Most adults couldn’t even explain the basics of how the blockchain works, and Sesame Street is determined to make sure that won’t be a problem for the next generation. The children’s edutainment series has a venture capital firm that has now invested in a company that wants to give kids the building blocks of cryptocurrency.
It’s certainly an uncomfortable feeling to realize that one of America’s most prominent non-profit institutions has to muck around in the dirty world of VC funding in order to help educate kids, but that’s the world we live in. Sesame Ventures isn’t designed to pull in revenue for the show’s parent company Sesame Workshop. The goal of Sesame Ventures is simply to promote innovative approaches to children’s education. CEO Jeffrey Dunn told the New Yorker in 2016, “This place started as a disruptor. We started not quite in our garage, but not in these offices. How do we get back to being a workshop?”
For its latest project, the house that Big Bird built is pivoting to the blockchain with an investment in Kano, makers of simple DIY computer and coding kits for kids. Sesame Ventures provided an undisclosed portion of a $28 million funding round that Kano received last year to expand its line of products and services. According to CNBC, the company has 250,000 customers across 150 countries using its products to learn the basics of building little Raspberry Pi-based gadgets and coding. From CNBC’s report:
[Kano CEO Alex Klein] said that the latest capital would help Kano expand its product offering beyond computer building kits into new areas like the blockchain...
He added: “We are also very keen to demystify decentralized networks like the blockchain. We feel that the original premise was build your own computer, learn to code, create the future.”
“But what interests us greatly is building your own internet, learning how networks work so you can protect your data, so you can carefully and creatively open up access ports to other people, exchange files in your own way, kind of take some control back over how these core communication systems in your life work.”
That sounds extremely ambitious. The blockchain is a decentralized form of record-keeping that uses a peer-to-peer network to manage cryptocurrency systems, create smart contracts, and (depending on who you speak to) maybe revolutionize every facet of society. Thus far, we’ve mostly seen it used by struggling companies to give their brands the veneer of forward-looking innovation. But Kano could be different.
The company manufactures cute little kits that help kids (or anyone) learn how the basic components of computers work together and learn a little bit about coding. But Klein told CNBC that half of the users on its free Codeacademy-style platform are over 18 years old. Users learn how to build games, websites, and program basic hardware. “You’re going to see some product announcements from us in the next few months that will give you a sense of how we are evolving the creative computing system, both software and hardware,” Klein told CNBC.
It’s nice to see Sesame Street thinking beyond just having the Count repeat “One ah ah ah, Zero ah ah ah.” But it still seems like a shame that this entirely separate VC firm can make risky bets while the flagship show is constantly under threat of having its funding cut. Still, if the Kano venture is a success, we could be marveling in a few years as our friends have their 8-year-olds explain the blockchain just like we used to do when it was time to program the VCR for our parents.
Update 3pm, June 14: Sesame Ventures told Gizmodo in an email that blockchain education, while it may be part of Kano’s future plans, was not the “focus” of its investment in the company. “To clarify, Blockchain was mentioned in conversation with CNBC as one of the areas Kano was potentially interested in exploring and demystifying in the future,” a spokesperson said. “Blockchain is not the focus of the funding from Sesame Ventures specifically—so, Sesame Ventures is not directly dipping its hands into blockchain education, as suggested by the headline.” Given the clarification and our adoration for Oscar the Grouch, we’ve updated our headline to more closely align with the nature of Sesame Ventures’ role in Kano’s funding.