graduated early period
Founded in 2020 by
Kavindya Thennakoon & Vidya Sri
Tilli was onboarded onto the Venture Fund portfolio in early 2022 as part of the Child Online Safety cohort, a partnership between the Fund and the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children. Within the investment period, the company developed the eponymously named Tilli, a game-based, AI-powered social-emotional learning tool that teaches 5-10-year-olds the skills needed to stay safe and healthy. Over the past year, Tilli worked on the delivery of modules related to child online safety skills, including trust, bodies and boundaries, and safety online; as well as on the enhancement of the machine learning model to achieve higher accuracy rates.
Use of Frontier Technology for Children’s Social and Emotional Learning
Tilli is an AI-powered + play-based social-emotional learning tool that builds and measures 8 foundational cognitive skills by a child’s 10th birthday to ensure they are safe, healthy, and happy.
There are two key opportunities we are excited about:
Measuring cognition and social-emotional skills: This supports the leveraging of data and generative AI to create a comprehensive suite of assessment tools to measure critical and hard-to-measure skills like self-awareness, management, and critical thinking in early learners—a gap currently faced by schools, parents, and curriculum providers,
Actionable data and personalized interventions for parenting: Many decisions we make as parents and teachers during a child’s early years can be ad-hoc and based on guesswork. The lack of access to high-quality data that is actionable means we are unable to proactively intervene when developmental gaps and needs arise. We just launched our Parent’s Dashboard to connect parents and caregivers with high-quality, easy-to-read data about their child: everything from their emotional mood over time and signs of distress to self-management techniques that work for them and their learning progress.
Prototyping and Testing
We believe that our products are always a work in progress. We started user-testing Tilli back in 2020 as a part of our research at the Stanford School of Education. We have tested Tilli with 952 users in total, including learners, parents, and teachers across 5 different pilot tests. Tilli started off as an interactive PDF that was tested by parent-child duos; we gradually improved the fidelity of the prototype as we fine-tuned the user journey and how learning outcomes were met with each module.
We had once shared our prototypes with the core team of a large non-profit in Sri Lanka that worked with children who were under institutional care. Here we got feedback on our references to family and parents in various narratives involving Tilli and how most of the children in their care centers did not know their parents or have a sense of what a traditional family looked like. This helped us think very critically about how our storylines and narratives are designed by adopting a more inclusive and trauma-informed lens in our design proccess.
Developing as Open Source helped us adopt a stronger community-centered approach to how we design both our technology and content. Our product design process has changed in a way that we now break down our features into stand-alone modules that can be reused and repurposed by educators, game designers, and content creators with an interest in building or measuring social-emotional learning skills.
We initially envisioned Tilli to become a solely B2C product that we sell directly to parents and caregivers. Through the UNICEF Venture Fund investment and mentorship, we were able to run a range of experiments with both B2B2C routes (by selling to large INGOs and schools) and B2C routes. Now we’re more focused on scaling our B2BC2 routes and strategies.
Schools in South Asia are still mostly focused on allocating budgets for STEM solutions as opposed to SEL. We will need to think creatively about making a compelling case for schools to allocate funding for SEL solutions. Additionally, in raising pre-seed/seed funding, investors in the ed-tech space look for stronger metrics around revenue when compared to other industries.
Over the past 12 months, we were able to exceed our target of reaching 6,000 learners, while also closing partnerships with two government entities. We look forward to forging the following collaborative partnerships to build on our work and milestones:
Sesame Workshop, and Nickelodeon: both these media companies have a focus on mental health, child safety, and well-being; and we could provide a more structured learning experience that allows us to measure how a child’s SEL skills are improving.
Ministries of education and school consortiums in India, Singapore, or Malaysia that might be interested in using Tilli for elementary.
Family foundations, angel investors, and large INGO venture funds investing in education, mental health, and early childhood spaces
But what we’re really excited about is working towards scaling Tilli to 100 elementary schools by the end of 2024, and building a comprehensive set of gamified SEL assessment tools to measure critical skills like self-awareness and management that could be easily plugged into any existing SEL curriculum.
Appreciation for UNICEF Venture Fund Support
We had such an incredible time with the UNICEF Venture Fund; as an early-stage company the fund was our first investor and we couldn't have asked for a better partner to start this journey. What we valued the most was the 1:1 support and guidance through our fantastic team of mentors and portfolio manager and the meaningful introductions made through UNICEF's extensive network. As an impact-focused start-up, this is the exact kind of investment coupled with personalized support we needed.