Welcome to Tenka Labs
Tenka Labs is an exciting new company that develops innovative STEM toys for Makers ages 8 and up (see our recent media coverage). Its first product, Circuit Cubes, are electronic building blocks that bring kids' creations to life. They were built from the ground up to fully integrate with LEGO®-style building blocks, but can be used with any materials kids can imagine — from vintage toys to recycled milk cartons. Circuit Cubes teach the basic fundamentals of electronics. Their unique transparent design enables kids to literally see the connections they make when they light an LED, power a motor, or activate a switch. Circuit Cubes can also be used vertically, horizontally, and diagonally to accommodate any design. Circuit Cubes were designed by STEM educators and FIRST LEGO League coaches, Nate and John.
Co-founders Nate MacDonald and John Schuster met while working at a Marin County, CA, school district. Nate was teaching math as well as offering an elective STEM course to middle school students, and John was hosting “lunch and learn” events to teach kids circuitry. (His “real” job was in the district’s IT department.) Determined to better engage their students, they teamed up to find the best ed-tech toys to give kids an understanding of circuits and how they work. After reviewing a number of electronic kits — and even hacking some to create the quintessential teaching tools they envisioned — Nate and John decided the only course was to make their own. A crude early design was launched at Maker Faire Bay Area 2014 and their first company, IgnitED Learning, was born. (The name was later changed to Tenka Labs, “Tenka” meaning “ignited” in Japanese.) John soon quit his job in order to concentrate full-time on prototyping the set of electronic tiles that eventually became Circuit Cubes. A year later, Nate ended his teaching career to devote himself full-time to designing a toy line that is as much fun to use as it is educational.
Robert MacDonald, CFO, is a serial entrepreneur, seasoned CEO, and expert venture capitalist with a gift for finding tech and bio companies that make a difference in people's lives. A former U.S. Army officer, Bob took his bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering at Cornell and his MBA as a Baker Scholar at Harvard. He and his wife live near the ocean in Western Marin County.
Nate MacDonald, co-founder and CEO, is a mechanical engineer with a masters degree in education. A lifelong tinkerer, Nate formerly worked with Anderson Consulting (now Accenture) before switching course to follow his passion as a teacher in the STEM field. A recipient of Marin County’s 2015 Golden Bell award for outstanding educators, Nate has led both First Lego and First Robotics teams with his middle school students. Nate lives with his wife and two children in Marin County.
CDO and Co-founder John Schuster is a reformed IT professional and engineering designer with a passion for helping kids learn through educational opportunities that are fun. Formerly with Level 3 Communications, John is a self-trained Maker who left the sanctuary of an academic career to go full-time with Tenka Labs in 2015. A former Marine, John and his family live in San Francisco.
CMO Vickie Welch has had a storied role in helping to shape the Maker Movement. During her tenure as Vice President of Marketing at Maker Media, Vickie executed programs to position the brand's global platform, to attract strategic partnerships with Google, Microsoft, Pepsi, and other Fortune 500 companies. A marketing professional who has worked closely with brands such as Reuters, HP, Pandora, CNET, and YouTube, Vickie brings a unique perspective and experience to Tenka Labs. A passionate animal advocate, Vickie lives with her rescue dog Bodie in Marin County where the hiking trails are just outside her door.