Newcomer conquers Academy

A start-up company has won a Dragon's Den-style contest to find the hottest young talent in the North-East's video game development sector.

A start-up company has won a Dragon's Den-style contest to find the hottest young talent in the North-East's video game development sector.

Codeworks GameHorizon's Game Academy saw local companies and graduates practise pitching their ideas and concepts and gain valuable feedback from an expert panel.

Lo-Jen, set up by Teesside University graduates Caleb Lowe and Tom Jenns along with University of East Anglia graduate Jesse Roberts, took first place, beating off stiff competition from five other start-up companies and graduates.

The industry panel consisted of Pete O'Donnell, chief games designer for leading UK publisher Codemasters; Tom O'Connor from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE); Darren Jobling, director of business development at Gateshead's driving game specialist Eutechnyx; and Tony Parkes, executive producer at Midway's Newcastle studio.

Lo-Jen's pitch, a remix of the classic turn-based strategy genre aimed at the handheld console market, was seized on by the judges as a strong and commercially viable proposition, winning the first prize of a training and mentoring package worth more than £2,000.

Managing director Jesse Roberts, 22, said: "Winning Game Academy is an important step for Lo-Jen. The chance to get in front of industry professionals, to take on board their criticism, is extremely useful and to win is a satisfying validation of our ideas.

"We hope the prestige of winning this award will give our games and our company a major boost as we seek to break into the market." Operations director Caleb Lowe, 21, said: "We're surprised and thrilled to win the competition against some big local names.

"The feedback on the day from the likes of SCEE and Codemasters was fantastic, but to win the additional mentoring package means we'll have expert support to help turn our ideas into reality." Business development manager of Codeworks GameHorizon Nina Cliff awarded the prize to Lo-Jen. "Game Academy helps these talented businesses ensure their products are up to scratch by giving them invaluable experience of a live pitch situation and feedback from industry experts," she said.

"What's more, the format has already proven successful. Last year's winner, Teesside University graduate Jeremiah Alexander, used his prize to set up an educational games company, Babel Digital."

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