Why these Houston founders are gamifying financial literacy education

Grant Watkins and Keely McEnery, co-founders of Earn Your Freedom, join the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photos courtesy of EYF

Houston co-founders Grant Watkins and Keely McEnery are a team when it comes to building their business — but the two are locked into a very serious competition on their phones.

"Keeley and I are both avid users of Duolingo which is, in my opinion, still the best like best example of gamification for education," Watkins says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Just the simple 'keep your streak alive,'" he explains, adding that he's recently crossed the one-year mark of daily participation, "it keeps me incentivized to keep my street going. I don't even want to learn Spanish anymore. I just want to I just don't want to lose to Keely."

Watkins is inspired by the app — not only to learn a foreign language, but to apply a similar gamification to financial literacy. He learned to code in 2021 and founded Earn Your Freedom, launching the Money Quest game in April after bringing on McEnery, a business student at the University of Houston, as co-founder and COO.

Both Watkins and McEnery have overcome personal finance obstacles, as they share on the show, and they aren't alone. Sixty-seven percent of Americans are considered financially illiterate, McEnery says, and 60 percent lives paycheck to paycheck.

"It's becoming more and more apparent how financially illiterate our country is," she continues. "It's a different mindset. People could be making $100,000 a year but if they don't know how to manage their money, they're still going to be in a cycle of not being financially free."

EYF's solution is a comprehensive, entertaining way for high school students to learn. And the timing is great, since Texas recently passed a bill about providing financial literacy education in high schools.

"Texas is not alone in this. There are actually 23 other states that have recently either passed or in the process of passing financial literacy bills, and most of them are aimed at high schools," Watkins explains. "I do believe high school is kind of the last best opportunity to teach them. When we're traveling around the state and talking to these kids, we're seeing the juniors and seniors in high school very engaged with this information."

The duo, which originally connected at the Ion and volunteering with the G-Unity Foundation, has tapped into the Houston innovation ecosystem to help grow their network and connections to do more of the game's testing in Houston schools. Most recently, EYF announced its first crowdfunding campaign with the support of Impact Hub Houston, a community supporting impact-driven startups and opportunities. The campaign, launched online earlier this month, is seeking $100,000 to further expand its testing in students.

Watkins and McEnery share more about the game, their plans for the business, and more on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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