TOYZSTEAM Learn Today Earn Tomorrow
One-line solution summary:
An interactive game using advanced manufacturing and rap to get students to create, sell, and tell stories of themselves as STEM superheroes
Pitch your solution.
The Tech industry has huge shortages of workers compounded by low diversity due to an inadequate pipeline providing essential training for diverse and disadvantaged students.
Toyz Electronics provides an app-based platform that uses gamification, rapid prototyping, and rap to get students into creating, selling, and telling stories of themselves as superhero rap TOYZ. Students learn today and earn tomorrow. They become "Toyz Makers,” creating characters with STEM superpowers, sharing their stories on social media, and selling their models and stories online.
Students learn valuable skills such as 3D modeling, audio production, and rapid prototyping that will help them be employable to tech companies or get started on their own entrepreneurial ventures. Overall this could boost these student's earning potential by at least 50% and dramatically increase the talent pool for creative, and technical industries. With the global appeal of superheroes and rap, it provides an unconventional pathway to STEM.
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
Microsoft estimates there will be a global need for over 149 Million tech jobs in the next 5 years. By 2026 3.5 million Tech jobs in the US will be unfilled. Our CMU NSF I-Corps research evaluated how increasing diversity can be a solution. African Americans and Hispanics are 40% (~23 M) of K12 students with 14.1 million in the bottom 25% of academic performance. Yearly, 1.3 million students drop out of high school, most are children of color. African Americans and Hispanics comprise approximately 6% of the technology workforce. In a city like Pittsburgh for example this has disturbing economic effects. The median income of African Americans for example is $26,000 and on average their education performance on state Math and English tests are 30-40 points behind whites. Entry-level $15 HR jobs boost income to $32,400 and $20 HR boost income to $43,206. The loss in manufacturing especially steel has severely depressed income and opportunities for African Americans and has depressed real estate which is how education funding is determined. Pittsburgh is not an anomaly you can find similar statistics across the country which has lead to civil unrest and movements like Black Lives Matter.
What is your solution?
We developed a concept called Super Hero Rap to inspire STEM careers. Super Hero Rap involves students envisioning their ideal selves and the world they want to live in through STEM superpowers. Students learn growth intelligence and problem-solving skills through creating their ideal world.
Our solution is a mobile digital system that helps students
create these worlds while teaching them marketable technology skills
such as 3D modeling, audio editing, and entrepreneurship. Students
use a mobile application to design and model their superhero characters
and record their STEM origin stories, introducing students to creative
digital tools. These character designs will then be sold on an online
marketplace and shared via social media like TikTok, Instagram, Twitter,
and YouTube introducing students to online business technologies and
strategies and to the economic incentives of STEM fields. Our technology platform is built around a mobile application that integrates a learning
management system, virtual creativity tools, and an e-commerce
marketplace. We currently have developed a mobile game called Dah-Varsity that aims to inspire students to engage with STEM concepts and a project-based Learning Management System, TOYZSTEAM. We now want to bring these together to create a widely available Superhero Rap creation tool to support student learning for our specific set of students.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
Currently, less than half of all 9th-grade African-American students will complete high school, and research concludes that “designing a relevant curriculum and building strong social ties to urban African American male students may provide key elements of the multifaceted approach necessary to solve the dropout problem.” Every year, 1.3 million students drop out of high school, half of which are children of color. This has devastating consequences for both a child’s financial prospects and for the economy as a whole. Low-quality education usually leads to lower salaries, more reliance on government assistance, and a worse quality of life. The education gap creates a more severe economic drag than any recent economic depression. If, for instance, the US improved child math and science scores to just the average OECD scores, it would present 2.5 trillion dollars’ worth of present-value growth. And if racial and socioeconomic score gaps in the US are completely bridged, it would present a 5.3 trillion dollar present-value improvement.
For the children who make it to college, inequity persists. Black and Latino students enroll in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) majors at the same rate as white students, but are 19% more likely to drop out or switch majors than white students. Students of color encounter several pervasive challenges in STEAM compared to other degrees, as their dropout rates are often unequal even when controlling for socioeconomic status.
We informally utilize a concept called Super Hero Rap to introduce students to STEM concepts and teach problem-solving and growth intelligence in a process that combines STEM + Art + Maker + Entrepreneurship. Our curriculum uses hip-hop culture, music, game design, comic books, coding, and 3D design and modeling. We democratize access to Carnegie Mellon education via delivery methods that reach African American and Hispanic students that don't believe they can attend such universities. We also provide representation and validation via the founders. Students can see trailblazers engage in their story, and create their own path based on best practices.
