• Belgian investors back educational toy Soundbops, which overcomes challenges young children face when learning an instrument
  • Inventor and CEO Michael Tougher launches Kickstarter to secure initial customers for product

One of the UK’s most promising tech entrepreneurs has received €50,000 to launch his transformational music education invention into a global market set to be worth £23bn by 2019. Michael Tougher, CEO and creator of Soundbops, won the Royal Academy of Engineering Launchpad Competition in 2016 with his educational toy that simplifies music education through note-based building blocks that can be arranged into songs and chords.

The investment comes from Belgian-based Meusinvest and its LeanSquare initiative, which specialises in supporting startups of ‘the new economy’ – those using digital technologies to shake up existing industries, such as music, in order to create new, better products and services. The investment is in the form of a convertible loan and comes as Michael launches a Soundbops Kickstarter to build a network of early adopters for the product. With his first customers secured, Michael will finalise the manufacturing and attract further investment to bring Soundbops to market for Christmas 2018. 

It is well known that musical education at a young age can improve a person’s social, physical and educational development as they grow up[1],[2]. However, there are significant barriers to young children picking up and learning an instrument, not just in the physical size of the instruments, but also the drive to practice and improve; a lack of practice or motivation is the biggest reason why children don’t make progress in music[3]. Soundbops overcomes this by simplifying instruments while still retaining the crucial elements of musical notation and rhythm. It is made up of a speaker, a board with 16 slots spread across four rows, and a full set of “notes” that can be put in any order into the slots. These notes are pressed to play them, and can be stacked on top of each other to create chords.

Kickstarter backers will receive a significant discount on pre-orders of the product, as well as being the first to receive it once distributed (if pre-ordered).

Michael Tougher explains:

“Soundbops is in the final stages of design and is very close to being market ready. Thanks to the investment from Meusinvest and LeanSquare, and the Kickstarter platform, we’ll be able to create an initial customer base for the first batch of the product, delivered in time for Christmas 2018. With this established, we’ll be able to showcase Soundbops’ ability to bring the joy of music to young children, and to grow to empower all children all over the world to learn and love music.”

In addition to this investment from LeanSquare, as part of Michael’s Royal Academy of Engineering Launchpad prize he received The JC Gammon Award, comprising a £15,000 injection and Membership of its Enterprise Hub, which provides access to mentoring from the Academy’s prestigious Fellowship, and training and networking opportunities to help entrepreneurs build the skills and contacts crucial to success. Membership also includes access to the Taylor Centre, a professional space for Hub Members and their mentors to develop their ideas, meet investors, and take their work to the next stage.

The innovative entrepreneur has also won a number of other awards, and he is a Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellow 2017.

José Zurstrassen, président of LeanSquare, says:

“Soundbops is an ideal investment for us – it takes an age-old problem and attempts to solve it using digital tools and innovative engineering and design. Its simplicity belies a complex design process undertaken by Michael that has seen no less than eight prototypes developed. This foundation of smart engineering is a major reason why LeanSquare are backing and believe in Soundbops as a successful product.

“Another reason is the size of the market for such tools in the education sector; the audience for this is potentially huge thanks to the current influx of digital technologies into classrooms and so Soundbops is entering at just the right time. With a final design nearing completion and a Kickstarter campaign securing market share, Michael’s innovative engineering will no doubt take the ed-tech market by storm.”

Photos and video of Soundbops are available here

Soundbops Kickerstarter is live here

Notes for Editors

1.    About Soundbops

Soundbops is a novel musical instrument that empowers young children to create and engage with music. Drawing on a long-standing love of music, Michael Tougher has developed a new technology that allows children to enjoy the magic of music, without having to master complex instruments.

Michael’s patent-pending technology simplifies the process of creating music through a set of musical building blocks known as ‘bops’. These are brightly coloured buttons that each play different musical notes when pressed on a board. They can switch between 8 different instrument sounds and be endlessly rearranged and stacked, to create chords and new songs.

Targeted at children aged between three and eight years old, this high-end musical toy has strong educational value as it encourages learning through social play and experimentation. Each bop is also marked with a musical note, subtly helping children to understand the composition of music.

Designed for easy and intuitive use, Soundbops invites children to explore and play, as demonstrated in successful user tests with a working prototype.

The long-term ambition is to bring the product to market by 2018, and access the £6 billion high-value educational toy market.

Michael was the winner of the Hub’s 2016 Launchpad Competition and received the JC Gammon Award – a prize of £15,000 and Membership of the Hub.

2.    About the Enterprise Hub

The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub is a national resource for the UK’s most promising engineering entrepreneurs. The Hub, which celebrates its fifth anniversary in 2018, forms part of the Academy’s commitment to stimulate excellence and promote creativity and innovation in engineering. The Hub does this by making awards to exemplars of excellence and innovation in engineering who will be the founders and leaders of tomorrow’s high-tech companies. The awards include provision of money-can’t-buy bespoke support and one-to-one mentoring from its Fellowship, which comprises many of the country’s most successful engineers from across academia and industry, including prominent entrepreneurs and business leaders such as Mike Lynch OBE FREng, Sir Robin Saxby FREng, Anne Glover CBE HonFREng and Ian Shott CBE FREng.

3.    About LeanSquare

The core business of LeanSquare is the support of startups of the "new economy" with real growth potential. The aim is to bring some of these projects to a stage of maturity where they can claim to appear before potential investors for a first round of financing.

LeanSquare also hosts and organizes events, conferences, workshops ... to create and animate an ecosystem of startups.


For more information please contact: Victoria Runcie at the Royal Academy of Engineering Tel. 020 7766 0620; email: Victoria.Runcie@raeng.org.uk