‘Sesame Street’ has a venture fund, and it’s investing in a start-up that wants to simplify coding for kids

  • Kano said that it had bagged funding from Sesame Ventures to help it fuel growth and work on new products.
  • CEO Alex Klein said that the latest capital would help Kano expand its product offering beyond computer building kits into new areas like blockchain.
Sesame Street
Source: Sesame Street

A venture fund formed by the company behind the beloved TV show "Sesame Street" has invested in a start-up that wants computer building and coding to return to the forefront of consumer technology.

Kano, known for its do-it-yourself computer building kits for kids, said that it had bagged the funding from Sesame Ventures, the social-minded venture arm of Sesame Workshop, to help it fuel growth and work on new products.

The investment was part of a $28 million funding round Kano scored last year, however the companies did not disclose how much has been poured into the start-up in this latest injection of cash.

Alex Klein, Kano's chief executive and co-founder, said on Friday that the firm's aim was to help children and people of all ages understand how the technology they use every day works, instead of just consuming it much in the way that people use platforms like Facebook and Netflix.

"We see dozens of hours of engagement, actually a level of engagement especially in the first month which rivals Snapchat," Klein told CNBC over the phone. "What people are doing on Kano is not just using applications like Whatsapp or Wikipedia or Minecraft but remaking them and sharing their own versions of them."

Kano

The company doesn't just make DIY computer kits. And its products aren't just aimed at children. It has an online platform where users can create their own games and websites and motion sensor hardware that can be programmed to perform a range of tasks.

"Half of the users on our online platform which is free to use are over the age of 18," Klein said.

Kano says it has sold more than 250,000 devices across 150 countries. It competes with computing firm Arduino, which also makes DIY computer building kits.

Where next?

Klein said that the latest capital would help Kano expand its product offering beyond computer building kits into new areas like the blockchain.

"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" he said.

"I think we're very well known for our computer kits which sell very well but the real value, as much as it is in the hardware, is in the software and the content."

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."

Blockchain, the public network underpinning bitcoin, has influenced a wave of projects looking to create similar technology for purposes not just limited to finance. IBM, for instance, has invested a significant amount of money and resources into using blockchain technology for everything from food tracking to carbon credit trading.

Tanya Haider, executive vice president for strategy, research and ventures at Sesame Workshop, said that the firm's venture capital unit was investing in companies like Kano to harness forms of children's entertainment and education that go beyond the reach of traditional media.

"We can have a much greater impact by partnering with others rather than doing everything ourselves," Haider told CNBC. "'Sesame Street' was the original disrupter in kid's media by harnessing the power of television to teach. With Kano, we will be exploring the creation of products, content, and research that positively impact the way parents and children approach technology."

It's not the first investment Sesame Workshop's little known venture fund has made in a start-up. Two years ago it invested in Yup, a science and math tutoring app, and Reach Capital, a venture capital firm focused on education.

Sesame Ventures was set up by Sesame Workshop in 2016. Haider said it has used profits made through the sale of two of its networks, "Noggin" and "Sprout," to fund new start-up investments.