Brad Feld

Foundry Funds Nix Hydra, Mobile Game Maker for Girls

Brad Feld (Foundry co-founder) loves women. He has been active with several non-profit organizations and currently is chairman of the National Center for Women & Information Technology. 

NCWIT is actually based right here in beautiful Boulder Colorado. They believe the people who build technology should represent the people who use it.

NCWIT says, "Although women today comprise half the world’s population and more than half of the U.S. professional workforce, they play only a small role in inventing the technology of tomorrow. The lack of girls and women in computing and technology represents a failure to capitalize on the benefits of diverse perspectives: in a world dependent on innovation, it can bring the best and broadest problem-solvers to the table; and at a time when technology drives economic growth, it can yield a larger and more competitive workforce."

Experiential play is how we learn and until now, most games and toys were set up to teach certain principles. Walk down any toy aisle in Target and you'll see pink, dolls and more pink.

That's why DisruptHER Productions, NCWIT, & Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media created the first annual DevelopHer Challenge to design toys and games that engage girls ages 3-12 in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Brad and Foundry Group know that women are the next big win.  And, now they've awarded $5 Mil in funding to two women who know how to create mobile games women (9 million of them so far!) will play. 

Nix Hydra Scores $5M to Make Mobile Games for Girls, Not ‘Tech Dudes’

Nix Hydra Co-founders Lina Chen and Naomi Ladizinsky

Nix Hydra Co-founders Lina Chen and Naomi Ladizinsky

By Lizette Chapman

Striking a rare win in the male-dominated gaming sector, female-focused mobile gaming startup Nix Hydra Inc. has raised $5 million from Foundry Group to expand its hit game “Egg Baby” and launch new ones.

Co-founded in 2012 by former Yale classmates and startup vets Naomi Ladizinsky and Lina Chen, the Los Angeles-based startup is unapologetically focused on creating games by women and for women.

“This [mobile gaming] market is new, but so far we’ve seen a lot of repeats with the same ideas iterated on over and over again,” said Ms. Ladizinsky, referring to so-called runner, quest, battle and other genres. “It’s a tech dude’s perspective.”

To that end, Nix Hydra will use the fresh funding to build new games based on strong characters with complexity and consequences for irresponsibility, similar to “Egg Baby.”
The game launched last year, inspired by a school experiment entrusting students with a raw egg to experience the responsibilities of parenthood. The initial version of the game was rough, but it quickly gained favor among teenage girls and women despite no marketing.

With just one other employee to help, Ms. Ladizinsky and Ms. Chen scrambled to add more content and continue improving the game or risk losing momentum. The two had experience at startups–Ms. Li previously negotiated international mobile deals for streaming music startup Grooveshark Inc. while Ms. Ladizinsky directed, produced and edited digital content for gaming channel Machinima Inc.–but scaling a mobile game was new.

“We didn’t think it was going to be that popular,” said Ms. Chen of the game that has now been downloaded nine million times.
In “Egg Baby,” players each get an egg, which hatches into a unique gift-giving creature based on how the game-players wash, feed, tickle, dress, and otherwise interact with the eggs. Players like to show off the results of their work, with most new users finding the game because a friend shared their creature. If players forget to put their egg to bed or feed it, it dies.

Roughly 85% of players are women and most are under the age of 25, Ms. Chen said.

Raising the round happened fast and came following an introduction by the startup’s angel investors to Foundry Group.

“It was two phone calls and one in person,” said Ms. Chen of the 10-day process. “Foundry Group really got us.”

Nix Hydra expects to hire another 20 people during the next year, and it will use the funding to build a franchise around “Egg Baby” and launch two still-unnamed games.

Foundry Group led the Series A round with participation from Buddy Media co-founder Mike Lazerow and other individuals, at a valuation around $20 million.

Individual investors including Gyft Inc. co-founder Vinny Lingham, Mry Inc. co-founder Matt Britton and Riot Games investor Brad Schwartz previously invested around $600,000.

Write to Lizette Chapman at Follow her on Twitter at@zettewil

NVCA: VCs Talk Accelerator Bubbles, Accelerator Success

Gathering at the National Venture Capital Association’s VentureScape conference this week, venture and corporate investors met with executives leading top startup accelerators in a crowded session to discuss the health of the “startup ecosystem.”

Two main questions on venture investors’ minds: “How do we know if accelerators are succeeding?”  And: “Are we in an accelerator bubble?”

The managing director of Foundry Group and TechStars co-founder Brad Feld said he thinks there is no “accelerator bubble.” In fact, he wants to see an accelerator established in every town with a population of at least 100,000 in the U.S., to foster a healthy, local and national economy.  

He also urged investors to be patient in their judgment of these programs.

The first “true accelerator,” Y Combinator, started in 2005, he noted, and TechStars followed shortly after. By 2008, many more accelerators began cropping up, like DreamIt–one of the first such programs on the East Coast. But it took until 2009 for even the earliest players to enroll a “meaningful number of companies,” Feld observed.

For its part, TechStars measures and publicly reports data including how many companies apply and go through its various programs. After they leave, it notes how many startups remain in business, how much follow-on funding they raise from outside investors, and whether they have exited or shut down. “Funding in and of itself is not a measure of success,” Feld cautioned.


About one in 10 of TechStars companies “bootstraps,” and doesn’t raise funding from outside investors, but still creates jobs and wealth, he said. Early classes from TechStars Boulder have still-active companies delivering 2x and 3x returns to investors, so far.

Springboard Enterprises–which runs accelerators focused on health-care and media ventures led by women–also tries to measure serial entrepreneurship, and alumni networking by its participants.

A director of programming at Springboard Enterprises, Joshua Henderson, explained, “We want to see founders who support a next crop of companies as mentors or angel investors [to them]. We also like to see entrepreneurs go on to start new ventures.”

Rock Health founder Halle Tecco said specialized accelerators should have additional metrics tailored to their missions. Her program, which launched in 2010, focuses on digital-health startups.

“Follow-on funding is a good litmus test for whether startups are scalable and sustainable, true,” Tecco said. “But in digital health, we want to see companies making a positive impact to clinical outcomes. We’re figuring out how to measure that, still. Is it pounds lost, or errors reduced at hospitals? We’re learning everything we can.”

Unlike TechStars and Springboard, Rock Health is run as a nonprofit accelerator, with a for-profit seed fund, which offers $100,000 seed-stage investments to each accepted startup.

A pioneer of the venture capital industry, David T. Morgenthaler, said accelerators help venture capital firms by forcing entrepreneurs to “fail fast,” and truly understand their risks before they even consider raising venture capital.

But Morgenthaler agreed with Feld, generally, that there is no accelerator bubble yet, and that it is probably too early for investors to say how well these organizations perform, both as sources of dealflow for venture capitalists and as early-stage funds that generate real returns for limited partners.

Write to Lora Kolodny at Follow her on Twitter at @lorakolodny