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BabySparks: Giving parents a powerful tool to support each child's specific development needs.

Our adaptive technology learns about each child's needs and provides parents with a daily program to support them through meaningful play.

Photo of Gustavo Rodriguez
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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

We feel very lucky to have been able to join this community. Since we started this process we have been able to connect with several other members and mentors that have help us to move forward our agenda in several directions: 1) Expand geographic reach. We are currently available in English and Spanish, but throughout conversations with other members, we are currently exploring translating BabySparks to other languages to increase our reach in their specific geographies. 2) We had a fantastic and insightful conversation with our OpenIDEO mentor, John Parker. We are about to launch a capital raising effort and his insights and experience helped us refine our approach to this process (see more details in the question about mentorship).

Name or Organization

BabySparks, LLC

Geography

Based in the US, but our program is used globally in over 175+ countries.

What is your stage of development?

  • Advanced Innovator with 3 to 10+ years of experience in ECD

Type

  • For-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

1. Improve ECD for millions of children around the world Our adaptive technology allows any parent or caregiver to effectively support their child's specific development needs. With a low price point, accessible almost anywhere and a simple interface, the benefits of meaningful play can be had by millions of children. 2. Big ECD data Our global database includes detailed development information for nearly 1.5 million children. It is among the largest and is growing quickly. This volume of data, with proper research support, has tremendous potential to improve our understanding of ECD

Select an Innovation Target

  • Technology-enabled: Existing approach is more effective or scalable with the addition of technology

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

After having a child most parents quickly realize how little they know about supporting the development needs of their baby. Historically, it’s been challenging for parents to know what to do. Some seek programs and classes, but these are expensive and not available in many locations. Books are an option, but there are few that provide practical, useful information that a parent can start using right away. They are filled with academic theory, which doesn’t work for a mom who is sleeping a couple of hours a night. Some apps try to help, but deliver information without personalizing it for the needs of each child. Others start with technical development assessments that can be time-consuming, obsolete within a few weeks or intimidating. The aim of BabySparks is to eliminate these barriers preventing many parents from engaging in a high quality ECD program for their babies. Our daily program delivers 8-10 video-based activities to help parents support their children. The first day we select the activities using age. After that, our program continuously learns and optimizes itself dynamically for the changing development needs of each child. We do this by collecting basic information about each activity done and using our smart adaptive technology. Perhaps most importantly, all our activities promote direct frequent quality interactions between parents and their children

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Provide millions of parents and caregivers around the world with a powerful, simple tool to support each child's specific development needs in the first years of life, even when inexperienced about ECD. To achieve this, our solution was designed to be: - Accessible anywhere - Friendly: even to parents with low levels of education - Educational: teaches parents about key ECD topics - Intelligent: with little input adapts to each child's development needs and help parents support them

