ACT News

Inspired by Sesame Street: Canberra start-up secures $4m funding for new preschool program

Do you have a child obsessed with Hi-5, The Wiggles or Sesame Street?

Then they're going to love a new online product being created right here in Canberra by digital innovator Shane Hill and the team from Skoolbo.

Preschool Play is a brand new online content platform, designed to give preschoolers and their teachers a "really brilliant start to the day" by encouraging learning through a nine-minute burst of singing and dancing.

It's a modern take on Sesame Street, which was famously developed for television in the United States in the late 1960s, to provide research-based and fun educational content to the children of America.

The team behind Skoolbo has spent the past 12 months building Preschool Play, including working with Hi-5 director Jonathan Geraghty (he is an investor in Preschool Play) to write, compose and film more than 1000 educational songs for the new platform.

For a small fee, preschool teachers across the world will be able to download episodes from Preschool Play and play them in the classroom as a fun and active way to start the day.

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The $4m funding boost means Preschool Play will be launched into classrooms internationally in February, and the team can continue work on the Mandarin version of the platform, being produced in conjunction with Hong Kong-based multimedia giant CIT.

According to Mr Hill, Preschool Play has been a phenomenal effort by a truly global team.

"The Canberra team - there are eight of us - does the writing of content and the graphics, so we do a lot of the fun stuff," he said.

"The teams in Singapore and Vietnam do the web programming, and all the filming is done in the United States."

A serial entrepreneur, Mr Hill is the visionary behind Mathletics (launched in 2003 and still the world's most used maths website) and Skoolbo (an online gaming platform launched in 2014 and currently available in 50,000 classrooms across the world).

Mr Hill grew up in Sydney but moved to Canberra in 2010 to be closer to his wife's side of the family.

"Skoolbo was four years in production and was really built on the vision that the most important thing of all is for every child to learn to read," he said.

"There are great ways of helping children with their learning and if you get the learning just right then you can do brilliant things.

"We build learning products so that anyone - regardless of their financial circumstances - can easily participate."

Mr Hill said the ACT's innovation ecosystem had evolved "a huge amount" in the past couple of years.

"[Canberra] has come a long with the set-up of the Canberra Innovation Network and Entry 29 - the whole start-up scene in Canberra has really come of age in the past three or four years," he said.

"It's not easy getting start-ups up - they need all the help they can get.

"[Co-working space] Entry 29 is great because there's 30 plus businesses all giving their best shot at the various things they're doing."

Disclaimer: Fairfax Media holds a minority stake in Skoolbo.