The awe-inspiring Leka team have created a robot that makes advanced therapy tools easily available to children with developmental disorders. Their robotic, iPad-enabled smart toy helps kids with autism and Down syndrome learn, play and progress.
We spoke to the founder about bringing the toy to market, getting the right funding and the power of mentors in the latest of our The Investibles interviews.
1. What is your investment status?
Currently, Leka is funded through angel investors, grants from the French government and an Indiegogo campaign from May that raised over $140,000 (£111,766). We are currently exploring additional investment opportunities that we’ll be communicating to the press soon.
2. Describe your business in one paragraph; what’s its vision and what problem does it solve?
Leka is a robotic smart toy set on changing the way children with developmental disorders learn, play and progress. Available for purchase directly online, Leka is a tool designed to make interactions between therapists, parents and children easier, more efficient and more accessible.
In Swedish, Leka means ‘to play’ and Laka means ‘to heal,’ which is exactly what Leka is aiming to do – to help exceptional children with different developmental challenges live exceptional lives.
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Leka has been in the development and testing stage for several years, including multiple research tests involving children with autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disorders. Leka has been thoughtfully and strategically designed to aid therapists, parents and other caregivers in a variety of settings – from the office, to their schools, to at home — to facilitate interaction with exceptional children through Leka’s ability to adapt sensory-stimulations and applications to the individual needs of children.
3. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
In 2011, while at university, I discovered that my design teacher’s son was diagnosed with autism. Together with my classmate and friend (and eventual co-founder of Leka) Marine Couteau, we naturally started working with our teacher to develop a toy that would help his son both learn and communicate, and thus the idea of Leka was born.
4. What’s your addressable market?
While there are other robots that assist children with developmental disorders on the market, none have been made available directly to consumers and parents at an affordable price point. Other robots are made exclusively for industry and therapy use with experts, costing thousands of dollars. This leaves many children without in-home therapy and creates unnecessary delays in the progress a child can make if they were executing the same therapy plan both at home and school as at therapy. Leka aims to completely turn this market on its head, making a sophisticated, robotic smart toy accessible to children, parents and therapists all over the world.
5. What’s great about your team and do you have a mentor?
The best thing about our team is that we have all the specific skills needed on the inside. From UI/UX design to mechanical engineering, software development and most importantly a psychologist to develop the educational activities and run the tests with the kids and caregivers.
We have real mentors in our current investors, and we also have a mentor in Kansas City, who we met while at Techstars. He’s the CEO of Pathfinder Health Innovation and a real autism expert. He has been incredibly helpful in understanding the market in the US and introducing us to the right people.
6. What key challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
I’d say our main challenge has been growing and managing the team, making sure everybody is doing what he or she should, and that we keep motivation levels up!
7. How do you market your business and how successful has it been so far?
To establish Leka in the US we enrolled in the Techstars Sprint Accelerator program in Kansas City, MO, to grow our team as a company and refine Leka to ensure it can be the best possible device for children who need it. Enrolling in Techstars gave us exposure to the wider investment and tech industry in the US, as well, which is a key market for the company and where we are currently setting up operations.
To further that footprint in the US, we also ran an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for Leka’s product development in May 2016—we worked with a PR firm to help us promote the campaign and break the Leka name into the US market, securing features in established publications such as TechCrunch, Fast Company and Mashable, among many others!
In addition to Techstars, we’ve been attending industry events to further promote Leka as a solution to families across the world, with two recent events being the WSJ.D Live tech conference and CES 2017.
As we are in the midst of finalising the manufacturing process of Leka and we’ve been using these conferences as opportunities to demonstrate our latest developments—at CES 2017 we showed off the autonomous features of Leka and how the robot can interact independently with children as opposed to being controlled with an iPad.
8. What are your plans for the future?
Leka will be available for market in autumn 2017. Once it launches and the device becomes more established our goal is to work directly with specialty schools, organizations and industry professionals to get Leka into as many hands as possible where it can have a direct impact on a child’s growth and development.
9. If you started again, is there anything you would do differently?
I would have raised money earlier and focused more on shipping a simpler MVP after the crowdfunding campaign. I would also have used the iPad more, rather than trying to put all the intelligence inside the robot’s brain.
10. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs that are starting a business?
Talk to your users and customers. Spend days and night with them. Know everything about them. They are the one who know how they are going to use your product and what it should do. But read between the lines, and under sell and over deliver!
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About Christopher Goodfellow
Journalist and editor with nine years' experience covering small businesses and entrepreneurship (ChrisGoodfellow.net). Follow his personal twitter account @CPGoodfellow and his events business @Box2Media. He has written for a wide range of publications in the UK, Ireland and Canada, including The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent and Vice magazine.