Innovate July 2016

Game On! Q&A with Lindsey Tropf, Founder and CEO of Immersed Games

Written By: Felicia Lee

Many parents bemoan the popularity of video games, fearing that they distract children from more educational pursuits. As both an avid gamer and educator, Lindsey Tropf, founder of Gainesville-based Immersed Games, disagrees — not only can video games be a legitimate tool for learning, educational games can be just as engaging and addictive as “real” games.

While still an early stage startup, Immersed has already attracted serious attention. In 2015, Immersed was a semifinalist for the Cade Prize for Innovation, and its first game, Tyto Ecology, has been positively reviewed by major tech blogs including GeekDad. Here, Tropf shares her experience as a female entrepreneur in the tech startup space.

Q: Immersed Games is an educational video game company. What makes Immersed different from other companies in this space, and what inspired you to create it?

A: I was a doctoral candidate in the School of Psychology at the University of Florida and wanted to study educational video games. As I looked into them, I realized that they weren’t taking advantage of the full power of the medium. As a gamer, I understood how well games already worked as learning tools — but just for teaching about game rules and lore, not real life — and I was disappointed that educational games so often were boring experiences. I also realized that even though there are some great educational games out there, they are fragmented experiences. You play the game for a few hours, and that’s generally all the gameplay. But, some commercial games have built these huge communities who played for a decade straight. Educational games weren’t retaining players like that — so I decided I wanted to do that!

Q: The videogame industry is not only predominantly male but also notorious for an often sexist subculture. Has this affected your experience, and if so, how do you cope with it?

A: In my experience, everyone has been so aware of these issues that they’re excited to meet a female founder/CEO, and they have been very encouraging. There are certainly a few stories I can share, like the designer who kept saying they should have had a “guy,” and the other saying, “or girl,” which only made me more aware that the only other woman I saw in the office was a receptionist. I know that can make some women feel ostracized or uncomfortable, but I suppose I am used to it. Also, not having a line for the ladies’ restroom at most events is pretty great. I think I’ve experienced this a little more actually in general startup experiences. It’s not intentional, but the small things like someone saying, “You’re as tough as any man I’ve met!” to me. Of course, I think, “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Q: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned since starting your company?

A: I don’t even know where to start! Seriously, doing a startup is just a constant process of working, reflecting, revising, iterating, learning and improving. A few things as general startup observations that we’ve learned and improved on:

• It required trusting people, bringing them into the vision and mission and handing over some control. I guess the lesson would be that people can be just as committed to the mission and idea as you are, and contribute in invaluable ways, if you give them the opportunity to be equal participants in the process with you.

• Remembering to take time to reflect and simply think. Asking ourselves how things are going, what we can do better, and how we can optimize or improve going forward. It can be so easy to keep going and working, but I’ve found it so valuable to take a moment to pause as well.

• The importance of process and documentation! Getting a group of people all on the same page can sometimes feel like overcommunication, but it never is.

Q: What advice would you give other female entrepreneurs just starting out?

A: There is an intimidating amount of information out there about how hard it is to start a business as a woman. But, remember that there are also a growing number of people looking to encourage women to begin startups and gain access to capital. These people recognize that without empowering women, they’re missing out on amazing opportunities, and that companies and boards with equal representation and more diverse perspectives will perform better. Women tend to be more self-critical, and we need to remember that everyone starting a company is learning constantly, and that’s great to embrace as we grow and learn.



FELICIA LEE is is a Gainesville-based writer and editor and former UF faculty member. Her writing has appeared in national publications including the Los Angeles Times and Salon. com, as well as in numerous regional and local publications.

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