Minneapolis company strives to create culturally accurate online learning tools – InForum

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MINNEAPOLIS — Maria Burns Ortiz recalls the moment in 2015 when an investor was ready to invest in 7 Generation Games. Until that time, the educational video game company was a side project for Burns Ortiz and his mother, AnaMaria De Mars. But the investment came with a stipulation: they had to focus 100% on 7th Gen games.

“It was kind of the scary moment, because you’re going to jump and you’re going to do it. We believed enough in what we were doing to stop everything else and focus on that,” Burns Ortiz said.

De Mars added, “We took very deep breaths, and it was tough, but it’s kind of a leap of faith.”

During the time they started the business, they lived off their savings, De Mars said.

They started working on what would become 7 Generation Games in 2013 and incorporated the company in August 2015.

Based in Minneapolis, the company creates educational video games. He first focused on mathematics. Now the subjects include science, language arts, and history. But what makes 7 Generation Games different is that they work to make sure the games are as culturally accurate as possible. They also have bilingual games – in English, Spanish, Lakota and Dakota.

The staff of 7 Generation Games is 90% Black, Indigenous and Latino and 55% women.

For example, when working with tribes, if they don’t have someone on staff who is from a specific tribe, they will work with tribal elders, educators and students from those schools.

“You can Google all you want. But really, there’s no substitute for someone from these communities being part of telling these stories,” Burns Ortiz said.

While creating the Making Camp Dakota Nation game, Burns Ortiz said he worked with students from Warwick School in the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation. Doing that is a big part of telling the story and also empowering people to tell their story, she said.

For the AzTech: Meet the Maya game, De Mars said they traveled to Belize to get information directly from the experts.

“We worked with someone who was a Mayan guide to the archaeological digs there. In everything we do, we work with people from this community,” said De Mars.

Although the games were initially used by schools, the company has expanded its reach to different organizations, Burns Ortiz said. And the games are available to everyone through the Apple Store and Google Play.

Intern Eva Ortiz tests a game for bugs at the 7 Generation Games office.

Stephen Maturity for MPR News

The idea of ​​using video games to teach science and math made sense, Burns Ortiz said. Children will play a video game 50 times to progress, she said.

“You don’t see them doing that in education with worksheets. So we thought if we could take advantage of that enthusiasm and motivation to get to the level of skill you just got and improve a little bit and try again, that’s really where we could reach the kids,” said Burns Ortiz.

The proof that the games work comes in the form of regular messages from teachers telling them of the impact the games have had on students, De Mars said.

Burns Ortiz said associates of Wharton impact venture at the University of Pennsylvania asked if they had thought about doing a community tour. A community round is crowd equity, where, in the case of 7 Generation Games, anyone can invest $100 or more.

“We’re Latinas in tech, people don’t throw money at us no matter what they say about how easy it is to fundraise,” Burns Ortiz said.

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Software developer Ali Mohamud works on coding a game at 7 Generation Games office.

Stephen Maturity for MPR News

There’s always a lot of talk about investors wanting to diversify their portfolio, but the reality is quite different, De Mars said.

“Two to 3% of investor funds go to women-owned businesses. And I don’t know what percentage goes to Latino-owned businesses, but I guarantee it’s less than 100 percent,” De Mars said.

The idea of ​​a community round seemed natural, she said.

“If we’re building things for the community, maybe we should go to the community. And maybe they would like to see their community represented. Maybe they just think it’s a good idea that someone is trying to help kids with their studies, and they’d like to see that endeavor succeed,” De Mars said.

Vicki Adame covers Latino communities in Minnesota for MPR News through Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on under-reported issues and communities.

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