A young CEO encourages children to “botch” their creations to innovate

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“In my head, it was going to be easy,” Dani Africa said, telling me about the origins of her science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning company, BOTched. She began creating her BOTched kits — which are 3D-printed educational “building blocks” for kids — with a two-week lead time for a prototype. “More than two months passed, and I had nothing but a cabinet of failures and failed iterations.”

The 17-year-old engineering design student found her calling to pursue STEM very early in her life. Seemingly born for the career path, Africa has qualified to study at the prestigious Singapore School of Science and Technology. She then went on to garner award after accolade, such as publishing a paper on the Piezoelectric Effect for being part of the winning team in Singapore’s VEX Robotics Competition.

Looking at his plethora of accomplishments, the mistakes seemed almost implausible. But it wasn’t until she changed her view of failure that she was able to shape and fully realize her vision for her business. “That’s when the name BOTched came to mind,” Africa shares.

“I came up with the idea for BOTched because I studied in Singapore and realized how much technology was being used….at extremely young ages they were not only teaching [the concepts of] STEM, but the application of STEM, which is what robotics is, and coding and things like that,” Africa said. Upon her return to the Philippines, she was inspired to share her enriched academic experience with other young STEM learners in the Philippines.

BOTched, a social enterprise dedicated to creating “foolproof” STEM learning kits and programs, teaches Filipino students the wonders of engineering and design through a hands-on approach. The principle of the company? To learn is to try – and to try is to embrace both your successful and failed attempts.

For Africa, this is a huge part of the innovation process, and should not spell complete defeat. “If we look at every invention ever created, especially in the tech industry, it’s really just someone who failed enough times and didn’t give up until they created something. And I think that if we don’t learn to celebrate failures and accept failures, we will never be able to invent anything, because no one gets it right the first time,” said Africa.

First launched in April 2021, BOTched has now grown into a six-person team delivering workshops to schools and organizations across the metro. During a workshop with the Manila Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), DepEd Superintendent Dr. Magdalena Lim visited to speak words of support for social enterprise. “Kayo eng pioneer, pero magkakaroon pa kayo ng maraming kapatid after (you are the pioneer, but you will have more siblings after),” Lim said.

But for Africa, his most memorable achievement was helping change a student’s future. “At the end of that (YMCA) graduation, someone came up to me and basically told me he had just applied to take a STEM pathway at his high school,” Africa recalled.

For her, she thinks STEM education in the Philippines could use a more app-based approach to make the process fun and not intimidating. As in the BOTched workshops, the team encourages students to manage the end-to-end development of a project derived from textbook STEM theories. “They think of the idea, the concept themselves. And I think the process is really cool, because they also reflect and introduce it to the trainers. And then they prototype the object,” explains Africa.

Going forward, Africa sees BOTched as a model to inject more app-based STEM disciplines into Philippine schools. “I would like to see something like BOTched integrated into the DepEd curriculum where every Filipino has access to a solid, solid and, I think, holistic STEM education.”

Ultimately, BOTched and its kits champion accessibility and fun, so STEM learning can become simply an enriched version of playtime that keeps kids engaged and curious. With entrepreneurs as young and as inspired as Africa entering the market, the future is bright for a more innovative generation of young Filipinos. – Rappler.com

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