Students to compete in Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament

Published: Jun. 4, 2020 at 9:26 AM CDT
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Justin Bryant, who graduated from University of Wisconsin-Stout May 9 with a degree in computer science, is looking forward to the Steam release Friday, June 5, of a PC game entitled Ninja Scarf he and other teammates created.

Bryant, of Green Bay, and teammate Katelyn Zenz, of Lancaster, a senior majoring in BFA game design and development-art, will be competing in the WiSys’ Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament student business competition virtually on Wednesday, June 10. The two will present their business, 20 Credit Studios, a company that makes fun games for a wide audience by developing a close feedback relationship with consumers.

“It’s another opportunity to promote the game,” Bryant said. “I’m super excited about the release.”

Ninja Scarf, the first release by the company, is a two-dimensional action game. The character Cry, using ninja skills, travels through four levels, defeating four bosses while collecting rewards. The game will sell for $5 on Steam, a website devoted to playing, discussing and creating games.

The tournament brings together teams of university students from across the state to pitch innovative business ideas. The competition was established to extend the Wisconsin entrepreneurial ecosystem to University of Wisconsin students with the goal to improve the overall quality of business startup performance in the state.

This year’s tournament will be conducted virtually because of the coronavirus crisis. Teams will submit recorded pitch presentations. These presentations, as well as an awards presentation, will be broadcast on WiSys’ Facebook page and YouTube channel on Wednesday, June 10, at 6 p.m.

Bryant said his presentation includes video of Ninja Scarf and a PowerPoint.

The first-place team will receive $2,500, cash courtesy of Idea Fund of La Crosse. Second place is $1,500 from gener8tor and third place $500 from Charter Bank.

If 20 Credit Studio wins, the plan is to use any funding to help pay for a Nintendo Switch development license for Ninja Scarf because it is a popular gaming system, Bryant said.

‘Joy to mentor students’

Mary Spaeth, assistant professor of international business and entrepreneurship, and Kimberly Loken, assistant professor in the design department, worked with the students on the project.

Spaeth said she first met Bryant and Zenz when they joined the Entrepreneurship in Gamification faculty-led course to Sweden in 2018. In Sweden, Bryant pitched the game in Malmö at Massive Entertainment-Ubisoft, a world-renowned producer of games. Encouraged by the feedback, he and his team have sought to build a quality game, Spaeth said.

“I see my role as a kind of coach, facilitator, cheerleader and connector for student projects,” Spaeth said. “It’s a joy to mentor students who believe in their ideas and want to take them further than simply a graded project. The hours of work that they put into capstone work and senior projects often lead to excellent products that deserve showcasing well beyond the halls of academia.

“It has been a delight to follow Justin and Katelyn with their work and to encourage them along the way, including insisting that they compete in the Stout Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament semifinals in late February, which they won. We are proud to have 20 Credit Studios take Ninja Scarf to the tournament to represent UW-Stout.”

Loken said the leaders of Ninja Scarf were exemplary in developing, communicating and maintaining their scope. Team members embraced play-testing of their work in progress.

“Publishing on a major platform such as Steam is an accomplishment for any indie game team and a commendable achievement for students who did this work alongside their degree requirements,” Loken said.

Having game design and development-art students in the tournament demonstrates not only their talents but drive for success, said Andrew Williams, program director.

“Video games are labor-intensive undertakings that require a unique interdisciplinary combination of art, design and computer programming,” Williams said. “As such, they need specially-trained people who can innovate to create them. That's the heart of the Wisconsin Big Idea and the heart of what our students are prepared to do.”

UW-Stout students have had several releases on Steam and other external platforms; it’s a requirement for students, Williams said. “Ninja Scarf, however, is different as the students invested in their own tools, created their own workflows and produced the project entirely separate from our classes,” he said. “I've loved watching this project evolve and am excited to see how it does once it reaches the marketplace.”

Bryant said the support his team received from UW-Stout’s International Game Developers Association helped make Ninja Scarf a better experience.

Other team members who helped develop Ninja Scarf include graduates Alex Meyers, computer science with a concentration in game design and development, Pleasant Prairie; Christopher Brewer, BFA game design and development, St. Michael, Minn.; Chloe Meyer, BFA game design and development, Beaver Dam; Cameron Pyfferoen, computer science, Lakeville, Minn.; and current students Syd Simonis, senior majoring in BFA game design and development-art, Appleton; and Mo Morris, BFA game design and development-art, Lancaster. Other team members are Cody and Ben Kremer, both of Green Bay; Shana Gannon, New York, N.Y.; and Ethan Myers, Pleasant Prairie.

WBIT participating teams

Other participating teams, which won local feeder competitions or received an at-large bid, include:

Didómi LLC: UW-River Falls students Lamah Bility and Anaa Jibicho want to sell fashionable, reusable water bottles and donate a portion of the profits to combating the water crisis in developing countries.

G-Pods: UW-Green Bay’s Logan Holbrook and Katelyn Desrochers have an idea for a hearing aid with sensors to monitor the user’s health data and that can call for help in an emergency.

Lëvor: The organic hair care company, presented by UW-Milwaukee’s Loren Nelson and Jonathan Brown, aims to desegregate the industry by providing care for all hair types.

Local2You LLC: UW-Green Bay’s Noah Redfearn, Emily Walczak and Madeline Yoss want to create an online service to connect local entrepreneurs and inventors to virtual markets.

Prexo: Ian McDonald and Abbie Merrill of UW-Oshkosh are developing a political app to allow users to easily track presidential executive orders.

Spark Convos, LLC: UW-Eau Claire’s Mary Cait McManamon’s online business is committed to sparking in-person connections by selling apparel that inspires conversations.

This year’s tournament is sponsored by Charter Bank, gener8tor, Idea Fund of La Crosse, Market & Johnson, UW System, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and Xcel Energy.

WiSys is a nonprofit organization that works with faculty, staff, students and alumni of the UW System to facilitate cutting-edge research programs, develop and commercialize discoveries and foster a spirit of innovative and entrepreneurial thinking across the state.

UW-Stout is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes.