Testing Ground is an educational game designed to help kids learn math while having fun. The people behind it are Ivan Hristov (’17), Kiril Kitanov (’18), and Ivan Markovski, who first presented their idea to the AUBG Elevate Accelerator .
Following the end of the four-month mentorship program, the team kept on working on the game and made it available for customers. We spoke to alumnus Ivan Hristov to learn more about the story behind the gamification startup.
As most of the startups around, Testing Ground – Tivoros-1 started at a particular time and for a particular reason. It was around two years ago when the idea of an educational game popped into my mind. I was attending a family dinner with all my relatives and at one point I realized that most of the parents on the table were complaining that their kids (my brother and nephews) were not interested at all when it comes to school, and it is getting more and more difficult for them to find ways to motivate them. At that same time, I saw that all my nephews were super excited and focused on a game they were playing together on their mobile phones. So, I thought that an educational game might be a wonderful solution to that problem.
Despite all the technological advances of the past years, most of the educational systems around the world have not changed. However, kids have. They are growing up with electronic devices in their hands, surrounded by so many distractions that it is impossible for teachers to fight for their attention. The changes in our day-to-day lives have instilled in kids a sense of constant gratification and lower levels of attention. Slowly but surely, children lose interest in studying. As people who were bored by the way math was presented to us in most of our academic lives, we decided to emphasize it in our game.
Testing Ground is mainly created as s product for schools and the students there. However, when we first came up with the idea, we wanted the game to be not just entertaining but also beneficial. Ideally, every player – from a second grader to an adult who does not remember much from their early years in school – would be able to get something out of the game.
We started talking about and working on Testing ground around two years ago. At first, it was just an idea that involved casual conversations. Months later, we applied for an accelerator program called Elevate. It was the first-ever accelerator program hosted by the American University in Bulgaria and supported by Eleven ventures. Our idea of an educational game (Invoke at that time) was accepted to the program, and we started working on it to determine if the idea would be successful. Thanks to the wonderful mentors that we worked with, we managed to arrange meetings and interviews with parents, teachers, and kids. The results of our qualitative and quantitative research showed that schools nowadays do have a problem with motivating their students and all three parties – parents, kids, and schools are suffering from that.
As we dug deeper into the problem, we found that despite all the technological advances that we have been through, schools have not changed. They are teaching kids today the same way they were teaching us fifteen years ago and that is unacceptable.
That is a recipe for failure because kids have changed. They are growing up with electronic devices in their hands, surrounded by so many distractions that it is impossible for teachers to fight for their attention. The changes in our day-to-day lives have instilled in kids a sense of constant gratification and lower levels of attention. Slowly but surely, children lose interest in studying and that is a huge problem.
The end of the accelerator program marked the start of Testing Ground. We did not manage to attract any investors that attended the online demo day of Elevate, but we had such a good validation, that after a short meeting of the founders, we decided that we will not stop until we see the game on the market.
I would say that one of the most challenging parts of the development of Testing Ground was the creation of a prototype and visualization. There was a point in the development process when we had the validation and we knew that the product would be successful, but we did not have a person on our team who had the right technical skills to develop the game. We were thinking to create super simple prototypes – an Excel game or something paper-based, but we did not believe this would fit our needs, because we are targeting kids, and we will need strong visuals to accurately validate their interest.
AUBG has been and still is the best investment in our life. The professors that we had and the friendships that we made crafted us the way we are right now – passionate to think about new and innovative things and brave enough to try to achieve them. The entrepreneurial spirit and the Elevate program of AUBG paid a huge role in the creation of Testing Ground.
Unfortunately, that is something that we cannot answer. Our latest attempt for funding was through the crowdfunding platform – Kickstarter. We used that not only to raise funds but to also show Testing Ground to the world. We did not manage to get the funds that we needed to create the game, but the experience was extremely beneficial to us because it showed us the right way that we should go. We found out that our game is not suitable for commercial use and that we should focus all our effort on making the game a great fit for schools.
From the very first day of our campaign, many international and Bulgarian schools contacted us saying that Testing Ground is one of the best educational products they have seen, and they all had an interest in purchasing it for their students. We are currently getting in touch with schools, gathering letters of intent, and preparing our pitch deck for the upcoming rounds of funding.