After spending almost ten years producing interactive media and cartoon animation for television and the web, Jordanian serial entrepreneurs Zaidoun Karadsheh and Tamer Qarrain launched BeeLabs earlier this year, a company that focuses on building "edutainment" apps for children, with an Arabic twist.
In 2003, the duo first launched Media Plus in Jordan,
a startup specializing in web development and interactive media
that today employs 25 team members.
Four years later, they realized that there is a big gap in localized Arabic content, especially in cartoon animation; almost all television productions were translated from other languages, especially English. So in 2007, they co-founded Sketch in Motion to produce cartoon animation short movies for TV and HD.
This year, Karadsheh and Qarrain decided to combine the efforts of both Media Plus and Sketch in Motion to launch BeeLabs, which has already released three applications with an average of 14,000 downloads each, a rate that surprised the founders. Six more are in the pipeline for the coming weeks.
"We both have kids, which made us realize there is a gap in the market for Arabic edutainment applications," explains Karadsheh.
Edutainment and Gaming
BeeLabs now focuses on two different channels, one on edutainment for kids and the other on gaming.
The first application they released in February,
called the Gnome and the Sheep (USD $ 2.99), is an
interactive story for kids in both Arabic and English. The story follows a gnome protecting
his sheep from being eaten by a dragon.
Targeting children between 4 and 7 years old, the game allows users to decide how the story moves progresses, whether the dragon actually eats the sheep or not, including mazes, puzzles, coloring, and other interactive applications within the app. "It's a story that stimulates creative thinking, without any solid educational model," says Karadsheh.
They later released DigiJungle (USD $ 0.99), an application that
teaches kids between 4 and 7 years old how to count in Arabic, and
Sheep Run (free), a game targeting all age
groups to direct a sheep away from the butcher. All three
applications are available on iOS and Android.
BeeLabs will be funded by both Media Plus and Sketch in Motion for the first year, and is expected to become self-sustaining after that. The young startup already has partnerships with Samsung, MBC and Zain, working on mutual projects. "Looking at the current market and the boom in mobile apps, I think we will break even before year one ends," says Qarrain.
With kids surrounded by the English language in
schools, on TV and almost all media products they are exposed to,
having BeeLabs focus on Arabic edutainment is definitely filling a
gap in the market, but they're not the only one.
Tackling the same problem in the Arab region, AbjadCity is teaching kids the Arabic alphabet, Sacha Books is building interactive stories in Arabic for kids, Kids Love Arabic is an educational story platform in Arabic, Weladna is building digital content for kids, Ketaaby offers a series of apps to teach children Arabic, and EduKitten is helping expats teach their children Arabic as well.
One way BeeLabs is trying to differentiate themselves, which is definitely a challenge considering the existing competition, is by focusing on quality, producing original and high standard graphics, animation, and interactivity - competing with international - not merely regional - standards.