Vocabulary Lessons

Sofia Fenichell ’96 built her company, Mrs Wordsmith, to fill a gap she saw in children's education.

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Michael Leckie

Founder: Sofia Fenichell ’96
Industry: Education & Technology 
Years in Business: 3
Location: London
Number of Employees: 44

Sofia Fenichell ’96 excelled at writing, so she was shocked when her 11-year-old daughter struggled with it—and even more surprised at the lack of tools to help. She got creative, “sitting with the dictionary and curating the English language in a way that I thought would be entertaining and accessible.” Her daughter’s writing improved dramatically, and the efforts led to Mrs Wordsmith, a line of books, cards, and apps that teach vocabulary by illustrating words with lively cartoon characters. Mrs Wordsmith was created by researchers, writers, and artists, including Craig Kellman, who has designed characters for such Hollywood blockbusters as Madagascar and Hotel Transylvania. Here in her own words is Fenichell on designing teaching tools for today’s kids.

A Different Era

The biggest issue with education right now is not lack of technology. It’s that the content we use to teach our children is so dated; the frame of reference is still railroads and tractors. In our new product, one of the characters 3D-prints her own clothes, and that’s how we’re teaching kids clothing words.

Dialing Up Success  

I was testing out illustrators, and every time I got artwork back I thought, It’s not funny. It has to be funny. Then I realized, We need someone edgy, someone Hollywood. At Columbia we did group projects where we had to cold-call people, so I got comfortable doing that, and did a lot of it for Mrs Wordsmith. I finally landed a call with Craig, and he said, “Someone told me a crazy woman in London is trying to find an illustrator to illustrate the English language.” And I said, “Yes, that’s true.” And he replied, “I’m in.”

Finding Inspiration 

Columbia Business School is where I developed the confidence to take risks and not be afraid to know that the world was at my fingertips. When I graduated from Columbia, I wasn’t afraid to move across the world or try a new career.

The Pixar of Education  

When you think about the way Pixar started, it was writers, illustrators, and technologists making animation more exciting. We’re trying to do that for education.

A Digital-Analog Mash-up

We believe in combining digital and paper models. We have flip-books, a storyteller’s dictionary, and books. On the digital side, our first app is what I call Minecraft for vocabulary. It’s a subscription-based app, complemented by a line of books, that immerses kids in a 3D world. We draw from the worlds of gaming and Hollywood, where you have amazing animation and production.

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