Jenni Vartiainen, Co-founder and Head of Research at Kide Science, was only supposed to use her design-based approach in support of her PhD thesis. But it’s success has quickly led to the creation of one of Finland’s most exciting EdTech start-ups.
Jenni’s research began in 2013, when she set out to understand how best to teach science to young children, aged between 3 and 6 years of age. Using a pedagogical approach focused on play and stories, she created a bespoke teaching environment and tailored teaching resources to engage her learners. Over the following 4 years, she and her team reviewed that environment and delivery approach after every single teaching session, assessing what had gone well and what could be improved for next time. Eventually the programme would go through an amazing 22 cycles of iteration!
In that time, Jenni’s research carefully honed all elements of the programme – everything from the length and format of the lessons to the name and form of the lead character was discussed and reviewed. Her team of educators constantly reviewed pupil engagement / participation and sought parent feedback through interviews and questionnaires every five weeks.
When her PhD research ended, the programme stopped after it had been delivered to over 1,000 children. Parents demanded that the lessons had to continue and Jenni realised that her research had undercovered a business idea that she had to explore further. With Co-founders Aino and Sari, Jenni set out to develop her research into a commercial proposition and in 2017, Kide Science was formed.
The product was again transformed for launch to reflect Jenni’s detailed research insights. Lesson delivery was revised into smaller chunks that could be spread out throughout the day to maintain children’s engagement. Teachers were supplied with lesson plans and resources from a central portal, so that they could quickly access / share stories and teaching content. Notably, all of these detailed materials had been tested in advance through Kide Science’s network of partner kindergartens.
Three years after market launch, Jenni’s team are currently researching the use of the teaching platform and the appropriateness of the resources. Having recently secured an agreement to work with the largest private chain of kindergartens in Finland, nearly 200 institutions will now be testing the materials and reporting on how they’re being used, how they support teachers and (by studying film of children) what impact they have on children’s engagement and progress.
The Kide Science proposition has been built on Finland’s unique educational culture that prioritises play and storytelling. Although not specifically tested for international audiences, such is the strength of its product market fit that Kide Science have, to date, been able to scale their business into, for example, China, Thailand and Vietnam without any significant changes. Once the Finnish research has been concluded, Jenni’s focus will then shift to China and Dubai, where she’ll compare differences in teachers’ delivery and in pupil engagement / outcomes. Local partners will then be able to clearly see the benefits of the programme and can work with the KIde Science team to propose any localisation or updates.
Unsurprisingly, Jenni’s design-based research also continues to inform Kide Science’s new product development. Driven by her ambition that the product “..should be available to all young children globally”, the team are looking at how the product’s pedagogical approach should be expanded and updated for primary school audiences worldwide. The development of a family-focused B2C proposition is also being explored and researched.
The rapid growth of KIde Science is testament to the power of a carefully targeted proposition, that has been extensively and consistently researched with all key stakeholder groups. But Jenni is also at pains to point out that their progress has been hard won. As she says, “This product has actually been in development and research since 2013 when I started my PhD, and not just since 2017 when the business actually launched.” Yet she also readily acknowledges “that careful and extensive research made it much easier to launch the business and to travel further, faster.” That’s a clear and compelling message for all aspiring EdTech entrepreneurs who are willing to hear it.