Lara Pizarro, Constanza Criado and Shanick Gauthier Cuello were in high school when they founded Hexar: a board game that became a platform of educational video games to teach science to girls and boys through play.
“Learning always seemed wonderful to me, very fun, but when I started school it didn’t feel that way, it was something absolutely repetitive where the ability to reason and having a critical view were not put to the test, but the ability to memorize and repeat”, reflects Lara Pizarro, a sociology student and daughter of two scientists. Accustomed to stimulation at home, Lara did not understand how she was supposed to learn if, for her and her classmates, school was presented more as something they had to bear with than a space to have fun and learn.
Her concern led her to be part of the student center of her school and to participate in different activities. One of them was a social innovation workshop, organized by the city government, in which she met Constanza Criado and Shanick Gauthier Cuello, co-founders of Hexar. “We realized that the three of us shared the same diagnosis: education had to be something wonderful, it had to empower us to transform the world, to find what we were passionate about… but this was not the case,” says the 20-year-old and affirms: “From that encounter Hexar was born”.
Y&Y: What is the solution Hexar proposes?
Lara: Hexar creates video games to transform education. These video games are complemented by a learning monitoring platform where teachers can see the progress of each student, and the class as a whole.
Today boys and girls love video games, they spend more and more time playing and adults do it more and more too. It is a growing industry and we believe that there is enormous potential in video games, in turning what some parents protest against into something that makes kids learn. That is what we do at Hexar: we bring kid’s passions to school and, in this way, we seek to make school and learning one of their passions.
Y&Y: How did you start working on Hexar?
Lara: When I met Coni and Shanick, we were three high school students with the same concern about the state of education. We asked ourselves what we could do and games and playing came up as a proposal right away. But none of us was a programmer, we were 17 years old, we wanted to do something but we had limited resources, so we decided to start with board games. We created seven different games. The first kit we called “Brain Kit” came in a hexagonal box.
The project grew and we partnered with an organization called Eidos, which seeks to empower young people through innovative educational experiences. They were our mentors and we came to present the project to the National Public Ministry who wanted to take the kit to all schools in the country. But a year passed and nothing happened … It was frustrating, until on December 23, 2018, they called us to enable the project, but they wanted everything to be digital and for it to work without internet connection. For one thing, it was terrible. We had only three months to create the video games and launch them, and on the other hand great because it was what we had always wanted to do but hadn’t had the means.
Y&Y: In what stage is Hexar in today?
Lara: That project was our flagship project, our first great one. But we kept thinking, what do we want to do? Where are we going? We knew we wanted to be a social enterprise, but it is difficult to think about how to be economically sustainable.
Thinking, rethinking and exploring a lot of different business models, we arrived at the model we have today. Hexar makes educational video games, has a learning monitoring platform, and does so with a model that is “one for one”. Every time a private school decides to buy the platform, a public school receives the same platform for free.
Y&Y: What would you say was Hexar’s biggest challenge?
Lara: I think the first challenge was having the nerve to do it. Many times you want to change the world by starting a business, or you hear people talking about starting one, but doing so involves a huge sacrifice, involves a lot of energy, time and our time is the most valuable thing we have. Entrepreneurship entails dedicating years of your life to a bet. So I think the first challenge was to overcome that fear and say “this is worth it even if it doesn’t pan out, I will learn a lot.” And once there, it involves a lot of learning and realizing that you are going to be wrong a thousand times. At some point you are going to get it right, but first you are going to do it wrong a hundred times.
Y&Y: What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?
Lara: More than giving them advice, I would share my experience. I think the team is the key to victory. Many times, in society, they teach us to do things alone, to compete, and in school they always evaluate you individually. But building a team is what is going to lead you to success. And most of all, I would tell them not to build a team that is identical to oneself. Each person has its strengths and weaknesses. I could have surrounded myself with two other people who are identical to me, who think like me. Maybe at first, it would have been easier, but I’m sure we would have failed a lot more.
In Hexar with each one of my colleagues we see things really differently, sometimes I even think “How are we partners?!”, But with the culture of conversation and with great respect we make Hexar grow. Surrounding yourself with diversity is the best advice I can give anyone.
Y&Y: How did you hear about Yunus & Youth? Why did you apply to the Y&Y Fellowing program?
Lara: I participated in a program organized by Eidos and they used to share opportunities. One of those opportunities was the Yunus & Youth Fellowship. We evaluated it with my partners and we realized that the program was very interesting. So we decided to apply and we were lucky that they liked our proposal.
What drew us to apply to the Y&Y Fellowship program was the possibility of having mentors and the training program because, being so young, we do not have previous entrepreneurial experience. The program has been phenomenal. On the one hand, our Google mentors, already in the first meeting, asked us a lot of difficult questions, and this helped us put together a clear roadmap to see how to work together during the next six months.
On the other hand, in the training program, there was an activity that I really liked, which had to do with seeing what resources you have at your disposal. Being an entrepreneur implies realizing what you have around you. It is interesting to think about how each person you meet is part of the social capital that can take your social business even further. And also meeting the different Y&Y Fellows from Latin America. I have already met with Y&Y Fellows from the Dominican Republic, Y&Y Fellows from Peru and we began to explore how we can help each other grow. I think that is the magic of the program.
Y&Y: What are the next steps for you? Where would you like to go?
Lara: Our next step is to launch our learning monitoring platform connected to our educational games, and to carry out 20 pilots in different schools in Argentina, Chile and, if all goes well, also in Mexico. This is so that teachers and students can give us feedback and we can continue to co-build the video games with them. Also, improve our visibility in schools, showing that what we do is not only play but also has a great impact on learning.
In the future, we want to become the “Netflix of educational video games”, allowing all children in Latin America the opportunity to learn by playing with Hexar. Our first goal is to reach a million users, a million kids who are learning in school or at home using Hexar to improve their knowledge in math, physics, chemistry and biology, and also teach them socio-emotional and cognitive skills, develop their scientific thinking, critical thinking, making them more capable of solving problems and applying their knowledge to the real world.