman who doesn’t have a technical background. Have you ever faced any obstacles because of that when setting up your business?
“That’s true, I don’t have a background in technology. Nor in education, for that matter. My main motivation for starting a business was to help transform education. At the time, my husband told me – if anyone is tenacious, then it’s you. But I also want to show with my company that you don’t have to be a technician to work with robots. I want to give girls and boys the feeling that technology doesn’t have to be that complicated at all. That technology is just a lot of fun too!
Last year I was in the US together with 49 other women from 49 different countries as a delegate for The Netherlands at the invitation of the US State Department. We made a tour of four states as part of STEAM (Science Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics, an incentive program for women in science, ed.). One aim was to ensure that women became aware of ‘impostor’s syndrome‘ (a feeling that many high-achieving women struggle with, that you don’t deserve your success, ed.)’.
Role model for other women
After returning to The Netherlands, RobotWise screened the film Hidden Figures for free in all Pathé cinemas for schoolchildren and students throughout The Netherlands for a week (film based on a true story about a group of African-American female NASA mathematicians in the 1960s, whose calculations made John Glenn’s first space flight possible, ed.)
“For this occasion, we developed a lesson for schools designed to provide information in advance, so that students could discuss the topics from the film with the teacher. I had also invited around fifty ‘power women’ to discuss the film with the students.
I was 37 when I founded my company. A woman without a technical or educational background. At moments like these I realise that not only have I become much tougher and am on more solid ground than I was back then, but meanwhile, I’ve also become a role model for other women.”
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