Interview with Zafer Elcik
, was founded in 2016 with the aim of democratizing early childhood education. They strive for providing a unique and informative experience to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Offering families and special education teachers an opportunity to assist the progress of the child. Developing games with the ABA™ (Applied Behaviour Analysis) technique, they reach more than 100,000 people in 93 countries and make it possible for families and teachers to have full access on the child’s learning progress. Their award-winning and Teachers with Apps Certified application is designed for iOS devices (iPhone, iPad) and Android smartphones and tablets. Headquartered in San Francisco, they have offices in US and Turkey.
Hi Zafer! Could you please introduce your work with Otsimo and tell us a bit more about what led to your co-founding the company back in 2016?
Otsimo is an educational application for children with special needs, especially autism, Down's syndrome and mentally challenged children. And thanks to Otsimo, kids with special needs can reach early and intensive education in a very, very accessible way. I have a brother with autism and I realized that he has a special interest in my smart devices, and I realized he really engaged with my phone. And after that, I bought an iPad for him, but I realized there is no apps can be used with for special kids, and he actually disengaged with the other typical apps, because they are very, very hard to use. And he was actually very engaged with the tablet, but he couldn't play any games. And after that, I decided to create some simple games to teach my brother, and he learns really, really quickly. The first game was the the matching colors and learning colors, and he learns colors in Avi. And after that, we just quit our job with my co-founder and decided to create great games for kids with special needs and educate them through mobile devices, which is very, very accessible for every family. Because the education for special kids and therapies is really, really expensive, and it's very inaccessible for them. And Otsimo solving that problem with a very engaging platform, which is iPads, iPhones and smartphones.
How did you grow the client and partner network that makes Otsimo the success it is today?
Actually it grows organically, because we are trying to make great games for kids with special needs. And we actually try our best and work with kids with special needs, like autism, down syndrome and learning from them through the feedback. The app is actually helping them a lot and because of that, we have a lot of good stories from individual parents, teachers or guardians, and that helps us to create our client and partner network. And that actually grows them too, thanks to our customers' stories and testimonials, and scientific research - what we did for Otsimo, we a very very great results and that allows us the scale. Not just the Otsimo business - also we can help, not just in the US, more than 170 countries in the world.
What are some of the main challenges faced by children on the autism spectrum, as well as their families, when it comes to ensuring quality of education?
As a brother of an autistic, I can say that the main challenge for autism is reaching the basic needs: like education, transportation, communication - which is the needs we don't need to, we don't need to struggle to get it. But if you have a special needs, you need to fight for that need. For example, in the in the US you need to pay for the education therapy, ABA therapy - 100 bucks per hour. And you need to pay for speech therapy, which is more than 100 bucks per hour. You need to fight for your transportation because because if you have special needs, it's very hard to use public transportation, which also causes the dropouts in the school. And in Otsimo, we are trying to solving that problems, to make it mobile and accessible education and therapy for everyone. And the autism, Down's syndrome and so on, they are special kids but they need to fight for their basic needs, which is very tough for the families, also the kids himself or herself.
How has Otsimo partnered with educational institutions and districts to ensure the highest caliber of service and collaboration?
Otsimo has different partnership models with different partners in the autism space, or in the special education space. For example, our main app focusing on parents - because I am a parent, I am a family of an autistic also, I am trying to provide something for them. And Otsimo's special education and speech therapy for families: they can teach their child, they can use speech therapy at home through our Otsimo products. And we also have school version at Otsimo: individual therapists, schools, teachers can Otsimo school, and they can add multiple kids and they can actually track their kids performance - students performance- through the app. And they can actually keep updated families as well, which is the second partnership structure with it. Also, we have the high-level of partnership, what we did in Turkey for example, we have a governmental partnership. We work with the Minister of Education of Turkish government, and they are actually licensing our app just for Turkey. Our app is for free for every families at home. Also, they can use it in the special education classroom. And thanks to that, they can teach the kids in a very, very efficient way, which creates a very good partnership for everyone. It's a win-win-win situation and we are actually round for that. We are working with families after that. We work with schools and, right now, we are we are trying to work with governments or healthcare insurance companies, to providing Otsimo in a free way to every kid who need, also be creating a win-win-win situation for every partner.
What's next for your work with Otsimo - what will be your main focus throughout the next year?
Our main focus at Otsimo is creating an inclusive education for every kid in need. Right now we are working with special kids, but we started with autism just only. Right now, we are giving special education, also in speech therapy, providing them in-house therapy in everyday. But I believe that Otsimo's mission is creating an inclusive education: which is not focusing on just the special kids or special needs people - we need to create some sort of solutions for low-income families, refugees and other families as well. And because of that, our main focus in Otsimo is creating solutions for kids, which creates an inclusive learning environment for everyone. And the next year, we will like to focus in on Europe market. For that we will - also Latin America - and we will open up a Spanish German and French version to actually helping these markets too, not just the English speaking ones or the Turkish speaking ones, because I'm in Turkey. We will like to help as many countries as, and as many languages as, and that's our main focus for the next year.