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The corona crisis has given tremendous momentum to the development of start-ups focusing on online education and homeworking. This week Innovation Origins will therefore pay extra attention to start-ups in this edtech sector.

The Dutch educational company Springlab makes ‘motion mats’ for use in school classrooms and daycare centers. A box on the ceiling that’s equipped with a beamer projects games on an interactive play mat on the floor where children can learn languages, arithmetic, and social skills. The projections respond to the children’s movement. As a result, kids get plenty of exercise. This is sorely needed,” says Jan-Paul de Beer, one of the founders of Springlab. “80% of preschoolers don’t get enough exercise. Even when they’re outside. Research has shown that.”

The Springlab team Photo: Springlab (Jan Paul the Bear fifth from the left)

Exactly how do these types of games work, and who did you design them for?

“Our first target groups were toddlers and preschoolers aged two to four years old at daycare centers. But we are now also launching motion mat games for children from four to six years old which can be used at primary schools. For example, we now have a game that teaches children how to recognize letters. The beamer projects slightly different letters onto the mat. The kids then have to pick out the letter A, for instance. They do that by lying down on top of that letter. They then have to spread out their arms and legs and cover the whole letter. When they’ve done it right, the letter will fill up with color and they’ll hear the letter being pronounced.”

Why did you want to design games like these?

“I’ve worked in advertising for a long time. When I stopped doing that, I started doing a lot of sports and carpentry instead. As a consequence, I was much more physically active than I was when I still had my advertising agency. You’re sitting down most of the time then. I didn’t want that anymore. That’s when I started to study the influence that a lack of exercise has on your health.”

“Various studies such as those carried out by the WHO (World Health Organization) show that this is a significant problem. Children in daycare centers and schools don’t exercise enough either, even in The Netherlands. In order to change that, I wanted to think up a way to be able to exercise while you’re learning so that you don’t have to add separate exercise hours to the daily schedule. In that case, the exercise would be at the expense of other activities. I come from the creative sector and am used to coming up with new ideas. That’s how we came up with this method of learning while in motion.”

In the meantime, how many clients do you have?

“About 160 daycare centers use our games, and 6 primary schools. Towards the end of May, we will be launching games that suit the learning goals of primary schools. So, that number is set to increase.”

What was the biggest obstacle that you had to overcome?

“The Bluetooth connection of the trial version of the Springlab Motion Mat regularly dropped out, whereas it needs to be operated wirelessly via a tablet. We still don’t know exactly what caused this, but it has to do with the steel casing that houses the beamer. We then switched to WiFi and bypassed the steel by incorporating two WiFi antennas. That solved the problem.”

The Springlab box containing the beamer    @Springlab

What has been your greatest breakthrough so far?

“When a major investor stepped in early on. Back then, all we had was a prototype in a grocery crate and a few simple games. We started pitching with that and that led to a large childcare organization and a publisher getting on board and then we gained our first clients. This meant that we were able to develop and market our product much faster.”

Who were the investor and publishing company?

Humankind, formerly known as Kinderopvang Humanitas, one of the largest childcare organizations in The Netherlands. Zwijsen is the publishing company, they specialize in primary education. That has brought us a great deal of credibility.”

Is the corona crisis impacting your company?

“Yes, immensely. The daycare centers have almost all closed down. During the previous crisis, daycare centers had to scale down by 30 %. During a crisis, everyone keeps a tight grip on their wallets. We are a start-up and our business plan is based on growth. From one moment to the next it dropped 90% lower than what we had originally projected.”

Therefore, the decline in growth in the coming year will mainly come from primary schools.

“Yes. We have sent all of our clients several support packages that are designed to keep them moving. Also, we’ve put videos online with tips on how parents can get their children to learn while exercising at home. We’ve organized webinars and discounts to sell our inventory to clear our shelves. And we have now put our focus on schools. That was already in the planning, but we’re going to do this more resolutely. Schools are less dependent, financially speaking. They have a budget and they’re opening up again soon.”

In the coming year, will you mainly focus on expanding within the primary school market?

“Yes, we want to roll out the Springlab Motion Mat there.”

How much does a subscription to Springlab cost?

“The box is a one-off purchase, which costs €6,000 including VAT plus a license to use games for one year. The license to use games after that costs €1452 per year including VAT”.

How do you see the future for Springlab? Where do you want to be five years from now?

“Then we want to have a thousand customers in primary education and childcare centers. And we want to be operational in three countries with the Springlab Motion Mat.”

Which countries?

“We don’t know yet. Germany has a huge market, but Denmark is also interesting. There, children in schools are required to move 45 minutes per day.”

You can read more IO articles about start-ups here.