Meet the Finalists: Q&A with ThinkZone Games

This post is part of a special “Meet the Finalists” series, featuring Q&A with the five Reach Higher Career App Challenge finalists.

Today’s Meet the Finalists post features Q&A with ThinkZone Games, the creators of Hats & Ladders, a game-based app that supports middle and high school career exploration with swipe-to-choose self-assessments, connected activities, and mini-challenges. Hats & Ladders provides repeat exposure to a broad spectrum of careers and enables students to draw connections between their personal attributes and multiple pathways to career success.

Why is this Challenge important to you? What inspired you to work on this type of app?

ThinkZone was inspired to develop a learning tool that focused on careers as we were researching and conceptualizing an expansion of our learning games portal concentrated around 21st-century skill building. Our company’s ultimate mission is to build game-driven teaching and learning tools capable of transforming the lives of students by transitioning learning into motivating, authentic experiences. Hats & Ladders is such a tool—a game-based, swipe-to-choose app capable of removing barriers to career advancement that many young people have. Our engaging, game-based app provides repeated exposure to a broad spectrum of jobs and career clusters and helps students draw connections between their personal attributes (i.e., interests, values, preferences, motivations, aptitudes) and multiple pathways to career success.

What have been your biggest challenges and successes in developing your app?

One of our biggest successes during Hats & Ladders initial R&D came in discovering how to build our tool to appeal and have meaning to two distinct audiencesmiddle schoolers and high schoolers. Middle schoolers typically see career exploration as something they should do in the distant future while many high schoolers are already primed to focus on their future. To solve this challenge, we spent considerable time exploring (a) how to control the flow of career information incrementally to help app users process and organize data more efficiently and (b) how to integrate a range of media we know to be appealing and motivating to our audiences (e.g., still images, videos, game mechanics, rewards, and iconography). Another challenge we overcame during the process was discovering how to build our app to be both COPPA and FERPA compliant since requirements differ for our two audiences (students under and above 13 years old).

Your team has now completed the Virtual Accelerator, which included expert mentorship and curated learning modules. What’s the biggest insight you’ve uncovered through this process so far?

The Virtual Accelerator mentors were helpful in guiding us through decision-making around a number of key areas including ongoing R&D (UX/UI and data), preparing for Demo Day, and even honing our business plan. To maximize our time with mentors, we tried to organize conversations around the toughest issues and the most profound questions we had, and we quickly learned to send questions and visual artifacts ahead of time so mentors could better prepare for our meetings.

What else do you hope to learn at Demo Day?

ThinkZone looks forward to Demo Day so that we can show off the hard work we have put into Hats & Ladders during the Virtual Accelerator period. We also look forward to seeing our competitors’ demos and having a chance to speak directly to potential beta users, strategic partners, and investors.