It’s an incredible feeling, isn’t it, when something you learned long ago comes back to you? Bryanne Leeming, founder and CEO of Unruly Studios, had that astonishing feeling in 2009, while sitting in a college computer science class. As the professor introduced the computer programming language Lisp, Leeming realized she already knew it.

Leeming had first learned Lisp by playing a computer game in elementary school called MicroWorlds. By creating interactive designs and multimedia stories in the program’s coding environment, she had inadvertently learned to code. Theexperience is part of what inspired Unruly Studios’ first product, Unruly Splats, programmable floor tiles that light up, make sounds, and will work when separated up to 30 feet apart. Splats connect wirelessly to a tablet or PC and pair with an app that is preloaded with recess-style games, such as Whack-a-mole and relay races, and simple coding tutorials. As they become more familiar with Splats, kids as young as 6 can modify the games or even design their own using a kid-friendly coding language. Then, they can share their creations online with the Unruly community.  

Every member of the Unruly team is passionate about two things: technology and athletics. So, it was important to them to design a product that allowed kids to sharpen their STEM skills, without being tethered to a computer screen. With Splats, kids play and code at the same time.

In 2017, Unruly Studios embarked on a Kickstarter campaign to raise capital, and awareness, for Splats. Early supporters secured access to a limited-release version of the product, ahead of the full-scale launch in 2019. [This company was written about in the October issue of Inc. and is already taking orders. To date, the team has tested Splats with more than 3,000 children, parents, and educators. Leeming is blown away by the innovative ways children use the product. Kids have programmed Splats to play music, function as a smart doorbell, and facilitate epic games of hide and seek.

“A sixth grader created a game that taught preschoolers about colors, numbers, and animal sounds,” recalls Leeming. “Another child used Splats to ‘protect’ his bedroom. He set a passcode, and anyone who came to his door had to guess it before entering. These uses give you a glimpse into the mind of a kid. Children are way more creative than we are.”

Splats take the next step

In March 2018, Unruly Studios was selected to join the AT&T Aspire Accelerator, a six-month program designed to support promising education technology (edtech) startups. Participants receive access to capital, mentorship, and a wide breadth of resources. Leeming applied after meeting program alumni who spoke highly of their experience, and was one of eight entrepreneurs selected to join the class of 2018.

The AT&T Accelerator helped Unruly Studios grow beyond crowdfunding. Leeming got to share ideas-;and challenges-;with fellow participants, program graduates, and AT&T’s network of highly-specialized resources, both virtually and in-person.

Unruly Studios graduated from the Aspire Accelerator in November, but Leeming will continue to leverage the connections she made to help her achieve her goals for Splats, as well as roll out future educational experiences.

Splats aren’t about training kids to be computer scientists. They are about teaching STEM skills, creative thinking, and collaborative problem solving. Leeming hopes Splats will ignite an early love of technology for the kids who use them, and attract millions of new kids to STEM who might not have been interested when it was presented in less approachable ways.