Toronto Startup Peekapak Releases First Digital Game, Wins $100,000

Edtech startup Peekapak has launched its first digital game, fuelled by $100,000 from NewSchools Venture Fund after winning the California-based organization’s Early Learning Challenge.

Co-founders Ami Shah and Angie Chan partnered with game designers from George Brown College to build myPeekaville, a game-based learning world that builds on Peekapak’s in-class program. Before its release this week, the Toronto-based startup already had 13,000 students signed up for the digital game.

Peekapak evolved into a free, digitally-driven platform after completing Imagine K-12 in mid-2015, the edtech vertical of Silicon Valley’s prestigious Y Combinator accelerator.

Armed with $1 million, the co-founders launched Peekapak in late 2015. It focused on research-based curriculum that blends social-emotional learning with reading to help young kids with character development. Students learn about social skills like empathy, perseverance and gratitude guided by lesson plans and digital stories of animals and characters in a fictional world called Peekaville.

“We’re focusing on social skills which are really abstract; there’s no real right or wrong. We are helping them learn these tangible skills, and it’s shown that if kids they learn these social skills in kindergarten, they are more likely to succeed,” said Shah.

Part of Peekapak’s appeal is how it’s reflecting diversity through its digital stories and promoting girls to become interested in STEM, featuring characters from different ethnic backgrounds that are interested in programming, architecture and engineering.

“We wanted to showcase female characters as strong STEM characters. In literature you don’t see that often,” said Shah. “We’re inviting girls into that world and showing through these new, modern role models that it’s normal for girls to be interested in STEM.”

Since its launch two years ago, Peekapak has signed up 12,000 educators that use the edtech startup’s learning platform to teach social and emotional skills to 150,000 students across 90 countries. The freemium digital platform also helps teachers and parents track student learning.

“This is completely new territory, to use technology in education to not only enable teachers and parents to track progress but to provide access to students to take ownership in their learning,” said Shah.

A recent report by TD Economics found that it’s not enough for elementary school girls to be exposed to possible career paths in STEM, but they need to be shown real-world applications for interest to stick. That’s something Shah said she and Chan—who is the author of all Peekaville stories—keep top of mind.

“In our stories, we have an African-American girl who loves making things light up, and wants to be an electrical engineer… We phrase what they want to achieve with their skills and what job that’s tied to,” said Shah.

Shah said they’re planning on releasing more educational games to myPeekaville over the coming months. To date, Peekapak has raised $1.2 million.  The company is backed by MaRS JOLT and the co-founders recently wrapped up an accelerator program at Ryerson’s DMZ.