With UW Partnership, Novel Moves a Step Closer to “The Matrix” for Businesses

When we last checked in with Brayden Olson, it was early fall, and the wunderkind co-founder and CEO of Redmond, WA-based videogame startup Novel was busy telling us about his company’s massively multiplayer online game, Empire & State.

That was all well and good. But the real intrigue behind Novel is its plan to develop virtual-reality simulations for businesses—sort of like “The Matrix” for companies, so they can do things like train employees, test out different management techniques, and evaluate job candidates.

Today the company is taking its first public step in that direction. Novel is announcing a strategic partnership with the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. More specifically, the deal is with the school’s Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking. Financial terms were not given, but the idea is to collaborate on creating “a new category of enterprise simulations products,” according to a press release. And one more thing: Novel has scored a commitment from its first corporate customer to begin using the startup’s business simulations as they become available. The unnamed customer is a Fortune 1000 company in the Northwest.

Olson, in an e-mail, says the UW deal “is an unusual partnership chosen out of specific intent.” UW brings “in-depth material knowledge and research,” he says, while Novel brings game industry expertise and technology. It sounds like the two organizations will work together to collect and analyze data on what kinds of game-like simulations are most useful to companies for things like gauging employees’ leadership abilities and business problem-solving skills.

As far as I can tell, Novel hasn’t developed any full-fledged business simulations yet, but its engineers are on it. Olson added in a statement that the company is working to “forge partnerships and customer relationships that will secure long-term leadership of the enterprise simulations category.” The ultimate goal, he said, is to make the business world “more efficient, productive, imaginative and fun.”

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