The start-up taking the education industry by storm!
We caught up with co-founder Jesse Lozano to find out more about hardware star pi-top and how they are changing the way kids learn.
They recently raised £3.5m to help teach code in the US, India and China. Let’s see what she had to say about it…
For those who don’t know… What is Pi-top?
At pi-top we make laptops and desktops out of the Raspberry Pi that focuses on teaching computer science and a wider range of STEM (science, technology, engineeing and mathematics) based subjects. pi-top was our first product which is a DIY laptop you build yourself, it snaps together like a big Lego laptop. pi-topCEED is our second product and is an all in one desktop with a 14” HD screen.
Both our desktop and laptops do everything a normal computer can but also allows our users to interact with the hardware in a way that no other does, in that we encourage physical computing and tinkering by giving access to a modular circuit board rail accessible through an acrylic slice so students can learn in engaging and fun ways.
What are you planning to use the £3.5m for?
Having raised this £3.5m we are planning to expand our team into the US and focus on growing our user base across the education sector with a focus on STEM learning.
Why do you think it’s important for kids to learn code?
There is no doubt the jobs landscape is rapidly changing with STEM skills being more important than ever to employers. Coding is a backbone skill that is incredibly useful, by learning these core skills and embracing the logical thinking skills coding brings out, kids will be able to face the rapid changes in the skills required to be relevant in the future, where jobs are increasingly becoming more technical.
Beyond the idea of future proofing your skill set however is the immense creativity involved in learning to code and using those skills to create. It is hugely satisfying to create something where there was nothing before and learning to code, creating hardware and engaging in further STEM skills helps kids and beginners of any age to start down a road of creative making.
Where do you hope, the business will go in the future?
I see pi-top going further down the road towards content creation and shaping how STEM subjects are taught in schools. There is this general idea of STEM but few clear roadmaps set out for teachers and schools that make it as easy as say history is to deliver in a classroom environment. A few problems with current STEM solutions is they are expensive, can be fairly niche in application and require a teacher that has a lot of time and experience to deliver STEM content in the classroom – for the average school this makes STEM a difficult reality to deliver.
We will continue down the path that we have set out, which is to provide genuinely affordable hardware that is supported by a fantastic software ecosystem, that allows us and our products to deliver world class STEM education solutions to schools and their students, clubs and parents around the world.
Do you have any advice for anyone who may be thinking about starting a business?
I am hesitant to give out advice! If I had to though I would say do something that you genuinely love. Ask yourself if you are able and willing to dedicate your life to creating a business as it will take all of your time and largely define who you are. For me I am doing exactly what I want to be doing and that makes ‘working’ all the time very easy!
Why did you want to focus on the computing industry?
We focused on computing and STEM from the beginning because that is where our passion is. Raspberry Pi is a fantastic little educational tool and we set out to turn it into something that wasn’t just usable as a desktop or laptop but something that excelled in the classroom. By developing around this architecture, we have been able to create a physical computing platform that can deliver immensely engaging content in the classroom, at the code club or in the home. I think we have helped to deliver on the huge potential for STEM learning when you combine some of these great technologies into an easy to use platform backed up with our made for makers STEM learning operating system pi-topOS.
Who’s been your source of inspiration?
This is a huge question there are so many people, I suppose I will answer this from a personal perspective. I have taken a lot of inspiration from my co-founder Ryan, Eben Upton and the whole team at Raspberry Pi, and dozens of other people who have really given themselves to the cause. As the pi-top team has grown though and I see all of us (most of us being recent graduates) putting in huge efforts to make pi-top just the best product we can for our end users, my largest source of inspiration comes from our own team. I see team members every week putting their all into creating something that will genuinely improve STEM education for everyone. Every single person on the pi-top team is 100 per cent dedicated and that is something that is inspiring for me as a co-founder – we all give 100 per cent.
Can you tell us more about the products you build and how their helping to educate children?
In a nutshell we take the best of the maker and DIY world and we distil that into clear learning pathways that are mapped to schools curriculum across the world with a focus on Computer Science and wider STEM skills.
pi-top, our DIY laptop, is proving very popular in the home and at code clubs where our 10+ hour battery life is a huge benefit to anyone wanting a mobile tinkering lab with all the bells and whistles.
pi-topCEED has proven a big hit with schools and organisations looking for a great low cost computer. With its 14” HD screen pi-topCEED is actually half the cost of your average school computer setup and underneath of all our curriculum mapped STEM content it is a great little desktop that can be used just like a normal school computer.
What’s your unique selling point (USP)?
We have a number of unique aspects to our product line. First being the ability to actually deliver physical computing in the classroom in a way that is easy and doesn’t take up teachers time in set-up or maintenance.
The special part of both devices though is the ability to upgrade them whenever a new Raspberry Pi is released, this gives our laptops and desktops incredibly long use cycles whilst staying on the front of the technology wave, at literally never before seen prices. Coupled with our STEM lesson plans that are easily searched and applied to curriculum needs across the world we think makes STEM truly deliverable to any classroom, club or household.
What failures have you had on your business journey? How have you overcome them?
I can’t really point to any one ‘failure’ we have had as a defining moment. When you create a hardware company that has a huge software component there is very little room for failure in the process. There have definitely been hundreds of challenges but that’s what they are, they are challenges to be overcome. From designing products, operating systems, content, building a heavily technical team and organising the logistics, the most common hardship is learning new processes and never settling for second best.
Sometimes problems can look like mountains but no matter the size there is only one way to overcome them and that is one step at a time. Break down whatever issue you are having into steps and start walking. Eventually you will get past it.
What’s been the best achievement of the company so far?
I think our best achievement as a company has been to produce a product line that over the last six months has been taken on by over 16 distributors across the world including the largest educational retailers in the US and Eu
rope. We are only two years old and to have such a widely distributed product and great reviews has really been an amazing experience.