The second episode of the Tech for Good August series features Jade Li, CEO and founder of Katapult, an EdTech startup based in Mauritius which provides Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) holiday camps for children. In today's discussion, Jade shares her passion to create games-based learning experiences, and her vision to empower the next generation of changemakers with relevant skills to challenge the status quo, but also build their creative confidence. Listen to her story.
At the end of the show, the guests share a sneak preview into their favourite music or books by answering the same set of questions. Here are the links to Jade’s answers. The music she listens to often is a Late Night Jazz Spotify playlist. The book she is currently reading is Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. Her all-time favourite song that she absolutely recommends is ‘Sunrise’ by Norah Jones.
If you want to follow Jade on social media, you can find her on LinkedIn
Hi everyone, and welcome to a new episode of the Narratives of Purpose podcast. My name is Claire Murigande, and I am your host on this show. On this podcast, I bring you inspiring individual stories of ordinary people who are making extraordinary social impact in their communities all around the world. And hopefully, I can inspire you to take action. This week, we continue our Tech for Good series, with a second episode focusing on educational technology. And today's guest is Jade Li. Jade is the founder and the CEO of a tech startup based in Mauritius called Katapult. Katapult designs and hosts workshops in robotics and programming for children from ages 6 to 18. In our conversation today, we talk about empowering the next generation with relevant skills to tackle new challenges, and also empowering them with creative confidence. Please take a moment to rate and review our show by subscribing on your favourite podcast app, wherever you listen to your podcast. But now listen to Jade's passion to create game based learning experiences for children. Hi, Jade, welcome to the show.
Hello, Claire. Thank you for having me, I'm excited to be on the show with you.
I'm really grateful that you're able to join me today. And that we'll be speaking about edtech, specifically your startup Katapult. And there's one thing I just wanted to mention before we start is that on your LinkedIn profile, there is something I really liked in your description. So you basically say that you are empowering tomorrow's change makers through technology. And this is basically going to be the heart of our conversation today. But before we start into that, please share with our listeners a little bit of your background and introduce yourself.
So I'm Jade. And before starting Katapult, which is an edtech startup, I used to be an engineer and I used to design medical devices. And that's what I did for my job. And what really prompted the switch was that throughout the years working, I had discovered that there was a gap in the skills that graduates had, as they came into the job market that really prompted the thinking in my head, "could I make a difference in this field?" And that's when I decided to start Katapult and what Katapult essentially is, is that it empowers the youth of today with the right skills for the careers of tomorrow. We teach them digital skills. And we do that in a fun and engaging way, mostly through games. And we teach them the right skills that they would need for their future careers.
So you say that you teach them digital skills. And you focus on this acronym that we hear more and more which is steam STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. So tell me a bit more about why you are targeting these specific skill sets? And another part of my question is that I've actually mostly heard about STEM, so without the A, and now I hear more and more about STEAM with the A, what's the difference there?
So the difference between STEM and STEAM is the A as you mentioned, and the A means arts. And we see that as we progress in our technological world, we see that it's more and more important to be able to think creatively because that's something that computers or machines cannot do. And we as humans need to leverage on our strength where we can be creative. And creativity doesn't necessarily have to mean in the form of necessarily traditional creativity in the form of art or anything. It could be through storytelling. It could be through animation, it could be through even thinking creatively. Thinking of creative solutions to a problem. This is the main difference including arts and it also enabled us to bridge this gap between art and technology. And how we do that in our workshops at Katapult is that we implement storytelling through teaching. So the children embark on the story and they have a hero or mascot that they can look up to, and then they go through this journey with this mascot. And they can also craft their own story and as they go along, they have the power to build their own characters, build their own story and change the narrative and build their own. And while doing that, when they create their own characters, they can draw or they can animate. And this is where we bridge this gap between art and technology.
I recently had a conversation with another edtech startup founder. And it seems to me that storytelling is kind of a key component in this way of learning for children, because you're also integrating that. And there's something you just mentioned there, they create their own story as well. They're not just listening or watching, but they're very active in that. So is that something that you intentionally incorporated in your tool, for us?
At Katapult, it is very important that the youth are not just passive consumers of digital content. And we want them to be very much active online, we want them to be able to create things and use this time productively to be able to create their own narrative and really, essentially have this mindset that they are able to invent the world that they live in, and really change the world that they live in. Because they have the power to do so. And it's just about setting the right environment and giving them the right guidance, with the right amount of, I guess, challenge, but also difficulty, but just the right amount, so that it's not too hard, but at the same time that it's achievable, and that they are empowered to create things online.
