Testing New Early Learning Technology
Co-founded by entrepreneurs Ami Shah and Angie Chan, Peekapak is a curriculum designed to help teachers support students’ social-emotional learning and early literacy skills from pre-K through third grade. Integrated with required literacy, reading and writing standards, Peekapak’s
early-stage technology engages students through lessons, stories and personalized learning experiences that help reinforce concepts like empathy, respect and self-regulation.
Ami’s talents in developing her suite of products were great to see, and Peekapak’s product and business model was strengthened through the testing done in early care and education settings in Denver.” — Steffanie Clothier, Early Childhood Development Investment Director, Gary Community Investments
Purpose of Funding
While participating in the GCI-funded Uncharted Early Childhood Accelerator, Peekapak sparked conversations with Mile High Early Learning (MHEL) and Denver Public Schools (DPS) about leveraging their classrooms as early-stage pilot sites. To make this possible, GCI provided technical assistance funding to help Peekapak test and evaluate its program at these local institutions, providing the company with insights that are critical to its success and scalability.
2016 - 2019
Reflections & Lessons Learned
In the matter of a few years, Peekapak has secured funding and built partnerships through its participation in a number of accelerators and challenges, including Y Combinator’s Imagine K12 edtech accelerator, a five-day accelerator with Uncharted, and NewSchools Venture Fund’s Early Learning Challenge. After kickstarting research and development with the DPS and MHEL pilots, Peekapak now works with school districts across the country and continues to explore new avenues for providing its social-emotional learning curriculum.
The following are learnings from the DPS and MHEL pilot projects.
01Technology Isn't the Solution for Every Classroom
MHEL doesn’t have computers in its classrooms, which forced Peekapak to reevaluate its technology-based curriculum. Through feedback from MHEL, it became clear that print versions of the books and reading materials were needed, and these resources are now a significant aspect of Peekapak’s overall product offering.
02Increase Teacher Confidence to Help Students Thrive
Peekapak’s impact statement originally centered around children. The user-testing project showed that the best starting point, however, is with teachers. By increasing teacher confidence and building their capacity to serve students, Peekapak supported teachers in more effectively developing their students’
03What Works in Silicon Valley May Not Work for All Startups
The “freemium” model—in which a basic version of the product is free while premium features have associated costs—set Peekapak back early on. It wanted to create an equitable, affordable and accessible product, but learned that “freemium” lessened the product’s perceived quality. In addition, whereas teachers initially adopted the curriculum on their own, tiered levels of paid products now put the decision making at the district level for greater adoption and long-term relationships.
04Intensive Pilot Programs Pay Off for Customer Acquisition
The partnership with DPS grew while Colorado was updating its data privacy laws, which affected students. Peekapak went through an intensive three-month process to ensure children using the products were protected, which opened up doors for working with districts across the country that knew such data updates would be coming soon.
Accelerating research and investment
Ami Shah and Angie Chan founded Peekapak in 2014 to “help children become the best possible versions of themselves.” It launched as a freemium platform in December 2015, reaching over 19,000 users within three months. Yet Ami knew Peekapak had the potential to impact more children if she sold directly to schools. Having never done so, Ami went through the Uncharted Early Childhood Accelerator—funded by GCI—in January 2016 to get help with the two drivers she knew could make or break her sales dreams: research and investment. After five packed days, Peekapak was able to make game-changing connections that impacted their business’ trajectory.
“In such a short period of time, Uncharted facilitated incredible connections—people who really believe in each other and really want to help each other out,” she said.
It was there that Peekapak connected with Denver Public Schools, one of largest and most innovative school districts in the country, to start a relationship that sparked an early-stage pilot program and further adoption. They also worked with Charlotte Cole of Blue Butterfly Collaborative (now involved as an advisor) to develop a new research strategy for amplifying their credibility. Through those connections, Peekapak has created powerful partnerships and launched paid pilots with multiple school districts across the country.
In addition, as a for-profit company, Peekapak had never leveraged grant funding before the accelerator. During the year of the program, Peekapak raised $75,000 in philanthropic funding, and within seven months of participating in the accelerator, increased the number of schools it serves by 360 percent, grew revenues by 253 percent, and doubled its team.