Weekend Startup Blends Gaming, Ads, Education

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An idea that formed in entrepreneur Tony Young Lyu's head while he was waiting in line at the Startup Weekend event last weekend could make online display advertising more effective and make people smarter at the same time.

At the event in Mountain View, California, Lyu found five partners to help him develop AdGame, a company that plans to create game-based ads that test users' knowledge. Lyu and about 300 other entrepreneurs came to Startup Weekend to develop a new business idea from scratch in 72 hours. His project was one of three from Startup Weekend that were picked to present at the Demo Fall conference this week, and on Wednesday, AdGame was voted the overall winner among those ventures.

Lyu told the Demo audience that he came to Startup Weekend with another idea but gave up on it while still waiting in line to pitch it. So he started thinking about other ideas.

"They say creativity occurs when ideas have sex," Lyu said. "Education, gaming and advertising were having a vigorous orgy inside my head, and out popped this concept."

AdGame demonstrated a series of ads that featured multiple-choice questions. Answering one question would bring up the correct answer and another question, and as each visitor's correct answers were tallied up, they would move up a "leader board" in competition with other people answering the quizzes.

The questions would be related to the product or brand being advertised, linking one piece of information to another in the player's brain, a technique that has been shown to help people learn, Lyu said.

The hypothetical example AdGame showed at Demo started with a simple ad asking which city in Italy was the birthplace of the Renaissance. The logo of the Italian fashion brand Gucci appeared at the top of the ad, and when the correct answer (Florence) was shown, the ad noted that this city is also the home of Gucci.

The gaming component will change ads from annoying to fun and compel game-playing consumers to take on more questions and view more ads to continue competing, he said. Meanwhile, the ads can include valuable knowledge of the sort that might even turn up on college-admissions tests, Lyu said. AdGame plans to form a marketplace to bring together brands and creators of educational content to collaborate on ad campaigns.

AdGame already has a customer, in the form of another venture begun at Startup Weekend that wants to advertise itself through AdGame's technique, he said. The company has also received its first round of investment at Startup Weekend. "One of the judges there is an angel investor, and he emptied out his wallet and gave us the cash," Lyu said.

Lyu said that although he's an entrepreneur, he's an educator at heart and has traveled the world teaching. But he's already found time to form one startup, a social fundraising company in South Korea called Upstart, he said in an interview after his presentation. Lyu spent this past summer studying at Singularity University, the Menlo Park, California, school founded by Google, NASA and futurist Ray Kurzweil.

The AdGame partners met for the first time through networking at Startup Weekend, said Ashwani Kumar, another member of the team. The idea for the Gucci ads came from the sixth member to join, a woman from Italy, he said. Kumar himself quit his job as a developer last year, spent some time traveling and then started looking for a startup to begin or join. In AdGame, he thinks he's found the one to pursue.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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