From InnoVention to millions in seed funding
Tandon's entrepreneurial competition helped bring neuroscience to the field of e-sports
Back in 2017, Wayne Mackey, a postdoctoral fellow at NYU’s Center for Neural Science, learned about the InnoVention Competition at NYU Tandon. The competition, spearheaded by the school’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Association, involved an admittedly grueling series of pitch events, team-building exercises, and start-up workshops, but, relatively confident that he had a solid business idea, he decided to enter.
Mackey’s academic focus was on understanding how the human brain processes and supports goal-directed behaviors — and as an avid video-gamer player, he realized that his research could have interesting applications in that arena, where the goal was not only to win but to continually improve personal performance. His fledgling company, Statespace, would draw upon his work as a neuroscientist to develop a training program that would benefit both casual players and elite athletes in the burgeoning world of e-sports (competitive, organized video gaming). Statespace would, he envisioned, build a software platform that used AI to discern where a gamer excelled and where there was need for improvement and tailor exercises, in real time, to strengthen performance.
It was, very literally, a winning idea: when InnoVention ended after 10 learning-filled weeks, Statespace garnered the top prize of $20,000.
“As a neuroscientist, I had very little knowledge of things like customer discovery and start-up methodology,” Mackey says. “It was participating in InnoVention that enabled me to begin thinking like an entrepreneur and get Statespace off the ground.”
Now, the company is not only “off the ground” but seemingly headed straight for the stratosphere. Statespace currently employs 18 people — software developers, cognitive scientists, and others — and recently announced a $2.5 million seed funding round, bringing its total funding to $4 million.
More than a million players have now used Statespace’s first product, Aim Lab, which mimics the physical rules of a game to provide a customized practice space; one person might struggle with their visual acuity in the top-left quadrant of the screen, while another might have trouble spotting or aiming at targets on the bottom-right side of the screen, Mackey explains, and gameplay on the platform is personalized to address those issues. He has also recently launched a service wherein gamers can access online tutorials from popular pro players like KingGeorge (known for his dominance in Rainbow Six Siege), SypherPK (of Fortnite fame), and Valkia (who excels at Overwatch).
With esports revenue predicted to top $1 billion this year and pro championship matches selling out entire stadiums, Mackey could well rest on his laurels, but the neuroscience underpinning Statespace has also proven to be of interest to pro players of traditional sports: This year the company partnered with the Pro Football Hall of Fame to launch a program of cognitive assessment. (Much as the NFL's Scouting Combine evaluates top athletes on a variety of medical, mental and physical criteria, the “Cognitive Combine” assessment measures perception, fine motor skills and cognition to get a baseline of cognitive performance.)
While Mackey was excited to get a call from pro football executives, he was even more thrilled to begin hearing from gamers who had suffered strokes and found that using the platform was not only fun but was demonstrably aiding in their recuperation efforts. Statespace is now collaborating with researchers at Johns Hopkins, NYU, and Mt. Sinai to use the technology during the rehabilitation process.
“Statespace is the perfect example of the importance of bringing cutting-edge research to market by finding product-market fit and scaling quickly,” Steven Kuyan, Director of Entrepreneurship at NYU Tandon, says. “Companies like Statespace and the many others that preceded them — such as Crestilon, Seed+Roe, Mana Health, and Bot Factory — are exactly the types of companies we want to see participating in InnoVention for this coming year of competition. If you’re a student working on an idea, join InnoVention. The bounds of your potential is limitless and we’re here to help catalyze the launch of your venture."
Apply for the InnoVention Competition
You can hear Mackey discuss his company, gaming, and the growth of esports on Mashable:
AI could discover the next best esports pro player
On November 22, Statespace will be sponsoring the 2019 Science of Gaming Summit, which will bring together top pro players, scientists, team managers, clinicians, human performance experts, and professional coaches to share their insights and vision for the future. Find out more at klutch.gg/summit