Jim Marggraff of Kinoo: Connecting Generations through Interactive Games

By Ariel Cadby-Spicer posted 08-18-2022 03:59 PM

Jim Marggraff of Kinoo

Kinoo is a technology platform created to bring families together, even when they’re apart. Accessed through an app on iOS, Kinoo uses augmented reality games to promote intergenerational connection, learning and growth.

Kinoo founder and self-described “serial inventor” Jim Marggraff spoke with us about Kinoo and the vision that drives the company.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Would you tell us about yourself and your company?

I’m Jim Marggraff, founder, CEO and chairman of Kinoo. I’m a serial entrepreneur and inventor. I created a breakthrough child’s learning product, the LeapPad, which pretty much became a phenomenon. I founded a company called Livescribe, which is a note-taking system that uses a “smartpen” and “smartpaper.” Kinoo is the seventh company that I’ve founded or cofounded, so I’ve been doing this a while.

My focus throughout my career has been technology applied to human behavior. I like to take technology that is leading edge and find new ways to use it, to enhance the way we think, play, learn, connect and grow.

Your entrepreneurial track record is impressive. What inspired you to found Kinoo in particular?

I hadn’t planned to start a new company! My wife was studying the psychosocial issues astronauts face during long space flights, and through that I learned that when you put humans in isolated or confined conditions, they do not thrive. This isn’t limited to space flight; this is true when you put people in a submarine, or in the Arctic.

I began asking, “What if we could create an AI social agent that could support the connection between people across space and time?” — say, for astronauts traveling to Mars, where communication with Earth takes 40 minutes, round-trip. And I also became interested in how we could do this on Earth, where we have social isolation.

So that led me to speaking with seniors, and I quickly realized they want connection with family, and particularly with younger kids. There’s research around attachment theory that explains this, but the fact is, seniors want to be relevant. They want to have purpose in their lives and contribute what they can based upon a lifetime of learning. They want to leave a legacy — and they want to have fun.

All this is aligned with my interest in technology and my history as an entrepreneur, so I said, “Hey, let’s help kids and families develop this connection, and help kids develop their well-being for the future.”

How does Kinoo work?

It’s actually easy; looking at the logistics and making it simple is something we’ve spent a lot of time on. You download the app, then you can send an invitation to the person you want to connect with. Once the invitation is accepted, you’re connected in the app.

Then, for example, a child can just tap on grandma’s photo in the app, and it creates a video chat, like Zoom. It’s very simple. Young kids see a relative’s picture in the app, touch it, and that initiates a call. If the person on the other end is available, they’ll take the call.

We sometimes explain Kinoo by saying you can play games on it. But that’s been done — and we wanted to do something that hasn’t been done before. So the games on Kinoo aren’t like checkers, where the child and adult simply look at the screen and play without really talking. Kinoo’s games are true co-play. They’re kinetic and use a device we call our Magic Wand. They really drive the child and adult to bond and be engaged with one another while they’re playing.

How has working with the AgeTech Collaborative™ helped Kinoo get off the ground?

The Collaborative has been very helpful in many ways, including connecting us with data and helping us understand seniors and trends in intergenerational connection, as well as looking at trends and attitudes around screen time. For example, we learned that the American Academy of Pediatrics has very substantial guidelines on how much screen time a child should (or should not) have — but they don’t classify video chats as screen time, because when there’s someone on the other end of the line, it doesn’t have many of the negative attributes associated with “regular” screen time.

Kinoo sounds fun, but this is about more than just having fun.

Our mission is to create the best possible future for children, their families and the world through connection, play and learning. All of those words in our mission statement are important to us, and we revisit them regularly.

I founded this company because I’m concerned about this planet’s future — and by that, I mean I’m concerned about people, families, our relationships, our governmental issues, our climate and our ecosystem. The challenges are daunting. When I look at the areas of impact I can have, I see the next generation of young children who will be having a huge influence in this world in 20 years. I believe that helping them establish important life skills such as persistence, critical thinking, communication and empathy are crucial to us as a species. I saw this need, so I put together a team — and we’re on a journey to do something about it.

#AgeTech 101