Learning-platform startup Rockmelon has secured $3 million in funding from an angel investor as it continues to develop its tech to help children with autism and their parents.
The startup offers digital tools to help parents of children with autism, providing visual tools, team management capabilities for therapy, and a library of resources for specialised skill-building.
Rockmelon is designed to address the needs of families who “do not have access to the basics of helping their child, other than in the form of quite thorough literature, or costly therapy”, founder Alex Andre de la Porte tells StartupSmart.
“There’s not enough supply, in terms of therapy hours, being met, globally,” he adds.
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Andre de la Porte founded Rockmelon after his son was diagnosed with autism when he was seven. With a background in finance and investment, Andre de la Porte brings money-sense and personal experience to the table.
But he had to get people with specialist skills and expertise on board “if we were going to try and have a real crack at solving a real challenge”, he says.
Co-founder Stuart Waite is a serial founder Andre de la Porte met through his startup networks, and was also a friend of a friend, who the founder trusted to bring technical skills to the team.
The third co-founder, Nicole Rogerson, is the founder of Autism Awareness Australia, but also someone Andre de la Porte knows through parenting networks.
“She’s a dynamic person who gets things done and is very respected in the community, globally.”
The team started “serious work” on the Rockmelon app last year, Andre de la Porte says, and since then they’ve been working on product development.
The Parent Edition app is already available in the iOS App Store, and the Learning Edition is in progress.
“We’ve had a lot of really good and constructive feedback,” Andre de la Porte says.
“The Apple of the autism industry”
The $3 million investment will be used to support Rockmelon’s international expansion, Andre de la Porte says, including in several different languages.
“We’re a global product,” he says.
The startup is also rolling out the platform in partnership with Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, and working with the university on a product to help with sleep pattern behaviour for people with autism.
Finally, Rockmelon is gearing up for what Andre de la Porte calls a “post-seed raise”, in which it hopes to bring international investors on board to continue development and expansion.
The startup’s development and growth is constantly ongoing, Andre de la Porte says.
Rockmelon may be focused on creating social good, but “we’re a startup at the end of the day”, he adds.
There’s a balance to be struck between making a social impact, and being profitable.
“You want to do good, you want to create positive change, but it’s got to be sustainable to work,” he explains.
Startups often have to be “raw and grungy”, he adds, but when you’re solving a serious need for a particular community, “you want to build the best thing you can”.
The service has to be reliable, Andre de la Porte stresses.
“You don’t want to have a fancy front end, and sticky tape on the back end,” he says.
“That’s why we raised a lot of money and spent a lot of money. If we’re going to do this it has to work.”
The plan is for Rockmelon to become “the Apple of the autism industry”, he says.
For other social enterprise startups, Andre de la Porte advises taking a “lean and agile approach to really identifying the problem, the community, and what you’re there to address, rather than what you feel you want to do”.
It’s a learning experience, he says, and it’s important to get your proof of concept out there to receive “honest, unbiased feedback”.
He then recommends acting on that feedback, to “reiterate and build really fast”.
While founders should keep in mind their initial vision and “where the change is needed”, they should also be able to react quickly to user feedback, Andre de la Porte says.