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Through our mobile app, BabySparks provides parents and caregivers with a daily personalized program of 8-10 video-based activities (across development categories) to support their children's development needs. Each activity includes related development milestones to facilitate in-app recording, as the child reaches them. To offer a high quality early development program for parents, BabySparks relies on an extensive expert-created collection of 1,300+ activities and development milestones, and the following key attributes: SMART ADAPTIVE TECHNOLOGY Every time a parent does an activity with a child, information is collected and used for 2 purposes: 1) Dynamically optimize the child's daily program and 2) Continuously assess the child's development in each area. The smart adaptive technology that makes this possible is a core component of our program, as it allows us to offer a personalized experience without the need for extensive technical development assessments. Even though assessments are the industry standard, used by therapists and other professional caregivers, they are time consuming and can intimidate many parents with limited education, which are the ones that could benefit the most from this type of solutions. We also believe that as new research helps us learn more about ECD our algorithms to identify, assess and address children's specific needs will only get better. This will make assessments a continuous automated process instead of a discrete one (like it has been for decades). PROGRESS REPORTS We also use the collected information to report progress to parents in an extremely simple and graphic way. This area gets updated every time parents interact with our program, providing an always up-to-date picture of the development progress of their child. The objective of these reports is to create awareness about the child's development progress including any potential early red flags. FLEXIBLITY Each family's needs are different, so flexibility was also an important objective. In addition to our daily program, parents can browse developmentally-relevant activities for specific purposes. For example, provide additional support to their child's fine motor skills, find activities appropriate while in a playground or support a specific milestone like crawling. Our program also takes into consideration if a baby was premature or full term, which often has an impact on development. "IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD" ...And BabySparks allows this village to be seamlessly coordinated for the benefit of each child. Our program can be shared with additional family members and caregivers, allowing them to actively participate in the program picking up exactly where the last person left off. EASY TO INTEGRATE INTO PARENTS LIFESTYLES Our program suggests 8-10 activities every day, from which we recommend that parents select 5 to do with their children. Each activity takes about 5 mins, so doing the complete program takes only about 25-35 mins. However, depending on the parents schedule and the mood of the child, the program can be divided in more than one session throughout the day. For example, one parent can do a few activities in the morning and the other one can finish after work at the end of the day. We believe 25-35 mins a day, is short enough for most parents to be able to accommodate it into their daily schedules (more if they can share it), but long enough to have a tremendous impact in the early development of new generations of children. CONTEXTUALIZED ADDITIONAL ECD CONTENT Educating parents is another important piece of the equation. When our program suggests, for example, an activity to support the development of object permanence in a baby, for many parents this might be a new concept. If along with the suggested activity, parents have the option to access an article explaining what is object permanence and why is so important for the development of their child, their incentive to engage and do the activity will increase. Parents are also more likely to read these articles when they know that they are currently relevant for their children than when they are presented out of context. We have an extensive collection of articles that grows every day and that we deliver to parents only when it is relevant to them. BIG ECD DATA ANALYTICS Having millions of children around the world using our program and recording the milestones they reach (our database includes nearly 500 milestones) is helping us build one of the largest milestones databases available in our industry. We believe that using and sharing this data with the right organizations will have a tremendous potential to improve our understanding of ECD.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

Our beneficiaries are families around the world with young children and access to a smartphone. BabySparks empowers parents to better support their children's development in a stage in life in which their brain's architecture is being shaped. Adequate support during this time will have lifelong benefits for any child. That said, two types of population will especially see the impact of our program: - Children of families in underdeveloped countries, smaller cities or high-risk environment with limited access to traditional alternatives to support ECD. If they are in an area in which there is internet coverage, we are aiming to find a way to reach them. - Children of families with low education and income. For example, according to Harvard's Center on the Developing Child disparities in vocabulary for children's in these families appear as early as 18 months of age. The gap only grows larger. An extremely friendly and simple to use program like BabySparks has the potential to engage them, bringing immense benefits for their children. Our program has been in the market 3 years, during this time nearly two million parents in more than 175 countries around the world have used BabySparks with their children. We have interacted with thousands of these families who come from diverse geographical, cultural and educational backgrounds. Their input and feedback have been invaluable in continuously raising the quality of our program.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

The impact of BabySparks is at two levels: 1) At the micro level it impacts the life of each child graduating from our program. For these children the benefits of engaging through BabySparks in daily meaningful play and other activities addressing their specific development needs, will last a lifetime. There is extensive research supporting the multiple long-lasting benefits of consistent interactions of this type. Our program is just facilitating them. 2) At the macro level, as the awareness about BabySparks grows, internet penetration increases and we find ways to reach more and more families around the world, we have the potential to positively reshape the way in which parents interact with their infants and toddlers in many global communities. With almost 2 million users in just 3 years in the market, we are already on the right track. Aside from our focus of continuously improving our product and expanding our content, we are always looking for partnerships and new channels to accelerate penetration in the US and internationally to be able to deliver this type of macro impact.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

