“To get him engaged with learning I hid what he needed to learn in spy missions, so I had this idea to set up a spy school at home and shared it on Facebook and before I knew it I had over 40 families in 7 different countries playing it, and people were offering to pay me to keep it going,” Claire says.
The game is called Spysquad HQ and Claire, aka Agent C, is the head spy and her children Max and Ellie are junior agents. After Max went back to school, Claire started researching how she could launch Spysquad HQ as a business and came across the subscription business model that is popular in the US.
I knew that it was a good business and it had legs, but I knew I needed some extra help so I researched business mentoring online and came across the Spark business start-up programme run by Truro and Penwith College.
Spark helped Claire with the legal side of the business as she has had interest from the USA. “It’s great to have a mentor and I can just pick up the phone and ask for support.”
Claire says on her website: “I could not shake a feeling that our spy school could do wonderful things to help children all over the world. I had always been drawn to working with children, and as a counsellor I had worked within education. A theme that kept emerging was the lack of knowledge children are given on their basic emotional makeup. Why do we get anxious, what physiological mechanisms affect our bodies, how can we understand these mechanisms, and what things can we do to manage them?”
Now the business has evolved, families can sign up and receive a monthly box with prices starting from £16.95 a month. The first box contains their spy id, a bag, notebook, pen and any gadgets they may need as special agents. There are missions to complete using clues; they may have to lift fingerprints or decipher a code which could lead to secret web addresses.
It is an interactive multimedia experience with a package for ages 7-10 and one for 10+. It’s a big hit with parents, although some missions are online it gets children away from their screens and gets the whole family involved. The spies must choose an adult handler to assist them in some of the tasks.
One Mum told Claire she was delighted when her daughter told her she had to tidy her room as they are instructed to set up their headquarters at home and told it must be ordered and tidy, so they know if it is ever infiltrated by enemy spies. Another parent told Claire her son had told her off as she was so excited she wanted to move on in the game before a mission had been completed!
Parents can get hints and tips from the Facebook page if the children get stuck and can also email Agent C. The story unfolds each month with two missions, one in the box and one that can be downloaded. The spies get a magazine every month and there are videos online. The missions can take them all over the world. One mission is to discover why artefacts are going missing from The Louvre museum in Paris which involves learning some French phrases and solving maths problems in Euros.
Claire has created everything herself but has big plans to scale up the business and start marketing it, she says she has 3 years’ worth of stories in her head. “Once I had the idea it just flowed out of me and hasn’t stopped,” she says.
She has plans to create a birthday party box, with everything you need for a Spysquad HQ party in a box and has had interest from the US in her idea, so the future looks bright for all the budding spies out there.
In an era where children spend so much time glued to screens it is refreshing to hear about a practical game that engages children on and offline and teaches them vital skills using such an innovative method. A game that started as a way of helping her son learn is now on the verge of becoming a successful subscription business and with the help of the Spark programme Claire is well on her way to achieving her vision.