Entrepreneur Laura Boccanfuso took her product, Abii by Van Robotics, to ABC’s Shark Tank to see if she could get an investment from one of the Sharks.
Abii is a robot that tutors elementary students in math, and Boccanfuso originally started the company to help students with learning disabilities, though it has become clear to her since then that the robot can help any student with math.
Boccanfuso pitched to Sharks Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner, Daymond John and Guest Shark Anne Wojcicki, the founder of 23 and Me. The episode airs on Wednesday, May 6 at 10 p.m. / 9 p.m. Central on ABC.
Here’s what you should know about Abii by Van Robotics:
1. Abii Is Marketed for Kindergarten Through Fifth Grade Classrooms
According to the company website, Abii is next-generation educational technology.
“ABii engages children with fun, social interactions and effectively delivers core subject instruction to change the academic trajectory for kids in grades K-5,” the website reads. “ABii gives educators and parents a powerful tool for advancing school performance. “We developed ABii the robot tutor because we believe in investing in our children’s future.”
The robot is desktop-sized and comes with a web app that can be utilized with any WiFi-enabled device.
2. Boccanfuso Has a Ph.D. In Engineering and Computer Science
Boccanfuso holds a Ph.D. in Engineering and Computer Science with a focus on socially assistive robots.
She earned the doctorate from the University of South Carolina in 2013 and later became an Associate Research Scientist at Yale University before eventually founding Van Robotics.
Prior to earning the Ph.D., Boccanfuso was a program coordinator for research experiences for undergraduates at the department of computer science and engineering at the University of South Carolina.
3. Abii is Modified with the National Curriculum Standards
In order to be an effective classroom tool, Abii is modified with the national curriculum standards that are made to produce results in standardized testing.
Abii is easy to use as well. All the user needs to do is switch Abii on and connect it to a computer through WiFi and log in.
The robot has been tested in three sets of tests in several dozen schools with about 700 students, and students using the robot saw a 34 percent improvement in test scores after working with Abii. Teachers can use the robot to help kids falling behind without having to allocate too much time to that student.
4. They Have Sold Over 700 Units
Since the company opened, 700 units have been sold. The first round of products were sold to schools and after-school programs for $999.
Now, there is a home version available that can be used by up to three children for $599. At the time of the Shark Tank appearance, Boccanfuso was hoping to sell another 3000 units in 2020 though the episode was filmed last year.
Van Robotics has raised $1 million in venture capital and grants so far, but Boccanfuso wants a shark to take the company to the next level.
5. The At-Home Version Can Help Families Teach Children at Home
In posts on Instagram, Van Robotics mentions that Abii can be used at home to help teach children during the current coronavirus pandemic.
“Hear from our kids and our parents. They know best after all! ABii is an educator,” they wrote. “She is also a dancer, a friend, a supporter, and an encourager. Everything we do is for the betterment of our kids and we a l w a y s have fun doing it.”
The robot has special features like “the dance party” to entertain children and get a break in while learning.
Tune into Shark Tank on May 6, 2020 at 10 p.m. to see if Abii and Boccanfuso get a deal from one of the sharks.