We have also created a racially inclusive course Intro to TOYZSTEAM and Super Hero Rap.
https://toyzsteam.com/courses/... . Super Hero Rap is based on Idealism, which is the student’s ideal world and vision of their best self. The villain is their obstacles. Their superpowers are based on using STEM concepts to overcome their obstacles. An example of Superhero Rap is an anti-bullying song co-founder Damola created with a multi-racial cast of students at the music department at CMU called Stop The Bullying. https://music.apple.com/us/alb... The song details our unique differences but our shared humanity and that by appreciation we can all live in a better world.
We have even built a product for this approach with a Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) expert.https://www.mattinglysolutions.... Students work in inclusive groups and use creative storytelling based on this concept to learn each other's stories and become a super team for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Our work thus far has been heavily focused on building relationships with the community to deliver our culturally relevant and responsive curriculum. CEO Damola Idowu has a background of over 25 years amplifying voices and issues affecting the community and developing solutions based on responsive engagement. Our approach has been to listen, outreach, collaborate, and to then take best practices and built upon them. We have worked with organizations like Remake Learning who have thousands of educators in their network. We have also worked with foundations focused on challenges facing the community to engage and deliver customizable and flexible solutions to them and their partners.
We provide an affordable, revenue-generating, Ed-Tech and e-commerce platform to increase the diverse talent pool for computer-related careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math (STEAM) Industries. Students are trained to make their own toys, making STEAM skill-building fun and engaging. They’re empowered to be TOYZMAKERS. In the curriculum,
students are directed to invent creative characters and designs within a hip-hop-infused universe. They can create comic books, games, 3D models, and music using open-source and free tools that are widely adopted in STEAM jobs. Their created characters are made to showcase each child’s personal obstacles and how he, she, or they overcame them. The projects are designed with college and job applications in mind; students write about their specific hardships, and how their scholastic and entrepreneurial efforts help them overcome their hardships. The projects and the writings that these students create are designed to shine on college and job applications. Recruiters seek people who find creative ways to overcome their hardships. For college-age students, the program functions like an internship. It prepares non-technical students for entry-level positions with a focus on career development, further training, and growth towards more technical and leadership positions in the future. More employers value experience even when a person does not have a degree related to the job.
The project-centered model captures employers’ newfound willingness to hire applicants based on demonstrable experience over a degree. With this, students can become qualified to work in STEAM fields.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?Provide tools and opportunities for equitable access to jobs, credit, and generational wealth creation in communities of color.
Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.
Issues of access to quality education, workforce development, and available digital tools are at the core of the problem we are addressing and the challenge we selected. Problems of race and equity in America have been long documented and not addressed with adequate inclusive empowering technology that develops entrepreneurial skills for economic mobility. We provide Carnegie Mellon developed Maker education to disadvantaged groups for nominal cost and empower them economically by teaching them to be "TOYZMAKERS". We also inspire them using the real-life story of our Black multi-generational founders via Dah-Varsity mobile game and TOYZSTEAM.
In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?Pittsburgh, PA, USA
What is your solution’s stage of development?Pilot: An organization deploying a tested product, service, or business model in at least one community.
Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.
We currently have tested our curriculum with 2000+ Students in Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC, and Virginia. Since 2020 We have been BNY Mellon Upprize Social Innovation Challenge semifinalists and have conducted CMU-NSF I-Corps research. We launched Dah-Varsity in the Google Play Store in May 2021. We have built several partnerships. Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute is providing our course on its website as an available solution for its manufacturing members and their employees. Community College of Allegheny County is offering our course TOYZSTEAM virtually to their students with a workforce focus and soft skills development that includes volunteerism to teach middle school and high school students. We've been developing TOYZSTEAM with CMU and have pilot projects with BGCWPA, Girls Scouts, and public schools. Conversations are ongoing with The State of Pennsylvania specifically for the implementation of our program for education and workforce development.
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
Damola Idowu CEO co-founder Toyz Electronics
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?A new application of an existing technology
What makes your solution innovative?
