He is as tough as he is soft. Donald Coolidge was in the Marine Corps for over 8 years to include time in Iraq, Africa and other places. He is also the co-founder of Elemental Path. A cloud based technology that equips existing toy lines to use speech capabilities and personality. With a sensitive mind to understand the potential need of such toys, Donald says, “With Artificial Intelligence in a toy you would be able to keep a kid engaged and make them learn with the content due to the “fun” nature of the toy.” Along with this venture, Donald has also helped two veterans focused non-profit agencies get off the ground and also started several tech companies.
I moved to NYC in my car with no job, no apartment and just “figured it out” – I spent months living in bunk beds with another student in the program in order to afford rent and school.”
Just pack and leave
His return from his time in Africa, with the military, the summer after his under graduation, held a big surprise for him. Assuming he had not gotten into the one masters programme he had applied in, he returned home to find an acceptance letter. And the session started in just two days! Not one to hold back his excitement he just packed up everything to start a new adventure. “I moved to NYC in my car with no job, no apartment and just “figured it out” – I spent months living in bunk beds with another student in the program in order to afford rent and school.” Donald calls it the best decision of his life. And since then Donald has been involving himself in several ventures like Elemental Path.
Pitch, pitch, until you win
He and the other founders of Elemental Path, Donald says, had been kicking around this idea about using artificial intelligence to help teach children for a while. Then they chanced upon IBM Watson Developer Challenge. Speaking of the experience that boosted their take off, Donald says, “It’s essentially a shark tank style hackathon with IBM. We pitched, and pitched again and eventually won the competition and began to move ahead in a very serious way.”
With Artificial Intelligence in a toy you would be able to keep a kid engaged and make them learn with the content due to the “fun” nature of the toy.”
The unnerving bit
Creating an entirely new experience for kids brought along with it a lot of excitement and concerns. Donald says, “The technology that had to be developed is not available so a lot of the tech we are using we were forced to build from scratch.” But then the unnerving bit had to be tackled: speech recognition. Donald says, “With kids speech recognition does not work well because their speech is still forming.” So instead of bypassing a fairly difficult challenge, Donald adds saying, “We took the opportunity to tune our technology and use our smart toy as a way to help kids build their speech patterns at a time when learning is so very important.” These toys are known as CongiToys.
Immensely happy and proud that their products are being used by children from around the globe, and with many amazing stories from the parents, Donald and his team are launching two more products this winter and rolling out their Mandarin speaking CogniToys early next year. Alongside this, Donald’s working on mentoring young veteran entrepreneurs and plans to open a fund that invests into veteran founded start-ups. From the looks of it, the opportunities seem limitless for this marine turned entrepreneur.