Killer Snails Co-Founder, Jessica Ochoa Hendrix

Co-Founder and CEO, Jessica Ochoa Hendrix

Killer Snails is one of six Columbia affiliated startups who will be participating in the 8th annual CVC-NY Demo Night on Thursday October 18th.

Bringing virtual reality together with educational games, Killer Snails is inspiring a love of science in students by introducing them to some of nature’s most fascinating creatures.

What does Killer Snails offer?

Killer Snails creates games and virtual reality experiences that inspire a love of science. One of our current projects, BioDive, is a virtual reality digital hybrid experience where students are marine biologists studying the delicate ecosystems of venomous marine snails. In addition, we have also developed projects with the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Hall of Science and Google.

We are at the forefront of envisioning how virtual reality can be integrated seamlessly in the classroom and we meet monthly to learn and discuss VR in Education which now has over 440 members.

How do your games inspire a love of science?

We use extreme creatures of nature as a hook to get players excited and our full team, including our award-winning game designer, test our games extensively within schools, informal learning centers and in community based organizations. Our niche is in developing science focused games that always ensure the learning is built into the game design!

What age group are you mainly targeting?

Our customers are teachers at schools ranging from kindergarten through twelfth grade, families with children, and informal learning centers that are looking for new ways to engage their audience.

Co-Founders left to right, Jessica Ochoa Hendrix, Dr.Mandë Holford, and Dr. Lindsay Portnoy

How did the three Co-Founders meet?

Jessica Ochoa Hendrix saw Dr. Mandë Holford, a marine biochemist who studies these venomous marine snails, speak at a Secret Science Club meeting a few years ago. These snails are so deadly they can kill a 200 lb person in under 5 minutes, but scientists, including Mandë, are studying the venom to create therapeutic drugs for humans. Immediately, I wanted to work with her to show children how incredibly awesome science is!

Mandë met Dr. Lindsay Portnoy, a cognitive psychologist, at an award lunch for Hunter College professors who were using technology in innovative ways with their students. They were both professors at Hunter College with Lindsay teaching courses on assessment and cognitive development in the education department.

Jessica had been working in the K-16 education space since 2003 and with her MBA from Columbia focused in Social Enterprise, the trio had a well rounded set of skills to bring their games and experiences to market.

What inspired your partnership?

Mandë wanted to improve STEM learning by delivering real-time, cutting-edge science content in a forum that would excite students. Lindsay’s background in teaching assessment courses and cognitive development courses ensured we could design thoughtful cognitively appropriate games with built in assessment. I wanted to build products that could get players excited about science and help teachers engage students with innovative technology in a meaningful way.

Is this a product found in schools- or are you targeting a different area?

We take a dual-pronged approach- we are definitely targeting schools with BioDive, our virtual reality-digital hybrid experience which has been beta tested with more than 1000 students to date.

Our newest tabletop game, Biome Builder, won a Gold Medal at International Serious Play and Best Family Game at the Boston Festival of Independent Games. We currently have six distributors for our two tabletop games and we are actively looking for more.

We are launching our first stand alone virtual reality game, Scuba Adventures, in October on the Oculus Go, the Google Play store and iTunes.

How are you currently expanding?

We were thrilled to be named the 2018 New York Small Business Administration’s Small Business Innovation Research Recipient of the Year which has led to new opportunities in distribution and entering government contracting.

In addition, we are in the final stages of completing BioDive and we are planning a national pilot in the late winter/early spring and sales starting in the late spring.

Finally, we are also working on an augmented reality project with Google, developing a new tabletop game with C&A Scientific that includes a microscope, and we are completing a tabletop and a digital game with the New York Hall of Science.

What was crowdfunding like for you and would you recommend it to others?

We’ve had two successful Kickstarter campaigns and we highly recommend working with them! The Kickstarter team has a fantastic group of community outreach managers in each category and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to show them our game, our video and get meaningful input that affected both the final design of the card and our videos.

Our first campaign was to raise $10,000 and we reached $25,000; our second campaign was to raise $6000 and we raised $19,000. For anyone considering crowdfunding, be sure to use the available resources from Kickstarter as they have a vested interested in you being successful. We also planned at least 2–3 events during each week of our Kickstarter campaigns so that we had lots of facetime with the community and lots of pictures and updates for our campaign.

What is the ultimate goal for the future?

Our ultimate goal is to be a global leader in science games and curriculum products that inspire players to love science.

Thank you Jessica, Dr.Holford, and Dr.Portnoy! We look forward to seeing you present at Demo Night!

To meet Killer Snails and 5 other Columbia Startup teams, please join us October 18th for the CVC-NY 8th Annual Demo Night!