Kodable: Taking the coding app for kids to an accelerator in Silicon Valley

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Moutain View, Calif. is about forty miles southeast of San Francisco. And it is in this Silicon Valley town of 74,000 people that Grechen Huebner and Jon Mattingly of Kodable will make their home for the conceivable future.

They’re not jumping the Louisville ship for greener pastures (pardon the mixed metaphors) although that may happen if they find funding in the Valley. They’re pulling up stakes for an industry-specific accelerator the likes of which we don’t have in this suddenly accelerator-rich region.

Kodable, which we have followed closely since they first came to Open Coffee in the fall of 2012, is an iPad curriculum that teaches children ages 5 years old to 7 years old the basics of computer coding.

Here’s the Kodable mythology:

The Fuzz Family– blueFuzz, simonFuzz, violetFuzz and more– have crash-landed their UFO on Smeeborg. They need help navigating the Technomazes on the planet and gathering gold coins. Children solve logic problems and use basic commands to direct their Fuzz through the many mazes.

And now the Fuzzes will be navigating their way through Silicon Valley.

Imagine K12 is one of the few education tech accelerators in the country. It’s as Huebner said, “The Y Combinator for education.” The accelerator accepts 20 companies into each cohort and last year, when Huebner and Mattingly applied, they were rejected.

“Pester” is probably too strong of a word, but ever since their rejection, the Kodable duo has kept in touch with Imagine K12 and made sure that the founders knew about every success and every retooling that Kodable saw over the past year.

Persistence pays off because on August 26, Huebner and Mattingly will be on their way to Silicon Valley.

The program runs from September to January, and the companies are expected mostly to work from home with regular programs in the tiny Imagine K12 offices in San Francisco. There are weekly dinners, office hours and a regular poker night. Companies are encouraged to use the Imagine K12 offices for meetings and to work collaboratively with other Imagine K12 companies.

In exchange for 6-7 percent equity, according to the program’s website,

Imagine K12 will immediately invest between $14,000 and $20,000 once a company has been accepted, depending on team size. Typically, solo founders receive $14,000, pairs receive $17,000, and larger teams receive $20,000. If a company is not incorporated at the time of selection then we will guide the founders through the process of forming a C Corp before proceeding with Imagine K12’s investment. In addition, every accepted company will receive a convertible note for $80,000 from the Imagine K12 Start Fund when the program begins in September.

In addition to positioning themselves better for acceptance to Imagine K12, the Kodable team has made considerable headway with their project.

In June, Huebner and Mattingly were guest speakers at a professional development program for North Carolina teachers. They instructed teachers how to use Kodable to teach children to code, and they also taught classes on using iPads in the classroom.

The new app has a parent-teacher portal that allows adults to sign in and track the progress of students or children and also find activities that they can do with kids to help enrich the kids’ understanding of coding.

Huebner spent the better part of the summer developing an instruction guide for each “world” of the Kodable universe. The guide includes suggested activities, worksheets and instruction tips and techniques.

They have also added a brand new section on spelling and vocabulary to further enhance students’ learning opportunities with the program.

spellkodable

Currently, the app is being used in around 100 schools starting the 2013-14 school year. Independent downloads of the app have come from more than 70 countries. And Kodable has been near the top the education app charts in places as remote as the Turks and Caicos.

One of the biggest benefits offered by Imagine K12 is that the accelerator program partners with a huge network of schools who have agreed to be early-adopters of their companies. This widespread ability to offer pilot programs was a selling point for Kodable.

“Louisville is a good place to start a business,” says Jon Mattingly. “But I’m not sure it’s the best place for us to grow this business. There aren’t the billion dollar resources here and [in Silicon Valley] they have more experience in investing in these kinds of companies.”

Huebner says that the KSTC grant that they received in March helped them experiment and find out what was working.

When asked what she’ll miss most about Louisville, she says “the environment” and talks about family and friends. Mattingly, originally from Rhode Island, says “the cost of living.”

Indeed, they’ve found a great place to live in Mountain View, Ca. but when they talk about how expensive it is, Huebner and Mattingly’s eyes glass over a bit.

Kodable, as a company, is still just Huebner and Mattingly. Huebner says that their next hire will likely be a instructional developer– aka, a teacher who can further the curriculum development and instructional integration of the app.

Is this another example of “brain drain” in Louisville? Yes, we’re losing two bright, talented young people– at least temporarily– to the West Coast. But both Huebner and Mattingly speak glowingly of the Louisville startup ecosystem. It seems unlikely– especially because Huebner’s family is still here– that they’ll cut ties to Louisville completely.

But maybe this another bridge we’re building to Silicon Valley?

Time will tell.