Meet Emily

My business is the result of more than 20 years of experience working with children and families who struggled with speech, language and literacy development. Before founding Finnegan, I was a single mom to three amazing girls and a special education teacher living and working in the Pacific Northwest. My greatest joy was watching my children grow and having the honor and priviledge of serving children and families in my community.

Her Motivation

Several years ago, I suffered a traumatic brain injury in the classroom leaving me with the inability to turn thoughts into words. Using music, and a variety of other therapuetic interventions, I was able to regain a majority of the skills I had previously lost. It was through this recovery process, I discovered the connection between music, language and literacy and went on to create a solution to a problem that seemed to be getting bigger by the day.

The Problem? With so many children and families using devices and screen time use for children under 6 up 600% in the last 5 years, speech and language rates for young children were (and are) on a steep and steady decline. With limited medical and professional support for families, and many daycare and childcare providers without the needed tools for instruction, I knew we needed a solution for the teachers, clinicians and families to come together and support children at this critical stage in life.  In 2021, after studying the link between music, language and literacy, I joined forces with HeadStart of Oregon to create a blended learning system that combined the best of in-person teaching and learning with an online gaming platform for the home.

Our combined goal is to create the best in-class learning system that focuses on speech and language development through music, motion and interactive technology. Together, we felt inspired to reimagine a different approach to teaching and learning that utlizes the screen, but with pedagogy and technology that assist with overall brain development. My desire to heal myself and return to the classroom led me on a journey to create Finnegan the Dragon, a brand dedicated to creating blended learning systems that meet children and families where they are at, give them needed support for better reading readiness, and empower 21st century teachers and care providers.

The Beginning of Finnegan

After my injury, I was so intrigued with my recovery process and the role music played in that journey, that I returned to school to complete a Master’s degree in Inclusive Music. Finnegan the Dragon was born at my kitchen table via zoom in the middle of our global pandemic with the desire to complete the needed credits to graduate. However, this thesis became our proof of concept and allowed for an opportunity to build a formidable team of specialists, educators, engineers and musicians. To date, Finnegan is being utilized in several Head Start programs in the state of Oregon and is set to expand throughout the Pacific Northwest and Phoenix area in 2024.

Meet our team

Emily Candiz
Founder and Managing Director
Emily holds master’s degrees in education, special education and music, along with 20 years of professional working experience with the special needs population, specifically autism and language disorders. For the last seven, Emily has conducted research and clinical work experience with music and virtual learning tools for language recovery at the graduate level leading to the creation of Finnegan the Dragon gaming and learning system. In the past two years, Emily has written, produced and published all music, materials, and content associated with Finnegan the Dragon Inc. including the hardback book Finnegan the Singing Dragon, the companion album Finnegan Sings, and all learning materials associated with the storyline.
Tylor Neist
Director of Technology and Innovation
Tylor’s diverse experience in technical development and product management, as well as his background as a professional musician, means that he can easily drown out the noise to find the signal to identify the essence of an idea and transform it into a scalable product. A technical product leader with 18 years of experience across product ownership, data analytics, strategic initiatives, and engineering for consumer-facing platforms. He also founded Vidswap, later acquired by Pixellot, a sports video streaming and analytics company, and acted as Technical Product Director delivering scalable and solution oriented software design.
Jill Denbrook
Director of Academic Content
Jill is a reading intervention expert with a background in early childhood education and English language acquisition. With over a decade of classroom experience, Jill provides Finnegan the Dragon with an in-depth understanding of phonemic awareness, phonics, and decoding skills as they pertain to the structure and design of our classroom curriculum.
Nicholas Emerson
Production Director
Nicholas is an associate professor of sound engineering at Portland State University and an accomplished composer and arranger of children's music who brings the music of Finnegan the Dragon to life.Nicholas is tasked with arranging and recording the music used for both the classroom curricula and the mobile gaming app in our learning system. Nicholas also takes a hands-on approach to designing lead and spotting sheets utilized by the animation and engineering teams for game production.

Academic Advisors

Jessica Bullock, M.A., CCC-SLP,

Pre-K Speech and Language Content Specialist

Jennifer South, OT

Pediatric Occupational Therapist

Angela S. Lee, MS, PT

Pediatric Physical Therapist

Dr. Abigail Dudley, Ed.D

Academic Research Specialist

Dr. Jeffery Welch, Ed.D.

Research Lead

Advisory Board

Don Moody

Founder and CEO, Moody Studios

Keith Oelrich


Joey Jenkins

CEO, Vooks

Chris Longinetti

CFO Hood River County

Gary June

Former Chief Marketing Officer for Pearson Education

Sam Lowry

Associate Director of Development at ASU; W. P. Carey School of Business

Development Team:

Brian Saliba

Editorial Director

Aaron Bergeson

Assistant Sound Engineer


Game Design and Development

Count me in

Become part of the next generation of blended learning
Dashboard mockup