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Meet Maria Burns Ortiz of 7 Generation Games in Santa Monica

Today we’d like to introduce you to Maria Burns Ortiz.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Maria. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
After a decade working in sports media – including writing a regular column for ESPN.com – I found myself looking for something different. 7 Generation Games ended up being that something different.

My co-founder Ann Maria De Mars is a programmer and math educator who had wanted to create a game to teach math for nearly 20 years, but the technology hadn’t existed. Now it did. So we – along with our third co-founder – decided to make that a reality by creating 3D video games that effectively teach kids.

We make educational video games that are actually video games, incorporating narrative, education and gaming technology. I mean, think about it, kids will play a video game 100 times to get incrementally further in a level; can you imagine if kids had that same enthusiasm when it came to math improvement?

We were awarded a federal Small Business Innovation and Research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help us build out our first prototype, taking the first step to making that a reality- and our company began.

Of course, once you decide to start a company, it doesn’t just automatically fall into place – even if you’re building something really cool and doing something that can change kids’ futures. In 2015, I co-wrote the book, “My Fight/Your Fight” with UFC champion (and my amazing sister) Ronda Rousey – which not only became a best-seller, but also provided me the ability to go all-in, full-time with the startup.

As of 2017, we’ve brought in over $1.6 million in grant and investor funding, raised over $90,000 on Kickstarter and created a growing line of games – that teach math, history and language arts – in both English and Spanish.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I have yet to meet an entrepreneur who has said it’s a smooth road! That’s not to say it’s been torturous every step, but running a startup is like being on a rollercoaster.

The biggest early struggle – I think for anyone who isn’t heir to a huge fortune – is funding your company. It’s a constant grind to find the money to keep your business up, running and growing. Whether that means writing grants, pitching investors, doing sales, or in our case, a combination of all three, bringing in money takes a lot of work – far more work than people often expect.

Finding the right team early on can also be a challenge. You need to find people who believe in what you’re doing, who are willing to do the million different things working at a startup requires and who you can afford (because – as you read above – you likely don’t have the money to compete with Fortune 500 companies in terms of salaries).

Also, the challenges keep changing as your company grows and evolves. Just when you think you’ve got one thing tackled, another one pops up. It’s kind of like a game of “Whack-a-Mole.”

Please tell us about 7 Generation Games.
What if you could combine the characteristics of the best teachers, the engagement of your favorite video game and produce measurable math improvement in a single educational software? That’s what we do at 7 Generation Games, combining educational research, advanced game design, artificial intelligence and innovative technology to create engaging video games that actually teach.

Instead of taking a boring “drill and kill” approach where wrong answers just lead to more problems, wrong answers in our games lead to resources where concepts are explained.

Because good video games have good storylines, we draw from history to create compelling narratives where we integrate real-world applications of math. Things like, “It’s 160 miles to your next set of supplies. You have eight days to get there. On average, how far do you have to travel each day?” It’s math or death – albeit virtual death.

With a bilingual product line, we cover math, history, language arts and second-language acquisition. We’ve optimized games to meet technological needs from urban centers to rural and network-limited communities, because we want all kids to be able to access our games.

While there are many educational games on the market, there are very few math games proven to improve kids’ skills. We’re an exception – our games work! Data shows students who played our games improved significantly (3x improvement) over the control group. That student growth is what we are proudest of, because it doesn’t matter how great your educational games are if they don’t actually educate.

We know that being good at math has the power to transform lives – leading to higher likelihood of graduating high school, going on to college, better job opportunities – which has the power to create a better future for families, communities and the world. We feel incredibly fortunate that we can be a small part of that change.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. As I child, I wrote pages and pages of stories.

My family had a very early Mac and in first grade, I learned Bank Street Writer (one of the first commercial word processing programs) so that I could type my stories – saving me from the constant agony of having to erase paragraphs of handwritten text just to add in a sentence that came to me later and opening up a whole new world of creative possibilities.

Of course, once you’ve experienced revising on a computer versus a handwritten composition, it’s hard to go back. Which is why I asked my first-grade teacher if I could do my writing assignments using Bank Street Writer. My teacher was unfamiliar with word processing at all (was the late 1980s), let alone specific software, but – and I’ll never forget – she said, “Yes. And I’ll learn it too so I can help you.” I was so excited.

All these years later, that moment has stuck with me. It taught me that if you really want to do something, then you need to use your voice and ask. It also showed me, at 5 years old, that even grownups need to keep learning, which sometimes means pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone. And now, as someone who is working in the edtech space, I see it as a testament to all of the good teachers out there who are truly committed to helping students reach their full potential.

Pricing:

  • Individual games range from $1.99 to $9.99
  • Classroom licenses start at $99

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
7 Generation Games
Diana Sanchez
Maria Burns Ortiz

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