Mom’s Choice Awards is excited to announce another post in our interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
Greetings, Mom’s Choice readers! We hope this finds you well- thanks for joining us for another installment of our interview series. We were privileged to speak with Mom’s Choice Award-winners Martin and Alysha Horstman, who created the MCA award-winning toy, the DoodleMatic. Keep reading to learn more about Martin and Alysha and their journey of becoming award-winning innovators!
MCA: Hi Martin and Alysha! Thank you both for taking the time to talk with us today! The DoodleMatic is such an innovative and creative game that teaches kids about innovation. We hope with this interview to learn more about the creative minds behind such a game. My first question is can you share a little bit about yourself?”
Martin: I am a co-founder of the DoodleMatic application, CEO of Tink Digital Inc. I started my career in the molecular dynamics research group at Stony Brook University, where I worked on one of the fastest supercomputers in the world developing new algorithms for protein folding applications. I moved on to work in the network management division of EMC Smarts where I quickly advanced to the role of Sr. Software Engineer at 23 years old. I made key contributions to an advanced software suite focused on network monitoring and fault analysis. Later, I decided to jump into the startup world and joined FAST Technologies while pursuing my own video game company, AlgoCrunch Inc. I have been a contractor for FAST technologies for over 9 years as a tech lead and software architect, where I have worked with a variety of clients building revolutionary life insurance admin systems. My own company, AlgoCrunch Inc has published several games on the Apple App store for itself and our clients.
I spent 10 years creating a groundbreaking game engine that powers the DoodleMatic game and gives Tink Digital Inc. a competitive edge. I developed the technology and the vision behind DoodleMatic, and have spent the last three years building the application to grow it to the product that people love today.
I spend my leisure time playing imaginative games and reading to our kids, Kiera and Gabriella. My wife and I are avid Ballroom Dancers and enjoy skiing, playing volleyball and exercising at the gym. I attribute my successful career to my creative skills that have been bred into me since playing with KNex as a young child. My creativity is my key differentiator, and the awareness of that is the driving factor behind DoodleMatic and the products that Tink Digital produces.
Alysha: I’m the Director of Art and Education of Tink digital and a High School visual arts teacher in the Hastings-on-Hudson School District in NY. I received both my BFA in Illustration and MAT from Rhode Island School or Design. At RISD, I cultivated my passion for three things, Art, Education and Service Learning.
In my teaching practices, I strive to fully embrace the STEAM movement championed by RISD. I believe that teaching art is critical for all students to develop critical thinking and life skills. More than ever today’s students need to think outside of the box to become the resourceful innovators and problem-solvers our world needs. Over the past 12 years at Hastings High School I have taught a variety of classes from the foundation levels of Studio and Media Arts to advanced electives like Digital Media, and Ceramics and developed and taught new courses such as Illustration and Creative Construction.
I am also the Advisor to Hastings Chapter of National Art Society, where I lead students on art-based Service Learning projects. I first embraced the concept of service-learning while I served as a leader of RISD’s community service group, the RISD Reach. As the Advisor of the Hastings National Art Honor Society, I strive to instill these principles in my students by connecting today’s young adults to service-learning projects, like the Memory Project, Bottles of Hope and Sweet Cases, that emphasize the importance, responsibility and impact we as artists have on the world around us.
I am also the owner and artist of a custom pet portrait business, Paws in Paint. I am currently on leave from my teaching position to apply my art and educational expertise as the Director of Art and Education and digital artist for Tink Digital, Inc.
I am a mom of two strong and imaginative girls, and when not in the classroom, or studio I enjoy time with my kids, and pets. I am also an avid Ballroom and Latin dancer.
MCA: You both certainly have a creative and accomplished background, thank you for sharing that with us! Together you both sound like a creative dream team. The Tink Digital team is a self-described “bunch of tech nerds that love games and want to see a better world for their children.” Tink Digital was able to combine digital games with the physical world, with its products being ones that both parents and kids alike love. Can you tell us about the creation of your company and specifically the DoodleMatic?
My wife and co-founder, Alysha, is a high school art teacher. She prefers to give open-ended questions and design challenges. Over the last 12 years of teaching, she noticed a bunch of things about how students were learning. One concerning thing was that it was getting harder and harder for kids to come up with new ideas. If not given the explicit instructions of how to do something, or what the right way to do something, kids were struggling. We believe this is an extremely important skill to develop, no matter what career path a child decides to pursue. Additionally, in the classroom, video games are a common ground for today’s kids to connect and relate to each other.
So, we took our skills, Alysha as an artist and a teacher, myself as a programmer, along with some others to bounce ideas off of, and came up with DoodleMatic as a solution to the problem. It’s a toy designed to encourage creativity and imagination, in a fun and engaging way that the modern child can relate to. It gets them thinking at a young age, expressing their thoughts and ideas in a very nonlinear, “there is no right or wrong answer” way. Thus, we created the company around the idea of helping kids express their imagination in fun, engaging ways.
Great backstory! Can you tell us about the research that went behind DoodleMatic’s unique features?
We started with the digital app, launched in beta testing at NY Maker Fair in September 2016. From there, we found tons of educational interest. We spent the next year and a half working directly with schools, teachers and students to try to learn all of the educational usages of the technology and to learn how kids get the most out of it. From that time learning, we came up with the visual interactive format of our books. We also built the features of the app – the game types, powerups, game rooms, etc., based on the feedback from the students. We still have a long backlog of cool powerups we’re going to continue adding based on this feedback!
The most unique feature is something kids have been dreaming of for a long time – the ability to turn your drawing into a playable video game! Our books have over 120 example games and teach 39 concepts in game design. The kit includes 5 high-quality washable markers. These markers last several days with the top off and are completely washable off of fabrics. Everything a parent would want!
What’s even better is that you’re not limited to markers on paper. Since its color-based, anything of the appropriate colors on a white-ish background works. You can draw games on cookies, cakes, user stickers and small toys. We’ve even dressed people up in bodysuits, had them stand against a white wall and turned them into a video game live on stage at the CES Last Gadget Standing competition!
There’s certainly a lot that has gone into the creation of DoodleMatic. Who can play this game?
Kids as young as 6 years old can have fun watching their drawings come alive but will need help from a parent taking pictures. Starting around 10 kids can do it entirely themselves. The product grows with you, and is equally fun for a 6-year-old as it is for a 16 or 36-year-old.
Additionally, as mentioned before, the education values of this product are limitless, so teachers absolutely love using it in the classroom. Since this was created by a teacher, we understand the limitations in the classroom, therefore we have special educator pricing to make it affordable for teachers.
It is so great that this toy can be utilized by children, parents and teachers alike. What kind of feedback have you received about DoodleMatic?
The feedback is amazing! Many parents let us know how much they appreciate seeing their kids learning these valuable skills, without even realizing it. My favorite story is from a parent who said, “I never knew my child had this capacity for creativity and storytelling until DoodleMatic brought it out”.
What a wonderful response to such an innovative product. With all this positivity surrounding your product, what is next for DoodleMatic?
So much! We’re spending 2020 focusing on the core product. We’re going to be publishing lots of educational related content for teachers to be using and launching a travel kit. We want people to start exploring and experimenting with the different mediums to make games (including people in bodysuits) so we’ll be sharing lots more about that. In January 2021 we’re launching our next major innovation and are super excited for it!
MCA: Well, we are very excited to see what the future has in store for DoodleMatic and Tink Digital Inc.! Thank you so much, Martin and Alysha, for sharing your time, knowledge, and talents with us. We look forward to seeing your new product available next year!