Montessorium joins Co.Lab, Zynga accelerator for educational games

SIOUX FALLS, S.D.— Montessorium, an educational game app that uses the principles of Montessori teaching, has been around for more than four years, but this month, the Sioux Falls, S.D.,-based startup is taking its games to an accelerator.

Montessorium

Montessorium

SIOUX FALLS, S.D.— Montessorium, an educational game app that uses the principles of Montessori teaching, has been around for more than four years, but this month, the Sioux Falls, S.D.,-based startup is taking its games to an accelerator.

Co-founder Bobby George has been out in San Francisco for the past two weeks as a part of the third class of the Co.Lab accelerator, which caters to startups at the intersection of gaming and learning. The accelerator is a partnership between mobile gaming giant Zynga, known for its Farmville games, and NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit venture philanthropy firm working to transform public education for low-income kids.

For George, who doesn’t exactly remember how he found the opportunity, he knew it was one he couldn’t pass up.

“It was right where we are so it was a great fit for us,” George told SPN. “A lot of people are still trying to write the rules around how to do educational gaming effectively, but a lot of these mentors are writing those rules… And we have one on one access to them.

“Even in just the first two weeks, we’ve talked big pictures as big as scaling the app, to small questions like tweaking certain aspects of a game.”

But why would a company that has a half dozen apps and four years experience need an accelerator?

Because, George says, times have changed.

Montessorium has had good success and visibility in the past, but now they’re going head-to-head with the likes of Disney, PBS and Nickelodeon, all of which have full-scale teams dedicated to educational gaming on mobile devices and tablets.

This is the first time George, who co-founded the company with his wife, June, has worked on the apps full-time. He said he isn’t completely drinking the Silicon Valley Kool-Aid, but said there is a sense of possibility out there.Bobby George

“There are so many different products and teams working on different things here and we face different challenges, but when you pull back the layers, we are working on same fundamental problems,” George (right) said. “We are working with teams and mentors both spontaneously and consciously… And those conversations aren’t something that would happen organically over Facebook and Twitter. Theoretically they could but it takes some setup. This environment is setup to facilitate those types of interactions.

“We’d love to bring what we’ve learned back to the region.”

June has been coming to San Francisco every other Thursday through Sunday to help during the accelerator.

One of the major benefits of the program is having in-roads to the school setting where the team can see and observe students and teachers interacting with their games, instead of just casual feedback from an enthusiastic teacher. Especially since the whole reason the pair created Montessorium in the first place was to take the classroom experience and put in an app for one unified experience.

The couple also runs a Montessori school in Sioux Falls, where students have independent learning and unstructured class time. And so far it hasn’t been too much to juggle both loads, George said.

“We don’t have kids yet, so Montessorium is our baby,” he joked. “We’re up late, up early with her.

“We love our school and it’s great… We teach seven students, but with the app we can teach millions.”

Montessorium will return to Sioux Falls after the accelerator, which ends Jan. 15.

Read more about the other Co.Lab companies.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT!

Sign up to receive daily updates in your inbox.