Russian startup ROBBO has set up its European unit in Finland to help teach children the secrets of coding. Helsinki Business Hub has assisted the company in finding the right partners and locations to make this happen.
They beep, they flash lights and move around the classroom as instructed. The educational robots created by ROBBO know how to capture the attention of children. They also form the hardware heart of the startup’s ‘ROBBO Class’ concept. It uses robotics, open source software, the programming language Scratch and ready-made teacher packages to offer schools new and creative ways to teach the basics of coding and technology.
“Our goal is to educate children and help them understand programming and robotics aren’t magical. They are something anybody can learn,” explains Maria Hakkarainen, CEO at ROBBO. “We even have a program for five-year-olds who can’t read yet. It is a puzzle game with pictures, but it is still coding.”
The company is a great fit with the educational expertise and technology prowess Finland has to offer. In fact, in the past three years ROBBO has developed its robots and teaching materials in collaboration with Finnish schools and the University of Helsinki’s Department of Teacher Education. The end result, the ROBBO Classes, are now used in 50 schools across the country.
But this is just the start. Last summer ROBBO established a Finnish subsidiary ROBBO Finland in the greater Helsinki region to boost its growth and prepare its products for wider international expansion.
The hub creating a club for coding
Helsinki Centre in St. Petersburg and Helsinki Business Hub have supported ROBBO with many steps of its Finnish venture. This included introducing the company to co-working spaces and startup hubs across the Helsinki region, help with registering the company and identifying potential clients and partners.
“Helsinki Business Hub has given us a lot of advice and contacts,” Hakkarainen says. “We are still working with them, and they are helping us find locations and partners for our ‘ROBBO Clubs.”
ROBBO Club is a new concept the startup will introduce in 2019. The first club, which will offer coding courses for children as young as five, is scheduled to open in Helsinki in January. ROBBO aims to build it into an international franchise, and it is a crucial reason behind the company’s Finnish expansion. While ROBBO’s mother company has tested the model in Asia, Europe is a very different challenge.
ROBBO has created an easy package for teachers to teach coding and technology in a fun and engaging way. It combines robots and open source software with intuitive teacher’s materials.
“Everyone knows that Finland has one of the best education systems in the world,” says Hakkarainen. “We wanted to come to Finland and Helsinki because if we can make our ROBBO club model work here, we can make it work everywhere in Europe.”
Currently ROBBO employs three people in Finland. Hakkarainen expects the number to grow to twenty people within the next two years as the startup expands its operations in the country. Helsinki Business Hub has high hopes for the company’s growth:
“We have a great ICT talent pool in Finland, and ROBBO is a wonderful gamified education project which helps children learn to code in a fun way. It helps Finland establish a strong talent pool in the future as well,” says Maria Hartikainen, Senior Business Advisor at Helsinki Business Hub.
Preparing children for the future is also the driving force for ROBBO. While the company would like to see its robots in hundreds of Finnish schools and its ROBBO clubs spread across the country, its main goal is to educate.
“Dishwashers, washing machines and vacuum cleaners are all robots to a certain extent. And robots will come into our lives and workplaces more and more,” Hakkarainen explains. “We don’t want to generate users but active innovators and creators, a new generation of children and then adults who can create their own robots and code them. “