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Graduate stories – gaming for good

26 January 2015

Abertay graduate Jude Ower founded Playmob to use video gaming to raise money for charity. Here she discusses her journey as an entrepreneur.

Jude is speaking at the launch of the Abertay Alumni Network in London on Thursday 19 February, which all graduates are welcome to attend.

You can find out more and register for your free place on Eventbrite.

Jude was voted One to Watch in 2015 at the Talent Unleashed Awards judged by Sir Richard Branson and technology industry leaders, and she has been developing education-based games for over ten years.

Why did you choose to come to Abertay? How was your experience?

I am from Dundee so I had known Abertay had a good reputation and was strong in computer games too. Although I did Marketing and not the games course, I enjoyed following the University’s progress with programmes such as Dare to be Digital. When it was time to do my dissertation, I wanted to get real life experience and learn more about start-ups too.

The University at the time had a space called Embreonix which grew start-ups. I spent time here looking at the companies and found one which was working in the field of games. Abertay was really progressive in the support for start-ups and gaming, and I learnt a lot from doing my dissertation on a real start-up.

So much so that as the start-up grew, I was offered a role and became one of the founding team members. The mentors who supported the start-ups growing out of the University were entrepreneurs who were also brilliant to learn from. Most of which I am still in touch with now. From this I really learnt that your connections and relationships are the most valuable thing for your career.

Playmob works with major brands, such as Angry Birds 

Since graduating in 2004, can you describe your journey to establishing Playmob?

When I graduated, I spent time working with the start-up I had written my dissertation on. I spent two years working in the space of games for learning and training. Seeing how the gaming market was growing rapidly, I knew the area of games for learning would also begin to grow rapidly too.

I moved to London late 2005 as I knew I wanted to open my own business and for me it was important to expand my network, learn more and then work out what type of business I wanted to open and run.

After spending a few years working with corporates and educational organisations building games for training and education, I started to get approached from charities asking if I could build a game to teach about vital causes, and raise money at the same time. I loved this idea, however knowing the difficulty entertainment games companies have in launching and growing titles, I knew there must be a more efficient and scalable way for charities to work with games.

In 2010 the Haiti earthquake happened, and Zynga launched a campaign in FarmVille to raise funds for victims of the disaster. The campaign was a huge success raising $1.5 million in five days. As well as the big social impact, the engagement with the player rose so much they spent in-game for the first time and shared their support via social media.

It was this instance which triggered the thought, “What if there was an open platform for social giving through all games? Imagine the impact we can make and the new levels of engagement we can reach with players.”

The idea was still early when I applied to do the accelerator Springboard (now Techstars). An accelerator is a great program to test out your start-up idea, and to learn quickly to succeed or fail fast. At the end of Springboard we had trialled the platform with studios and had investors on board. After initial angel investment we secured a seed round of £500,000 which catapulted the momentum in 2012 and helped us to get to where we are today.

Can you explain a little about the philosophy behind the company?

Playmob is a ‘profit for purpose’ business and we believe that good business wins. Our mission is to turn actions online into social good, beginning with gaming. Our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is to raise $1 billion for global causes via our actions online, with all impact tracked and accounted for.

This is really important to our model as we believe that customers and employees should not only be part of the corporate social responsibility journey, but see transparently what they have directly contributed to supporting.

In-game purchases help players contribute to charities 

What is your lasting impression of Abertay and Dundee?

I enjoyed my time at Abertay and Dundee is my home city so I will always have a strong bond with the city. My family live in Dundee, so I often visit to see family and catch up with friends too. Abertay to me has always been a really progressive University, testing boundaries and not afraid to take risks.

The start-up hub and gaming degrees are a perfect example of this. It was very unique to have this in the early 2000s and it helped to keep the University at the forefront of Innovation. Dundee has got a fantastic cluster of gaming studios and holds a strong position for technology and medical science and innovation. To me this makes the city stand out on a global playing field and I am very proud to come from Dundee and to have studied at Abertay.

Do you have a message for students coming to the end of their degrees and preparing to enter professional life?

Try to get as much work experience as possible and keep learning. This is really important and what I look for on CVs. I want to see candidates who are driven and willing to learn, and really push themselves.

This may mean that internships are required to gain the real working experience, but this is so valuable. If students get the chance to do this when at University it could help fast track careers after graduating.

To meet Jude in person, register on Eventbrite for the launch of the Abertay Alumni Network in London on Thursday 19 February.

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