Spotlight on Makeblock, one of the latest companies to find success in the STEAM market #makerbusiness
The term “STEAM education” is thrown around a lot, but it can be a little hard to pin down. It’s a catch-all buzzword that has as much to do with the diverse set of skills it teaches as it does with and breadth of material required to teach it. This amorphous market continues to grow — as existing companies get larger and newer companies crop up — and Makeblock is one of the latest to make its mark. Started in 2013 and following a succesful kickstarter, Makeblock has found a comfortable niche in this space — they were recently valued at $367 million, so if not comfortable forever, at least for now.
Makeblock operates in a cross-section of growing markets, competing against companies like Danish giant LEGO Mindstorms, New York-based littleBits, as well as startups like ArcBotics, Flybrix, Vex Robotics, and Wonder Workshop. By 2020, the global market for educational robots is expected to reach more than $6 billion, according to London-based research firm Technavio. “There’s big money at stake,” Levin says.
At first blush, and at base, Makeblock, is a hardware company. In a recent article in Fast Company, the pieces of the business are outlined in detail. They did $30 million in 2017 and have 6 million customers that use their products, which are manufactured in Shenzhen. But if you look a little deeper, this hardware company is in many ways an educational company. Makeblock’s products are used in ways that require using or learning technological skills, in ways that closely align with the goals of the STEM movements.
To operate the robots via laptop or mobile phone, children drag and drop embedded graphics or write their own code, depending on expertise and interest levels. Makeblock’s Neuron Explorer Kit is also compatible with Apple’s Swift Playgrounds, an app to help children learn the Swift programming language.
Wang says the technological barrier to create has historically been too high for novices. “It’s very hard for them. If you provide a platform, that can make it easy,” he says.
Right now it seems like things are looking up for Makeblock. Their latest product, the Neuron Explorer Kit, is sold in Apple stores as it supports Swift Playgrounds (Apples own attempt to enter this space and perpetuate their language). So for now, they are doing quite a bit to integrate in both the market and ecosystem of STEM. And while the U.S. and Chinese trade war is in full swing (and this could contribute to a stalling of growth) the world is a big place, with China (where Makeblock is based) having some of the biggest potential.
Although Europe is the biggest market, the domestic Chinese market is expanding. According to DBS, Chinese education and training spending will reach ¥3 trillion ($438 billion) by 2025. Nine-tenths of that spending will come from China’s 300 million K-12 students.
We’ll be paying close attention to see how they handle the next phase of their business.
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