Neon Wild, formed by Magic Leap alumni, will be participating in the LIFT Labs Accelerator.
By Riley Kaminer
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that children aged 8-18 now spend an average of 7.5 hours in front of a screen for entertainment every day. That’s a staggering 114 full days each year watching a screen for fun.
But what exactly are they watching?
That was the question Matt Weckel started to ask himself during the pandemic, when his job at Magic Leap went fully remote – allowing him to spend more time with his then two- and four-year-old sons.
“I was horrified by a lot of it,” Weckel told Refresh Miami. “I saw an incredible opportunity to build a safe and inclusive platform where kids can see themselves represented for who they truly are. A platform where parents can feel good about the time that the kids are spending on it, focused on social-emotional learning – building critical skills like confidence and self management.”
So Weckel began to develop what would eventually become Neon Wild, a personalized child development and entertainment platform. The early-stage startup is working on a tool that will transform any child into a custom avatar and place them into an immersive game.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion is at the core of Neon Wild’s value proposition. “60% of the characters in children’s media are still white, only 1% of them show any physical disabilities, and female characters on children’s shows are still highly sexualized,” Weckel noted. The Neon Wild team aims to flip the script on the traditional world of children’s media by developing content that makes children feel proud of who they are.
Weckel is working on Neon Wild alongside fellow Magic Leap alumni Matthew Kellough and Carlos Ramos, and longtime colleague Stephanie Reaves.
Comcast NBCUniversal just selected Neon Wild as one of 12 startups for the fifth cohort of their LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars. Fittingly, the cohort is also quite diverse, with half of the selected companies self-identifying as a person of color or racial/ethnic minority while one-third are led by a woman or gender diverse founder.
“This program is an incredible opportunity,” said Weckel. “It was a perfect fit between the great network and program that TechStars has built, and the amazing company that Comcast NBC Universal is.”
Initially, Neon Wild’s plan is to develop their own stories. Eventually, however, they hope to bring in third-party IP. That makes the NBC connection particularly helpful, noted Weckel.
While the startup is still determining their exact business model, they know that it will be driven by a straightforward philosophy. “We won’t be preying on children, looking for short-term revenue gains,” Weckel explained. “We want to build long-term relationships with families, and make sure our business model is something that parents feel good about.”
Last year, Neon Wild raised a small friends and family round. Now they’re in the midst of closing a pre-seed so they can focus on the 12-week accelerator program that they just started.
Weckel is particularly excited about the potential of web3 creators to right some of the wrongs brought on by Web 2.0. “I think the current content options out there for families are actually detrimental to children’s social-emotional learning. We’ve seen that with Web 2.0 with the impact social media has had on children. And we need to make sure that we don’t make those same mistakes as we move into a more immersive web environment like web3.”
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