Q&A | Learn to Love Engineering with RumbleLab
07/27/2016 in: Technology
By A. Esselman
School can be boring. Summer can be boring, too. Honestly, kids find a lot of things “boring.” Moultrie Ball experienced this in his own childhood, and now he combats the boredom in other children by teaching them important science and engineering concepts through his company, RumbleLab. The company sends kits to subscribers on a monthly basis, and these kits have building projects that introduce engineering topics to kids in a fun and interactive way.
Carolina Money reached out to Moultrie to learn more about his story and his inspiration to create a business that instills a love for learning in others.
Q: Could you give me a little backstory on RumbleLab? What inspired you to start it?
A: Growing up, I always loved to tinker. I was always building or taking things apart. But I never did well in school.
The reason I didn’t do well wasn’t because I was unintelligent or lazy, or anything like that. It was because I was bored. Science was never painted as interesting. It wasn’t relatable. What we were learning seemed pointless.
My senior year in high school, I started seeing purpose to some of the science. I was starting to connect the dots and putting a purpose to what we were learning. Now I was seeing science as a tool to be a better builder.
But for me, I couldn’t help but think, “is it too late? Can I catch up, can I get into college? If I get into college, can I learn what they are teaching me?”
For some reason ,the University of South Carolina accepted me to the college of engineering. I was in college and super-behind because I squandered the last 12 years of my education. So I did the only thing I knew how to do, and that was work really hard. But I can promise you, hard work, at this point, wouldn’t have been enough. Thankfully, I had some awesome friends and some incredible teachers. With those three pieces, I was able to graduate toward the top of my class. The question I can't help but ask is, how many other kids have this same problem, except they maybe aren’t as lucky as I was?
Also, I can’t help but wonder, what if I had been engaged earlier? But I cannot get hung up with that thought because I am convinced I was put down that path, so that I can pave a way so that no one else has to. RumbleLab exists to get kids excited about science and engineering through building cool machines every month.
Q: Why is it important for kids to develop engineering skills?
A: I would argue that they have a lot of the engineering skills already. The quintessential engineering skill is critical thinking. An engineer needs to be able to solve problems and think outside the box. This metaphorical box is formed by presupposition and these presuppositions are formed by experience. Anyone who has spent any time with children knows that they question everything, and as an engineer, this is a very valuable skill.
That being said, I think it is very important to introduce children to engineering topics. When saving for retirement, it is common knowledge to start early. This way, compounding interest is your friend. I am convinced the same is true of education. Introduce a child to mechanical advantage, and the next time they bump into that topic or something related to the topic, they pick up a little more knowledge. Also, engineering topics aren’t complicated. I don’t expect children to be able to derive the kinematic equations, but I believe we should be able to launch a catapult and hit a target and explain that the kinematic equations allowed us to know where the object would hit.
Q: What types of skills do your projects/kits focus on?
We focus on mechatronics. This is basically mechanical systems fused with electrical systems. For one, they are cool! Two, engineers can benefit from a working knowledge of all disciplines. And three, it allows us to touch a lot of bases
Q: How has your experience been as a startup in Columbia?
A: It has been awesome. We were located in Charleston and made the conscious decision to move to Columbia to start RumbleLab. The root of that decision was centered around the fact that the city is full of some very intelligent (and friendly) people. It’s also very affordable. Lastly, this place is changing, and is picking up steam. There are some cool things happening here.
Q: What has been the most challenging part of creating RumbleLab? What has been the most rewarding part?
Wow, starting a business is full of surprises. You know, it seems easy, until you actually start doing it. Iterating based on how the customers are receiving what we are doing is a very difficult process. I reckon in short, figuring out product market fit is the hardest. Also, the thing we haven’t started tapping into yet is marketing. That will be a tough one.
The most fulfilling part is the feedback from people encouraging us. For example, one of our builders’ names is Kai. He is 7. When Kai grows up, he wants to be an engineer. He wants to work from home, so he can work with his son on an ironman suit. Seeing him and his mom participate and work together, through the RumbleLab experience, is the most fulfilling thing in the world.
Q: Looking ahead to the future, what are some of your goals?
A: So short term, we need to grow to a profitable point before our runway runs out. RumbleLab, as small as it is right now, has a finite life. As we grow, RumbleLab needs to be able to sustain itself. As you can imagine, it’s a moving target. We are focused on hitting 1000 crates per month.
What is it like to be a kid building and learning through RumbleLab? Check out our video where Carolina Money gets to build a can crusher while learning some basic engineering principles. Spoiler alert: RumbleLab isn’t just for kids.