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Ellie Karssemakers - Wanderwatch

Published: 11th February 2019 Last updated: 02nd September 2019

Wanderwatch lets children play outdoors again, thanks to today’s technology in the form of an interactive outdoor smart watch. This innovative technology makes playing outdoors fun and safe, and very much a thing of today again.

The Wanderwatch gives parents the assurance of permanent contact with their children, and for children it’s mainly just fun: it has music and chat functions, as well as many great games, both for single and multi-player use.

It’s common knowledge that playing outdoors makes children smarter, healthier and happier.

Letting children play outside again, thanks to today’s technology

Picture this: a sunny living room in a suburb of Den Bosch. Children’s rubber boots in the hallway, toys scattered all around. A large dining-cum-work table, covered by papers. On a desk stands a computer, digital formulas running across the screen. “Welcome to the wondrous world of Wanderwatch!”, says Ellie Karssemakers, as she frees up some space on the table for a cup of steaming coffee. She explains apologetically: “This is where we live and work and eat and everything else – certainly with three children in the house, it’s a permanent center of activity.” But then those three children were also what inspired the development of the Wanderwatch – the ideal solution to let children play outdoors again, using the latest interactive technologies.

 “Every parent can confirm it”, says Ellie Karssemakers: “Children barely play outdoors anymore. Indoor toys on batteries have taken over. Children love it. And if not the electronic toys, then children will grab the iPad.”

Nothing’s changed in 50 years

“If you look at the kind of outdoor play that children do still engage in, then nothing much has changed in the past 50 years. A skip rope is still a skip rope. And that’s not quite as exciting as the things that make sounds, that have flashing lights and sometimes even move around on their own. And with children increasingly banned from playing in public spaces, and forced to amuse themselves on uninspiring playgrounds instead – well, who can blame them for preferring to stay inside and having fun on the computer. We will need to offer them alternatives.”

They certainly enjoy it!

“My partner Anton and I saw it happening all around us. But we also found out that 80% of children say they certainly enjoy playing outdoors – if only it weren’t so dull.

At a certain point we just couldn’t stop thinking about how to overcome the ‘dull’ nature of playing outdoors and to combine it with the fun and excitement of interactive toys.”

“To combine the best of two worlds”, adds life and business partner Anton de Nijs. “And we found the solution  -- how ironic is that? – in a new ‘screen’, that makes children totally eager to play outdoors again. And here it is!”

Anton shows us a fairly robust watch with a futuristic design: the Wanderwatch. “It was quite a challenge to create such a versatile watch that would still fit on an average child’s wrist.”

It looks great, will surely appeal to the kids – but what can it do, to make children beeline for the garden again?

“Incredibly much, and – certainly if Anton has his way – a whole lot more besides”, Ellie laughs. And she continues from where she left off: “After our first playful ideas, things got serious pretty fast. We found some like-minded parents in our friends Jurriën van den Akker and Elizabeth Vaugn, whom we had met as business administration students in Rotterdam. They joined the project as co-founders and are contributing from their current base in Chicago (VS).

As we worked further on the idea, it became clear quite quickly that it had to be some form of watch. A watch is easy to carry with you and is the least likely to get damaged. But it also had to be lightweight and, of course, … cool! And it certainly is. But even more important for children is: what can it do?”

Endless possibilities

Now that we’ve asked the question twice in our conversation, Ellie and Anton launch into an answer.

“What it can do is practically endless”, says Anton. “We started by ordering a couple of computer watches from Alibaba. It was soon clear to us that we shouldn’t even think about developing one on our own. They can do that so much better over there, and much more cheaply too. Our strength is the software. This we do make ourselves. It lets us add so many functionalities to the Wanderwatch that, once the children get the hang of it, they really don’t want to leave the house without it.”

‘Realistic’ sword fights… and much more!

“For starters, there’s the sounds app”, Ellie explains. “When children play at being knights and use sticks for mock sword fights, then they can have the app produce ‘sword sounds’. After that they may want to mount their ‘horse’, so then they can choose the sound of galloping hooves. And if they switch to cops and robbers, then they can add the sound of a police car siren.”

Anton stresses that all the apps and other functionalities included in the Wanderwatch are such that, in his own words, “all actions are the result of the children’s own initiative, and expressive of their own experience. We use as little text as possible.”

According to Ellie Karssemakers, the target group will consist mainly of “children who are too young to have their own mobile phone, so say between 6 and 11 years old. So they do already go outdoors independently, and that’s why the Wanderwatch also contains a reachability mode, with a chat function. If the child is out biking and has a flat tire, then it can report this via this function, and if some kind of emergency situation occurs, then there’s an alarm button. The GPS function tells the parent exactly where the child is.

And all that is just the start of it”, Ellie continues. “You can stream music in a Wi-Fi environment, or you can take stored music outdoors. Of course you can send drawings, text messages and voicemails to parents and friends, using a prepaid SIM card. It operates on 3G throughout Europe and the United States, but only for data. And that’s enough, as our research shows that children barely make phone calls anymore.”

Even more fun with Bluetooth

It’s already an impressive list – but still, we’re curious to hear about the special features that Anton referred to earlier. “One of these features is ready to go, and that’s the ‘magic stone’. That’s like a stone that you can hide somewhere, and then others can have fun ‘treasure hunting’ using Bluetooth.

There are lots of such apps that make the watch so exciting. For instance, we have also created an interface with a ‘robot ball’, which you can move around by moving your arm. To find out more about this, people should have a look on wanderwatch.com.”

Organization and finances

Besides developing the watch, setting up the business plan also required a lot of effort. Ellie: “Our co-founders live in Chicago. Something simple like opening a bank account, when one of the partners resides in the US, is already a complicated matter. Fortunately, all four of us are fairly well at home in ‘corporate country’, so we were able to dispense with most of the obstacles.

But all four of us had quit our jobs! We did have some savings to keep us going for a bit, but both we and Jurriën and Elizabeth also have three children to look after.

When I discovered Starterslift* at some networking event and I told them about our idea and our plans, they offered the support of their program, particularly with respect to investigating the technical feasibility of our many ideas. As part of this research we were able to use Starterlift’s Proof of Concept loan. We also made use of a Pre-Seed loan to start up the company and to run the first market tests.”

Third-party investment

The market launch is approaching, which poses a new financing challenge for Wanderwatch: “Ordering our first batch again costs money. And we also need to create or to commission a marketing plan. We need to let the market know that we’re here!”

So that’s two more hurdles to cross for Wanderwatch: “Given the right approach, we’re sure the market will show interest. But getting the financing in order is another matter altogether. The dream scenario is to find an ‘Angel Investor’ who really believes in us. We can forget about banks, they want too much financial certainty. Or, in other words: they want to see sales figures first.”

Still, the Wanderwatch founders are fully confident that their enterprise will be a success. Karssemakers: “Of course all those pitch events and presentations are time-consuming. But in the end the product should sell itself. It offers parents what they’re looking for, and it gives children what they want! Outdoor play but then as a real, 21st-century adventure!”

*Starterslift has continued under the name Braventure

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