By Caitlin Kearney and Sean Banks
Almost every startup today has lofty aspirations, whether to change the world or to disrupt an industry. But Joe Heinzen and his band of Zoozilists are thinking even bigger: They’re looking to change history.
As the driving force behind Zoozil, Heinzen and his team are creating a digital platform for historical fiction stories in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” format they are dubbing “Change The Story™” books. Their first creation was recently launched in the Apple App Store.
When Heinzen was a student, he was labeled a reluctant reader, and mislabeled as learning disabled. As a result, he struggled in school and avoided reading – but all that changed when he came across the Choose Your Own Adventure novel that transformed him into a book lover.
Heinzen describes his goals as “a quest to create future generations of passionate readers who will change the world.”
And how are they going to do this?
“Zoozil aims to provide a unique blend of EdTech tools and original Choice-Driven Historical Fiction content that assist teachers, parents, and students in forming authentic connections to reading, one another, and the world,” says Heinzen.
But Zoozil does more than just write exciting and engaging stories. Behind the curtain, Zoozil uses metrics and tracking data so that parents and teachers can visualize their readers’ progress. By leveraging reader data, stories can be adjusted and tailored to the reader’s abilities, and challenge them accordingly.
“The biggest challenge in starting an EdTech publishing company like Zoozil is that we’re forging a new path in educational tools,” explains Heinzen. This groundbreaking combination of storytelling through a digital interface and a robust data-driven backend is providing Zoozil with strong momentum, as it gets closer to its national public launch. Zoozil is currently piloting its e-books in select Virginia schools and is launching several strategic partnerships to reach readers. Leading educators are getting on board with what Zoozil is doing and readers are too.
Zoozil has found a strong network of supporters in the Richmond business community, namely Richmond-based startup accelerator Lighthouse Labs, where they have networked and bonded with five other small businesses and their founders.
“Richmond has become synonymous with creativity and possibility,” says Heinzen. “It’s great to be working in a town that is enjoying creative growth and being able to bring something new in EdTech.”