The impact of technology on a child’s development can not be understated today. Technology changes the ways kids interact with a significant impact on their well being. New technologies are being developed to focus on child development through the integration of psychology and neurology in their design. Embodied spearheads this behavioral shift through Moxie, the revolutionary robot companion that helps kids build social, emotional, and cognitive skills through everyday play. Moxie is powered by Embodied’s proprietary SocialX platform, which allows kids to engage through natural interactions such as facial expressions and body language. The platform’s capacity to learn new concepts expands as the children utilize it more. Moxie is slated to launch this fall.
LA TechWatch sat down with CEO and Founder Paolo Pirjanian to learn more about Embodied mission to create an interactive learning experience that combines the best elements of play and technology using robotics, the challenges in building software and hardware to be affordable to the masses, and the company’s recent funding round, which brings the total funding raised to $41.7M.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
We raised $11.7M. The round was led by JAZZ Venture Partners with participation from Intel Capital, Amazon Alexa Fund, Toyota AI Ventures, Calibrate, Osage University Partners, and Vulcan Ventures. We are also excited to have added Howard Morgan, the preeminent investor and founder of FirstRound Capital to this round.
Tell us about the product or service that Embodied offers.
Embodied’s mission is to build socially and emotionally intelligent animate companions that enhance our daily lives and help us be the best we can be. To do that, we decided to start where we could make the most impact: children.
We had to rethink and reinvent the way to build a truly state-of-the-art animate companion. We sought to do things differently and reimagine how technology and robotics can enhance daily life. The result is a new platform, SocialXTM, that provides a way for us to use natural human interaction to engage with technology. The first iteration of our technology is Moxie.
Moxie is a revolutionary animate companion for children that will help them build social and emotional skills through everyday play-based learning and engaging content developed in association with experts in child development and education.
As a teenager, I was fascinated by computers and taught myself to code in my bedroom. After getting a Ph.D. in robotics, I was eager to work in the field of consumer robotics and began my career at NASA JPL. I then went on to lead teams and companies at iRobot®, Evolution Robotics®, and others. In 2016, I realized that I had strayed from my dream of using robotics to help improve the daily lives of people and founded Embodied. My goal at Embodied is to build socially and emotionally intelligent animate companions that can improve care and wellness and support people in living better lives.
How is Embodied different?
Moxie is a new type of robot that has the ability to understand and express emotions with emotive speech, believable facial expressions, and body language, tapping into human psychology and neurology to create deeper bonds. To do this, we developed SocialX, a platform that enables children to engage with Moxie through natural interaction (i.e., facial expressions, conversation, body language, etc.), evoking trust, empathy, and motivation as well as deeper engagement to promote developmental skills. With SocialX, we are introducing a whole new category of robots: animate companions. “Animate” means to bring to life and SocialX allows Moxie to embody the very best of humanity in a new and advanced form of technology that can fuel new ways of learning.
What market are you targeting and how big is it?
The first market is enhancing social, emotional, and communication skills for children 6-9 years old. Moxie can benefit children across a wide range of developmental levels, and we estimate the total addressable market in the US to be at around $8B.
Who do you consider to be your primary competitors?
Most learning tools focus solely on cognitive skills (reading, STEM, etc.), but very few address social and emotional learning and do so in a sophisticated manner like Moxie. The unique engagement model we have developed puts the child in a position as a mentor, so in helping Moxie learn how to be a better robot to humans, the child develops social-emotional life skills through the interaction. Moxie inspires children to think creatively, to problem solve, to follow curiosity, to respect others, to turn-take and share, to have empathy, and more.
What’s your business model?
In order to have the most impact, we have worked hard to make Moxie affordable for parents to use at home. The cost and model are similar to the ownership of a smartphone; you would purchase the product for a very similar price to an iPhone and pay a monthly subscription for the ongoing service. The service includes access to regular content updates with new and engaging activities, access to a web portal for children to earn trophies and complete new missions, a parent app to track your child’s progress with key insights and tips in their development, and monthly mailings with activities that children can do with Moxie.
What was the funding process like?
Raising money is never easy. Especially for a deep tech company like Embodied and especially while a global crisis is brewing.
However, if you run a tight and methodical process backed by real science and results combined with a world-class team, then you have a decent chance of closing your round. That is what we have been able to do since the inception of the company. Furthermore, our track record has been helpful as VCs like to invest in repeat entrepreneurs who have done it right before.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
Deep tech companies, like Embodied, have to face a tough VC model that expects products to launch within a year after your seed round and before you go for a Series A. Companies like Embodied are solving complex problems that are seemingly impossible, which requires years of research, development, and capital. As a company that develops hardware, software, content, behavioral analytics (and more) it’s typically harder to raise based on the typical VC milestones. We are lucky to have a passionate and committed base of investors that have an understanding of how profound our technology platform is and the patience to support moonshots like ours.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
Our technology platform, SocialX, has created a whole new way to interact with technology. Our investors see the long-term, transformative potential of what we have built and are also passionate about the potential Moxie has to transform the way that children build social, emotional, and cognitive skills.
Our investors see the long-term, transformative potential of what we have built and are also passionate about the potential Moxie has to transform the way that children build social, emotional, and cognitive skills
Our investors are excited to see innovations that aren’t just technology for the sake of technology but actually enhance daily lives and which can have a significant impact in the real world.
Particularly in this time of global crisis where we are staying home, the role of in-home education and care is of paramount importance.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
We’re excited to announce Moxie and ensure that as many families as possible have access to it. To do so, we will also be launching a beta test this summer with around 100 families across the country.
What advice can you offer companies in Los Angeles that do not have a fresh
injection of capital in the bank?
It really depends on many different factors. The most useful and globally valid advice is to preserve cash, be conservative about your projections, and extend runway as much as you possibly can. Cash burn is one of the few things that we, as entrepreneurs, have the most control over.
At our all-hands meetings I always say, despite how well we are doing now, I know that there will be a curveball coming our way, not sure what, not sure when, but I’m confident that it will come. So, we prepare for that by preserving cash.
In terms of raising money, you need to get to product/market fit as fast as possible. The sooner you can demonstrate the viability of your product/idea and the likelihood of its adoption in the market, the faster you can raise money.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
Right now, we’re focusing on perfecting Moxie and ensuring that our launch this fall goes as smoothly as possible.
What is your favorite restaurant in LA?
Wally’s in Beverly Hills is a favorite. But I love food so I could keep going on. Otium in DTLA is great for brunch. Castaway in Burbank, which is not known by most, has amazing views.
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