​Elanation tackling childhood 'digital addiction' with fitness play

The Sydney-based startup has developed an Internet of Things platform that integrates with the virtual world to tackle childhood obesity and digital depression or addiction.


Elanation Eturbo and iOS app

Image: Supplied

Katherine Pace, CEO of children's lifestyle tech startup Elanation, believes that while children are born "digital natives", the more they are handed iPads, computers, mobile phones, wearables, and smart garments, the more cases of childhood obesity and digital depression or addiction emerge.

In response, Pace and her co-founder Aimee Atkins decided to build a suite of technology products for kids, with a health-focused twist on the usual products marketed at those aged eight to 12.

Elanation raised its oversubscribed seed capital round in July last year, and was in the market within five months with a hardware and software platform.

The first product Elanation took to market was the Eturbo Sports Wristband, a smart wearable that measures steps, distance, heart rate, and has a touchscreen. The "cool factor", Pace said, is the fact that it connects to a virtual world.

"Every step in the real world translates into a virtual game advancement," Pace explained. "10,000 steps a day unlocks video content from sporting athletes across Australia, teaching the child new sporting tips and tricks.

"So we're using technology to create really healthy habits of play with children."

In addition, Elanation caps game play at 30 minutes per day and omits functions such as calorie counting.

Elanation plays in a very niche space, but Pace is certain it's a big one. With 2.5 million eight- to 12-year-olds in Australia, and over 41 million in the US, she said there is great potential for her company to succeed.

"There's a lot of money spent on children each year, and if you look at the pocket money segment of a child in Australia, it's an average of AU$10 a week and $15 in the US, so in Australia that's a AU$2.5 billion market -- that's just the pocket money spend," she said.

Pace has a background in engineering and design, and explained that she was constantly being trained to look at the anthropology of humans and find a problem that lacked a solution.

Prior to Elanation, Pace was working on another startup, Vame, which is a digital platform allowing people who are fluent in different dialects to record the personal pronunciation of their name and add it to their email signature and online profiles.

She also spent some time with PwC as a venture lead for Innovation and Digital Ventures, following a stint in Denmark working for various firms.

With 20-plus years of experience in working with children's products and kids' entertainment, Atkins -- who was the original Dorothy the Dinosaur in the Wiggles -- highlighted to Pace one day that one in three children in Australia is obese, and that she saw an opportunity to turn this around.

"At that time, I had only ever built technology for adults," Pace said.

But while sitting in an airport in India, a child immersed in their iPad set off fireworks in Pace's mind and Elanation was born.

"I've been blessed with being surrounded by some of the best, and it was really obvious at that point it didn't matter if it was a first-world country or a third-world country, no one was building technology that was for kids and encouraging them to be a child," she said.

Pace and Atkins kicked off "mission more impossible", going to market with software and hardware that also covered gaming, the Internet of Things (IoT), and fitness tracking.

"Everyone said it was impossible, and we were in market within five months and we had 2,500 users across Australia in the first month -- and they're clocking in every day for 10 minutes from a kids' perspective," she said. "We've proven there's a demand."

Atkins' passion for kids and Pace's passion for hardware and software resulted in a strong competitive advantage for the company; however, the duo couldn't do it alone. In order to achieve its large-scale goals, Elanation turned to Amazon Web Services (AWS).

"Elanation has huge growth goals," Pace said. "And when we choose to partner with a company, we look at three different things: The utility that they can provide, the way they operate, and the industry."

Somewhat inspired by what AWS is doing, Pace said that as a company with over 250,000 employees, AWS is moving in an "agile" manner, and swiftly moving into new industries such as IoT.

"If we look at Amazon as a whole, they are dominating IoT in the consumer market with the Amazon Alexa and trailblazing integration of that with the connected home," she explained.

"So for us, yes we have IoT and we're not yet integrating with the Amazon IoT platform, we are on SDK, but for the second and third IoT that we introduce, we will definitely look at leveraging those utilities."

As an early stage company, Pace said it also helps to see that AWS has assisted companies like Canva and Atlassian through their growth phases.

"Our lawyer is the same as Atlassian's who took them from seed to scale. He believes in Elanation, and it's really important to surround yourselves with people who have been there and can somewhat preempt the hurdles that you're going to walk through," she said.

"IoT is hard, and there are a lot of people trying to crack it. If you go to CES [Consumer Electronics Show] you'll see a lot of single players there.

"We are the first company that we know of globally that connected hardware to a game."