Video game company is one of a kind in Lincoln

Photo

The Green Bein’ office sits prominently in downtown Lincoln at 1442 O Street, Suite C.

Story and photo by Michael Bamesberger

Just a few years ago, entrepreneurs who were serious about starting a tech company went to Silicon Valley, Calif. to make their dreams a reality.

But for Collin Caneva, starting a unique online video game production business in Lincoln, Neb. was a no-brainer.

“This is where we’re from,” said Caneva. “You can find everything you need right here in the Midwest.”

Caneva’s company, Green Bein’ Productions, Inc., develops virtual games for children and currently has two products available: Kid Command, a massive multiplayer adventure game with an environmentally friendly message, and Synch, a game where users can create their own obstacles, characters and backgrounds and share their creation across the web.

The 37-year-old entrepreneur has no experience in game design. In fact, his first business venture began by purchasing a dump truck and starting a construction business while attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

But around 2009, Caneva began looking for a change of pace.

“I was never passionate about concrete,” Caneva said in a speech to the Lincoln Young Professionals Group in June of last year. “From the outside looking in, that company was probably a success. But no one can look from the outside and see what’s in a person’s heart.”

Inspired by conversations with his own children, he came up with the idea for a video game that educates children about environmental issues – idea he hoped would empower them to change the world.

“If you’ve ever been to any other popular kid’s game sites, the whole idea is to spend time playing video games to earn money to buy virtual stuff. And that seems like a mindless, materialistic business model,” said Adam Templeton, Green Bein’s creative coordinator. “The whole idea behind this was to try to create a virtual world where kids could go to have fun, but also to get something out of it.”

With his idea in hand, Caneva sought out a team to help him with the project. One of those people was his sister, Deana Ward.

“One day Collin called me out of the blue and said, “I just sold my business and I’m starting this thing called Kid Command, are you with me?” said Ward, now the company’s vice president. “We both have a real entrepreneurial drive. Some people are just wired that way. “

Today, most of the company’s now two-dozen employees work out of a spacious new office in downtown Lincoln. However, Green Bein’ has designers from all over the world on the payroll.

“Jorge, our 3D modeler, is working from Argentina right now. One of our guys, Sven, is working from Barcelona,” said Templeton. “We encourage people to work out of the office, but if we find someone in Spain who is good at what they do, he’s on our team.”

The company is able to coordinate with their staff across the world through weekly Skype meetings.

“A decade ago, a business like this could not have existed,” Templeton said.

Templeton is sure there are no other businesses like Green Bein’ in Lincoln. But just because of the lack of video game start-ups here doesn’t mean that Nebraska is inhospitable to businesses of its type.

In March, Green Bein’ won a $50,000 venture capital competition through the non-profit InvestNebraska. The competition, judged by a panel of small business owners, was one of 10 hosted by InvestNebraska in the past two years to encourage innovation in Nebraska.

“(The money) will be used to keep our doors open. It takes quite a bit of money to keep this place running every month,” said Templeton, who noted that the big staff is vital for developing new products like smartphone and facebook apps in the near future.

Kid Command is free to try, and the site is has no advertisements. To generate revenue, the company charges $8.95 a month for full access to all the game’s levels and missions.

In keeping with its eco-friendly name, Green Bein’ sets aside 15 percent of each paid subscription to a grant fund that is donated to wildlife or environmental organizations.

Templeton said the site hasn’t had trouble signing up users. In fact, the site has users logging on from all over the world.

“A couple weeks ago, three people from Pakistan logged on. We have a couple dozen users from Australia,” Templeton said. “And we’ve done next to no advertising, so it’s pretty cool that people are just finding their way to the site.”

On the site’s one-year anniversary, more than 68,000 users had subscribed, with new users playing each day.

But with thousands of free games available on the Internet, Templeton said differentiating his company’s games from the pack has been a struggle. But developing new products like Synch has kept the company ahead of the curve, he said.

In addition, Templeton said finding outside investors has also been a struggle.

“Nobody really wants to invest in tech in Nebraska, just because Nebraska isn’t branded as a tech state,” Templeton said. “We’re trying to change that.”

Jason Ball, the director of business development for the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development, said new incentives, like the Governor’s Business Innovation Act, will make it easier for small web businesses to start in Nebraska. And compared to other states, he said, doing in business in Nebraska costs less.

“We have top level national talent here and you don’t have to pay them the same amount as you would in, say, San Francisco, simply because the cost of living is much lower,” said Ball. “We have short commute times and our quality of life is higher.”

Ward said other Lincoln tech companies, like Roundus, which creates 360-degree virtual photographs, have been helpful in welcoming Green Bein’.

“It’s nice to see this little community evolving. It gives us a sense of belonging,” she said.

Kid Command can be played at www.kidcommand.com, and Green Bein’s newest game, Synch, can be played at www.synch-it.com.

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