Rainbow Tree is a software company dedicated to providing early childhood education software that engages young learners, and can be utilized in a scholastic or home environment. Conceived in the US, Rainbow Tree’s founders decided to stake their claim in Medellin’s Ruta-N; a business incubator and entrepreneurial hub in the north side area of Medellín across from the campus of the University of Antioquia, that the city calls its Innovation District.
To understand why, Finance Colombia’s executive editor Loren Moss sat down with Rainbow Tree CEO Brett Artman at the company’s Ruta-N headquarters to learn more about where they came from, where they are, and where they are going.
Finance Colombia: So tell me about Rainbow Tree, what is it?
Brett Artman: Rainbow Tree is an education technology company. We are focusing on providing digital resources for Spanish speaking children, ages three to eight. Our focus is on providing a platform which teachers can use to supplement their curriculum, as well as for parents to use for home education and enrichment. We’re providing a platform which encompasses all early learning: math, reading, digital books, art, science, colors, as well as providing English, so that children throughout Latin America can learn to become bilingual; as well as for educators in the United States to use in ESL (English as a Second Language) classrooms.
Finance Colombia: How did you and the company end up here in Medellin, Colombia?
Brett Artman: The company was cofounded by myself and my wife Paula. Paula has been a bilingual elementary teacher in Chicago for many years. Over the course of her years teaching she discovered was that it was very hard to find resources in Spanish—digital resources to use in her classroom. One of the things in the United States with ESL classrooms is they are given extra funding. So, she would have a classroom that had smart-boards, and she would have ten laptops in her classroom. But, she had all of this hardware, she discovered, but no software for the devices.
So, she started tinkering around making some very basic programs for her students and they really seemed to love it. And that is when we discovered that digital learning really helps to motivate and impact and empower children. They feel a lot more comfortable and you can reach through to the different learning styles as well. You can reach auditory learners or visual learners. There are so many different learning styles that you can reach through gamification. So, over a couple years we’ve developed this idea and then we just took the plunge and said “hey let’s go for it.” Let’s try to start our own company to create digital resources for students in Spanish. As, we talked to other educators and through internet research, we found that there is very limited content for Spanish language students. So, that is how our Rainbow Tree started.
Finance Colombia: We look at companies in this space. You look at—they don’t do exactly the same thing as you do but, you look at Open English. They started in Venezuela but, they moved to Miami. They started in South America first, and then as they grew, they moved to the US. You did the reverse maneuver. Why Colombia? Why Medellin? And how did you find out about Ruta-N?
Brett Artman: To be quite honest, when we decided to start this company, one of our missions at Rainbow Tree was that we want to bring in for the children, the personality and the culture of Latin America within this world that we are creating for the children. So, we wanted to bring in through the games and the books salsa music or scenery that the children know of. We have games built on the fabric of life in Latin America. That was very important to us. So, we decided that in order to really bring in that culture, we had to start our company, we had to land in a place that was in Latin America. We couldn’t do this from back home in Chicago. We could not be able to bring in that culture and that vision. We needed to bring in artists from here, to bring that for us. And it was a natural fit. Partly, because my wife is from Medellin originally, and when we researched where to land, (we saw that) Medellin has a tremendous amount of talent. They put a very high emphasis in the schools here on (computer) program development, game development. There are a lot of schools for graphic design. So, that seemed to be a good fit.
And then we came across Ruta-N, and we actually came across it from Finance Colombia. We truly did. We read an article in Finance Colombia about Ruta-N and how they are impacting innovation here in the city. As well, their landing program which promotes and provides support for a company’s landing, and specifically that was important for us because, since we are a startup, we are looking for as I call it, that support network to help us. They do not provide any financial support to us but, what they provide is assistance in developing our product. For instance, we’re looking to test our product in schools; they are helping us to contact the schools and to be that bridge to help us test within schools. They were very instrumental in helping provide assistance when we were seeking our employees, where to look. They give us a list of of students who completed courses here in animation or in HTML5 game development, so we had a real starting point on where to look for employees.
Finance Colombia: So, what’s been your experience doing business in Colombia? Doing business in Medellin? You are an early phase start up. What is your experience establishing and doing business from the logistic side, from the business side—you know payroll, dealing with the government and that kind of thing. What’s been your experience coming from the US and doing business here in Colombia?
Brett Artman: Our experience has been fairly good. I have to give credit to my wife and cofounder once again because Paula is actually a lawyer here in Colombia. So, that has been fairly instrumental to us in that regards: she has been able to draw up all of our contracts and be able to actually incorporate the business as a Colombian identity. It is a little more rigorous of a process, harder to navigate through, than it is to establish a company in the in the United States. So, I would highly recommend to anyone that you contract a lawyer to help you establish yourself. But other than that, it’s been fairly straight forward. But, like I said Paula does a tremendous, tremendous amount of the legal paperwork so that is very beneficial for us.
Finance Colombia: What do you find that you get from Ruta-N itself, and from ACI, Medellin’s investment promotion agency? What are their programs that you have been able to take advantage of?
Brett Artman: They have offered programs in providing assistance with copyrighting, trademarking and patenting here in Colombia so that has been very beneficial to us. They’ve also provided a lot of programs in regards to finding investment. They have hosted a lot of seminars with different investors in the community, which has been something that we have tapped into as well and made some connections with.
One of the other services they’re going to be providing to us that I think is very helpful for us, is that they are going to be offering open houses where we can have educators or parents come in and we can show them our product, we can talk about our product, talk about what we can do for education. We can showcase it, we can let them play the games and give them some interaction. So, they are going to be helping us by sponsoring some open houses. Recently they were able to get us a time slot on a local show: 3T Medellin, it’s a technology show which showcased our company and what we are doing.
Finance Colombia: So Ruta-N is a lot more than just real estate?
Brett Artman: It’s a lot more then office space. They really are, and that’s why it was important for us. Like I said, to give us that safety. I felt like as a startup the odds are against you to begin with but, I felt like if we were going to succeed, they will give us those resources that will put us in the best position to succeed.
Finance Colombia: So speaking of investment. Where are you as a company? Are you funded? Are you going through the traditional rounds of funding that startups tend to go through?
Brett Artman: As a company right now we are currently bootstrapping. We’re currently financing this on our own. I’m from Chicago as I mentioned to you. So, we are working right now with a company back in Chicago called Venture Connects and their job is that they help train you to pitch for investment. So, we are going to pitch for investment, it’s probably going to be an angel investment under two million dollars. That’s where we stand on the investment side.
From the company’s point of view, we are going to be testing for about two months, trying to get feedback on user behavior, user interaction, and quantitative data. We like qualitative data too. We like to hear from teachers and students, what they like, what they’d like to see different, so that we can take everything and see their iterations and see how we can adapt and customize our product offering to better meet the needs of students as well as parents and educators. Then we are looking to do a full product launch come June.
Finance Colombia: Being down here in Colombia, what do you miss about back home?
Brett Artman: I think I miss (American gridiron) football the most! I probably miss that. You know what? I have had a great experience here. Everyone here has been very kind and warm. I mean you get in a cab and people are friendly to you. I don’t speak Spanish all that well, I’m trying to get better every day but, people are understanding and patient with you. And they make it so you’re not as homesick. It’s a very nice environment. From a business point of view, I think sometimes it can be hard to understand some of the laws or processes here. So maybe you miss the simplicity of starting a business back home. But, overall it’s been excellent experience and I would highly, highly recommend it to anyone. Our position like I said was we wanted to do something very unique and special for Latin America. And anyone that is looking to do a nearshore landing, I would definitely tell them to come to Medellin.