The Courier-Journal, September 14, 2008
TestToob, an online community where young people can collaborate
on science, was "born in the backyard and incubated on the
kitchen table," its founder says. Now the promising Louisville
startup is leaving the nursery.
The www.TestToob.com Web
site is open for business, though still in its beta phase. And
the company has been attracting attention.
TestToob got a $25,000 ICC Concept Pool Fund Award of the
state-funded Kentucky Enterprise Fund this year. On Sept. 25,
its company founder, Lopa Mehrotra, will speak at the
IdeaFestival in Louisville on "Changing the world: One backyard
experiment at a time."
To understand TestToob, think of YouTube for science fans.
Geared for middle school and high school students, the TestToob
site lets members post videos of their science experiments, view
science videos posted by other students and rate them. In coming
months, it will add more features of social-networking sites
such as Facebook and MySpace, with avenues for sharing personal
information, posting photos and forums.
The idea for the business came last year, said Mehrotra, who was
raised in Boston and lived in several cities before moving to
Louisville five years ago. The mother of two said she was
"looking for a way to integrate technology and education" and
for measures that could make science education more appealing.
First she considered a television show on "kids in Kentucky
doing science in their own backyard," said Mehrotra, 37. The
problem was, "TV is so expensive, and I don't even know if
anybody watches TV anymore."
Mehrotra decided on another approach one day in August of last
year, when she saw her daughter Ariana, then 6, in their
backyard "playing with a couple of rocks."
"She said, 'It's amazing, Mom. If I scratch these gray rocks,
they turn white. It's like magic,'" Mehrotra recalled.
"Aren't you a little scientist?" Mehrotra said, and her daughter
answered: "Yeah. And this is my experiment."
Mehrotra ran for a video camera and recorded Ariana describing
her observations. "She had this whole vision about it and was so
excited to tell me," Mehrotra said. "I thought immediately about
all the social networking applications - YouTube and Facebook."
Ariana's sister, Ayala, then 4, said: "That looks easy. I want
to do it," Mehrotra said. "So then we did a video for her."
Mehrotra, who has a background in political management and
fundraising, tested the concept on other children and found them
equally enthusiastic. Despite its high-tech wrappings, the
concept appeals to basic human nature, she said.
"We often think that these social networking technologies are
forcing behaviors that are weird or technology-driven. But it
turns out it's just how human beings interact. We create. We
want to share it. And when we see what somebody else has done,
we want to imitate it."
TestToob was incorporated in October, and its founder "just
started preaching it to anybody who would listen. And people
would get excited," Mehrotra said. She soon found financial
backing from an investor and began developing the business plan
and the software the operation would need.
She tapped her husband, Rishab Mehrotra, to serve as chairman of
the new company. He is also president of Louisville-based SHPS,
an independent provider of health-management and
In one of its first real-life tests, TestToob took part in the
Junior Achievement of Kentuckiana summer Bizcamp. Each day, camp
students conducted and recorded a science experiment and posted
the videos to TestToob's Web site.
"The kids were just fascinated by it," said Debra Hoffer,
president of Junior Achievement of Kentuckiana. "I think the
more that we can put kids directly in touch with scientific
experimentation, the more we're going to pique their interest in
science as a career."
TestToob was also in use recently at Louisville Assumption High
School, where chemistry and physics teacher Dan Dykstra's
students recorded an assortment of short chemistry
back to the top ~
back to Breaking News
~ back to