Coming back to the science and technology part. So from what I understood when I looked at your website, Katapult is in the form of holiday camps. And you basically have two different ones, you have the science camp and the coding camp. And within the coding camp, you seem to have two different levels. So can you walk me through exactly what the offering is, and which age groups of children you're working with?
So we have two different camps. As you mentioned, we have a science camp, and this one is for six to eight year olds. So if you're a six to eight year old, and you're curious, and you want to learn about science, that's the perfect game, there are no prerequisites, there is no prior knowledge that you need. It's beginner level. And what the campus is centred around is centred around our "squishy circuits kit", which is a kid learning about electricity with a playdough. So you build your own cat creatures and characters with the playdough, you can build your own dinosaur your own well, and you have your googly eyes, you put on top of your playdough. And as you do this, you can then bring them to life with light and sound because it's conductive playdough. So you connect them to electrical components. And then you can make light and sound, and bring them to life and also create a story around them.
Wow, that sounds amazing!
And that's for eight to six year olds. So when you register for the science camp, you get your kit, and you register for one whole week with us. And that's two hours a day with us for the whole week, Monday to Friday. And then the second type of offering is our coding camp. And as you mentioned, within the coding camp, there are two levels. There's the Starter Level, and then there is the Explorer Level. And Starter Level is for complete beginners, so it's for any kid who is between eight to 13. And in this camp, what you learn are really the basics of coding. So you learn the conditionals, the loops, the functions, the variables, and with what you learn, you learn how to make animations and mini video games. That could be recreating something like Minesweeper. And while you're shooting, it's like a shooting game. You could recreate a maze as well. And you learn how to create buttons for your game and how you're able to then control your character or your actor on the screen. And so that's all Starter Level to no prerequisites whatsoever. And it's the same format, So it's over a week. And it's Monday to Friday, and it's three hours a day. And then the second level is the Explorer Level, and that you need to essentially if you've done the Starter Level with us, you can now move on to the Explorer Level. And in the Explorer Level, you go ahead and you learn more in depth. You learn how to make more complex video games, you learn how to make platformer games, a bit like Super Mario kind of thing, where you walk through a platform you have objects to collect and you have obstacles to avoid. And you can build this type of game and really spin around and make it your own. I've seen some really interesting characters throughout the time that we've been having our camps. And one time I saw one of the kids made Abraham Lincoln, but in a grape, like it was Grape-braham Lincoln, so yeah, it's interesting, the way that they think and the way that they design their characters and their game.
Yeah, that sounds really fascinating. As you say, they're very creative. So I was wondering from your whole experience with all these different camps, and all the different games that you've seen the children create, do you have any highlights of things that for you kind of stood out? And were really remarkable?
I think one of the things that I'm really surprised by all the time, I'm not surprised, but I'm very proud of them, because of the resilience that they show. Learning how to code is not easy, and it has its own set of challenges. But every time I'm just amazed at how resilient they are, and how well they take on challenges even when we move to a more online format. Yes, they were a bit frazzled at the beginning, they didn't really know how to set up their computers. But as we progressed through the week, you can really see that they take on challenges, they are resilient, they are empowered to create and they are not afraid.
Do you know why that is?
It stems from the fact that we really take the time to craft this learning experience for them. And we understand that not every child will go at the same pace, because this is something completely new, and some will go faster, some will go slower. And we really cater for that in our camps, because we have tutorials that we've already prepared for them. But if you're a bit faster, then you can tackle other extra tutorials. But if you're a bit slower, it's okay, because you only have to do these tutorials to be able to complete the camp. And that's one of the aspects. Second, I think, is the way that we deliver our camp is through games. And we'll explain different things through games. So we'll explain maybe angles, or even conditionals. Through games, we'll do that through a rap. And we'll ask the children to rap. And we'll say, you can rap a lot of conditional for example, it could be like, if today is a Monday, I go to school, or else I don't go to school or something like that. And they'll like to make creative rap about it. And through all these little challenges and these little games, I think that they're empowered to create, and because they can see that we're here to help them. And we care about the learning process. And we show that through by helping them and taking in the questions. And really also prompting them how to think and asking them the right questions so that they are able to independently create their games. Because of that, they feel empowered, and they are not afraid. And as a result, they create really awesome games.
