Company seizes upon pandemic to tout children’s app

Wimage features robotic character that helps children improve their vocabulary at home or in school.
Pictured from left to right are Michael Hyacinthe, the mascot Wimee, Kevin Kammeraad and Stephanie Kammeraad. Courtesy Kendra Mills

Whether it be in-person, virtual or through hybrid learning, students constantly have had to adapt to the disruption of their learning environment.

As they adapted, so did one startup company that’s using its creative technology to meet children wherever they are.

Michael Hyacinthe, founder of Wimage, and his team of educators, technology developers, entrepreneurs and parents created the Wimage App, which is an interactive educational tool used to develop the vocabulary of children, primarily ages 4-8, through the exploration of words and images.

Prior to the pandemic, Wimage was in the middle of a school contract tour to visit 100 local classrooms and libraries in three months. The tour involved the Wimage App, which has a robotic puppet mascot named Wimee. Wimee and his book, “Wimee’s Words,” help students learn about the importance of their words.

However, Wimage was only able to complete 15% of the tour when the pandemic started. As a result, Wimage quickly pivoted and created an interactive online series called Wimee’s Words with the same goal of helping kids realize the importance of their words.

“The goal is to get educators to use the app so that their kids can become authors, storytellers and eventually become publishers,” Hyacinthe said. “We would go into low-income schools so that their kids at an early age can see the power of their words. A child can think of a word and see that word become an image so then they can become storytellers, they can become future directors, future authors. But not only will they be able to use it, their educators will be able to say, ‘Hey, we have this tool where kids at an early age can start to visualize their thoughts and perhaps that can help them build their vocabulary, tell stories and become more imaginative at an early age.’ We know now that the world is all digital and will require a level of visual and digital understanding in order to be successful in any career field, so starting them early at this age, at the pre-K level, will allow them to say, ‘Hey, my words have power and I can put a group of words together and visualize that and it can become something that I can share.’ Whether that is a book, a design or an animation.”

The Wimee’s Words online series is inspired by and named after the book “Wimee’s Words,” which was written by Stephanie Kammeraad.

“The book ‘Wimee’s Words’ is a simple and playful concept that ignites creative exploration of words and images,” Hyacinthe said. “It features vehicles and colors along with strong verbs, prepositions and alliteration. This app is a feast of fun and educational content that young readers will want to read time and time again.”

The Wimee’s Words online series is a live 30-minute show that streams on the company’s Facebook page and on the Facebook pages of its partners, which include Kent District Library, Muskegon Area District Library, Grand Rapids Public Library and Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, among other institutions.

Each weekday, the show uses three words that are submitted by students, parents or teachers and creates a story with those specific words.

“What makes us unique from regular shows that kids are watching on PBS is that we allow kids to comment and Wimee uses their words instantly on the show,” Hyacinthe said. “Wimee can say, ‘Hey kids at home, what words rhyme with frog? Kids can say to their parents, ‘Mommy, frog rhymes with dog’ and their parents can type in the word. Wimee can then see the comment and Wimee can then reply, ‘Hey, Joshua in Grand Rapids, you said dog.’ Kids can instantly hear that feedback.”

Wimee also can tell stories using the words that were submitted and create an image using the Wimage app to help children visualize the story.

During the live show, there is a segment called Kids Chat in which kids can share what they are doing with their families. Lake Michigan Credit Union sponsors that segment, allowing kids to go onto the show and possibly win a $100 gift card.

Although they create revenue through partnerships, Hyacinthe, who is a Navy veteran, said the long-term revenue model for the company is to get a license deal with a large children’s broadcasting company and “share Wimee with the world.”

“We believe in Wimee as an inspirational character that can help kids learn, educate and have fun,” he said. “Our goal is to seek partners who see the value in what we are doing, such as a Disney or a PBS and want to license the character and put it into further kids’ visuals. We have this awesome character, just like Peppa Pig or just like Elmo, we want Wimee to be in that same place where millions of kids around the world can recognize Wimee as a fun, lovable robot that is inspiring their imagination and creativity.”

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