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Community member launches language-accessible children’s storybook startup
May 24, 2023
Münire Bozdemir has loved storytelling and learning since she was little. However, she grew up in a small town in Turkey at a time when it was not easy to find books. She was born during the aftermath of the 1980 Turkish coup d’etat — a time when books were heavily associated with political ideologies either due to their content or authors, she said.
Motivated by a strong desire to tell stories, Bozdemir earned her bachelor’s degree in language education and her master’s degree in cultural studies, and moved to the U.S. where she received her master of fine arts in creative writing from Columbia University. She completed her thesis and accepted a job teaching intercultural communication, language and creative writing classes at a university in China, where she stayed for three years.
During this time, she said, she reflected on her own experience struggling to have access to stories, and wondered if this was a struggle kids today were still facing. She initially assumed that stories and educational materials would now be easily accessible for free on the internet for all children.
“What I found is that’s not the case at all,” Bozdemir said, “and I realized that when I started to look into the accessibility of books for children, people have internet, but people don’t have books. There’s still a big gap between low-income and high-income families as far as access to good, quality stories with a good amount of language input, which is necessary for both the personal and academic development of children.”
Her academic and work experiences in Turkey, China and the U.S. led her to form a community of international educators, writers and designers, several of whom showed interest in working with Bozdemir to provide language-accessible, educational and engaging children’s stories.
“When all those realities came together, and with my love for stories, and having all the resources and the people and the support, I asked myself, ‘Why not?’” Bozdemir said.
She moved to Pennsylvania with her State College-native husband, became a communications and integrated media arts teacher at Juniata College, and launched MyMoon Storytelling, a startup that uses the power of interactive stories to build thoughtful, effective and affordable learning experiences for young children in as many languages as possible.
“When you are from a totally different culture, you walk into something like building a business with a lot of insecurities,” Bozdemir said. “Outside of academia, it is a totally different experience, especially during the pandemic. I was really scared, and I felt like I had to prove myself. I felt like I was considered inadequate or like I had to underline my education and my skills a lot more than usual, and I didn’t really know how to do that — it is not a natural part of my home culture to promote ourselves. I didn’t know how to do it in the right way, and it’s a big adaptation process.”
In spring of 2022, Bozdemir entered the Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank FastTrack Accelerator program. She said she gained a lot more than just business advice from her participation in the program.
“If you feel like you need to prove yourself at all times, you feel insecure asking about the things you don’t know,” Bozdemir said. “The biggest gift LaunchBox gave me is, they taught me that it is okay to not know, and to ask for help. Once I got that freedom, the rest was just so easy.”
She said she connected and collaborated with another group participating in the program who was from China, received key business and leadership advice from the network of advisers, and utilized the IP Clinic to better understand potential legal barriers in international publishing.
“I felt very comfortable, and I felt very accepted at LaunchBox,” Bozdemir said. “Everyone was trying to help each other, and this was fostered by the atmosphere. A lot of people think places like business incubators are supposed to be like ‘Shark Tank’ where everyone is fighting for resources, and I never felt that at all. There’s an understanding that whatever you are working on is good for people and good for the world, and we are discussing how much work you can do to make it better.”
MyMoon Storytelling currently has three books available for pre-order online for preschool age kids. Bozdemir and her team are prioritizing publishing a book titled “Ruby the Electric Fish” first, due to the recent earthquake disaster in Turkey. In “Ruby the Electric Fish,” Ruby is a magic fish that helps kids express their fears and overcome them.
The startup will also soon be releasing the first book in a math story series, which includes an interactive curriculum developed by Daniel Xiao, a math professor from Dalian Medical University; as well as “Adventures of Peri and Pavarotti the Flying Goat,” which focuses on environmental awareness and how it is affected in war zones, like what currently is happening in Ukraine, said Bozdemir.
“My advice to others who maybe have an idea is this: If you have even a tiny desire to come and test out an idea at LaunchBox and get a little bit of advice, you should absolutely go for it,” Bozdemir said. “You shouldn’t worry about if you belong here. When we want to produce something, we are not doing it for ourselves, we are doing it for other people. LaunchBox made that come to the surface for me. When my idea got the care and attention it needed, I got to the point where I had to overcome myself and say I’m not creating stories for myself, I am doing that for a five-year-old who may be looking for a story in their language. At times when I am filled with self-doubt, I ask myself, ‘Do I want to be part of the help, or do I want to be scared?’”
Bozdemir said MyMoon Storytelling is actively looking for people who are interested in both art and technology to join the team, as well as for anybody who is interested in telling their own stories in their own languages. MyMoon is also working on developing an app to house their library of books by the end of summer 2023.
About Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank
Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank provides early-stage startups with support and resources they need to build a sustainable and scalable business and a viable plan for growth. No-cost programs and services include coworking space, accelerator programs, legal and intellectual property resources, and expert mentorships from Penn State’s extensive network. LaunchBox is open to everyone — community members and those affiliated with Penn State. Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank is a signature program of the Invent Penn State initiative and one of 21 innovation spaces located in Penn State campus communities across Pennsylvania.
This project was financed in part by a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Community & Economic Development.