by Alexander Soule
A Stamford Innovation Center-based startup has launched a Kickstarter campaign, aiming to raise initial funding for its business publishing books that kids can create to engage them as they learn to read.
Theresa Robbins came up with the idea for Mirror Books while homeschooling her three children. With existing, phonics-based readers failing to excite her kids, Robbins cottoned to the idea of letting them personalize storybooks with details from their own lives, including pictures of themselves, family, pets or favorite playthings.
“It wasn’t really clicking,” Robbins recalled of the traditional reading aids she had put in her kids’ hands. “We give them a template and they become coauthor of a book they are going to create.”
In the spring of 2013, Robbins entered the idea in the second annual Stamford Startup Weekend, at the time calling her concept BooksAbout.us. That first chapter in her startup’s history nearly was its last, with Robbins failing to attract a team after presenting her idea to the dozens of would-be entrepreneurs in the room.
As people milled around after the group “pitch” session, a Cornell University student named Hugh Stewart walked up to her.
“He said, ‘so you going to do it?’” Robbins recalled. “I said I didn’t have a team, and he said, ‘I’m going to find you a team.’”
In a little over two days, the BooksAbout.us team was able to cobble together a plan that judges awarded third place, getting beat out for top honors that year by ArtGoGo, whose creator envisioned an online marketplace for artists as an alternative to galleries, but who did not proceed with the company.
Robbins kept at it, with Mirror Books again a finalist in a 2014 University of Connecticut business plan competition; and has gotten grant funding from the CTNext initiative by the state of Connecticut to provide seed funding to entrepreneurs.
Mirror Books is on the fundraising trail again as of this week, securing commitments of more than $2,500 in the early days of a Kickstarter campaign that runs through the third week of July. With the goal of generating $30,000 in funding in all, Mirror Books is rewarding backers with everything from bookmarks for $10 donations to a “you name it” option for those who donate $1,000, in which sponsors can come up with the idea of a book for Mirror Books to produce for children.
With a number of companies offering personalized books for children of varying ages, from new entrants like I See Me! and Put Me In The Story to heavyweights like Hallmark and Disney, Robbins found a way to differentiate her company by offering hands-on workshops.
Mirror Books has tested the concept in an after-school workshop for Darien kindergartners and first-graders, with Robbins indicating Stamford is on the short list for future workshops. Initially envisioning the company along an online distribution model, she has pivoted the concept to embrace ongoing workshops in which children get hands-on guidance to create their books in group settings.
“What came out of the (Darien) pilot was the concept of a teacher’s kit,” Robbins said. “The teacher can work through it with their own kids.”