I'd like to come back into the startup and to your organisation and your structure. I remember the first time we spoke, you told me that you were an all female team. Was that intentional? Or did this just happen?
No, it wasn't intentional. No. But I think it just happened because I started this journey alone. And I was the only founder. And as I looked for a co-founder, a business partner, I stumbled upon another woman. And it wasn't intentional or anything, but I think we just clicked and we were aligned on the vision and the mission of this company. And we just took it from there. And then our first employee is an educator that we hired. And she also happens to be a woman. And that also wasn't intentional. But we really struggled to find her because of the way that things are here in Mauritius because we're delivering somewhat innovative content around coding. And that's not something that any educator can do or any educator is willing to learn how to do. And somehow we found this amazing lady who used to be a psychology and English teacher and who now wants to embark on this journey with us and who is willing to learn and really upskill herself to be able to deliver our camps and build our curriculum. No, it wasn't intentional, but it just so happened like that.
So you said that it was a bit difficult to find the right person, this educator, did you face other major challenges while you were building your startup? I'm thinking right now, for instance, about funding. How did that go?
So right now at the stage we're at, we received funding, but minor funding, and we are able to do sales to sustain our operations. But that doesn't enable us to grow. The plan is for us to build an online digital platform, where children will be able to experience our camps, but through this platform, it's more self based, and it's game based. So the platform will be called Make, and it's a game/learning platform that you embark on and there are different paths. And while you're on the different paths, you can learn different skills, at the end of each path, you would have achieved mastery of a specific skill. And that could be a skill, like coding, that could be a skill like maths, it will depend on what path you decide to take. And in order to build that we need funds. And that's something we're currently figuring out. And really, at the stage we're at, it's mostly like pre-seed rounds that we need to do. And we're right in the middle of it now. So we listed out some investors that we could potentially reach out to, we started working on our pitch deck, and we started with market sizing to know where we could expand. Here in Mauritius, the startup landscape is just starting out, right. It's not as well structured as other places might be, there aren't lots of VCs or lots of Angels or things like that. So we're trying to navigate that along with trying to reach out to investors that might not necessarily be based here in Mauritius as well.
from what I understand the scene is new, and it's probably not that advanced. But are you connected to some other innovation hubs or or things like that on the African continent, because I believe this is the closest you can get to other major structures. And how is that process?
Actually right now, we're doing a programme and acceleration programme with an accelerator called Turbine here in Mauritius. And the programme is six months, and in the six months it's gearing up towards fundraising. So that's one thing. In 2019, I did another acceleration programme. It was a one week bootcamp with an accelerator called Why Her and it was an all female accelerator, heavily focused on impact. So these are the two experiences that I've had with innovation hubs and organisations of this sort.
As you say, what you offer is quite innovative in Mauritius. And overall, from what I've observed from where I am here in Switzerland, I also see the scene of edtech really starting up and I see many different initiatives, individuals or smaller organisations, really jumping into that space, because the need is there. And the potential is big as well. So, what I'd like to know is, from your perspective, how do you see this evolving on one hand, in terms of the technology, you also have an engineering background, what new technology might come to us or to the children very soon in that space? And on another hand, how will these types of technology be incorporated within the education system at large?
I think that from what we've seen, we see more and more technological advances, we see that we're progressing into more of a gift economy, we see that this technology is changing every day. And from my experience, the younger you are, the better it is when you start learning about technology and being familiar with it. But I guess the technology itself doesn't matter. Because it's changing every day, the programming languages are changing every single day. And it's more advanced, if this year, you're learning a specific programming language, in two years, you might learn something else because we've progressed to another platform. And that's why, for me, it's important to know the different languages but it's more important to know how to think and how to apply the languages and the logical reasoning behind it. And that's essentially what is more important to me and the fact of teaching kids how to think, how to think critically, how to ask the right questions and how to also think creatively and challenge their creativity and not really be limited by what they've seen or what they've heard before. That, to me, is the most important aspect. And I think because our educational system at large and everywhere in the world needs to prepare the kids and that's our duty to prepare these kids for their future and so that they are able to then integrate the workforce later. And so that they have the relevant skills, I think, eventually, the educational system will have to follow. I'm not sure of the adoption of all of this, because in light of like, the different legislations, the different systems and the different, different aspects that are at stake, but it will eventually have to integrate the educational system because I can speak for Mauritius, I know that Mauritius has started to have some aspects of a digital curriculum. It's not very advanced yet, but we have started having some programming at school, some robotics competitions and things like that.
