Startup Mantra: Guiding Little Ones to Climb the Learning Steps – Hindustan Times | Team Cansler

For an infant, toddler, or any child up to the age of seven, the preschool years are fundamental years when the brain develops and the child explores, wonders, and grows. Parents of children in this age group are the most focused and many wish they had access to educational tools that would help their children understand Indian culture as well.

The entrepreneur-sister duo Pranali Shende-Kotkar and Mayuri Shende-Kankariya founded “Shark Brain” in April 2022 with the vision of absorbing Indian culture and arousing curiosity among young Indians. Shark Brains, an initiative by mothers, researchers and educators to encourage screen-free time, focuses on professionally designed brain development kits for infants and young children, and the kits are validated by child educators and researchers.

At the beginning…

Mayuri trained as a product designer and has been running a design agency for more than seven years. She has also completed her Entrepreneurship for Creatives course at the University of the Arts, London. Her older sister Pranali is an interior designer and has completed around 30 projects to date. Interestingly, both sisters got together after their marriage, and discussions about problems parents faced in raising their children drove them to start their business.

Mayuri said: “When my son was three months old, I came across the concept of high-contrast maps for children’s vision development. I searched for such products online but found mixed reviews about the quality of the products and delivery time. Being a product designer I figured why not design my own product in this category right away. I made a kit of high contrast sight maps and tried it out with my son and the children of other close friends. They also recorded how their infants transmitted vision from left to right and vice versa while looking at the high-contrast maps. These cards also helped the children calm down in an overwhelming environment. That gave me the impetus to share the product with other moms, followed by research from the competition.”

Pranali said, “I used various tricks to teach my six-year-old daughter shlokas (verses) and mantras (words or phrases). That’s how we two sisters were brought up. It was part of our daily routine and was never forced on us. What I realized was that through these activities at home, my daughter was able to pronounce words and phrases clearly, she had become an avid reader, and could read great story books. As a result, parents asked me to teach or take lessons for their children. I didn’t have a specific format for teaching these Sanskrit shlokas. Mayuri and I discussed the benefits of Shlokas and decided to turn them into gaming cards. We considered different options like video, but we wanted a product that was screenless and batteryless.”

flash cards

Mayuri said: “We’ve seen there’s a huge demand for flashcards and something that keeps the kid busy. So we decided to make cards and translated the high vision content of the Shlokas and Mantras into flashcards. When designing the cards, we thought of translating the meaning of the Sanskrit shlokas into the English language. We missed that as children, but we thought about giving our children something better. So the English meaning of shlokas was printed on the back of each card.”

“Because I had a design agency with a team of illustrators, designers, design thinkers and strategists, our kits were carefully curated, keeping in mind the most effective ways of self-learning and having fun,” she said.

shark brain

While contemplating a name for their new startup, Mayuri and Pranali considered many aspects. “We wanted a name that would be easy for children and their parents to understand and that children would remember as they grew up. Initially we thought of cognitive brains because parents focus on cognitive development in their children’s early days, but we thought it would be a little harder name to remember. Targeting an Indian audience, we went through some nursery rhymes that captivated children. After much deliberation, we came up with Shark Brains.”

Extension of the product range “A to Z”

Buoyed by initial success, Mayuri and Pranali also realized early on that they had a very short product range.

Mayuri says: “When we were thinking about launching new products, I came across small children, around 8 to 10 years old. Most teenage children don’t believe that India is a land of opportunity. They think that they should leave our country at the very first moment they get a chance abroad. Also, during vacations and planning family trips, most children are fascinated by foreign travel destinations like Paris, Malaysia, etc. However, we found that India is such a magnificent country that it would take two lifetimes to explore its natural, cultural and linguistic diversity. Children do not know the handmade products from India. As we get older, we realize the importance of all of these things. In order to change the way children think, we have decided to expand our range of products. It was an ‘A to Z’ kit where each letter describes a local place and everything that is popular in that place.”

“We also did a test. Pranali had taken two decks of cards with her during her trip. On the flight she gave these cards to three children and they kept them busy for 30 minutes. Our products kept these kids away from mobile games and screen time. It created curiosity, calmness and concentration in these children. Our vision is two years later, children will ask parents about domestic tourist destinations like Darjeeling etc. instead of demanding travel to foreign destinations,” Mayuri said.

