Around nine years ago, Ondine Bullot fell off her horse, in an accident which left her temporarily unable to walk. In the time it took her to recover, she made plans to change her focus in life, from big business mergers and acquisitions to an education startup. The result of this drastic career change is Better Kids, which offers a mobile app educating children socially and emotionally.
Entrepreneurs are often catapulted into the startup world by chance incidents, sometimes interpreted as fate. Bullot experienced a series of occurrences that added together convinced her that she was destined to start Better Kids. First there was the horse accident, when she was given the time to contemplate her future plans. Bullot had always wanted to teach, and held ambitions to start her own company. When she was lying in bed using an iPad, she realized she could merge both of those dreams and make an app or create content that could reach far more children than a brick and mortar school.
It took Bullot several months to recover and wrap up her work at her day job. Then she refined the idea and decided she wanted to teach children through games. Before she began in earnest, she took a month to travel in Japan. She had learned Japanese in school as a child, and wanted to visit, so left on her own for a month. In Japan, a chance encounter catapulted Bullot further towards her goal.
“One day I was at a museum and it was raining and I missed my bus and I was pissed,” Bullot explains. “And so I was waiting for the next bus with a heavy suitcase. I was dragging it around and then a Japanese man, he was with a woman and he came and he helped me put my suitcase on the bus. And this might seem very common in the Western world, but in Japan, this is not a common thing that people would do to help you with a heavy suitcase.”
“We started talking and he said, ‘Oh, you must really like art to come all the way to this museum, which was two hours away from Kyoto. And, and I said, yes, I’m passionate about art. And we started talking and he said, ‘I’m an artist.’”
The man asked Bullot about her travel plans, and invited her to stay with him and his family. A few days later she accepted, and spent some time with the man and his family. It turned out the man was destined to play a big role in her future startup. His name is Masahiro Naruse, an artist who designs the cover of one of Japan’s most prominent monthly magazines. Bullot returned home and later asked Naruse to work with her on her new venture, Better Kids. Naruse accepted and became art director, and produced the artwork for the company’s first learning tool – a game called Wisdom.
Wisdom is the first game from Better Kids. The aim is to teach social and emotional skills through an entertaining digital and physical game. The game is for children aged 4-8 years old.
“I feel that this is a moment when they’re very aware of their emotions,” explains Bullot. “They just don’t have the vocabulary and the tools to deal with them and to identify that. And how do you connect with a four year old? I think the best way to connect with a child is to ask them, ‘do you want to play?’ Not, ‘do you want to learn about your emotions or tell me how you feel today?’”
The game is designed to be played for ten minutes at the beginning of a session. Children take the main character Wisdom on a journey to help the people of the Kingdom of Anger to control their emotions better. For 30 minutes afterwards, students then practice the skills they learned in the game in real life through group activities. Bullot wanted to focus on social and emotional skills because of her own experience. “I personally was not taught social emotional skills when I was a child”, explains Bullot. “There was a whole set of issues I had to deal with in my adulthood and I struggled a lot with it. Although academically, everything was fine, emotionally, it was very challenging. It struck me that even with the best education in the world, these are skills that you never really learn. And they are so important for being happy and being aware and building healthy connections to other people and to yourself.”
Wisdom has been a success in classrooms and for parents at home. Better Kids is funded by family and friend rounds so far but Bullot is looking to raise more investment so the company can make more games. “We’d love to have massive success with parents and have that success accelerate our growth in B2B as well because I do feel like school is a good place for children to practice those skills and make sure that it’s a continuum,” says Bullot. “And in 18 months I hope we’ll have three more games that we can add to the collection and bolster the range of skills that we’re teaching and helping kids with.”
Better Kids may have come to be from a strange set of circumstances, but Bullot is now taking the company towards a very important goal, and could soon be using a whole series of games to make a real difference to how children interact with the real world and each other.