Taxpayers Spent $225k For a Company To Make a Cooking App For Kids

Brittany M. Hughes | June 21, 2017
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Do you like cooking? Do you like science? Are you an American taxpayer who doesn’t give a flying flip where your tax dollars go?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, you’re in luck! The federal government, courtesy of your wallet, just spent $225,000 for a private company to develop a cooking app for children.

With this pretty hefty check, a company called Chef Koochooloo, which, according to its website, is "an international educational platform that teaches kids math, science and geography through cooking," plans to develop an app that helps kids learn how to cook while teaching them about science and helping them develop better eating habits. It’s like Michelle Obama in a computer, sitting right there next to your Google Chrome.

And the newly developed app won’t be available for free, despite its taxpayer-based funding. In their grant description, the organization says they plan to rake in about $2 million in sales in just the first three years. Here’s their pitch:

With the market for mobile learning products valued at $12.2 billion, the company's three-pronged approach to improving learning and health-related outcomes for K-8 students stands to generate significant revenue. The team estimates that the business can reach roughly 2 million in sales in the first three years following the product’s launch.

But instead of obtaining funding for the app from private donors who might be interested in the project, or convincing investors to pony up the cash, Chef Koochooloo applied for a taxpayer-funded grant from the National Science Foundation – one the federal government was apparently all too happy to fork over, regardless of whether the rest of us give two cents about whether kids can learn to cook from their iPads.

Chef Koochooloo got the money under a program called the Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR), an NSF initiative that hands out tons of money to small businesses that develop “cutting-edge, high-quality scientific research and development” (an area of innovation that apparently can’t be left to the private sector).

Here’s how it works: under the program, companies like Koochooloo can get a “feasibility grant” of $225k for up to a year to develop their tech concept, such as a cooking app for kids. If their project is successful, they can get another $750,000 for two years for further work. The government claims that through this back-scratching arrangement, “the United States gains entrepreneurial spirit as it meets its specific research and development needs.”

But we’re not just talking about companies that develop stuff like planes and missiles, which might reasonably constitute a federal “development need.” For example, last year, taxpayers shelled out another $225k for Mobile Cinema Park, Inc., to develop an anti-bullying app. (Still waiting for that to pay off, by the way.)

Chef Koochooloo’s app isn’t developed yet, as “Phase 1” of the project will simply “research the feasibility and usability of the product,” according to the grant.

If it does work, the app, which the company purports will be used in future school curricula, will theoretically link cooking with STEM skills, although the grant description never actually says how.

The app will also supposedly help students learn to cook by “matching students with recipes and lesson plans based on their culinary preferences and emotional moods,” and will offer recipe suggestions based on their tracked preferences. Because, of course, that’s something a Pinterest account or a quick search on the Food Network’s website couldn’t possibly accomplish for free.

The moral of the story? If you have a good idea, just skip the Shark Tank and head on over to the government piggy bank, instead. There’s plenty of pork to go around.

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