Van Robotics Before Shark Tank
Learning never ends but it does begin. It begins when we’re still babies who need to learn not to cry and the learning process does not end until the day we die. Somewhere along the way we learn to speak and read which are important skills for anyone trying to get by in society. A lot of this learning takes place in school although there is, without a doubt, learning that takes place out of school.
Laura Boccanfuso was a stay-at-home mother when she saw that children’s test scores, across the country, were not improving. As a mother and a woman with a Ph.D., she wanted to find a way to improve the learning experience. She found a way to do this when she invented the Abii, the smart robot tutor.
Abii was a robot that provided lessons that children could practice and data could also be collected to see how well lessons were learned ensuring that what it taught was continuously improving. The Abii robot comes with an entire curriculum for the third, fourth, and fifth grades. The Abii did not just improve learning but improved performance in maths.
These years that the Abii provided instruction for are very important because they are the years when children stop learning to read and start reading to learn. When learning in these years is substandard, children can perpetually lag behind. The Abii robot promised to remedy this and more and Laura had even received a grant to provide some schools with the device. Laura provided the robots through The company that made the device, Van Robotics.
Van robotics was profitable but in a very competitive space. Companies in the education sector could take a long time to grow and Van Robotics was no exception. For this reason, Laura went to the Shark Tank hoping to meet an investor who could boost sales. She was on the 21st episode of season 11.
Van Robotics on Shark Tank
When the CEO of Van Robotics, Laura Boccanfuso went to the Shark tank she asked for $300,000 for 10% of her company. Her presentation started with her telling the sharks how learning had changed to be less emphatic about using printed texts and students were now using software technology. She said that children’s attention spans were shorter and they were being less proficient in math.
Laura then showed Abii, the smart robot tutor, to the sharks and then showed them how it improved learning rates making the learning process more fun and interactive. Laura also told the sharks that Abii’s lessons were at the national standard level ensuring children stayed on track. Laura had one sample of the learning robot and she gave it to the sharks to review as she demonstrated how it worked.
The demonstration that she gave was a short real class lesson. Lori asked if they were already selling the robot. She said that the versions that they heard were the first 3 commercial versions. They had made $140,000 in presales revenue and this had happened in the past 3 months. Kevin then asked her if they had a Kickstarter. Laura said that they did not have a Kickstarter. All their sales had been through E-mails and word of mouth.
Van Robotics had also received a grant from the department of education that enabled them to provide 20-25 schools in the state of South Carolina with the robots. Kevin said that he had spent 9 years in that business sector working with The Learning Company and Carmen Sandiego. From his time there, he had learned that improving maths scores is a big deal and he wanted to know if she had any data that showed that she had increased maths scores.
Laura said that in the previous year, they had done a pilot test with 220 students, and 67% of the students improved in 2 areas. Anne Wojcicki then asked Laura if she had been a teacher. Laura said that she had not been a teacher but she liked technology so she had gotten a Ph.D. in Computer Science with a focus on social engineering.
Kevin then asked Laura if Abby was supposed to be a device only sold to schools or if parents were supposed to buy it as well. Laura said that both were supposed to be done. She would first sell to the schools through the after-school programs and then to the general public through the direct-to-consumer sales. Lori then asked what it was going to cost.
Laura said that the commercial version of Abby was going to cost $999 for schools. The sharks thought that the amount was very high. Laura then said that it came with the entire curriculum for the third, fourth, and fifth grades. It would only cost $599 for home use. Kevin then asked what it cost to make an Abby and he was told that it cost $250. Kevin still thought that it was expensive.
Lori then said that with something like the Abii things would get complicated so she asked what the top 3 features of the robot were. She said that the first feature was that Abii accelerated learning especially with students who had difficulty with attention. It also breaks barriers so students can speak up. The third feature was that it motivated students to do their math homework.
The features worked well because when children sat down with Abii the robot, they would feel like there is a robot that is paying attention to them. Lori thought that the product was very new. She also knew that there was competition in the market that did something similar and for those reasons, she was out.
Mark Cuban then asked how the robot would collect data if it had a fourth grader sitting next to it. Laura said that they collected correct and incorrect answers and timing on screens as well as attention. Mark Cuban then asked how it would know. Laura said that she looked at head orientation and that head orientation would correspond with where the screen was.
Mark Cuban then said that he was starting to understand what differentiated Laura’s robot from any other product in the market. Anne said that she liked the space but there were too many companies in it. She also thought that it was a bit too early for her so she left.
Kevin then said that he had worked a lot with companies in the education space and the markets had become very different. Laura said that she was a fighter having been a stay-at-home mom with 3 kids before she went back to school to get her Ph.D. in computer science. She said that there were a lot of people who had already signed up for it.
Kevin then said that the market was just too competitive for him and for that reason he was out. Daymond then said that he was in the school sector but when he tried selling products to schools he found difficulty because they had their own curriculum and it took a very long time to get any market segment. He was not willing to take that journey with her so he was out.
Mark then asked her what differentiated her from anyone else in the space or who would get into the space. Laura said that her robot established a social connection in the way it would recognize each individual the moment a class started.
Mark did not think it was good enough for him so he left. As Laura left the Shark Tank she said that she agreed with some of the shark’s sentiments but she was ready to put in the years.
Van Robotics Now in 2023 – The After Shark Tank Update
Although none of the sharks wanted to invest in Van robotics, the company has continued to grow and it is still in business selling its robots from its website. Van robotics’ products are now available in 36 states and in 7 countries.
With the United States not being its only target location, Van Robotics is going to experience an increase in growth especially if the other markets are not as hard to penetrate. Van Robotics has also improved its outreach by having a dedicated support team that is available by phone or E-mail which is especially important for the person who is not available in the United States.
Van Robotics has over 600 followers on Facebook and over 300 followers on Twitter. Van Robotics also has an Instagram account and it has over 700 followers. Van Robotics also has a LinkedIn page that has over 700 followers. The company had made over $100,000 when it was on Shark Tank so the small social media following is not an indication of a lack of success only that social media is not yet considered as a revenue stream.
Van Robotics has had several rounds of funding and it has raised more than $600,000 for itself. This shows the level of confidence other investors have in the business even though the sharks might not have had much interest.
Van Robotics is still located in South Carolina and has annual revenue of more than $1,000,000. The education sector might be hard to penetrate but somebody’s doing and educating other about more than just the school curriculum as they do it.