Our innovation is mixing superhero and rap culture together to inspire students for STEAM. It combines science fiction with urban culture and storytelling that helps students think beyond their environment. This allows them to see themselves as STEAM superheroes. Our solution has 4 components; Inspire, Learn, Create, Sell. Our CMU-NSF I-Corps findings suggest that to engage more underrepresented students in STEAM you need a product that will Inspire students with visual representation. Students need a culturally relevant curriculum to Learn. They need access to tools to Create. Given a choice of food security or STEAM education food comes first so a marketplace to Sell will fund STEAM learning. While many individual tools allow students to create virtual designs, there are no systems that integrate all the above components. Additionally, many of these tools exist only as desktop applications. This is a challenge for our specific set of students who may not have access to great computers, but who do have smartphones. We are building a mobile application to develop the talent of diverse and disadvantaged students especially African Americans towards employment and entrepreneurship in STEAM-related industries. We are building a mobile application that extends our pre-existing mobile game Dah-Varsity and online learning management system, TOYZSTEAM, to integrate audio production and character creation tools and an e-commerce marketplace for diverse students to sell their creative works. A fully mobile superhero rap creative platform and e-commerce marketplace can help scale our innovation to many more students.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?
In which states / US territories do you currently operate?
In which states / US territories will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
We have worked with over 2000+ students thus far. There are 56.4 million students in the US today, 14.1 million of which are in the bottom 25% of performance. We aim for 20,000 students in a year via our mobile application.TOYZSTEAM plans to reach 1 million students by quarter 4 of 2026. This tool will help to bridge the socioeconomic dropout gap, this could result in up to a 16% decrease in the Black high school dropout rate. In turn, this would generate millions of more Americans with the skills necessary to generate innovation and value in our economy and create several trillion dollars’ worth of growth in the economy. The value of improving equity in the education system cannot be overstated: this is one of the highest potential growth areas in the world.
How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?
We will implement a mixed method of evaluation. We will utilize community engagement and feedback primarily from affected parties which principally includes parents and students to see how effective our approach is and how motivated they are to continue on STEAM pathways. Parents will have to sign off on data gathering. A huge component of our program is early
interaction and consistent interaction between stakeholders and the education and career readiness ecosystem. Having career and college recruiters give feedback on student's portfolios and looking at a horizon of growth with be important. How many more qualified students from
our targeted demographics are they now able to recruit? Having researchers from Carnegie Mellon along with a Data Scientist on staff measure student performance versus non controlled groups and also testing individual subject matter knowledge for efficacy will be critical. We will also evaluate student engagement and interests as subject matter and concept difficulty increase to see how students continue engagement.
What type of organization is your solution team?
For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models
How many people work on your solution team?
Damola Idowu- CEO co-founder Toyz Electronics
Wole Idowu- CTO co-founder Toyz Electronics
Drew Davidson- Advisor
Nikolas Martelaro- Research Partner and Professor
Brett Ashley Crawford, Ph.D.- Consultant
How long have you been working on your solution?
How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Damola Idowu CEO of Toyz Electronics. He began studying Mechanical Engineering and economics at Syracuse University at 16. He won an engineering design competition at Howard University at 18 and created a concept called Superhero Rap at 19. He has created and distributed millions of dollars worth of multimedia content and products globally. He manages project execution.
Wole Idowu- CTO of TOYZ Electronics. He graduated HS at 15 and graduated Carnegie Mellon at 20 with a degree in ECE and two minors in business. Wole has also worked at EA games at 18 and is currently a software engineer with front-end development experience. He will oversee the technical aspects of this project.
Dr. Nikolas Martelaro - (Assistant Professor at Carnegie Mellon's HCI Institute). His lab focuses on augmenting designer's capabilities through the use of new technology and design methods. His role will be to help with measurements and evaluations of the project.
Drew Davison is the director of the entertainment technology center at Carnegie Mellon University. He has extensive experience in education, game design, and interactive technologies. He is an advisor for Toyz Electronics.
Brett Ashley teaches in the graduate arts management program and directs the Arts Management and Technology Laboratory at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University. She has an MFA in arts administration and a Ph.D. in theatre history and criticism. Her research includes work on women and minorities in arts management, organization ecologies, the use of technology in arts and management, marketing, and arts audiences.
What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?
Damola and Wole Idowu are multi-generational Black co-founders. We have even built a product for diversity with a Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) expert. https://www.mattinglysolutions.... We built this product leveraging our concept of Superhero Rap. We will continue to work with DEI experts to ensure we are faithful to our inclusive mission. They would be key in holding us accountable.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?Organizations (B2B)
Why are you applying to Solve?
