nutrition or teach about drug side effects.
These games can be more effective than
say, giving patients a long list of advice
and expecting them to read and retain it.
A second category are what he calls
“exer-games,” interactive platforms such
as the Wii aimed at promoting physical
exercise. “If you can make exercise fun,
you can get people to exercise longer,”
he says. Another emerging category is
that of simulated training games and
environments used to educate physi-
cians and others in clinical techniques.
Last, some games are intended as pure
research tools, such as Foldit, an online
video puzzle game about protein folding
developed by the University of Washing-
nect with an audience than setting up
traditional classrooms and hiring staff,
ton’s Center for Game Science.
Calculating the cost-effectiveness of
these various games is far more complicated than assessing a profit and loss
statement of sales, like commercial entertainment companies do. In training
and education, for example, games might
be a cheaper, more efficient way to con-
Grantsmanship on Display
PHySICAL THERAPIST GETS FEDERAL HELP IN LAUNCHING FIRM
Blue Marble’s flagship product is called “Treasure of Bell Island.”
The interactive game—and an accompanying database to
capture results—are designed to assist patients with traumatic
brain injuries. The company was launched with funding from the
military, says CEO Sheryl Flynn. She’s a physical therapist who
got the idea while working at a physical therapy clinic affiliated
with the University of Southern California, where Flynn also held
a research position. She noticed Sony’s PlayStation and figured
it might have application as a therapeutic tool. She even reached
out to Sony, but the firm brushed her off. “I was a little ahead of
my time,” Flynn recalls.
Non-plussed, Flynn jumped into the concept full force. “I
told my lab mates, ‘We need to start a company. We have to
figure out a way to get these games in the hands of users with
evidence-based medicine in mind.’ I came from academia and
grants were the only way I knew to generate funds, so that is
the route I took.” In 2009, Flynn got a $100,000 small business
innovation and research (SNIR) grant from the Department of Defense. The funding enabled her to flesh out the idea, conduct initial research, and establish a business plan. A year later, she fulfilled the grant’s purpose and won a second grant for $750,000,
enabling her to move the idea forward. The upstart firm promptly
grew to five employees, as Flynn added a programmer, designer,
a business development expert and a part-time artist.
Sheryl Flynn, CEO
The company has since expanded, but not without growing
pains, Flynn says. ‘The grant involves a lot of research. It would
be different if we just made a product and were done with it. We
had to embed a number of trials in the project and that slows
Flynn even applied to the National Institutes of Health for a $1
million dollar grant to fund development, but was spurned. “The
reviewer did not understand the need for such a large budget,”
she recalls. “If they only knew that most games cost tens of mil-
lions to develop and there is no research involved. The military
Any additional funding, so far, has come from Flynn’s own
pocket, as she has stayed away from angel or venture capital.
The terms of the SBIR grants—Blue Marble has received three
total—allow the company to own the product and keep any
subsequent sales money. The firm is giving the game away free
to veterans, but charging for use of the associated database.
In her model, clinicians would pay a subscription fee to have
access to the data and provide feedback to the player on
progress. Standalone physical therapy and similar clinics is her
target market. Blue Marble’s also developing a falls preven-
tion game. The firm is in discussion with UnitedHealth about
potential partnership deals, adds Chris Ashford, Blue Marble’s
business development manager.