BabySparks has already touched the life of tens of thousands of low-income children through different channels: 1) In the US, we have an ongoing collaboration with United Way’s Center for Excellence in Early Education. Our program is used in 30 classrooms with low-income infants and toddlers in multiple locations. We are using BabySparks as a tool to help teachers support the development of their children, measure their progress and increase their family’s engagement leveraging our program. We plan to expand this type of collaborations to other organizations and geographies. 2) Internationally, smart simplicity has made BabySparks highly appealing to many low-income families around the world. More than 30% of our users come from emerging markets. We interact with and receive daily inquiries from engaged low-income and low-education moms using our program in remote rural locations in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia Pacific.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (5000 characters)

Ample research is increasing the awareness in new parents about the lifelong impact of the first years in their children's lives. Despite this, several challenges remain for parents to be able to properly support their children during this stage. The BabySparks program includes multiple innovations to help parents overcome these challenges (e.g., it adapts to their increasingly busy lifestyles, helps them to create a child-centered environment with other people that care for their babies, makes accessible a high quality development program to families for a fraction of the cost of most baby classes, etc). Among all these innovations, however, there are two that we consider disruptive. We were the first app to use them with millions of parents in the context of supporting ECD in infants and toddlers: 1) We turn development assessments into a continuous process instead of a discrete event. Assessing development is very important, but it requires time and can be intimidating for many parents (even for daycare and preschool teachers). Also, young children change very fast, so in the first months of life these assessments become obsolete after just a few days. BabySparks offers parents a daily program of 8-10 activities to support development across key areas. All of these activities are designed to support different types of development skills. Every time parents use our program to interact with their child, it collects information from these engagements and uses it to dynamically assess the child's progress in each area. We merged the processes of interacting and assessing a child. This allows us to continuously assess the child every day (while the child and caregiver are playing) and to always have an up-to-date picture of the baby's development profile using many more data points than if assessed only once every few months for a few minutes. 2) Optimizing ECD support through adaptive algorithms As explained above, we collect information from each caregiver/child interaction and use it to assess the child's development continuously improving our understanding of that child's development profile, but we don't stop there. Every day we use this cumulative learning to decide what activities to recommend for the next day. That way if, for example, the child starts falling behind in an area in which she/he was initially excelling, we are nimble and adapt to it using multiple data points that would have been ignored using a static assessment or just the child's age. We strongly support educating parents, teachers and other caregivers in all topics related to ECD, but we also believe that in most cases technology can be a powerful complement to help boost their ability to support their children's development. We are convinced that our product is a leading innovator on this front.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

BabySparks has already reached nearly 2 million parents in 175+ countries and 22,000 cities (9,000 in the US). It is the most downloaded app offering a structured early development program. However, this is only a fraction of our target market. There are nearly 260 million children aged 0-24 months globally, with smartphone penetrations growing fast in most emerging markets, the size of our target market is getting bigger every day. To continue our expansion we need to: 1) Make available BabySparks in multiple new languages. 2) Expand the ways in which families can access BabySparks. For example, not just by directly paying us to subscribe, but through 3rd party sponsor organizations. We are running a pilot with United Way in Florida that we expect to replicate in many vulnerable communities. 3) Expand our content to also cover children aged 24-36 months. The question for us is the speed at which we can do it by financing ourselves only with our own cash flows. We are in the process of launching a capital raising effort, which will allow us to accelerate the implementation of these priorities. From a technological and content perspectives, we won't have problems scaling. Our flexible architecture was designed to do this. We have the capability to expand languages and age ranges quickly and our server infrastructure is designed to host tens of millions of additional users without impacting the accessibility or responsiveness of our application.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

