UBBU: a platform for learning coding skills in primary schools turns out to be an entrepreneurial success story

Ubbu platform
Ubbu platform
Aveiro Steam City provides an intense training program for primary schools, which aims to enable children to all the basic skills necessary for programming. Of course, we are not talking about professional coding courses but about exercises and “training” that stimulate students to organize their thinking and prepare it for the methodology that they can then deepen when they grow up, if they wish to focus on STEM subjects.
Among the various activities introduced in schools of different grades, it is interesting to deepen the introduction of an IT platform called UBBU, tested in primary schools in Aveiro. The startup that developed it represents a success story and is growing worldwide, thanks also to a very smart initial funding mechanism.
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The project

The UBBU projects is dedicated to primary schools and promotes the development of basic knowledge in computing science, logic thinking and problem-solving capacities. It also improves the skills in the different domains of STEAM education, especially in mathematics.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-OS-7jhQLU

UBBU is a platform for children from 6 to 12 y.o., offering an educational program to each grade of primary schools with more than 100 different lessons and challenges, developed in accordance with the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. It aims at preparing children and youngsters to the competences of the future.

In the Municipality of Aveiro the project is being implemented in the 1st Cycle of Basic Education and covers 27 schools, +3500 pupils, 110 teachers. All the equipment is provided by the Municipality of Aveiro. Teachers have been trained in order to be capable to use the platform through an Online training + 100 hours on site.

The solution has been customized, for the first time, for the city of Aveiro and it now has 6 contents, based on 6 different themes: Princesa Santa Joana, Fernando Távora Building, Art Nouveau, São Gonçalinho, Salt production (Salinas), fauna and flora of Ria de Aveiro.

In Aveiro, the Municipality has invested a lot in students, especially those in primary schools, to establish and strengthen their STEM skills. Mr. Andre Costa, Aveiro Steam city project manager and Head-Chief for the City of Aveiro, explains what is the strategic and visionary framework that inspired them:

“This investment is part of our Steam Education Program that we are implementing in all levels of Education, from 1st Cycle of education to Secondary level, although UBBU is adopted in Aveiro only in the 1st Cycle. It’s important to stress that, as Mr. José Ribau Esteves, Mayor of Aveiro, states “Education is a crucial cornerstone of the City of Aveiro’s political strategy, to develop a region knowledge-based and to prepare the new generations with the relevant skills to succeed in the digital era”. We are implementing a variety of activities to promote the development of STEAM skills and stimulate student’s enthusiasm in these areas of knowledge, using experimentation spaces and its contact with ICT languages in an efficient, responsible and critical approaches. The UBBU platform, more focused in promoting Code Literary, is a piece of this puzzle and has been having a very positive impact and is, undoubtedly, a positive contributor to the success of this STEAM program”.

the coding adventure

The startup

The Portuguese startup called “Academia de codigo” has been founded according to the consideration that in Portugal, following the European trend, there are a lot of companies in need of developers: the gap in the job market is increasing constantly, with insufficient matches.

So, the founders decided to launch a company aiming at reskilling people that were excluded from the labor market; the solution was a 14 weeks’ bootcamp during which users develop a number of skills and competencies so that they end the program qualified as junior programmers, with 95% of employability rate.

Also, the city of Aveiro committed to this model within Aveiro Steam City, and addressed it to unemployed people, students or professionals who look for a career change. In 2020 the City of Aveiro conducted 3 editions of the so called “Tech City Boot Camps”, framed within the local strategy to train human resources and retain talent in the Region (check this link to discover more à https://uia-initiative.eu/en/news/coding-skills-nongeeks-only-smart-strategy-train-human-resources-and-retain-talents-aveiro ).

The model is mainly on site (25 people’ classes) so the company results difficult to scale and this represented a huge problem for its founders.

So, it came the idea to start teaching coding skills to children very early: of course, not all of them will become programmers one day, but at least they will be empowered to using technology better than millennials or Generation Z. The vision that inspired the founders is based on the fact that in 20 years there will be jobs that don’t exist today and – most of all – can’t be predicted. So, they started to teach lessons in schools and also familiarize with teachers and get information and data and early feedbacks about their software’s prototype: the idea was to build a scalable solution, user friendly for all teachers (not just ICT ones), that could be adopted easily in public schools.

