“We believe that science and technology should be kept real and easy for kids to learn, while encouraging them to solve problems and think outside the box,” says Arta Zaimi, co-founder of the Kosovo-based start-up Labbox that the EBRD and the European Union (EU) supported through advisory services and early-stage financing.
Labbox produces electronic building blocks that teach children the fundamentals of science and computer engineering in a fun and interactive way.
The Labbox curriculum is based on several modules – each episode introduces a new concept along with a new challenge in technology and encourages users to experiment. The boxes include magnets, closed circuits and colour-coded indicators that troubleshoot settings, offering real-world examples of how hardware, software and data operate.
The next generation of coders
The idea for Labbox originated in a classroom of the jCoders Academy – a start-up Arta launched with her sister to teach children the basics of programming and help prepare them for future challenges.
Arta’s experience with jCoders prompted her to find a solution to the difficulty of both teaching and learning the often-daunting scientific fields.
Capitalising on the market gap for child-friendly educational-technology (ed-tech) products, Arta and her team started testing out possible devices that could be fun, intuitive and appealing to children of all ages.
“We know that kids and people in general learn best when they are not afraid of experimenting and making mistakes,” Arta adds.
This philosophy guiding the design of their first prototype is also what Arta and her team see as being Labbox’s benefit to STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Powered by creative storytelling, Labbox blocks encourage students to troubleshoot all on their own and help them embrace mistakes as a necessary part of the learning process.
But, as Arta recalls, “when you are working to establish a start-up that is building new hardware products, the challenges are widespread.”
A challenge on many fronts
Once the Labbox team had ensured the capacity to build in-house prototypes, they had to focus their efforts on securing seed-stage funding to bring their first batch of products to the market.
In 2018, Labbox received joint equity financing from the EBRD and the EU through the Western Balkan Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility (WBEDIF).
In the run-up to this investment, the EBRD’s advisory services supported by the EBRD Small Business Impact Fund (Italy, Japan, South Korea, Luxembourg, Sweden, Switzerland, Taipei China and the USA) helped the start-up enhance its organisational capacity and prepare legal documentation in order to register its trademark.
The consulting project accelerated Labbox’s growth and enabled it to reach new milestones.
Bringing home the trophy
Following its successful launch on the domestic market, Labbox quickly won a reputation home and abroad as a pioneer in STEM education.
Public schools across Kosovo have piloted the Labbox curriculum, and in 2018 the company won first place in the Startup Games as part of the Western Balkans Investment Summit in London.
But this is just the beginning, as Arta is committed to building on the strong momentum Labbox has achieved so far.
“This year we’re planning on reaching the European and US markets and expanding our distribution channels in order to include retail chains that serve public schools and education,” she says.