August’s featured startup - Killer Snails
Killer Snails, a video/card game startup, takes science out of the laboratory and brings users fun, interactive games. The company uses STEM content in its creation of virtual reality and card games for family game night. We caught up with Co-Founder Jessica Ochoa Hendrix to find out more about Killer Snails.
August 14, 2018
DBP: Tell us about Killer Snails. Who are your customers and what defines your niche?
JOH: Killer Snails creates games and virtual reality experiences that inspire a love of science. One of our current projects, BioDive, is a virtual reality digital hybrid experience where students are marine biologists studying the delicate ecosystems of venomous marine snails. Here’s a link that gives you an overview of what the experience looks like and we have also developed projects with the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Hall of Science and Google.
Our customers are teachers at schools ranging from kindergarten through twelfth grade, families with children, and informal learning centers that are looking for new ways to engage their audience. Our niche is in developing science focused games that always ensure the learning is built into the game design!
DBP: What inspired you to create STEM-themed video/card games?
JOH: One of our co-founders, Dr. Mandë Holford, is a marine biochemist who studies these venomous marine snails. These snails are so deadly they can kill a 200 lb person in under 5 minutes, but scientists, including Mandë, are studying the venom to create therapeutic drugs for humans. I saw Mandë speak at a Secret Science Club meeting a few years ago and realized I wanted to work with her to show children how incredibly awesome science is!
Mandë already knew our other co-founder, Dr. Lindsay Portnoy, a learning scientist. They were both professors at Hunter College with Lindsay teaching in the education department. Lindsay’s background in teaching assessment courses and cognitive development courses ensured we could design thoughtful, cognitively appropriate games with built-in assessment.
My background has been working in the K-16 education space since 2003 for organizations ranging from the New York City Department of Education, to working as the Director of Organizational Learning for Uncommon Schools to teaching for four years for The Princeton Review. I wanted to build products that could get kids excited about science and help teachers find a new way to engage students with innovative technology in a meaningful way.
The three of us decided to focus on developing games for a few reasons. One reason is that by creating games, we are able to always position the player as a scientist to build familiarity and confidence with the role. A second reason is that children feel safe taking risks in games that they may not otherwise. Finally, games are something that kids want to play and we wanted kids to seek out and enjoy science the way that we do!
DBP: Why did you choose to start your business in Brooklyn, and, can you speak to why Brooklyn is a great place to do business?
JOH: Brooklyn is an amazing place to do business because there is such a deep pool of talent and there are excellent resources here such as the cultural institutions with whom we partner, the universities such as New York University’s Game Lab where we’ve tested our games, and so many schools who have graciously let us pilot.
In addition, Brooklyn has many wonderful co-working spaces and incubators. We are at the Made in NY Media Center where we have colleagues working on related projects in virtual reality and we host a meetup every 3rd Wednesday called VR in Education which now has over 400 members.
DBP: What are the challenges of being a female entrepreneur in a traditionally male-dominated field (i.e. tech)? Are there any ways that being a woman has been an advantage to you or your company ‘making it’?
JOH: I want to share a couple of resources for female entrepreneurs that have been extraordinarily useful for me. The first is Springboard Enterprise and their Dolphin Tank. It’s a group of supportive women who provide feedback and connections to new entrepreneurs and it’s been invaluable in our growth. The second is Project Entrepreneur. This program introduced me to many other women working in related fields and offered workshops on marketing and promotion, prioritizing tasks and more. I’m still in touch with several of the women from that program and we hold each other accountable on progress.
DBP: What’s next for Killer Snails? Any big partnerships on the horizon? Fun facts? Recent achievements?
JOH: Yes! We are thrilled to say that we were named the 2018 New York Small Business Administration’s Small Business Innovation Research Recipient of the Year! In addition, our game, Biome Builder, won a Gold Medal at International Serious Play and Best Family Game at the Boston Festival of Independent Games. We’re fortunate to be staying quite busy! Currently, we are starting work on an augmented reality project with Google; we are developing a new tabletop game with C&A Scientific that includes a microscope, and we are completing a tabletop and a digital game with the New York Hall of Science.
Final fun fact- you can watch a video of a snail hunting a fish here!
DBP: Sounds great! How do I get involved or sign-up for more Killer Snails news?
JOH: You can sign up for our newsletters at www.killersnails.com and if you are at a school or informal learning center (museum, library, etc.) please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org as we’d love to pilot and prototype with you in the future!
You can learn more about Killer Snails here.