WonderTree: Breaking Barriers in Education
May 20, 2019
This 2017 Top Ten Innovators awardee makes education accessible for children with special needs throughout Pakistan.
Approximately 2.3 million children in Pakistan have special needs, and many of them don’t have access to the therapy and education that could vastly improve their quality of life. That’s where WonderTree comes in.
WonderTree makes special education and therapy cost effective, efficient, measurable, and more accessible. WonderTree collaborates with psychologists, therapists, and parents to design games for children with special needs.
“What WonderTree does is create augmented reality games for children with disabilities,” said Muhammad Usman, co-founder and chief technical officer. “When they play games, a new world is formed in front of their eyes. It’s a therapeutic experience they have while they play, without even realising it.”
Usman decided to start WonderTree when he saw his older brother, a person with special needs, playing a video game responsively just as anyone else would play.
“What happened was all of a sudden, I saw my brother in my room playing games, and he was very interested in those games,” Usman said. “So I thought, why shouldn’t we do something to progress these children’s lives?”
Usman reached out to Muhammad Waqas and Ahmed Hassan – two friends from university – and together they founded WonderTree in 2015. In 2017, Waqas, WonderTree’s chief executive officer, applied for Shell Tameer Awards and won the “Technology Innovation Award worth” PKR 400,000.
“Shell Tameer has been a saviour for Wonder Tree, as we were struggling really hard at the financial fronts and the business was almost closing down,” Waqas said. “The money we received through Shell Tameer helped us escape that extremely difficult situation, while the media exposure and mentoring and networking with the experienced and high-profile industry stakeholders helped us attract some valuable clients like Ziauddin Hospital, one of the prominent private hospitals in Pakistan.”
After a few months, they competed in Shell LiveWIRE’s Top Ten Innovators Competition, a global competition that highlights and rewards LiveWIRE businesses that demonstrate excellence in innovation. WonderTree took home the runner up award and $10,000 in prize funding.
With this award, the WonderTree team purchased new laptops that allowed their developers to produce games twice as fast. They also used some of the funding for business travel. Thanks to one of these trips, WonderTree secured a major contract to provide education and therapy support to over 1,000 children. WonderTree has also seen a 50% increase in both revenue and client base.
Today, WonderTree is currently impacting the lives of over 2,500 children with special needs. Their games are installed in 15 special schools and five hospitals across four cities of Pakistan. After using WonderTree, children are showing a 40% to 60% improvement both in cognitive abilities and motor abilities.
WonderTree is in talks with the governments of Pakistan and Qatar and other organisations to explore opportunities to expand WonderTree both nationwide and in other countries. By the end of this year, the WonderTree team aims to reach more than 8,000 children with special needs and be operational in over 30 schools in Pakistan and beyond.
“We are also working heavily on Artificial Intelligence for image detection and body recognition,” said Waqas. “Through integrating this technology in WonderTree, our games will be playable on any computer using a normal webcam. This will make our games even cheaper and accessible. We are very excited about what the future holds for WonderTree.”
While they plan for this next leap, Waqas said that Shell’s support was critical in kickstarting their business, particularly when it comes to Shell’s mentorship.
“(Shell staff) Saifullah Malik and Imran Azeem played the constant role of support and mentors from Shell’s side and have helped to shape a community of like-minded entrepreneurs,” Waqas said.
“We will always regard Shell as one of our supporters in the growth of WonderTree when we needed it most,” Waqas added.