So following up on that, because you say that at a certain point, you know, the education system will have to integrate this way of teaching. So what do you think you could do from the startup scene to facilitate that?
I think it's very challenging for us, because if we were a bigger organisation, and if we had the resources, it would be great to have government partnerships, to be able to really influence the educational system. Unfortunately, we don't, and we're a very small team, there's only three of us, and we don't have the resources to pursue these kinds of partnerships right now. And I guess, how we try to make the most impact that we can is by trying to reach the maximum number of people and the maximum number of kids and clients, and also following up on the learning journey that they have with us, and assessing our impact in the long run.
But what do you envision, let's say in the mid to long term - So, you know, let's imagine you're really growing and you're successful. Because, you know, now you would be adding to your camps this online version, where you could probably also reach people outside Mauritius. Would that be a role that you would envision yourself undertaking in terms of partnering with, with government, and so on really to facilitate this change in education?
Yeah, I'd love to, I think, if we're a big enough team, and if we have the resources to do that, yeah, for sure. I think that's probably the most impactful way of reaching the maximum number of kids.
So before we move to the last section of the show, I'd like to give you the floor. Is there, you know, something that you would like to add from this conversation that you think the listeners should take home?
I think if you are an entrepreneur or you are starting out on this journey. I think one thing that I would say would be to launch your product as soon as possible, and then iterate from there. Don't wait until it's perfect. But if you're a parent listening in today, I would say, start as early as possible, and start cultivating this curiosity in your kid or your kids, this curiosity about life about how everything works, and really critically, asking questions, and not take things for how they are.
That's some great advice. Some advice I sure would have loved to have as a child, because I think it's really key to not take things as they are, but to question them and to be able to contribute and shape the environment we want to live in. So thank you so much for that.
So people who know my show know that I always end up with these three short questions where I like to have a sneak peek into what my guests are listening to in terms of music or what books they read. So we'll start now, question number one, what is the music that you listen to very often these days? Or what is the book you're reading right now?
I love to listen to jazz. Almost every night. I listen to a playlist of late night jazz on my Spotify. I think it's a Spotify playlist. And a book that I'm reading right now is Maybe You Should Talk To Someone. And that's a book by a psychologist who gives a very interesting take on what it feels like for her to be a therapist, but at the same time to go to therapy herself. I'll let you read more about it if you want to know more.
The second question is, do you have a song, an album, or even a book that was special for you at a specific time in your life? And why?
No, I don't know. Well, the one thing that has been really impactful for me over the last few months, since the beginning of January, has been Meditation. I picked it up and really not, I didn't really think through it. But through meditation, I really learned to cultivate this relationship with myself and be very aware of how I feel, how my body feels. And I've seen tremendous change within myself and the people around me.
That's really great. I mean, I can only, you know, agree with that. Practising meditation as well. My last question is, do you have any recommendations for our listeners, in terms of a book, you would say, you absolutely have to read this or even a piece of music?
To me. I always start my mornings with Sunrise by Norah Jones
Wow, thank you, thank you so much for sharing all these tips in these books and music, I'll make sure that they're all in the show notes so our listeners can go back to them and listen or even read. It has been really great to talk with you today. Jade, thank you so much for taking the time. And thank you for sharing the work that you and your team are doing at Catapult and I wish you really even more success and that you can grow and really fulfil your vision. And I hope that we'll stay in touch.
Yes, thank you for having me, Claire.
You're welcome. That was episode 15. A Conversation with Jade Li. Jade is an amazing young entrepreneur on a mission to empower future change makers and future leaders to change the status quo. She draws from her experience as an engineer. To make this a fun, accessible and impactful experience for children. Do check out her website, Katapult.nu, and Katapult spelt with a K. You'll find the link in the show notes. Thank you so much for tuning in today and listening to this new episode. I appreciate you taking the time. Make sure you sign up for our newsletter so you can stay updated about all our activities. We also look forward to continuing engaging with you on all our social media platforms. Simply follow us on Facebook at Narratives Of Purpose on Instagram, at narrativesofpurpose_podcast, or even on LinkedIn at Narratives of Purpose Podcast. Join me again next week for a new episode from this month's Tech for Good series. This time we will be talking about health technology. I will discuss with a visionary entrepreneur leading the change in the medical transparency of health information. Until then, take care of yourself, stay well and stay inspired.