Guelph Grads on the Go ─ Combining Business and Education

Entrepreneurs develop 3D digital games to teach science

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Andrea Bielecki and Jeremy Friedberg -- Photo by Greg Paupst

It’s not surprising that Andrea Bielecki, B.Sc. ’00, and Jeremy Friedberg, PhD ’03, were running their own companies soon after graduation.

“I have an entrepreneurial spirit,” says Bielecki, who majored in nutritional sciences. She runs InVivo Communications, an interactive media company servicing the medical, pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. “I love the freedom and flexibility of running my own company.”

Friedberg launched Vive Technologies because he feels the same way: “I wanted to do things that would evolve and grow, and the only way to really do that is through a business.” One of Vive’s core services is developing educational software.

Both of their companies are still going strong, but now they’ve teamed up in a joint venture called Spongelab Interactive, a business that brings science to life through interactive 3D digital games.

Friedberg says the seeds for Spongelab were sown during his years as a graduate student in Guelph’s Department of Crop Science. “It was a remarkable experience, and I loved the teaching,” he says. “I’ve also taught at Laurier, Waterloo and Toronto, and I found I was developing a lot of high-tech educational materials for my own use as a teacher. That showed me the potential for the kinds of products I’d eventually develop through Spongelab.”

The business does a lot of custom production, including 3D games, animations, websites, even iPhone Apps, all designed to help other organizations communicate science using technology with an interactive format.

“We specialize in blending together our educational design with game design to produce learning experiences that captivate and engage an audience” says Friedberg.

They’ve garnered awards from the United Nations and the National Science Foundation and have been featured in Science magazine.

Spongelab also creates programs with broader potential beyond the sciences, and they’ve attracted international attention for a product called Genomics Digital Lab that’s designed for high school and first-year university students. Players log onto a website and discover a richly detailed 3D game that teaches them scientific concepts while they conquer the various levels of cell biology.

“It includes all the components of learning and assessment in one sophisticated game,” says Friedberg. “Teachers can see how engaged the students are and can assess their learning by watching how the students approach a problem.”

Adds Bielecki: “It’s a real paradigm shift in the education system to teach with games. But this is what today’s students are used to. We know we’re competing with the gaming market, so we make sure our graphics and game-play are the highest quality.”

Their efforts are paying off; Spongelab has customers in 55 countries around the world. “U of G prepared us to think globally,” says Bielecki.

“You’re not really prepared for going into business in grad school, but I think it’s pretty fantastic to see where our degrees have taken us.”