Games guru is in ‘stealth mode’ on new project

9 Oct 2008

Dr Steve Collins, co-founder of Havok, a leading global provider of interactive software and services for digital media creators in the games and movie industries, launched the 11th NovaUCD ‘Entrepreneurs Live!’ seminar series at University College Dublin (UCD) this afternoon.

Organised by NovaUCD in association with the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Enterprise Board, the seminars aim to promote a spirit of entrepreneurship among the academic, research and student population at UCD.

Collins kicked off the series with a personal perspective on his entrepreneurial journey at Havok, and shared the know-how he learnt in jointly setting up and running the globally successful software business.

Building a campus company that went on to enjoy global success, culminating in its acquisition by Intel in September 2007 for US$110m, was, Collins admits, an achievement of which he was “immensely proud’.

Though Collins left Havok in 2005, he felt the Intel takeover was good for the industry, in that best-of-breed technologies were being embraced. “It shows what the future of games can be. Intel is not a blocker. It will complete the adaptiveness of this technology worldwide.”

Today, in addition to being an adjunct lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, Collins is co-founder and CTO of New Game Technologies, a new venture he set up with former Havok co-founder, Hugh Reynolds. However, he was reluctant to disclose any detail about this new company, other than that it was “in stealth mode”.

Keeping the room captivated with his frank advice, Collins admitted that he approached the Havok project with a commercial perspective in mind, and not just as an academic end. “I did it with a view to creating a company and used the university as an incubator.” Enterprise Ireland’s CORD scheme, the services of Dublin Business Innovation Centre in Dame Street and three MSc students helped Collins and Reynolds get the idea off the ground.

His key stream of advice to wannabe entrepreneurs at the seminar was to be passionate about your business venture and build the best team possible. “If you are not excited by your idea, how are you going to excite others? Your team is the engine of the company. You’re not selling technology, you’re selling a vision. It’s all about interpersonal relationships. Everything else is mechanics.

“Next thing is to get close to your customers as fast as you can. They will tell you what they want. Make sure you understand your investors. They are motivated by the same thing as you – to make money.

“Finally, commit to your decisions – stick to your budget – but be open enough to embrace change. However, only change when you are sure it’s the right thing to do, and then stick to it.”

Other useful pointers he offered were to get a licensing agreement organised early and to realise that a university has limited means, thereby highlighting the importance of being ready to chase external funding.

At the time of Collins’ and Reynolds’ departure from Havok in 2005, the company had 75 employees, acquired two companies and had offices in Dublin, Munich, San Francisco, Calcutta and Tokyo. Halo 3, for which Havok developed the physics engine that makes for more realistic bodies to maim and kill, generated US$170m in first-day sales, with 1.7 million pre-orders on its books.

The five other guest speakers in the current ‘Entrepreneurs Live!’ series are: Sean Mitchell, CEO, Movidia (15 October); Sean Fee, CEO and co-founder, (22 October); Bernard Hensey, CEO and founder Phive Plasma Technologies (29 October); Michael Cullen, CEO and co-founder, Beacon Medical Group (5 November); and Declan Kearney, CEO and founder, (12 November).

The seminars will take place in NovaUCD, Belfield, each Wednesday lunchtime and attendance is open to all.

By Linda Gillett

Pictured: innovation and technology transfer centre, NovaUCD