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Exclusive interview: Elanation battles child obesity & anxiety with tech

By Julia Gabel, Fri 2 Jun 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

The idea of Elanation, a lifestyle technology specifically for children, was conceived in India.

Co-founder and CEO, Katherine Maree Pace, saw a child hunched over an iPad and thought - something needs to be done about the epidemic of child obesity and technology addition that is all too common in Australia and New Zealand.

So, the Elanation ETURBO smart watch was born. Pitching to parents and children, the watch aims to balance physical activity with digital engagement; encouraging children to get outside and earn points through physical activity that they can redeem in the app's virtual world.

The other half of Elanation is Aimme Atkins, the original Dorothy the Dinosaur from the Wiggles, who brings 20 years-experience in children's products and entertainment to the company.

Her previous ventures include Bananas in Pyjamas and Bob the Builder. Where Pace brings a passion for technology, product design and engineering, Aimme is passionate about the rise of child obesity as a result of technology addiction.

Pace met Aitkens at the wedding of “dirtgirl”, the protagonist of the Australian television show, dirtgirlworld.

“To meet another woman who was young, and building her own thing and was on a life mission was very rare,” says Pace.

Pace, who spoke at the AWS Summit in Auckland this week, discusses technology addiction among children, balancing physical play with virtual play and the problem with giving adult technology to children.  

You will launch in the United States later in the year, what expectations do you have for this market in comparison to the New Zealand and Australian markets?

Faster adoption. Americans have a real give it a go attitude and that’s going to be fantastic.

Families are becoming more and more international and it’s fantastic because we are leveraging the internet. The reason Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet is was to help connect people in a fun, healthy way, and that’s what we’re leveraging.

Now, we can say kids in Australia can play against kids in New Zealand. Maybe that’s because it’s the All Blacks VS the Waratahs and they think that I can see that happening in the adult world and now we can assimilate that in the digital world.  

Considering the recommended time kids should spend exposed to technology, and considering the role of Elanation technology in their daily lives, would your technology ideally become a replacement for that other technology?

We have parents today who say they don’t let their kids on the internet during the week, but they let them on Elanation. That’s the whole point. We know the daily recommended step count for kids is about 10,000, depending on gender, and that’s why the goals are all driven by the health standards.

In terms of screen time, our game time is capped daily at 30 minutes. We’ve already built it so the kids are putting down the app after 15 minutes because they unlock a video, they see the cool skill and think, I want to go outside and try that.

78% of kids who search the internet for content end up frustrated, confused or anxious because that sea of content is so overwhelming. Usually, between the ages of 5-12, they haven’t developed the cognitive skills to deal with this idea of: What am I going to search? Am I going to be cool if I search that?  

What is everybody else in my class searching?

They are self-evolving and becoming more self-aware. They are identifying the things that they like and that they don’t like and so handing them a Google search bar is really overwhelming.

We are curating it, so they don’t feel anxious that they must click on everything. They can go outside and try new things and talk to their friends about it and show their friends on the playground.

Yes. Search engines can be dangerous for children from a cyber security perspective as well. How do you ensure your product is safe?

The whole thing is built inside an app. There is no web portal, so children access the app and stay within the app, unless they close our app and go to another one. It’s all very confined.

In terms of privacy, we take no private information about children. We have no GPS tracking. Children should be able to stay anonymous on the internet. We don’t have photo sharing, we don’t need your name, we don’t need to know where you live.

We just want to know if you prefer cricket videos over rugby videos.

So, that’s one pitch to the parents. But, how else, from a marketing perspective, do you sell this product to the parents and the children?

It’s like a two-sided marketplace. We are educating the parents through blogs, speeches and PR interviews. For the kids, we partner with schools and parents and friends’ committees. They can sell ETURBO’s inside the school and the percentage of the sale goes back to school.

For kids, we just hang out with kids. Word of mouth works well. We work with YouTube celebrities, kids, who will have a million plus followers. When they like the product they do an unboxing video and suddenly, you’ve got about 250,000 new users.

In terms of balancing the physical and the digital world, how do you entice a child that loves video games but doesn’t love the physical world as much, and vice versa. How do you appeal to both in the way you balance your virtual and physical content?

When a kid is between 5-12, they are discovering their likes and dislikes, but more importantly they are discovering themselves and their place in society. And that starts in the playground. Even if a kid really likes sport or gaming, what they like even more than that is being friends with the kids in their class.

For us its more about that: How do you merge the physical and digital world so kids can all be friends?

We don’t want to see a divide on the playground because of that. But, it’s happening because we are continually giving them adult technology.

What role did AWS (Amazon Web Services) play in the launch of Elanation?

AWS has been super supportive in understanding we’re not just building a product, we’re building a business. Even events like today, being able to stand on a stage in front of 2000 people is really useful for a start-up.  AWS is building a myriad of modules; they deploy 2-3 new modules every day.

I might find a problem and I’ll go to AWS and say, there is this problem, what technology have you already built that we can leverage to solve that problem? If we need to personalise any of it, we’ll do that on top, but we don’t build from scratch. That’s so we can move in an agile manner, and help kids as soon as possible because obesity is already a problem.

What advice do you have for aspiring Australian and New Zealand entrepreneurs and start-ups?

Solve a problem for another human being. And solve a problem that another human being is willing to pay for. You can get very wrapped up in building a completely new product from scratch, which is really exciting, and you will learn something, but it’s the difference between building a product and business.

Oh, and have fun. 

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