Thursday, November 6, 2014

Start-up reality: Silicon Snowbanks

Contrary to appearances, this is not an abandoned blog. For the past couple of days, I was at a hotel where the only wireless was dial-up speed and cell phone reception was too poor to use my personal hotspot. Yes, I know, first-world problems.

Many people have wondered how products would differ if start-ups weren't run by twenty-year-olds living in the Bay area. Would we get fewer apps to get dinner reservations and more that address the needs of people who are older, less urban, with less discretionary income and more children?

I can tell you that our very atypical start-up, 7 Generation Games, makes games that teach math - a concern of 30- and 40-year-old parents everywhere. With a theme centered on Native American history, you are more likely to find me on an American Indian reservation driving through the snow, than driving on a golf range or drinking martinis with venture capitalists.

(If you are a venture capitalist reading this, though, call me!)

This week I :
  • Flew from Los Angeles to Grand Forks, North Dakota then drove 90 miles west to Fort Totten,
  • In one day, did a game demonstration and spoke with students in the middle school, elementary school and after school program on the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation,  had dinner with a consultant on Dakota language, then gave a lecture on confidence intervals for the online course I teach on biostatistics,
  • Spent an entire day conducting a site visit for program evaluation, had dinner with staff from the elementary school, middle school and our Dakota culture consultant then drove 90 miles north to Turtle Mountain,
  • Made a new game install that fixed bugs discovered WHILE I was traveling. Went to Turtle Mountain Elementary, talked to classroom of students, then met with two teachers,
  • Met with staff at Ojibwa Indian School to do game demonstration , then drove 90 miles south back to Spirit Lake for continuation of site visit. Then gave a two-hour lecture on hypothesis testing.

... and it's only Thursday!

Testing with actual people in actual classrooms is crucial to making  games that are both fun to play and really (not fake) educational.

I am not complaining. I believe the work we are doing has great potential to change the world AND become a huge enterprise. Children in America who can't do math have far fewer opportunities in life - by fourth-grade, many children are already falling off the college track. We are working to put them back on it. 

I went into this with both eyes wide open and knew that making games that are used by children on American Indian reservations and in urban schools would involve Belcourt, North Dakota more than Beijing or Berlin.

That's my point, not all start-ups are in Silicon Valley. Some are in Silicon snowbanks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sorry that was East Hampton and South Hampton (or more correctly, Southampton). When it rains out there, it really pours down. I remember when I was visiting Southampton college many years ago to see the campus as I was planning to go there in order to study Marine Biology. It began raining and it was crazy. We could barely see in front of us, the rain blocked out the entire windshield as if we were under a waterfall!

Southampton College has since been merged with Stonybrook University. Whether this was an upgrade or a downgrade, I cannot confirm.