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Konomondo – the Maths Learning Game: From Bread-and-Butter Job to Business Idea

The final product pitch of the Start-up Garage was the initial spark for the foundation of the maths tutoring start-up Konomondo. Here Michael Fuchs and Gerhard Dorn (2nd and 3rd from left) at the award ceremony. (Image source: Hütter – Start-up Garage)

The intense demand for private tutoring in maths gave Michael Fuchs, university assistant at TU Graz and private tutor for students, the idea of founding a company. Here he tells the founding story of Konomondo.

Some ideas take time to implement. In Konomondo’s case, it took eight years from the first concept to the start-up. in 2014, I was a student assistant at Graz University of Technology (TU Graz) and used to finance my studies through private tutoring. I loved teaching young students, but first and foremost I saw it as a bread-and-butter job. I never expected that teaching would one day become my profession.

Great business idea to make tutoring more attractive

I had this great idea of how to make tutoring cheaper and at the same time more attractive when requests for mathematics tutoring sky-rocketed at the end of August 2014, as they do every summer. On a whiteboard, I sketched the first concept for an educational game that was to be realized only eight years later.

As a study assistant and tutor, I loved teaching young students, but first and foremost I saw it as a bread-and-butter job. I never expected that teaching would one day become my profession.

Experience in teaching mathematics

in 2016, I graduated as an electrical engineering and audio engineer. When a position as a university assistant became available at the Institute of Electronics at TU Graz shortly afterwards, an opportunity arose that was to lay the foundation stone for starting the company. We had an acute shortage of staff at the time, which is why I was offered the job of taking over the lecture Electronic Circuit Technology 2 by our institute director. I knew immediately that I wanted to do this as well as possible and threw myself into the preparation. For example, I attended numerous teaching skills courses offered by TU Graz. These courses and the trust of my supervisor were the basis for the success of the lecture, which was awarded TU Graz’s Prize for Excellence in Teaching in 2020. Spurred on by this success, I now finally wanted to implement my Konomondo idea.

Tip: As good as a start-up idea may be, it is just as important to find and recognize the right time to implement it.

The search for co-founders

At a conference on teaching skills I met Gerhard Dorn, who had just completed an ingenious, story-based online course (MOOC) on Bayesian probability theory with pixel art design. This is exactly how I had always imagined my educational game to be. When I told him about the idea, he was immediately hooked.

Game for mathematics tutoring at upper school level

While we were still finishing our doctoral theses, we began to further develop the concept of the game together. The basic idea is to use an interactive role-playing game (RPG) to teach the players targeted mathematical learning content based on existing prior knowledge, either in single or multi-player mode. The focus is on playfully designed exercises embedded in the story of the game, which should lead to an active learning process. The game is initially purely geared towards mathematics tutoring at upper school level and will later be expanded to take in other school levels and subjects.

A sound knowledge of mathematics is important for all studies at TU Graz. But if you don’t get the hang of maths at school, don’t despair. Try creative ways of learning, maybe in the future with Konomondo. In addition, there are the “Fit for math” refresher courses at TU Graz for school leavers who have just passed their matriculation. They help prospective bachelor’s students to deepen their knowledge of mathematics for the start of their studies.

From the business plan to training for the product pitch: the Start-up Garage

Now we had a clear idea of the product, but no concrete plan on how to set up a company and bring it to market. The Start-up Garage, an accelerator programme for would-be company founders in the Graz area, was an almost logical consequence for us and the perfect opportunity.

The Start-up Garage supports students and researchers from the University of Graz, TU Graz, FH Joanneum, Campus 02 and others in the pre-start-up phase. Interested students apply before the start of each semester. The next deadline is October 9th 2022. Click here for the current deadlines.

We were accepted into the Start-up Garage semester and picked up valuable experience there. From the precise formulation of a business plan with considerations on financing to the definition of target groups and the corresponding marketing strategies to product pitch training sessions and numerous discussions with experts, we learned as a team the basics that go to make up a successful start-up.

Strong mentors

Konomondo even emerged as the winning team from the final presentation. The final pitch at the Start-up Garage was the initial spark for our company. Since then, we have been approached by numerous experts giving us tips on the topic of business start-ups and subsidies. We are currently being advised by a several of them and are working out a strategy for the coming years. It is expected to be founded in mid-2023.

Funding and prototyping in the start-up phase

During the start-up garage, we applied for our first grants and made contact with funding bodies such as the Austria Wirtschaftsservice (AWS) and the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG). The prototyping phase started even before the first funding was promised. Every day since then, we have been gathering new insights into what school students need in the game setting and what the final product should look like. It is important for us to develop the game only for our target group. By the end of the year, we will have collected the most important data and will then focus on the story and the design. The founding team has now been strengthened by the two graphic designers Annika Schnell and Gihan El Moazen. Annika studies game design with a focus on educational games and Gihan studies biomedical engineering, loves graphic design and has special skills in pixel art. As soon as the first grant comes in, we’ll start developing the game.

Tip for start-ups

I think a start-up accelerator like the Start-up Garage is absolutely essential for anyone who is planning a start-up for the first time. We were able to take a lot away with us from the start-up garage for Konomondo and are currently also taking part in other accelerator programmes such as the Innovator’s Road Programme, a nine-month programme with seminars all over Austria. Many inventors have great expertise in their field of research, but not in business management and marketing. There is something to learn for everyone. Sometimes the start-up idea changes somewhat in the course of the first few months when it is tested for its market feasibility. This process is good and necessary and the basis for every business start-up.

Michale Fuchs ist Doktoratsstudent im Fach Elektronik an der TU Graz. 2020 erhielt er den Preis für Exzellente Lehre für seine Lehrveranstaltung „Elektronische Schaltungstechnik 2“. Bis 2016 studierte er „Elektrotechnik-Toningenieur“, arbeitete als Studienassistent für mehrere Institute und gab während dieser Zeit über 500 Nachhilfestunden in den Fächern Mathematik und Elektrotechnik.
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