By Jack Riewe
The Bryan/College Station area has become home to several different start-up companies, and the new tech company Triseum brings a sense of Silicon Valley to the Brazos Valley. The video game company released their first product, ARTé: Mecenas, an educational game that connects art history and economics, on June 1 after they raised $1.43 million from private investors. The company has occupied a downtown office on North Main Street for a few months now and continues to expand the office to keep up with the increasing number of employees. The office is now where more than 30 employees spend their workday. Eighty percent of Triseum’s employees are local hires — most hand-picked from Texas A&M’s visualization department.
The visionary behind Triseum, CEO André Thomas, had an idea of an educational video game when he worked at EA Sports, acting as the head of graphics for the Madden and NCAA franchises. He created Triseum two years ago with five employees and has since been working to make his idea into a reality. Thomas, a visualization faculty member at Texas A&M University, started the Learning Interactive Visualization Experience, or LIVE Lab, for visualization students to help create educational gaming experiences. Triseum partners with the LIVE lab by sponsoring research, providing mentorship, guidance, and financial support.
Most Triseum employees’ careers began with a tap on the shoulder from Thomas after class. Adam Rehmann was one of these recruits before he graduated from Texas A&M last year. Thomas was Rehmann’s professor for a studio course through the visualization program. One day after class, Thomas approached him and asked if he would be interested in doing art for video games. Now, Rehmann is the art lead at Triseum and is working on his second video game.
Emma Mercado and Emily Vincent sit back to back in the Triseum office and have been working at Triseum together for about three months. They met in a classroom at Texas A&M where they were also hand picked by Thomas and have worked together on Triseum and LIVELab projects for more than a year. Vincent says the company’s laid-back culture just came naturally and most of the company’s school culture and work culture has been combined. The Triseum office is like a common area in one of the dorms on campus. Employees are often found huddled around a television screen or laughing and teasing one another.
“We came out of the LIVE Lab at A&M, so a lot of us have worked together before. So we do have this interesting dynamic of being friends, coworkers, classmates —[Emma] was my T.A. once,” says Vincent, laughing. “We’re here to make games fun or find a way to have fun within that. It fuels the creativity and the discussion and makes it an open place to critique each other and get to the problems when they come up.”
For many of Triseum’s employees, the tech startup provides their first job as a professional and they walk away with valuable experience. “In some cases it’s the beginning of our careers, which is fantastic. But I also wanted to work here because I knew the people starting and knew what they stood for. As far as a company goes, knowing the insides before you walk into it is really, really great,” says Vincent. “And with André being in charge — I’m always willing to get behind and be supportive.”
What is unique about the employees is not only are they young, but they also have the chance to create a foundation for the company and set their own rules. “It’s different from what I expected, there’s a lot of flexibility in it because it’s all building, so we get the opportunity to form the foundation of the company, which is nice. It’s fun, fast, and experimental. Things change pretty frequently,” says Mercado who was particularly interested in the company’s goal when joining the Triseum team. “We’ve got a good mission. We’re all about the people and we’re all about the education. So everything we’re doing here is supposed to benefit the intellectual learner playing our games to help people that struggle with textbook-based homework and give them an interactive way to learn.”
Thomas says he focused primarily on attitude when it came to picking students and emphasizes a “learning culture” for his employees. “What we’re doing is fairly new,” he says. “We’re innovating in a way that nobody’s really done, so we have to figure out a lot of things and we’re going to fail a lot. So it’s not so much about skill, but it’s about attitude and trying new things and attempting new things in the face of failure.”
Thomas is selling the game worldwide and expects it to do very well. He compares ARTé: Mecenas’ business model to that of Pong and the Oregon Trail franchise. He expects his game to stick around for a very long time.
Office culture aside, the location of this rapidly expanding startup creates a unique environment for the employees. Rehmann says working for a tech startup in Bryan has been exciting so far. “It kind of has a small town feel,” he says. “It’s a small company, a lot like family, and Bryan, specifically, we’re able to bring a new atmosphere.”
However, Thomas says the location of the company isn’t as important as the people who work there. “Location doesn’t really matter. It’s about people. … The students from A&M [are] amazing. They’re some of the best students. I’ve visited many universities while I was at EA, and I always came back to A&M,” said Thomas. “It’s a physical location, it’s a place, it could be almost anywhere, that’s really not that important because we live in a digital world. We have the talent here; why should I be anywhere else? Especially when there are no competitors.”
For more information about Triseum, ARTé: Mecenas, and other upcoming projects, visit www.triseum.com.