Failure is not something most people boast about, unless they’re entrepreneurs. Successful entrepreneurs understand that every great idea is preceded by a failure.
That was true for three Drexel students who launched a venture in 2012 called Skyless Game Studios. Skyless is the first game design company dedicated to using media usually reserved for entertainment as a tool for philanthropy and social good.
Christopher Bennett and Oleks Levtchenko, who both graduated from LeBow College of Business in 2012 with a BS in Business Administration, joined forces with Aradhya Malhotra, a 2013 alum with a BS in Computer Science. They wrote a business plan for apps that could help people increase their productivity but soon learned that Google had similar products and was giving them away.
Undeterred, they went back to the drawing board, literally. They brainstormed their passions, posting word clouds on a white board in a conference room in Drexel’s Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship, an incubator for young inventors. The Institute is part of Drexel’s Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship, the first freestanding school in the nation to teach and foster entrepreneurship skills.
Philanthropy loomed large in the trio's word cloud, and so did gaming. And that was the beginning of Skyless Game Studio.
Drexel's entrepreneurial culture + Skyless = success
One aspect of Drexel's strong entrepreneurial culture is Startup Fest, a rigorous competition — along the lines of the TV show "Shark Tank" — that awards prizes to the students with the best pitches and business plans. Winners can earn a paid year of residence in the Baiada Institute.
Skyless Game Studios landed one of these highly sought-after residencies by placing second.
Their founding mission sounds simple but runs deep: leverage the power of video games to support and empower social, educational and philanthropic causes. Skyless partners with clients to create custom video games with a purpose or to "gamify" existing apps and programs.
Their first product was "Follow the Money," which helps developing countries fight corruption and financial crimes. This evolved into a training program that teaches law enforcement professionals how to weed out financial crimes and money laundering and recover assets with skills such as evidence gathering and transaction tracing.
“Games should not just be an end product, something for entertainment.”
Other games followed, such as "LifeLeap," developed for an Indian nonprofit dedicated to improving the health of women and children; "City Hall," a city management game that helps players understand the intricacies of the cities where they live; and "Assemblelt," a tool for parents and children with autism to develop teamwork and problem-solving skills.
With Bennet as CEO, Malhotra as CTO and Levtchenko as a consulting board member, Skyless has been racking up awards and top rankings on lists, such as the Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2016 and Philadelphia Magazine's 10 Philly Startups to Watch in 2017.
Malhotra says that video gaming is a $3 billion-a-week habit, which translates into a lot of opportunity for people who are skillful and enterprising. But games, he adds, "should not just be an end product, something for entertainment."
At Skyless, the aim is nothing short of helping to give a voice to the people trying to change the world.