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Getting into the Big Game

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What to do you get when you invest 15 years, around 15,000 hours, and a whole lot of intellectual property assets in the development of a one of a kind optimization software to solve a multitude of problems?

Well if you’re smart, like nQube Data Science’s founder and CEO Jason Fiege and COO Anastasia Baran, you might get a once in a lifetime chance to pitch your idea at one of the most prestigious gaming summits in North America—in this case GiGse 2017, the Global iGaming Summit & Expo, April 26 to 28, in San Diego, CA.

Fiege will take the stage at the event’s Startup Launchpad competition to pitch nQube’s artificial intelligence-based software that tracks casino customer behaviour to optimize casino floor layout and maximize gaming revenue. It is the only Canadian company amongst the five finalists for the pitch competition.

The Launchpad competition is organized by gaming giants GamCrowd and Clarion Gaming. In its news release, the sponsors described nQube and other finalists as “outstanding examples of disruptive thinking.”

The April event is expected to draw some of the top gaming brands as well as potential investors and strategic partners to share ideas about industry challenges and opportunities. It invites ‘unconventional thinking’ to explore the technology, innovations and potential regulatory hurdles facing all gaming brands operating in North America.

It’s very much a go big or go home story for the Winnipeg team as its the first such competition that Fiege and Baran have participated in. Baran said, “Even if we don’t win, it’s an incredible opportunity to get the product out to a large audience.” 

While there is no cash prize, the magnitude of the event promises to put nQube in front of legitimate buyers, serious investors and strategic partners. 

The company already benefits from one strategic partnership, Casino Science out of Seattle, WA, who has helped line up their first pilot in a casino this May.

The team are confident in the product and anticipate the pilot will be a success. They hope to be out to market shortly after. Fiege states, “No other company in the world can do what we can.”

They estimate the potential market for the casino optimization product to be in the area of $211 million/year.

nQube has relied on founder investment so far but will be looking for additional investment and strategic partnerships to take it to market on a global scale.   

Baran said that the intelligence isn’t limited to casinos but that’s an opportunity she identified while reading a thesis that had been written by another researcher about optimizing casino floors. “Jason doesn’t understand gambling or Las Vegas, but I convinced him to look at it and he also saw that it used a really simple method that produced some great results.” The two reproduced the thesis in an evening and came up with the more complex and realistic nQube solution, using the data modeling optimization Fiege had been working on for years.  

The software draws from a model of behaviour of the people on the floor. “It’s about giving them what they want and optimizing the experience by analyzing their behaviour,” Baran said. This analysis will guide casino management on where to place slot machines for different kinds of gamblers—i.e. those who want to be next to a table and all the action as well as those “wallflowers” who want to be alone and away from the noise and activity of the casino.  

 “We’re taking very large data sets and looking at what’s contributing to performance for individual machines,” said Fiege. The “spatial” aspect of the model is a departure from work others have done, which was more focused on what kind of machines were needed to maximize revenues, to a solution that looks at where to put individual machines on the floor to achieve a better result. 

The principal is again quite simple, according to Baran. “If people are happy, they’re going to stay longer and spend more money.”

Fiege, a scientific computing, data modeling, and optimization expert with over 20 years experience emphasizes that the software is designed to solve big problems. He sees many expanded opportunities for the software going forward and has many irons in the fire for other ways it can be used in science, engineering or medicine.

He is also in the early stage of developing a more strategic optimization solution with a trader with decades of experience in the futures markets. “This speaks to how general the software is and the huge variety of problems it can address, sharing about 95 per cent of the same code base.”

The software is also licensed for many research projects at the University of Manitoba, where Fiege is an associate professor of astrophysics and Baran is a post-doc.

Baran is no stranger to entrepreneurship—but it wasn’t always that way. Her other company, Genuwave Imaging Technologies, won Best Research and Best New Product pitch at Innovate Manitoba’s Pitch’Day 2016 for Embrace, an inexpensive, portable knee joint imaging device for sideline assessment of injured athletes.

She also won the Tech Futures Award and participated in Innovate Manitoba’s, the Lean Startup Workshop held this past December. “That was an invaluable experience. As a researcher you sit in front of your computer and you can get married to that,” she said. “Going out and seeing how people push their products out to market is a skill I’d never learned. This helped a lot with nQube.”

Baran encourages anyone interested in entrepreneurship get involved with Innovate Manitoba. “In the events I’ve participated in, I’ve seen everything from app builders who were just getting started to those who were simply interested in entrepreneurship to others who were already way past all of that and generating revenue.”

“I really learned how the entrepreneurial world works through Innovate Manitoba.”

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