With the touch of a finger, the owl’s feathered wings fade away, revealing the bird’s delicate bone structure. With the wave of a hand, an illustration of fossilized dinosaur bones are fleshed out with muscle and skin.
It looks like a magic trick, but it’s really the product of the hardworking trio that comprises Seattle-based Curio Interactive.
Sonia Lei, Jennifer Primm and Barry Boone met in the University of Washington’s program in natural science illustration, which teaches detailed, precise illustration using pen-and-ink, watercolors and other mediums. In addition to being artists, the three collectively have experience in software and hardware development, user experience design, science and nature interpretation.
Armed with this suite of skills, last year they formed Curio Interactive.
“We were trying to take this historic, even ancient way of depicting the world,” said Boone, “and try to do something that hadn’t been done before with these illustrations and turn them into something magical.”
Curio Interactive is one of the startups in residence at the Pacific Science Center, a new program that gives visiting families a chance to see the entrepreneurial process at work and provides startups the opportunity to test their technology with the visitors as they’re developing it.
“I always wonder how people will react. It is a leap of faith, to say, ‘Interact with these prototypes,’” Boone said. “It’s very vulnerable.”
Curio Interactive builds projects for clients, namely museums and interpretive centers, and is also creating educational products. The products include lesson plans being developed in partnership with various nature and science-based nonprofits. Stay tuned to Kickstarter for the launch of their first product later this year.
We caught up with Boone, Lei and Primm for this installment of Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for their answers to our questionnaire.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We create interpretive exhibits for science museums and nature centers, as well as playful educational products.”
Inspiration hit us when: “We combined the art of natural science illustration with a dash of modern technological magic. We found that combination of beauty and wizardry created something that felt fresh and entirely new. We strive to make exhibits and products that feel like magic tricks — where you’re not even aware that there’s a computer and software involved at all. We love it when we see people’s jaws drop when they interact with something we’ve created.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We’re bootstrapping. Client work is paving our way. We love collaborating with clients, so we’ll keep doing that even as we grow and produce our own educational products. We’re finding the two sides of our company — client work and educational products — inform each other, inspiring lots of new ideas and directions.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “One, make it beautiful, and two, make it like something out of Harry Potter. Also, we love what we do, and we think that love shows in our work.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Accepting the Pacific Science Center’s offer to let us work on the museum floor, right in the midst of all their guests and visitors. We immediately learn if one of our creations is working or not. We can tell right away what people love by how they respond. Sometimes things we thought were small side projects get the best reactions! When that happens, we direct more of our focus there.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Thinking that even when a potential client is very, very interested in working together, it can still take a long, long time before you have a contract and are doing real work.”
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bill Gates’ philanthropic and charity work, as well as his personal donations to further scientific and technological education, speak to us most in terms of who we’d most want backing our endeavors. We admire his and his wife Melinda’s commitment to investing in a better world.”
Our favorite team-building activity is: “Walking meetings in the butterfly house at the Science Center, field trips to Cafe Mox and pinball playoffs at Jupiter. Also celebratory donuts at Top Pot when we reach a milestone.”
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Team fit. We believe it should always be enjoyable to come to work.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Make sure you know exactly why someone would buy what you’re selling. It’s got to be more than just, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if people used this?’ That’s an easy trap to fall into if you don’t get out there and really watch how people interact with what you’re making. Of course we strive to make our work delightful, magical, whimsical, beautiful and different. But whatever we do has to really solve somebody’s problem.”
MEET THE TEAM
The Curio Interactive folks are working onsite at the Pacific Science Center Monday, Tuesday and Friday, and less regularly on other days of the week.