MBC Innovation Track
The Zell Lurie Institute’s campus-wide business plan competition, the Michigan Business Challenge (MBC), concludes on Friday, February 26. ZLI will highlight each of the innovative student teams competing in the 2021 MBC Finals.
MintyBrain is building highly engaging and personalized educational video games to help kids improve at and form positive attitudes toward math and STEM subjects. Dan Zakon (BS ’21).
What was the origin of this venture? How was the problem or opportunity discovered?
Dan had been making mobile video games for years and studying ways to increase metrics like session time and daily retention. After spending so much energy trying to “addict” people to technology, he had an idea: what if all of these tactics for engagement could be used to engage people with something actually beneficial for them? Dan became obsessed with video games as a medium for education because of their ability to visually demonstrate concepts and directly involve students with complex phenomena in math and science.
What do you think will be the long-term impact of launching your venture?
Our goal is to reduce math and STEM phobia in future generations. We want to help kids form positive mathematical identities at a young age so that they don’t shy away from quantitative subjects or engineering as they grow up. We’re going to need a lot of bright people to invent technical solutions to the most pressing issues facing humanity, and MintyBrain’s mission is to steer the next generation in that direction!
How did you form your team?
Dan met MintyBrain’s Lead Curriculum Advisor, Dr. Amber Willis, through connections he made in the School of Education after winning the Learning Levers ed-tech competition. We’ve leveraged our personal networks to get in touch with some of MintyBrain’s other collaborators, and we are looking to expand the founding team as Dan prepares to graduate in May and work full-time on the company.
How has participation in the Michigan Business Challenge helped move your venture forward?
The Michigan Business Challenge has been incredibly helpful in terms of refining our business plan, improving our ability to pitch the business concisely and in different formats, and coming up with answers to some of the challenging questions we’ve been asked by judges and investors.
What has been your biggest takeaway from the MBC experience (so far)?
It’s been really validating to receive support for the company as an undergraduate — the takeaway is that there are people who will support a student’s idea if it’s compelling, regardless of how much experience they’ve had in the workforce.
What are your plans following MBC? How would prize money help your venture?
Dan can’t wait to graduate and work full-time on bringing Smartyville and our other educational games to market. The prize money would help us pay for the 3D artwork in our games as well as marketing costs after we launch.
What advice do you have for other student entrepreneurs?
Try to be consistent working on whatever project you’re passionate about. You probably won’t get traction after working on an idea for one week or one month, so focus less on how hard you work on the idea on any given day and more on how consistently you work on it. It takes time to build something that people actually want, so be patient while making a small amount of progress every day.
How can others connect with your venture?
2021 Michigan Business Challenge Finals
Learn more about these great University of Michigan student startups by following the 2021 Michigan Business Challenge Finals on February 26 through ZLI social media. Route for your favorite team during the MBC final presentations and cheer on the students as they are awarded cash prizes totaling over $100,000!