BabySparks has been in the market for 3+ years. Every week it is used by tens of thousands of parents and every day a few thousand more get the app. Many of them also take the time to send us strong positive feedback on a daily basis, making us one of the highest rated infant development apps in the market (e.g., iOS App Store (US): over 1,500 ratings averaging 4.7). This ability to attract parents to our app and retain them for many months with high levels of satisfaction, not only makes us proud, but it is also evidence of the feasibility and potential of our product. To achieve this, BabySparks relies on a team of 8 persons focused in developing our product and content, and commercializing it. We also have an extended team of partners, contributors and our technical advisory board. Our team and technical advisory board include experts in many areas related to early childhood development, technology development, content generation and skilled business operators. Even though this team has been able to make BabySparks commercially and financially feasible for a few years, while continuously improving it, we know that we will need to expand it as we increase scale. Specifically, we will require additional developers (technology), a marketer and content editors for different languages.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (5000 characters)

BabySparks is a profitable going-concern in its third year of operation enjoying fast growth. Our revenue model is based on subscriptions, which have consistently grown since introduced. As our subscriber base expands, so have our margins and profitability. We have achieved this without raising any external capital and financing our growth mainly through cash flows generated by the company. BabySparks is currently financially self-sufficient. However, we want to accelerate our growth by expanding our product reach through more languages, a broader age range and new distribution channels. To do this we need access to additional capital. We are in the process of formally launching a capital raising process. We are confident that an innovative, fast growing, market-proven platform with our current reach and positive impact, will be able to do it. This capital is not necessary for the survival of the company, but to make sure that we get our development program (and its multiple benefits) to many more millions of children sooner. As a side note, before BabySparks, I spent 12 years advising clients in M&A and equity capital raising deals adding up to more than $20 billion, we believe that this experience will be very useful as we start our own capital raising process.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (5000 characters)

We have used HCD in multiple ways since before we launched BabySparks. At the core of this product is a deep level of empathy. We built BabySparks to answer our own needs for our own children. Much like some of the best examples of HCD, we started with a problem for a single user and have created something for millions. Some additional ways in which we have used HCD include: 1) To design v1.0 of our app: When we built the first version of our app, our team designed the flow based on our own experience and best instincts. But we wanted to test this prototype before going to market. So we reached out to the moms of the babies that had participated in our videos and asked them to test it and give us feedback. We made several modifications to version 1.0 of BabySparks based on this feedback. 2) Product enhancement and quality testing: To date we have launched more than 35 versions of the app. Most updates have been to introduce new functionality, new content or improvements requested by users. HCD is at the core of how we prioritize what functionality or improvements to implement in two ways: a. A structured post-customer service interaction process: Every time that one of our customer reaches out to us with an issue, a question or a suggestion, besides assisting her, we also methodically tabulate the comment. This helps our product development team to prioritize and put especial emphasis on higher frequency comments. This methodology has shaped multiple enhancements in flow, user experience, content and even design. I also personally review every customer service issue so that I can understand better the problems that our users have. b. Surveys: We interact with our users several times per week via email (we send them a weekly development report about their babies and also articles that we write in topics related to development). We use this channel for survey purposes to better understand their perspective about modifications and improvements in our product development pipeline. 3) Our daily program: HCD is also a key component of our suggested daily program (one of the core components of our whole product). Instead of serving the same program to all children of a similar age, each time parents do an activity with us, we survey them to determine how did it go. We use this information to adapt our program to the specific needs of their child. This process continues iteratively every day with every activity. 4) App analytics: Our app has behind a whole analytics platform built that allow us to see detailed user flow maps. They clearly show us the flow path that our users follow after installing our app the first time and after they become users. This is a powerful tool that allows us to identify, for example, where are we loosing potential new users or sections of our app of special interest to our audience. We can then build "experiments" in these specific sections (changing or relocating them) and measure how they impact the user flow with the objective to optimize the experience for our users.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

