Article Published: May 15, 2015
Article Published: May 15, 2015
Jesse Schell, CEO of Schell Games, leads a team of 100 employees who produce games for Disney, The Fred Rogers Company, and educational partners. They’re doing innovative, dynamic work in a bright, sunny, airy office that might seem to fit more in Silicon Valley than Station Square.
“Location only matters when it comes to talent, and there’s a ton of talent here,” Schell said. “Pittsburgh is a pretty tight community. It’s fairly easy to connect with people. Most of our talent comes in through Carnegie Mellon University or through the Art Institute here in Pittsburgh. A lot of connectivity happens. There’s great talent in both of those.”
For his vision, leadership, and work, Schell was recently awarded the Carnegie Science Award in the Entrepreneur category. The award recognizes leaders who have successfully commercialized research in science and technology to develop businesses and create jobs.
A Carnegie Mellon University graduate, Schell founded Schell games in 2002, starting solo, then adding five employees, then steadily growing the business. Schell Games is now a dominant force in the “transformational” game market, a phrase Schell coined to describe games that use entertainment mechanics to transform players in a positive and meaningful way.
Pittsburgh is home to many entrepreneurs who have founded start-ups across the region and introduced new, local jobs.
Carnegie Science Center established the Carnegie Science Awards program in 1997 to recognize and promote outstanding science and technology achievements in western Pennsylvania. The Carnegie Science Awards have honored the accomplishments of more than 400 individuals and organizations whose contributions in the fields of science, technology, and education have impacted our region’s industrial, academic, and environmental vitality.
His team created Toontown online games for Disney and built Pixie Hollow, a popular multi-player game for girls. Schell Games has also developed educational games, including a role-playing game to engage junior high school students in reading. Other games offer anti-drug messages or HIV-prevention messages. A new project in the works will combine a toy and an app to teach children about how atoms form into molecules.
“The medium of games is a powerful one. It’s very engaging to people, and we’ve had this explosion of technology,” Schell said. “There’s just so much opportunity to make a difference.”
There’s no question that Schell’s work in Pittsburgh over the past decade has already done just that.
He has high hopes for the next generation of Pittsburgh entrepreneurs. Among them is Ananya Cleetus, a budding roboticist who received the Carnegie Science Award in the Start-Up Entrepreneur category. Cleetus has designed and built multiple robotic prostheses that led her to the 2014 White House Science Fair. As a senior at Upper St. Clair High School, Cleetus founded the tech startup, Magikstra, a social network for ambitious students like herself.
“The Internet makes possible connection to whatever information young people want. Also it makes possible the ability to sort of collaborate with others in a way that was never really possible before. I think she’s a perfect example of what that makes possible,” Schell said. “One of the things I love about the 21st Century is people who are curious and excited and driven have so much more opportunity for success than ever before.”