Teachers were not dragged on board: they were truly part of the co-creation process, especially in Aveiro. Already in 2018, the Municipality engaged the Schools Directors and teachers in the process of designing the STEAM Education program, in order to have their critical analyses and approval on the strategy and activities proposed. Already at that stage, teachers were identified as the “Change Agents” in School, since they would be the front-runners in the implementation of the activities and in the development of STEAM knowledge and 21st century skills in their students.

 In order to be motivated, teachers were made aware of the extremely important role they cover in the society, plus they received all the necessary tools and support in order to succeed. In particular, they got a 25h training course and support in classrooms for the implementation of the activities.

In 2021/2022, already outside of the scope of the Aveiro Steam city project, 89 teachers were implementing the project with more than 1300 students involved and more than 250 thousand activities in the UBBU platform were initiated.

Portugal's Social Innovation Program

Apply to public tenders and getting into the mechanism of public procurement can be tough for a startup, but the founders of Academia de codigo decided to take a smart path!

They participated to the Portuguese national program called Portugal Social Innovation

Portugal Social Innovation is a government initiative aimed at promoting social innovation and stimulating the social investment market in Portugal. It mobilizes around EUR 150 million from the European Social Fund (ESF) and these resources are channeled to the market through different financial instruments.

One in particular was in the interest of the founders of UBBU, the social impact bond (SIB).

SOCIAL IMPACT BONDS aim at financing, against an outcome-based contract, innovative projects committed to achieving social outcomes and efficiency gains in priority public policy areas, such as Social Protection, Employment, Healthcare, Justice and Education. The projects should be implemented by one or more private entities and financed by one or more social investors, and they must achieve measurable social outcomes, validated beforehand by the public authority that oversees the respective sectoral policy. So, thanks to this financial instrument, UBBU was initially made available to schools in Portugal for free: the goal of the SIB was to increase digital literacy.

Aveiro's view

UBBU’s evolution

After this first successful experiment, the founders took 2 decisions:

  • To create a new company (Unicorn treasure) specifically dedicated to commercialize UBBU, aside to Academia the codigo; this decision was also taken because incentives and opportunities were coming from different sides of the business and in terms of attracting investors it was more useful to separate the business models;
  • To expand abroad, trying to sell the solution and enter in foreign markets, partnering with other organizations locally based.

The UBBU startup is still developing a go to market strategy: the early business model was b2b, having direct sales with no intermediaries; going abroad, it was necessary to build up a network of potential distributors, especially because public procurement has different regulation in continents outside Europe. UBBU is now present in about 20 countries: Brazil is the second largest market, but also in Indonesia, Singapore and Saudi Arabia there are growing opportunities.

Because of the pandemic time, following the requests of many parents with children in schools that were not adopting the solution, a b2c version of UBBU has been developed, but the b2b market still represents 90% of revenues.

Gamification principles are being progressively introduced through the mechanism of “points”. When children start the challenges, the progress axe is at zero and then they start to gain “goals”. Some games have time counters, so pupils compete with each other’s on speed.

We asked to Andre Costa if the Municipality will continue to finance these programs after the end of European funds and the answer was positive: “Yes, we are now designing the strategy for the next three years. Besides the activities in the classroom, we want to bring the UBBU platform also to our “Casa da Cidadania” and to develop Hackathons with some challenges related to the specific content that UBBU has about the Culture and heritage of Aveiro. In the medium term, our ambition is to integrate our STEAM Education strategy in the educational curricula, but for now that is not possible because, the Municipalities do not have those competences. In the near future that will change and, hopefully, our ambition will become real. In the meantime, we will keep working closely with our schools, directors and teachers in the implementation of this project.

Our goals are: to promote the knowledge in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics; to endow students with creative and innovative tools; to consolidate critical analyses, self-learning, collaborative work and problem solving’s resilience in our students. These objectives are framed by offering all the relevant skills and necessary knowledge to our teachers, working as Change Agents in Schools”.

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