We are a father and son Black duo of creatives, engineers, and entrepreneurs. The issue of racial injustice and lack of access to tech jobs hits home personally. Co-Founder Wole Idowu was one of 5 African Americans that graduated our of his ~300 person class for electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon in 2017. Co-Founder Damola Idowu, Wole's dad has had to "Hack" the system to get his son opportunities, and other children aren't as fortunate. Joining Solve will provide access to like-minded problem solvers who can collaborate and also it provides access to resources to address societal challenges we are addressing. By joining Solve we can share our best practices that have worked in multiple generations and made an impact already with little funding or resources. Martin Luther King said it's a cruel joke to ask a man without boots to pull himself up by the bootstrap. Solve can provide us with critical boots to get on the ground and make an impact on the challenges we are addressing. Technical support and financial support are critical for us. Joining Solve will help in both areas.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
To meet our technical goals we will need help with staffing both for technical and marketing-related roles. We will also need people with the right connections to amplify channel marketing opportunities to scale our solution to as many people with mobile devices as possible. We have a number of great ideas for revenue but we are open to learning and gaining better insight from people who have done what we want to do at that scale. We are looking to grow. We need help on best practices on speaking to funding sources to ensure we close as many deals as possible and get the capital. We need to manage it efficiently and not have a high burn rate. Gaining the right strategic partnerships can be key for the distribution of our mobile product.
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
MIT faculty, students, and Alumni. We need gifted problem solvers to work with our technical solution and also great minds to collaborate with.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize to advance your solution?
The social and emotional impact of Superhero Rap. Mental Health Impact of inspiring students to become the best version of themselves using STEM for their superpowers.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The ASA Prize for Equitable Education? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The ASA Prize to advance your solution?
TOYZSTEAM uses superhero character creation to get students to create projects that will be featured in a marketplace. This project-based learning approach is inclusive especially for diverse and disadvantaged students.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The Elevate Prize for Antiracist Technology? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The Elevate Prize for Antiracist Technology to advance your solution?
We are not a nonprofit but our product at its core is antiracist. It provides the user a mechanism to envision themselves as a superhero. It's representative of the individual and allows for storytelling and visualization of marginalized voices.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The GM Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The GM Prize for Innovation in Refugee Inclusion to advance your solution?
Our solution includes a game Dah-Varsity which exposes diverse and disadvantaged students to interactive learning experiences involving Automotive, Math, Music, Literature, Design & Prototyping. Students are inspired by the inspiring story of Damola and Wole. They are both creatives, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Damola enrolled as a full-time student at Syracuse University studying Mechanical Engineering and Economics at 16. He will win an Engineering Design competition at Howard University at 18. His son Wole Idowu graduated HS at 15 and was featured on the CNBC documentary 20 under 20 Transforming tomorrow. He will enroll at Carnegie Mellon University at 15 and graduate at 20 with an Electrical and Computer Engineering Degree and 2 minors in business. Damola will create Da Great Deity Dah and SuperHero Rap while a student at Howard University. Super Hero Rap centers on Idealism which is your Highest self and the ideal world you want to live in,. Your villain is your obstacles and you use STEAM concepts to imagine your superpowers. Students learn growth intelligence and problem-solving in a culturally relevant and practical way based on representative founders who actually have similar lived experiences. Every student can be a superhero if given proper training. This game is developed at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. Damola and Wole have worked with over 2000 students with STEAM https://www.theesa.com/news/to...
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The HP Prize for Advancing Digital Equity? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The HP Prize for Advancing Digital Equity to advance your solution?
Our solution upskills diverse and disadvantaged students that have previously
not had access to tech training. It provides them a 50% boost to
current median income by creating a pipeline to entry-level positions
they're currently not filling and also dramatically increases the talent
pool for creative, technical, and maker-related industries. They also
have entrepreneurial opportunities by skills learned in the
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
Yes, I wish to apply for this prize
Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use the Innovation for Women Prize to advance your solution?
Our solution has been used to advance STEM education to Girls Scouts and Women in Technology Pittsburgh.
We have also empowered young women to develop applications.
We have also given lectures on Superwomen at the Swartz Center at Carnegie Mellon University.
Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The AI for Humanity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.
No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution