A Growing Technology Cluster—Whose Products You Can Touch

[In the Pittsburgh region there’s a growing groundswell of edupreneurs. In this RemakeLearning article several edupreneurs are mentioned including Tom Lauwers, the founder and Chief Scientist at Birdbrain Technologies. I’m fortunate to work with Tom on several elements for Birdbrain, including the Robot Petting Zoo happenings that have happened here in Pittsburgh and Berkeley, California.]

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One afternoon in 2012, Matt Stewart was in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh watching kids play with puzzle pieces. The pieces were part of an exhibit Stewart helped design to teach the building blocks of coding to children as young as four. He soon noticed one young girl taking charge with some puzzle pieces, and showing her classmates how to use them to solve problems. The girl’s teacher told Stewart that the student was usually behind her peers in many areas of learning, but the puzzle pieces seemed to click with her.

Photo/Digital Dream Labs

An idea for a company was born. Stewart and his cofounders, Justin Sabo and Peter Kinney, fellow Carnegie Mellon University graduates, founded Digital Dream Labs in 2012. Today, their first product, Puzzlets, uses puzzle pieces and sensors to control video games and teach skills like logic and sequencing in a hands-on way.

“If you’re on a touch screen, you’re in your own zone,” Sabo said. “You’re no longer here.” At a time when so much technology for kids is screen-based, Puzzlets’ physical pieces invite problem solving and collaboration with parents or peers.

Sabo and his cofounders are part of a small scene of entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh who are creating hands-on educational technology, toys, and games, and in the process are helping to create a cluster of entrepreneurs, designers, and manufacturers that could situate Pittsburgh as a hub of edtech hardware production. The scene is small but seems poised to grow into the type of industry cluster that characterizes maker-oriented Pittsburgh.

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