Brayden Olson stands next to the character selection screen for one of Recurrence's case models in the startup's Bellevue office.

Bellevue startup Recurrence brings gaming to business schools

When Brayden Olson was growing up, his educator parents had lively discussions at the dinner table about the way education wasn't preparing people for the real world.

When Brayden Olson was growing up, his educator parents had lively discussions at the dinner table about the way education wasn’t preparing people for the real world.

So when he arrived at business school and saw these issues first hand, he knew something had to change.

Olson is chief executive officer of Recurrence, Inc., a software startup in Bellevue bringing gamification to education.

“I know I wanted to bring games into the real world, so we built a signature case study,” said the Seattle University alumnus. “We turned that into experimental learning where you are the CEO, CFO or COO. You step into that environment and make real decisions.”

Gamification is bringing aspects of traditional games to business, education or other fields, Olson said.

Recurrence has taken real-world events and made them digestible games for business students. But this isn’t a video game in the traditional sense.

“We did significant research on these case studies up front,” Olson said. “

Since launching the startup in January, Recurrence has recorded successes at business schools across the country, including Harvard, Stanford, University of Michigan, University of Texas and the University of Washington.

Greg Heaston, Recurrence’s key accounts manager, said the reason so many institutions of higher education were responding well to the brand was that the idea was an attractive one.

“We took the old paper case study and just pulled it off the page,” he said. “There was a hole in the market for these sort of things. A lot of the case studies were really complex. Ours is easy to use and still academically viable.”

The case studies are an attractive animation turn-based style game where each action taken by the six-member team can impact the game. According to Olson, there are millions of ways for a game to end.

Despite this, the program is simple enough a high school student can complete one of the studies in a two-hour period without direct instruction from a teacher. This compares to previous models when an explanation of the manual which explained how to use the case studies could take several class period to go over.

“Education, in a lot of ways, is getting worse and more expensive,” Olson said. “We’ve had conversations about what does 21st Century education look like? I know that game-based learning is part of the answer.”

Recurrence sells its program for $47, and individual professors can add it to the syllabus as needed. Future expansions will be added to the product for free to keep new studies in the minds of students.

One such study comes close to home. Students control an airline faced with laying off hundreds of workers to remain financially viable. A local airline faced this issue in recent years, and it was up to the students to find a way to save the airline while keeping employees, customers and shareholders happy.

Recurrence was an obvious solution to a problem most people didn’t even think about, Olson said.

“We’ve had flight simulators for pilots for decades,” he said. “Why don’t we have something similar for business majors or poli-sci majors? Those people were leaving school unprepared for the workforce.”

Every step of the way, an instructor can see what actions each player took and how that ultimately impacted the end result. Each phase becomes a teachable moment and the game helps expand critical thinking, Heaston said.

Professors have lauded the new program, the company claims.

“The professors choose individually whether they adopt each model, and we’re averaging about two new universities a week since we launched,” Olson said. “We’ve reached 30 schools in four months and it’s still growing.”

According to an informal University of Washington study, 92 percent of students prefer Recurrence over traditional methods and 78 percent would recommend the product to their professors, Olson said. Recurrence is in the process of obtaining three international licenses as well, and could soon sell the product in India, the United Kingdom and Canada.

Recurrence employs 16 full-time at its Downtown Bellevue location and is looking at rapid expansion as the company creates more case studies.

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