Back in the summer of 2017, Amber Manry of Fox Hall, left her corporate job in search of a life with more purpose. She spent 20 years as a technologist, technical architect, and computer programmer. She wanted to also teach her own daughters how to learn how to code but found there weren't enough hours in the day to work a full-time job and teach her children. So she took matters into her own hands and launched her own company, bitcubs. At that point, she had no idea that she would become the creator of an animated cartoon series.
Teaching code at daycares and after-school programs
Kendall Davis with NBC 12 featured the bitcubs class at Nuckols Farm Elementary taught by Amber Manry and April Abad.
Several months after launching her company, Amber began hiring part-time employees. She enlisted 2 early childhood specialists (April Taylor Abad and Shannon Derricott) and several students from the CIT program of Deep Run High School (Salwa Balla, Caleb Reeves, Jocelyn Marencik, and Maxwell Lane). She started teaching at daycares and after-school programs. bitcubs used the best of breed 3rd party tools like Cubetto (a wooden robot), Osmo Coding (iOS apps), and Piper (Raspberry Pi kit). After a few months of teaching, she encountered several challenges. Some of the main challenges were:
1) Scaling the business would be difficult without raising prices and making classes unaffordable to many families.
2) With today's hectic schedules, adding yet another after-school program to the roster seemed daunting.
3) A lot of children think coding is "boring" without really understanding what coding is. No parent wants to force their child into taking a coding class if their child isn't interested.
4) Despite using amazing, interactive tools to teach coding, she would ask children some basic questions like "What's a loop?". Some children would still not have the correct answer. Children need to hear these concepts explained over and over again before the information can be absorbed.
The bitcubs cartoon was born
After a restless night trying to come up with a solution, the idea of the bitcubs cartoon was born. The bitcubs are animal cubs that live in the Bitmond zoo. They break out of the zoo each night to fix broken code and thwart the evil lord Bugnacious. The bitcubs must take their handy "tools" to fix the code. The "tools" are coding concepts like loops (which are used for repetition) and IF statements (which are used to make decisions in code) that are personified. Larry Loop is a lasso that keeps repeating himself. Indecisive Ida If is a tree branch that cannot make up her mind unless she's given conditions. Amber says she couldn't stop thinking about the cartoon. Knowing she couldn't do it by herself, Amber hired her friend out in LA, Maeve McGrath to do the character design. She then took the script and character designs to Flatland Creative, a Richmond-based animation studio to create a trailer.
Find Your Village
As a startup, the odds are stacked up against you. Fortunately, there are several programs that assist Founders. In 2018, Amber joined 2 incubators, Propellant Labs (a California-based virtual incubator) and Startup Virginia and partnered with a social impact group called Impact Junkie. bitcubs also took in their first Advisory board member, Philip Harding, who is a Harvard alum, Harvard Commencement speaker, and former Presidential fellow with a passion for service. Her strategy was to surround herself with good people and accomplished mentors to help grow bitcubs into a global educational platform for computer science.
The trailer can be found at bitcubs.com.