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February 2013

Cultivating children’s creativity

When Allen Bevans, a PhD student from the School of Interactive Art and Technology at Simon Fraser University, first connected with Kibooco Interactive through Mitacs-Accelerate, the new company was just conceptualizing its first product. In less than a year, Allen and Kibooco were able to realize their collective goal of enhancing creativity with technology by launching a website specifically designed to enable children to turn their ideas into reality.

Kibooco (short for “Kids Book Company”) Interactive is a technology startup whose aim is to encourage children’s creativity by developing an online e-book tool where children can create their own virtual and physical storybooks.  Being a small company with limited research resources, Kibooco reached out to the Mitacs-Accelerate program for support and expertise – and found Allen.

Allen’s first research project was to better understand how children create stories, and then identify program interface features that would best allow them to manifest their ideas into actual products, such as calendars and t-shirts.  He began his research by conducting a literature review focused on child development and interactive design and then used guidelines he distilled from the literature to develop a prototype – effectively turning his research skills into a concrete product for Kibooco.

A second internship gave Kibooco access to Allen’s research network, which served as a testing ground for their new product.   This project saw Allen connect Kibooco with one of the largest childcare centers in Vancouver, where he was able to evaluate, first-hand, how children interacted with the company’s products.  He later turned that feedback into effective design that made the user experience   meaningful and engaging.  The final result was the November 2012 launch of the “Kibooco Holiday Workshop”, a pilot website where children can design customized notebooks, calendars and clothing.

Kibooco CEO Molly Schneeberg described Mitacs as a “matchmaker” that provides small businesses like hers access to matching funds, knowledge and networks that aren’t otherwise within reach.  “The expertise that researchers like Allen bring to startups is so essential.  Without Mitacs-Accelerate, I can’t imagine how I would have found someone with his knowledge and skill set,” she said. Molly hopes to continue to engage with Allen on future projects after his second internship is complete.

For Allen, the opportunity to explore how a start-up company develops, as well as seeing how research can really make a difference when applied to real-world challenges was rewarding and enlightening.  He learned that students must be flexible in an industry environment, because, as he puts it: “The research world assumes you know the question and that there’s a straight line between the question and the answer… in industry there is no straight line, and questions and answers change very quickly.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: