Edna Martinson stepped away from her full-time job to support the youth through learning, and it’s a courageous decision she does not regret.
Martinson first moved to the United States in 2009 to pursue higher learning. She completed an undergraduate degree in international business at Park University and later earned her MBA in 2016 from the University of Missouri while working a part-time job with a commercial real estate company.
When she was working on securing her MBA, she met Clarence Tan, a game designer who later became her husband turned co-founder. They both shared a passion for children and education.
“We had friends who were teachers in elementary classrooms and we would hear them say ‘It’s so hard. I have 25-plus students in my class and they’re all on different learning levels.’ A fourth grade teacher would talk about how some of her kids were at a second grade, even first grade math or reading level. So, we saw an opportunity to really bring games into the picture in a way that would motivate the kids to love learning and re-engage their love for subjects like math and reading as well as help teachers who are super overwhelmed and stressed by giving them a better way to facilitate learning,” Martinson told AFROTECH.
In 2018, the duo ventured into what Martinson calls the “mom’s basement phase.” With little funding and bouncing from pitch competition to pitch competition, the priority was creating a prototype to show teachers and children in classrooms.
“We knew exactly what teachers wanted. We just had to go out and build it,” Martinson explained.
In 2019, the platform secured $50,000 from LaunchKC and $100,000 from AT&T’s accelerator program to assist its development and programming.
As soon as the pair had a minimum viable product (MVP) to introduce to the market, Boddle Learning — an interactive 3-D game intended to help kids from kindergarten to sixth grade learn english and math — was officially launched in 2020.
“When we were thinking about building an educational game for kids, we wanted to center it around characters that kids could really grow to love and that had a really special meaning behind it,” Martinson expressed. “So, we built these bottle headed characters and that’s where the name of the company comes from. As kids are learning in the game, they’re collecting knowledge points so their heads are filling up with knowledge, which they can then use to do really cool stuff in their virtual environments and make their virtual worlds better.”
At the start, Boddle Learning attracted 2,000 users. A sprout would occur amid the COVID-19 pandemic as many educators were looking for a tool that could prepare them to transition remotely. Martinson quit her full-time job as demand would grow to 50,000 users in 2020.
“Our focus shifted from trying to explain to educators how Boddle could help them in their class to just helping them get onboarded because educators already knew this is exactly what they need. ‘If I print out worksheets, complete their worksheets at home, how am I going to drive around and collect all these? So I need something that’s going to be digital, something that kids are going to love.’ It was a big shift for us,” Martinson said. “After a couple months I had to quit my other full-time job and just dive full-time into Boddle because the need was so huge at that point. We were getting 100-plus messages a day on the live chat of teachers. It was a big shift for education as a whole.”
Today, Boddle Learning has climbed to five million registered students, Martinson says.
Looking ahead, they plan to expand their impact beyond the walls of the classroom to provide parents healthy screen time options.