For Matt Chalal, it was a natural fit. When the Wynnewood father of three and model car enthusiast decided to start his own business, he went looking for something that engaged his passions, and three years ago, he stumbled upon the answer—in the form of a board game.
Flashcar, Chalal's creation, is an educational game that helps kids K-5 work on math skills in a fun way. The game, available both in board game and online formats, focuses on improving math skills through addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems that players answer as they zip their toy cars along a track to the finish line.
Flashcar has been used in schools in the greater Philadelphia area and listed as a recommended resource by the Department of Education, according to Chalal. With much positive feedback from parents of special needs children as well, Flashcar is working to make a name for itself in the educational sphere.
It's empowering, Chalal said, to compare where he is now to where he was two years ago, when he took a leap of faith and started working on the game full time.
"I literally started from nothing," Chalal said. "I wasn’t a partner, I was in the communication industry—it was a total paradigm shift. But I always wanted to be my own boss, I wanted to do something for kids, and I wanted to do something educational. ... I thought, if I can develop something entertaining and engaging for children, it could be successful."
So Chalal joined a business incubator program at Montgomery County Community College, did a small production run, then launched the product. It's now sold on the Flashcar website, Amazon, at some stores (none locally, yet), and at trade shows.
It was Chalal's own model car hobby that inspired him to create Flashcar. In his Wynnewood home, the entrepreneur has an entire room dedicated to building, displaying and selling model racecars, a pasttime he's enjoyed since he was 10.
While he was too busy to build during his college years, "I got back into it around 1990," Chalal explained. "Days of Thunder had just come out, as corny as it sounds."
From there, Chalal got involved in building models for some race teams—which were smaller back then, he said—and also had the opportunity to attend a lot of races.
Seated at a desk in his "shop," as he and his family call it, the walls completely covered in model cars and Nascar posters, Chalal animatedly explained his hobby and shared his dream of developing a Flashcar partnership with Nascar. He continues to build and sell model cars in his free time, sharing that passion in whatever ways he can with his 4-year-old twin daughters and 6-year-old son.
Flashcar has even been used for number recognition in his son's classroom, Chalal said.
Flashcar works for kids of different ages and skill levels because of the diversity of its math problems, and also keeps it fun, Chalal said. The online version of the game adds the element of a timer (in the form of a traffic light), which can help kids prepare for timed testing in school, Chalal said.
Chalal has gotten a lot of positive feedback about the game, including from parents in the special needs community, a group he hadn't initially anticipated being in his target market.
Through the incubator program, Chalal met an instructor who played the game with her 19-year-old son, who operates on a fifth-grade math level.
"The results and feedback were fabulous," Chalal said. "So I developed a program to expose the game to the special needs community."
Flashcar was eventually featured in a newsletter from the Greater Philadelphia Autism Society, and now, Chalal is working to develop a partnership with Autism Speaks, he said.
Flashcar has made some good headway for a three-year-old company. But with any startup, there are struggles. For Chalal, a major challenge is getting the word out about Flashcar, particularly in an industry where there is a lot of competition.
But, Chalal said, focusing on the progress he's made motivates him to move foward.
"I'm the kind of person that likes to jump in feet first," Chalal said. "I've made some mistakes, but it’s all been fulfilling—and I’m excited at working to see what it will become."
For more information about Flashcar, visit the Flashcar website.
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