Before starting her Hispanic Linguistics Master’s Program at The University of New Mexico (UNM), Isabel Last was trained to teach Spanish as a second language. Throughout her teaching experience, she consistently found that regardless of how creative and immersive she tried to make her lessons and activities, there was a definitive limit to how well instructors could contextualize the content. She knew language teaching needed a paradigm shift. This is where her idea for Faena, an innovative narrative-based language learning video game, began.
Faena creates a story-filled environment in which the user, instead of memorizing conjugation tables and fill-in the blank worksheets, can learn a new language by actually speaking and interacting with characters. The concept is backed by years of language learning, research, and experience. It is the first of its kind capable of addressing three key second-language learning issues: being able to speak and interact in the language, not just write it (communication); being able to recall what you’ve learned and perform it in social interactions (retention); and being engaged enough to keep learning over the years (motivation).
In spring 2021, Isabel learned about UNM Rainforest Innovations & Innovation Academy’s entrepreneurial programming and applied to be in the Lobo Rainforest NSF I-Corp cohort where she was able to engage in customer discovery, fine-tune and validate her idea. Upon her participation in I-Corp, Isabel entered the larger NM Rainforest Innovation ecosystem and became a participant in UNM’s EDA University Center Program where she has been able to find the education, mentorship, connections and support to begin to make her start-up idea a reality.
During her time as an Innovation Academy and University Center participant, Isabel has been a finalist in several pitch competitions including the 2021 Comcast Pitch Deck Competition where she placed 2nd amongst a panel of five finalists.
In addition to I-Corp and pitch competitions, Isabel participated in University Center office hours and workshops such as the one with the New Mexico Angels to bridge the gap between Faena just being an idea to taking more solid and justified steps towards making it a reality.
“Mentoring has been huge and office hours have been the perfect way to transition into speaking with experts and investors who are not only experienced when it comes to startups but also have an educational interest in helping you along,” Isabel says when asked about how the EDA University Center has benefitted her.
“The office hours and workshops have set a good foundation and made a lot of learning accessible and personalized. I am a huge risk-taker myself, but you can only be so much of a risk-taker – it helps to have people to look at your idea and provide feedback.”
Isabel continues to work on building and growing Faena. She is currently working on finding strategic partners to help build the first full gaming experience and hopes to receive more funding by June 2022.