Video conferencing wasn’t designed with children in mind. For Alvaro Sabido, CTO and co-founder of Caribu, that fact hit home when he saw a photo on Facebook of a dad in uniform struggling to read a book to his child through a webcam on his laptop. He thought, “There has got to be a better way.” And he set to work developing a solution.

Caribu is a mobile video-call app that allows children to connect with loved ones through a shared reading experience. Rather than peppering a 4-year old with questions via a traditional video call, Caribu users can read a story and draw “side-by-side.”

The app doesn’t just address family communication, it also helps children improve their literacy skills. Caribu CEO and co-founder Maxeme Tuchman is a former public school teacher who has seen the literacy deficit firsthand. “The average adult reads at a ninth-grade level, and if you don’t lay a strong foundation before a child turns 7, they will be playing catch-up for the rest of their life,” she explains.

Tuchman is encouraged by families’ responses to the technology. She has heard from parents and grandparents all over the country who credit Caribu for keeping them in touch with the little ones they love, while improving their children’s early reading skills at the same time. This fall, Caribu released a new version of the app for IOS, as well as its first-ever version for Android. It also partnered with new publishers, expanding the quantity and diversity of literature available on the app. Tuchman says that the team’s goal for the holiday season is to be “the Tickle Me Elmo of 2018.”

Diversity breeds innovation

While Tuchman insists Caribu is taking off “like a rocket ship now,” she is honest about the struggles that accompany entrepreneurship. Securing early stage funding is hard, especially when you are a minority female founder. Women founders receive less than 3 percent of total VC dollars. For women of color, that figure drops to 0.2 percent, according to recent research.

Many investors welcome diverse applicants, but aren’t always able to find them. That is part of why Tuchman is so impressed by the AT&T Aspire Accelerator, a six-month program for promising education-tech (edtech) startups. “I am amazed by AT&T’s commitment to investing in diverse founders,” she says. “They do the upfront work to cultivate a diverse application pool by consciously reaching out to their network and asking them to recommend great people who may be off other investors’ radar.”

Caribu is part of the AT&T Accelerator’s class of 2018. Tuchman applied at the recommendation of an industry colleague. Program benefits include a $100,000 investment from AT&T, access to relevant resources and opportunities, and coaching from AT&T’s extensive network of ed-tech experts and education leaders. For a mobile app, AT&T is the perfect partner, not just because it is a telecom leader, but also because “it is always thinking about what is next in communication and connectivity,” says Tuchman.

Caribu’s first round of funding was hard-earned. In 2017, Tuchman toured the country competing in pitch competitions. She won more than $100,000 in cash and prizes by taking first place or being the finalist in more than 20 competitions. These days, Tuchman prefers to spend her time in Miami, Florida, where Caribu is headquartered. Unlike other accelerators that frequently require participants to relocate, she appreciated that the AT&T Accelerator is primarily virtual. “The ability to learn from so many more people without having to leave Miami was amazing,” she says.