LeVar Burton is cool. That much goes without saying. From Roots to Star Trek: The Next Generation and onwards, the man has become a fixture in our cultural consciousness. What many people forget is that LeVar Burton — like Wu-Tang — is for the kids. VentureBeat explains …
… he hopes to leverage that fame as an entrepreneur behind the new RRKidz reading app for kids on the iPad and Android devices.
Burton's aim is to use his stardom to revive education the way that entrepreneurs would do, by creating an entertaining educational application, rather than the way that government institutiions have tried and failed to do. He's the latest example of Hollywood meets high-tech, raising $3 million in funding for his start-up, but Burton says he hopes to avoid the fate of many other failures in education startups.
"I am aware of the difficulties in the educational funding environment," Burton said in an interview with VentureBeat. "I would be stupid to ignore history. But if I had listend to all the people when I was 19 years old who said it would be too tough to be an actor, I would not be where I am today.
Burton's interest in education runs deep. He served as the executive producer of the Reading Rainbow television show for kids from 1983 to 2006, introducing millions of kids to the joy of reading. With RRKidz, Burton is introducing a reading, discovery and exploration platform (enhanced eBooks) that could have more than 300 interactive books by the time it launches. Burton himself is planning on reading at least 15 percent of the titles in the library.
The company has the advantage of having Burton and the worldwide license for Reading Rainbow on digital devices, in partnership with WNED-TV, a PBS station. But one of the challenges is that Burton will have to reach a generation of youngsters who don't know anything about his fame. (We were all quite amused to hear that Matthew Lynley, one of VentureBeat's own youngsters, didn't know who Burton was). And he said he was quite aware that the way to reach them was through their own digital devices such as iPads.
The RRKidz app will be available as a free app on the iPad and select Android devices, offering hundreds of books via a subscription service that will be curated by Burton. The idea is to give parents something that they can share with their children without having to worry about trusting the content and inspecting every single book.
The interactive nature of tablet computers will allow Burton's team to fashion rich applications that can be as appealing to kids as the video games that compete with the educational apps for their attention.
Burton got started about 15 months ago, after he appeared at a Macworld keynote with New York Times tech columnist David Pogue. On stage, Burton said he was raising money for a startup. Becoming an entrepreneur turned out to be quite an education for Burton, as he had to overcome a lot of skepticism about the education market, often referred to as edutainment. But he raised a round from Raymonds Capital, headed by a longtime friend John Raymonds, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which is devoted to education and entrepreneurship.
"Teachers and parents grew up with LeVar Burton and Reading Rainbow, and the thought of the brand coming back in a big new way is thrilling," said Raymonds.
Getting LeVar Burton up in your mobile device? Cool, where do we sign? As soon as this bad boy hits your Marketplace or App Store, we'll let you know.