Startup of the Month: Digital Dream Labs

Digital Dream Labs

As technology becomes more involved in our day to day lives, it’s important for children to get an early start on developing the skills necessary to be ready to compete in the 21st-century economy. Digital Dream Labs bridges the gap between gaming and innovation allowing for both a fun and educating experience for children. This week, we talk with CEO of Digital Dream Labs Jacob Hanchar, who leads a company on a mission to teach technology education in a fun and interactive way.

Q: Tell us about Digital Dream Labs and where the inspiration came from?

A: A little more than five years ago, Matt Stewart had an interactive museum exhibit that had blocks on a table student could move and then it would move characters on a screen.  The feedback he received from teachers and parents was, “if only we could take this home with us”.  In 2013, he applied to AlphaLab to make a smaller version.

Q: Digital Dream Labs focuses on STEAM learning for kids through its Puzzlets product. Can you tell us more about Puzzlets and how it can be used in the classroom?

A: Our product is the only product that can toggle between real and virtual worlds in the classroom.  For example, our product can control Dash the robot from Wonder Workshop with no need for any screen as well as play one of the STEAM games on the iPad.  This makes our product ideal for children as young as four years old all the way up to middle school.

Q: What made it possible for your company to start?

A: Investment from AlphaLab, Innovation Works, URA, and several private angels.

Q: Why Pittsburgh?

A: There are pluses and minuses.  First, there is only a small pool of equity.  Silicon Valley still beats us 1000:1 in terms of capital investment.  The other issue is finding junior talent.  There are plenty of senior talent and entry level talent, but very few in between.  On the positive side, Pittsburgh loves Pittsburgh and it’s easy to find mentors and support for your ideas.

Q: What’s next for Digital Dream Labs?

A: Grow it internationally and start introducing new products.

Q: What suggestions or advice might you have for other startups and entrepreneurs beginning in Pittsburgh?

A: It’s easy to feel like you have the world on a string when you’re first starting, especially when you are surrounded by family and friends who act as an echo chamber to your “greatness”.  There’s nothing more terrible than the savage beating of an idea by awful facts!  The true test of a company is the adoption in the market.  It’s important to realize that it is not the first sale of the product to a customer that makes a company; it is the repeated purchase from the same customer where you can claim you have a business and one that will stand the test of time.