It isn’t just the product idea that makes Pocket Tales worthy of an award. It’s also the creativity, drive and determination of the game’s creators, Anthony Smith and Yaw Aning.
“Pocket Tales is an application that provides gaming incentives to get kids engaged and excited about reading,” Smith said. “We’re not as concerned with retention; others do that well. We want kids to really enjoy reading, and read whatever they can get their hands on. We provide a gaming layer on top of that.”
Smith, a 2009 graduate of Purdue’s College of Technology at Kokomo, joined the project in its early stages when Aning was looking for a chief technology officer to help build the web-based reading game. With a degree in computer and information technology and work experience with Google and Target, Smith brought the right tools to the task.
As the two entrepreneurs talked about funding opportunities, they decided to form their own web consulting company, Sticksnleaves, so that they could fund development themselves. Smith and Aning entered Pocket Tales in the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) Global Education Challenge in August 2011. Two months later, they received notification that they had won the $125,000 first prize.
Born out of an Indianapolis Startup Weekend event, Pocket Tales uses a variety of well-researched methods to encourage kids to read, including game mechanics, goal setting, social interaction, and feedback. Smith was responsible for architecting the application, figuring out the platform and infrastructure, coding, and managing the other programming employees.
Of the prize money, the business partners were able to use $100,000 to pour back into enhancements to their program, which is being tested in select Canadian schools. The other $25,000 was earmarked to buy books for a school of their choice. They selected Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Carmel, Ind. The school will also be a test market for version two of Pocket Tales, which Smith and Aning hope to have complete by the end of January 2012.
“My college classes really laid a good foundation for what I’m doing. The programming classes and logic class stick out the most,” Smith said. “When you graduate from college, you don’t have all the skills necessary for every task. So you have to condition your mind so that you can absorb information more readily.”
Being open to new ideas and new technologies benefited him during his college career. He kept a full academic load every semester and worked full-time, all in an effort to graduate debt-free. In the process, he was able to make connections with professionals in industry. He created a piece of software that allows the Google Search Appliance to index contents on Oracle’s universal content management system. This initial work for Google turned into similar gigs for Target and Fosters Beer in Australia.
“I gained a lot of confidence at school,” Smith said. “It’s difficult to run a business if you aren’t confident in yourself.” Smith has taken that confidence, mixed it with his Purdue education and passion for reading to make a difference in the lives of children. Sticksnleaves has grown to four employees, including a second graduate of the CIT program in Kokomo: Brad Imbierwicz.
Read more information about the Global Education Challenge.