Funds to Accelerate Birth to Eight National Programming and Home-Based Education
NEW YORK, February 3, 2020 -- Cognitive ToyBox, a New York-based early childhood technology company, has raised $750,000 in seed funding from Dallas-based investor, CMI Ventures. The company develops assessment technology for organizations that support children from birth to eight years of age. The technology makes assessment easier and more actionable for teachers by enabling them to assess children through adaptive, touchscreen games. Cognitive ToyBox is the first early childhood investment for CMI Ventures.
Tammy Kwan, a Doctoral student in Education, and Dr. Brenden Lake, an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Data Science, both at NYU, co-founded the organization in 2015. The company was spun out of a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps for Learning grant, stemming from Kwan’s interest in early childhood development. Today, Cognitive ToyBox is working with some of the largest early childhood education programs in the country, reaching over 150,000 children a year.
“This started as a research project, but I learned early on that we could do much more to help educators and children win through technology-enabled solutions,” said Tammy Kwan, Co-Founder & CEO.
As part of the grant, Kwan and Lake spoke to over 100 early childhood administrators, teachers and families to learn about the biggest pain points for early childhood educators. Through these conversations, they heard firsthand about the challenges around the status quo of early childhood assessment: teachers in publicly funded programs spend 4 to 6 hours per week observing children, taking notes on their development and then transcribing their notes into a digital system after class or often on weekends. Moreover, this data is often not trusted because of the limitations around an observation-only approach to assessment. These limitations include teacher subjectivity and the feasibility of accurately observing individual student development for 18 to 24 children across dozens of school readiness measures.
“Given everything on their plate, teachers shared that they often ‘miss’ the individual assessment of some children, especially the quiet ones," said Kwan. "This can be devastating: if a child’s level of instruction is mismatched from their skill level, the child is at risk of becoming disengaged from learning at this very early age."
In response to the National Head Start Association's “Better, Simpler Assessments Challenge” meant to maximize the accuracy of assessment tools while reducing time and stress associated with it, Cognitive ToyBox partnered with researchers at Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania and Indiana University to research the potential impact of games on child development. This work has led to a presentation at the Society for Research in Child Development in 2019 and a peer-reviewed paper to be published in the journal Cognition later this year.
“Most edtech companies build and scale a product first and conduct research later," said co-founder and Chief Scientist, Dr. Brenden Lake. "It was important to us that we start with the research."
In parallel to the research, the team worked with Head Start and Pre-K programs to ensure that the tool was useful and actionable for teachers.
“The typical preschool teacher collects a lot of assessment data but analyzing and using these data in real time can become overwhelming. Cognitive ToyBox has unlocked the potential for teachers to use the data they collect on a weekly basis to modify instruction, so that each student can be better supported in their earliest years,” said Dr. Anusha Subramanyam, who has worked in publicly funded early childhood education settings for over ten years.
With the fundraise, Cognitive ToyBox will accelerate its growth in birth to eight programs across the US. They will also expand the product line to support home-based providers and families. CMI Ventures joins organizations, including AT&T, Camelback Ventures, and Blue Ridge Lab at the Robin Hood Foundation in supporting this work.
David Muzzo and Cameron Chalmers, partners at CMI Ventures, co-founded Archipelago Learning in 2000. The organization went public in 2009 before being taken private again in 2012.
“As former entrepreneurs who bootstrapped our way to the IPO of our own edtech company, Cognitive ToyBox’s founding and growth story reminds us a lot of our own. We are excited to back the team and help them grow,” said Dave Muzzo, Partner at CMI Ventures.
ABOUT COGNITIVE TOYBOX
Cognitive ToyBox is a research-backed technology platform for kindergarten readiness. The platform offers a hybrid observation and game-based approach that makes assessment better, simpler and more actionable for teachers. Program administrators and teachers can then leverage the data to more effectively allocate resources and plan instruction, with the goal of optimizing student learning. Cognitive ToyBox works with Head Start and PreK programs that support hundreds of thousands of children from birth to five years of age in the US.