Written by Vibhu Gairola

In its earliest stages, Peekapak was what CEO and co-founder Ami Shah calls a “Birchbox for kids”: a tidy little Kickstarter-funded package using storytelling to teach children social skills and empathy.

But after being accepted into Imagine K12, an accelerator for tech companies in the education market, Shah had a lightbulb moment.

“We ended up realizing our content was really resonating in the education market and that we could achieve success with a digital product,” Shah says. “We made a huge pivot and launched a learning platform since then. Now we reach 12,000 educators in 90 countries.”

The platform, launched in December 2015, helps educators and parents build kids’ character with online, story-based lesson plans integrated into the existing curriculum.

“What we’re teaching is very much in the school system and most teachers do want to teach it,” Shah says. “But it’s not a required subject, so it becomes a lower priority that is not emphasized, even though research has shown that students who have these social skills are four times more likely to graduate from college,” she says.

A pilot test from the early days—where the Peekapak team put out a lesson plan about gratitude—saw 13,000 educators sign up in just nine weeks.

But the real task, Shah says, was figuring out how the product would work. To unlock that, her team tackled the challenge of character development as a design problem.

“We ended up integrating our curriculum into literacy instruction and required subject matters, and that really resonated with the education community,” Shah says.

This required merging educational and creative expertise with technical chops: once their product pivoted to a digital platform, they hired a CTO to to develop Peekapak’s online presence.

Shah herself had to pick up product management and some aspects tech development on the fly; she was helped by mentors, advisors, and peers within both the Imagine K12 network and the Toronto startup scene.

“It seems like there’s a lot of excitement in helping people thrive here,” Shah says. “Compared to when we started out, there are a lot more initiatives to support entrepreneurship of all types, not just in women and people with diverse backgrounds but even in fields like education.”

When the Peekapak team was ready to develop games and software for students, they found collaborators in George Brown College game design students, who helped prototype products to be released this fall.

Shah was warned her biggest stumbling block would be getting face time with educators. It turned out to be a non-issue.

“We ended up interviewing 300 educators before we launched, and finding them was not a challenge,” she says. “When you build something that’s genuine or needed in the market, you really do find your tribe.”

Photo Credit: Rebecca Tisdelle