Nathan Damtew, the founder of new Ethiopian education technology and gaming company BeBlocky, has always been interested in games.
An avid Call of Duty player, the young entrepreneur, who founded BeBlocky in his senior year of college, was always struck by the disconnection between how adept his generation was at playing games and how little they knew about how those games were built.
The problem, Damtew thought, was especially acute across Africa, where most students are introduced to programming in high school — if they’re able to get those classes at all.
BeBlocky is his attempt to change that.
The company’s initial product is a programming learning platform for kids. It uses animated programming lessons as a traditional app and through augmented reality to teach children the basics of computer programming using a modified curriculum based off of lessons from Code.org.
BeBlocky launched a mere five months ago and already has 6,000 users on its app. In Ethiopia, it has grown through its partnership with the local Addis Ababa-based organization Yenetta Code, which teaches Ethiopian students in the nation’s capital coding skills.
The company has also scored early partnerships with national celebrities to attract kids to the platform. BeBlocky uses avatars from pop culture icons like Rophnan, a popular Ethiopian musician, and Jember and Hawi, two characters from a popular Ethiopian comic book.
It’s an indicator of how BeBlocky expects to make money. Damtew says that sponsorship opportunities will exist for companies that want to advertise in the app. And, there’s an opportunity for in-app purchases, he says.
“These characters… kids love them… we want to have the characters as toys that can have a bar code so kids can take a picture and then engage with the game characters in the app,” says Damtew.
The merchandising component also informs the company’s move to develop an augmented reality application as well, which the company developed after seeing the success of Pokemon Go.
“We thought it would be a very cool thing to integrate the education system with the Augmented Reality,” says Damtew.
Gameplay in the app is designed to encourage users to roam free in the environment once they complete lessons peppered through five different levels of the game, so they can build out their own worlds.
Going forward, Damtew envisions a fully realized merchandising and storytelling platform that includes tech-enabled toys and games and user generated content built with BeBlocky’s assets.
“One of the things that makes us different is that education and coding in Africa has been overlooked and we’re making characters that are relevant to African people around the world,” says Damtew.
To date, the company has raised a small, pre-seed investment from the Baobab Network, after participating in the impact investor’s two-year technology accelerator program and is currently in the process of raising its seed round, with an eye toward expanding the marketing and development of the app across theAfrican continent.