1) A few months after my first son, Nico, was born, my wife and I started noticing some motor differences relative to his little playmates. Doctors would tell us that all children develop differently and that Nico didn't need any therapy. Still, even though I was not an expert, I could see the differences at the playground and wanted to do something about it before he actually needed therapy. After reading many books about ECD, I found one in Spanish that offered a structured program for parents to support the early development of their children at home (the author is now part of our team). My wife and I started following the program with Nico with amazing results. I was sold on the power of supporting ECD, but also surprised that in London, where we lived at the time, we couldn’t find a baby center offering this type of programs for typically developing babies. I knew you could easily find high quality ones in some of the larger cities in Latin America (I'm originally from Colombia). My background in finance allowed me to do a proper analysis and quickly realize that for many reasons baby centers at the scale that I witnessed in Latin America, wouldn't be financially viable (without subsidies) in countries like the US or UK. However, with smartphones becoming more and more powerful there was an opportunity to build a technology-enabled solution accessible anywhere and that empowered parents to provide this support themselves, like I did with Nico. So I decided to build it. 2. "As the twig is bent, so grows the tree." The idea that small adjustments to the living environment of our children and the type of interactions that we have with them can have a major lifelong impact in their lives fascinates me. Equally exciting is the accelerating speed at which we are learning new ways to help twigs grow straight or straighten the ones that are bending. The fact that technology now makes it possible to teach millions of parents and entire communities how to do these adjustments and analyze big quantities of data to learn new ones, is an opportunity that no generation has experienced before. I see it as an extreme Pareto in which resources invested in this field and children of this young age range, will yield the biggest benefits to our society in future generations. 3. Before BabySparks, most of my experience was in business strategy and finance. I studied Industrial Engineering and did an MBA. I spent 12 years advising clients in how to grow their companies organically, through acquisitions or by raising the required capital to execute their strategic visions. I specialized in the consumer, healthcare and retail industries. Since starting BabySparks, in late 2013, I have immersed myself in the world of ECD and plan to keep it this way for many years to come.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

Yes, we have an amazing team and an active advisory board that includes educators, therapists, pediatricians, psychologists, writers and technology developers. Together we have been running BabySparks since launched. That said, we are aware that we will need to expand our team in several areas as our company expands (see question about feasibility for details). We also maintain a frequent dialogue with several organizations (including United Way, Harvard's Center on the Developing Child and Children's Mercy Hospital) with which we are actively exploring opportunities to collaborate.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We would welcome any of the following types of partners or experts: 1) Our reach to date has been driven exclusively through word of mouth and online social marketing. We want to increase it especially with children in low-income and high-risk environments. To do this we want to partner with foundations, agencies and government programs that share our sense of urgency in getting this type of support to the children under their care. 2) Experts in early childhood development in non-English and non-Spanish speaking countries interested in partnering to translate and take our program to their geographies. 3) Impact investment firms interested in promoting healthy development in young children. As mentioned before, we will soon start our capital raising efforts, but it is important for us to find financial partners that are aligned with our goals. 4) Researchers or research organizations interested in partnering with us to apply their expertise to our large ECD database.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

We would welcome mentoring support from people with expertise or access to the type of organizations described in the previous question.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

https://www.linkedin.com/in/gustavo-rodriguez-902389/ https://www.babysparks.com/

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? (5000 characters)

We had a great conversation with John Parker from Springhood Impact Ventures. It was very productive in multiple ways: 1) John has a lot of experience in raising capital for companies like ours. His insights on this area have already been incorporated in our investor presentation. He also very generously offered additional feedback on our investor materials once we are ready to launch our capital raising process. 2) He pointed us to other less traditional sources of capital that we hadn't considered. We are currently exploring them. 3) The type of ventures that John invests in are more clinical-oriented, we had a great conversation about healthcare applications for a program like ours that we hadn't considered before.

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Photo of Valeria Fernandez Cortina
Team

Hello Gustavo!
Congrats on your app! Just wondering if you had already connected with Luis Garza from KINEDU, your projects have many things in common, you two should meet up!
valeria

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Photo of Gustavo Rodriguez
Team

Hi Valeria - Thank you for the heads up. We are always interested in meeting and collaborating with people in our field.

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