Detroit-Based Weyn Accepted into Silicon Valley Game Accelerator

It can be challenging for Detroit startups to attract the attention of Silicon Valley’s power players, especially when they’re competing in sectors that are firmly planted in the Bay Area. That’s why it’s big news that Weyn, a Motor City mobile gaming company, has been accepted into the Core Labs Game Accelerator, which is affiliated with industry partners including Nvidia and WB Games.

“We were one of 20 game developers accepted out of the 180 that applied,” said Ida Byrd-Hill, Weyn’s founder and president. “I’m excited. For us to get Silicon Valley validation is a big deal. I’m a woman who’s African American and almost 50—in the startup world, that’s old—so I’m a triple threat.”

The six-month program takes place mostly online, though participating startups will have the opportunity to fly out to Silicon Valley for networking, meetings, and a free, temporary desk at GSVlabs in Redwood City, CA. In exchange for mentorship and business development assistance, participants agree to give Core Labs five percent of the revenue generated by the game developed in the program and an optional two percent equity stake. Intel, Razer, and Maxplay are among the program’s sponsors, and its mentor network includes Kleiner Perkins partner Bing Gordon and Jeff Burton, co-founder of Electronic Arts.

Weyn—the Somalian word for “great,” pronounced we-in—will continue developing the mobile game My Jewel Empire in the Core Labs program. Byrd-Hill feels that Weyn and My Jewel Empire stuck out to program administrators because it’s an unusual, business-to-business approach to helping corporations and human resources departments reduce stress on employees by teaching them financial literacy.

My Jewel Empire has some similarities to Candy Crush, but with a twist: players are able to turn the jewels they collect into virtual currency that can then be used to make purchases and mimic real-world wealth-building. Players experience a virtual world of financial choices and consequences, where they’re exposed to banking, credit, entrepreneurship, insurance, investment, retirement planning, and estate planning. Employees can dabble in financial planning without feeling shame about their own precarious financial situation, Byrd-Hill said. Essentially, My Jewel Empire automates financial education, moving it from a lecture-based classroom course to a mobile game format that allows players to have fun while learning.

“Our goal is to help corporations reduce financial stress on their employees because that stress can lead to poor performance and, ultimately, lower profits for the company,” Byrd-Hill explained. “Being able to connect with heavy weights in the gaming industry [through the Core Labs program] makes our goal very doable.”

The way people manage their money is something Byrd-Hill is keenly interested in after spending more than a decade of her early career as a financial advisor and wealth manager before leaving the industry to focus on raising her kids. In 2010, she started Uplift Inc. to inspire Detroit kids to think innovatively about their futures and created a board game called Fluke: The WealthBuilding Game of Accidental Inventions. Her son is an avid gamer, and he joined Weyn after college to help Byrd-Hill develop My Jewel Empire. Weyn has bootstrapped things so far, but is currently looking for investors to help complete My Jewel Empire and bring it to market.

The company has been working on My Jewel Empire for more than a year, but it has often struggled to get the attention of local investors. Winning a spot in the Core Labs Game Accelerator has “solidified the idea, for me, that the West Coast thinks way ahead in the future and the Midwest does not,” she said. “Many of the companies that will benefit from our product, the GMs of the world, are based in metro Detroit. They’re losing employee productivity due to financial stress—employees come to work distracted, or they have stress-related absences and injuries. All of that adds up and impacts the bottom line.”

Byrd-Hill said she’s looking for gamers to help test the My Jewel Empire prototype and offer feedback; email her at ida@weyn.biz for a link to test the game.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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