By Mack Burke The Norman Transcript, Okla.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Students in Oklahoma, working with advisors from Trifecta Communications, have designed, coded and marketed their augmented reality creation into a very real product.
The Norman Transcript, Okla.
When you think about kids running a business, what do you picture?
A lemonade stand, a paper route, a lawn mowing operation?
Those are all fine ideas, but a group Norman students from Loveworks Leadership, Inc. has raised the bar with a new tech toy startup company called Real Tech.
Its flagship product is a series of augmented reality wristbands that incorporate smart phone interactivity to create a world of adventure on your wrist.
Each of the four wristbands tells a different chapter of the puzzle-based RPG's story and players can collect cool in-game items along the way to personalize their avatars.
The idea was hatched by Loveworks students last summer, and the kids, working with advisors from Trifecta Communications, have designed, coded and marketed their augmented reality creation into a very real product.
"We had this idea that we could create a game on your wrist using the power of augmented reality," marketing team member Katie Sparks said. "About 10 months ago, 10 of us got into a room and decided we were going to make this happen."
The kids learned how to code and use animation and modeling software to craft their world. They overcame production hurdles and tackled problem after problem. Eventually, the idea began to take shape, and when the team took its prototype to the prestigious New York International Toy Fair in February, the possibilities really started to come into focus.
They met representatives from companies like Apple, Amazon, Hasbro, Sega, and Nintendo and confidently pitched their creation without batting an eye, turning a lot of heads and generating substantial interest along the way.
"It was so cool, because we started with an idea and for so long we were just building the idea," Sparks, a seventh grader, said. "Then, going to the New York International Toy Fair with the feedback that we got, everybody loved the product. So, that was really exciting."
All of that happened after they were nearly denied entry. No kids are allowed at the fair, but the Wristworld team was able to convince organizers that they were right where they belonged.
Now, the fair is exploring rule changes thanks to the pioneering efforts of the Wristworld team. Meanwhile, they are gearing up for their company's next big leap.
On Tuesday, Real Tech celebrated the launch of its Wristworld Kickstarter campaign (tinyurl.com/yyv3utzy) with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Tom Love Innovation Hub on the OU-Norman campus. With over 100 people in attendance, they made their pitch, this time in their hometown, seeking $22,000 in funding support that will allow them to improve gameplay, characters and packaging, and, possibly create a new Wristworld universe.
Six months to a year from now, Sparks anticipates Wristworld will be in the hands of its Kickstarter backers. After that, she said Wristworld hopes to go worldwide.
Mayor-elect Breea Clark and Rep. Merleyn Bell spoke during the ribbon cutting event, praising the kids' initiative and creativity.
Clark said she has always been a fan of Loveworks' programs and the latest student-led project to emerge should make Norman proud and excited for the future.
"It's inspiring to younger kids, like the fifth graders who will be here next year," said Loveworks student Mary Rose. "Most people think that middle schoolers just want to sit on the couch all day and play Fortnite or something. I mean Fortnite's amazing, but I would rather be at Loveworks helping in the kitchen or helping people present something."
Bell joked that she wasn't doing anything like that when she was in middle school. StitchCrew co-founder Erika Lucas said the kids are doing something that most people would never have the guts to do, regardless of age. Now, she said it's time for Norman to rally behind the company with financial support.
"The statistic that nine out of 10 startups fail is true ... It's really hard," she said. "However, the community can come together to minimize that risk. If we pool together and provide the resources and support programs like Loveworks and StitchCrew ... [we can help them succeed].
"We need the pipeline of the next generation of entrepreneurs. That's why organizations like Loveworks and the innovation hub here at the university are so important, because we really are fostering the next generation of entrepreneurs."
As of Friday, with 56 days to go and 43 backers, the Wristworld Kickstarter campaign had raised nearly $7,000 of its $22,000 goal.
The team seems to understand that they're working on something big, that it's unexpected for kids so young to have such big ideas. They also understand that there's no reason they can't make the company a success.
Even if their efforts don't land their company in the Fortune 500, the kids say they have already succeeded in some measure by taking the idea this far.
"While we hope Wristworld turns into a billion-dollar idea, this is so amazing for all of us anyway," Sparks said. "Being middle schoolers and developing our own product for market, and meeting the important people we've met -- this week we'll meet with the lieutenant governor and we've already presented to Leadership Oklahoma -- it's been amazing. We've developed people skills, we've learned how to code, how to market, how to plan. Some adults don't have the opportunity to study entrepreneurship like this, and we're really doing it."
Real Tech is the second entrepreneurial effort to emerge from Loveworks Leadership since it was launched in 2011. In 2015, Loveworks students launched The REAL Kitchen, a company that produces fresh salsa which can now be found at grocery stores in Norman and the Oklahoma City area.
Loveworks Executive Director Michael Hirsch said he could not be more proud of the students, their professionalism and their confidence. He said he's excited to see what they come up with next.
"At the age of 11, 12 and 13 years old [our students] are having business meetings, they're at FAO Schwarz, they're at advertising agencies, and then they're meeting with Nintendo," he said, recalling the team's visit to New York. "They're in a private meeting with Nintendo and this executive, you could tell, he's very impressed. Of course, when he hears their age he's almost in disbelief and he's impressed with the innovation and the product. Then he makes a comment, and I don't know if our students caught this or not, but it was kind of a backhanded compliment ... He said 'You know kids, I just want you to know you're definitely showing us New Yorkers what Oklahomans are capable of doing.'"
Hirsch gladly took the compliment, but told Tuesday's crowd that there was something the Nintendo executive didn't know. "He doesn't know that our students came from a one-of-a-kind community," he said. "It's because of this Norman community that our students found ourselves in New York."