By Allan Maurer
DURHAM, NC –The Research Triangle gaming hub is about to get a boost. Joystick Labs, a Durham-based seed-stage venture fund and game company accelerator program has closed on funding in excess of $500,000. Joystick is already seeking game development teams for its first accelerator class.
Joystick backers include NC IDEA’s venture arm, and well known successful Triangle entrepreneurs and angel investors Chris Evans, Brian Handly, Reid Conrad and Eric Huang.
Joystick Labs was co-founded by Juan Benito, venture attorneys Glen Caplan and Justyn Kasierski of Hutchison Law Group, and veteran technology executive Lawrence Steffann.
Joystick is accepting applications from game development teams of from two to five people for its 12-week Fall Accelerator program now until mid-August, Benito tells us. Another class will be selected for a program next summer.
Mentoring program to boost business acumen
Benito says Joystick is looking for teams who have not only good ideas for games, particularly for new platforms such as the iPhone or iPad, but also business savvy. He says Joystick’s mentoring program, which will bring in experts to discuss a team’s business model, market plan, and more on a weekly basis, can help its startups emerge with a sound business foundation as well as a marketable game.
Benito notes that while Joystick will take a small minority position in the companies it helps found and accelerate as well as a share of royalties on games developed within the program, the startups will retain “100 percent ownership of their IP,” and will not pay royalties on games developed outside the program.
Companies will also retain creative control of their products.
Joystick points out that the creation of Joystick Labs is one of the latest signs that the video game production and distribution model is changing. The market is increasingly shifting its focus away from traditional retail distribution channels to digitally distributed video games that can be downloaded over the Internet, such as games produced for Facebook, iPad, iPhone, Android and other smartphone platforms.
Teams selected to participate in the Joystick Labs accelerator program will be invited to its facility in Durham, North Carolina for a 12-week accelerator program. Teams at the program will receive:
- Up to $18,000 in seed funding
- Full use of office space near Downtown Durham, a creative and entrepreneurial hub
- Operational support from experienced mentors and advisors from the gaming industry
- The opportunity to network with influential figures in both the gaming and investment communities
- Educational sessions led by industry experts, university professors, technology visionaries, investors and experienced entrepreneurs
- The opportunity to work side by side with other program participants in a collaborative, creative environment
- Certain complementary legal, accounting, finance and marketing services, including the initial formation and funding of your company.
Benito says Joystick hopes to develop game companies that stay in the Triangle and also to attract talent from the Southeast’s gaming hubs in Atlanta and Northern Virginia. There’s no shortage of talent right in the Triangle, however, he adds. With strong computer science, simulation and gaming programs at Triangle universities and colleges, “We have a deep bench to draw from,” he says.
Benito, creative director of JoyStick, started the Atomic Games studio in Raleigh, NC, and before that co-founded Red Storm Entertainment in the Triangle area in 1996, where he was executive producer for the original Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six. Before Red Storm, Benito designed the world’s first fully 3D military submarine simulation game, Tom Clancy’s SSN, while at Virtus Studios, a Triangle-area pioneer in 3D and game technologies.
Benito has worked on numerous entertainment projects with companies such as Sony Computer Entertainment, Konami, Disney, Paramount Pictures, Columbia University, United Media, and has developed training systems in collaboration with the USMC, FBI, and agencies within the US Intelligence Community. He is also founder and CEO of Cooperative Entertainment, a boutique development group and consultancy, and serves as creative director for the Triangle Game Initiative.
Michael Capps, Ph.D., president of Epic Games, said, “We hope to support Joystick’s incubation projects with our Unreal Engine technology, and we’ll absolutely provide their start-up teams with mentoring and advice from our experienced game developers.”
“The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area is the ideal place to launch a game development studio,” said Alexander Macris, president of the Triangle Game Initiative. Currently, over 30 gaming companies employing over 1,000 people are located in the Triangle.
Contact Tech Journal South Editor and writer Allan Maurer: Allan at TechJournalSouth dot com.
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