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SBIR Pulse Interview #10

Post Date:
February 05, 2016
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The interview is the first in a series on SBIR-supported women game developers who were featured in this recent blog.

SBIR Women Developers Got Game: A Q&A with Grace Wardhana of Kiko Labs

This issue of SBIR Pulse interviews Grace Wardhana, the co-founder Kiko Labs, a California-based education technology company. Grace earned a Master’s degree in science and engineering from Stanford, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and holds experience at Microsoft and McKinsey. With an award from the SBIR program at the U.S Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, Kiko Labs is developing Kiko’s Thinking Time, an app for young children to solve challenging tasks to strengthen cognitive skills related to executive functioning and reasoning

Every child deserves to realize his or her potential. Now, more than ever before, we have the means to make this happen. 

-Grace Wardhana, co-founder of Kiko Labs




SBIR Pulse: In a few sentences, can you describe how and why Kiko Labs got started?

GW: It was 2013 and I was a parent of an iPad-obsessed toddler. I wanted Annika, my daughter, to watch more than Netflix videos and was looking for really good, even transformative apps. When I found nothing that I liked, I decided to start Kiko Labs to build a new type of learning experience.


SBIR Pulse: Can you describe the moment when you knew you wanted to become an entrepreneur? Was it a difficult decision to leave your day job?

I come from an entrepreneurial family and Kiko Labs is my second entrepreneurial venture. When the idea came to me, I got so excited by the idea of combining learning science and gaming principles into a new learning medium that I couldn’t wait to dive in.


SBIR Pulse: How did the awards from the SBIR program at the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences help support the growth of your technology and company?

It was critical as it gave us the runway we needed for a thoughtful and research-based approach to product development. Other funding sources tend to focus more on early traction and adoption milestones – which works great for consumer-based models, but not for education.


SBIR Pulse: Looking back to early in your education or career, who was your most impactful mentor?

GW: I am extremely fortunate to have found mentors at various stages of my career that really cared about my development. If I had to pick one person, though, it would be my dad. The most important lesson he taught me was not to give up too easily.


SBIR Pulse: What is the primary market for your educational technology products? 

GW: Our product, Kiko’s Thinking Time, is made for young kids 3-7 years old and helps train cognitive skills like executive function. We believe that these skills are fundamental for school success and our mission is to help every child realize their potential. Parents, schools and learning centers can all use Kiko Labs’ products.


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Above: Screen shots from Kiko’s Thinking Time.


SBIR Pulse: Do you have any advice for other women entrepreneurs?

GW: I’m going to quote Mark Cuban and say, “Don’t start a company unless it’s an obsession and something you love.” 


This interview was produced by Betty Royster of the National Institutes of Health and Edward Metz of the Department of Education.

  About SBIR Pulse

SBIR Pulse provides interviews with individuals from the different corners of the high-tech, start-up ecosystem. The intent is to share various perspectives on how SBIR impacts small businesses, drives innovation, and leads to technological solutions. For more editions of SBIR Pulse, see here.

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs are collectively the largest single source of early-stage capital for innovative small companies in the United States. The federal government invests over 2 billion dollars in early stage and high growth American entrepreneurial firms to develop and commercialize technologies that strengthen our nation's defense, improve the health of our citizens, and enhance education. For more information, please visit, and follow us on Twitter (@SBIRgov).

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