“The maps are available in English, Marathi, Hindi and Sanskrit languages. If the shloka is in Sanskrit, its meaning is written in English. The ‘A to Z’ kit has a location description in English and Hindi. We also want to promote regional languages,” Mayuri said.

Foreign Language Kits

As infant and toddler products grew in popularity, Mayuri and Pranali then focused on the design and development of products for children up to the age of seven.

Mayuri said: “We understand that there is a great demand for learning a foreign language among preschool children. We are becoming global citizens and are no longer limited to one location. We interact with multilingual people on a daily basis. So we decided that our focus should not only be on Sanskrit, but also on something that will probably interest children and parents. Doing some research in collaboration with preschools, we found that Spanish and French are the languages ​​most requested by parents. We collaborated with some children’s educators, conducted research and innovation, and developed a new product.”

Explaining the importance of technology in scaling her startup, Mayuri said, “Successful companies scale because they use technology. We didn’t want to lag behind either. We didn’t just want to make games, but a product that parents, grandparents or babysitters can comfortably use at home. Also, we wanted to make sure they didn’t mispronounce words when teaching kids. So we came up with the idea of ​​recording every shloka, mantra and word or letter and making it available to users who would be teaching children. We have used experienced adult voices for shloka and mantras, and for languages ​​we have teachers and the best performing student voices.”

“We have generated a QR code (Quick Response) on our product packaging, which is scanned by the user who buys our products. Scanning the code will redirect the user to a website where the audio files can be retrieved. Users can also share this link with their friends or family. We didn’t put an access barrier here because in any case we would get the cell phone number of the users accessing the data,” Mayuri said.

design element

Mayuri and Pranali wanted the cards to be travel and transport friendly. “Parents should be easy to use, and it should also be comfortable for the child to hold. We did some trials with both large and small cards, but later settled on the 4″ x 4″ size. We also sampled the font size in our area and decided which font size would be legible for grandparents and children.”

Sharing her experiences and feedback from users, Mayuri said, “India has been quick to focus on technology adoption. Parents are active on e-commerce marketplaces. We are investigating these possibilities and have had good responses so far. We interact with customers, taking first-hand feedback and understanding their emotions after using our products. We have received many videos of children exploring the maps, singing shlokas and sharing testimonies via social media.”

Crafted from matte double-ply paper, the cards feature colourful, hand-drawn illustrations and smooth edges.

Mayuri said: “We have a website that is an e-commerce platform to allow users to purchase. The site itself redirects users to audio files. After logging in via the QR code scan, the parents play the audio files. We do not want children to touch cell phones, so we recommend keeping devices away from children. Content is available on cards for kids and parents can listen to audio and pronounce it correctly. Our language kit includes translations in English, Spanish, etc. With the mobile numbers and details of current users, we would advertise our future products to them.”

“We have no plans to raise venture capital for at least two years. We are looking for marketing capital where renowned publications and academic artists discover and connect with our brand,” she said.

future plans

Mayuri and Pranali shared their growth strategy for Shark Brain. Mayuri said: “Up until now we have focused on the innovation aspect of the product. We are now approaching schools with a wide range of products. They want to use our products and distribute them to children. We are in talks with three International Baccalaureate (IB) schools and preschools. For children from the age of 7 we will introduce revised language kits with advanced foreign language levels.”

“We also launched a combo kit that includes maps and a wooden rocket stacker. Motor skills develop in children from 0 to 7 years of age. We plan to adopt the subscription box model so that the business becomes scalable,” said Pranali.

addressable market

Mayuri claims that there are 3,000 preschools in the city of Pune and if the Shark Brains team targets 100 students from each preschool, then they have 30,000 potential users (parents of those kids). Other urban centers such as Mumbai would contribute to these numbers, she said. “If we look at the market size for preschool products (for infants and toddlers only) or the toy industry as a whole, that’s already the case 26,000 crore market by 2025,” Mayuri said.

Leave a Comment