These Founders Are Building A Hip Hop EdTech Platform, ‘Disney Sees Us As A Threat, So We’re Onto Something’
Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Kadeem Ferdinand Photography
Today’s educators are the single most influential figures in kids’ lives and the best way to reach them is by appealing to their interests. This includes incorporating popular music like Hip-Hop into core curriculum, making certain subjects resonate better with students.
With this idea in mind, Healthy Hip Hop co-founders Roy Scott and Wes Smith came up with a unique concept that could both improve student-learning environments and increase classroom engagement by merging innovative technology, education, music, and cultural relevance together.
For co-founder Scott, the idea for Healthy Hip Hop’s platform was sparked by an epiphany he experienced while he was picking up his son from school one day.
“When I was picking up my son, Justice, from school, I noticed him repeating my music word for word,” he shares with AfroTech. “Those lyrics promoted drugs, violence, misogyny, [etc.] and that was just my light bulb moment that I couldn’t be this kind of influence on my son or anybody else for that matter.”
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That moment planted a seed in Scott where he envisioned a platform that could revamp how Hip-Hop is consumed in classroom settings and even at home with kids and their parents.
From there, the Kansas City-based platform launched and was well-received amongst its target audience, reaching over 100,000 kids through more than 1,500 events and generating over $300,000 in revenue.
That success primed the platform to earn its season seven appearance on ABC’s “Shark Tank” where it was successfully pitched to entrepreneur-investor Kevin O’Leary, aka Mr. Wonderful — one of the hardest sharks to close with on the show, according to Scott.
“We closed the deal with Kevin O’Leary [AKA Mr. Wonderful] for a half a million dollar investment. Only to have our episode blocked from airing and our deal pulled off the table because ABC, the network that “Shark Tank” [airs] on ,is owned by Disney,” he shares. “They looked at our children’s programming as competition. And so, ‘Welcome to Hollywood,’ is what we were told.”
“[It’s] the best and worst validation. Disney sees us as a threat, so we’re onto something, but we just lost our deal and most importantly was our national exposure,” he adds.
That bump in the road didn’t stop Healthy Hip Hop’s momentum as it was still able to secure funding from Kansas City’s entrepreneurial support network through companies like Digital Sandbox, The Lean Lab, and Launch KC.
The new funding allowed Healthy Hip Hop to scale its business model and start incorporating signature characters and animation into the platform — which is when Scott brought in Smith to assist on that front and create a new face for the brand.
“PJ Panda right now is essentially what Mickey Mouse is for Disney. That’s what PJ Panda is for Healthy Hip Hop,” Smith tells us. The creation of that character marked a new chapter for the platform as it set out to begin its takeover.
Similar to Scott’s sentiments about creating something positive for kids, Smith also shared his same vision to build a first-of-its-kind platform that could allow teachers and students to better bond with kids.
“I really wanted to see something exist that would allow for me to be able to have those memories and connections with my kids, and there was nothing out there,” he says. “Specifically, there was nothing out there that I felt kind of was a cultural representation that I wanted them to have – Black, urban content.”
Compared to other companies that have attempted to do what Healthy Hip Hop has accomplished so far, the forward-thinking platform has found a way to successfully reach kids the same way Disney has — only now it’s introducing Hip Hop music and teaching tools that appeal to children and parents in Black communities.
“What we’re attempting to do is provide a resource to both educators and parents that allows for the kids to engage with the content, the sound, and the style that they love, but in a way that promotes positive attributes and behaviors,” Smith shares. “For us, it’s a lot bigger than just the music. Really, it’s the message that we’re trying to drive home.”
In addition to its online website that’s used for live streaming and video content, Healthy Hip Hop’s app — which is currently in public beta and backed by Google for Startups & Techstars — functions as an extension of the platform that can be easily used at home and on the go with kids and parents.
According to both co-founders, the app is described as “Spotify meets TikTok” where it exists in a curated environment for children and families. Where Healthy Hip Hop used to refer to itself as the “Sesame Street of the 21st Century, its goal now is to become the “Urban Disney.”
“Our slogan is the urban Disney, and our North Star is to be a global leader in children’s education technology, music, and just overall programming,” Scott shares.
Smith adds, “Healthy Hip Hop is going to be the preeminent, or the Mecca, of all things urban family-friendly. How Disney is kind of what comes to mind when you think of family-friendly content, Healthy Hip Hop will be that, but it will house all things that are Hip-Hop or just culturally relevant family-friendly content.”
Healthy Hip Hop recently launched its Republic campaign to raise funding for the platform. The app is currently gearing up for its official market launch set to occur this summer.