SPEEDRUN began with a simple question: how can we support the best gaming founders at the earliest stages of their journey? Our answer was to craft a bespoke accelerator for the gaming industry. We invested in all 32 companies from our first cohort and more than 80% received additional funding after Demo Day in June.
Given that success, we couldn’t be more excited to announce SPEEDRUN 2024 – and the commitment to invest up to $75M in the most promising pre-seed startups at the intersection of Games x Tech.
We’ll combine this capital with coaching by some of the games industry’s most seasoned talent, community development across the cohort and the industry, and content tailored toward early stage startups. Each SPEEDRUN program culminates with a Demo Day for the best early stage investors in the industry to meet some of the best entrepreneurs across Games x Tech. Applications for the first cohort of SPEEDRUN 2024 are OPEN NOW through 9/30!
Below is a recap of our first version of SPEEDRUN, an overview of participating companies, and highlights from demo day. We’re actively working to integrate all of our learnings to create an even better program in 2024.
It’s hard to start something new in games. It can be difficult for great engineers to innovate within behemoth companies; the early venture ecosystem for entertainment startups is still nascent and many games are beholden to challenges in production, publishing, and plain old luck. The knowledge shared at events like the Game Developers Conference (GDC) tends to be geared towards employees of larger companies, leaving a unique set of knowledge untapped for founders of gaming startups.
However, a significant amount of high impact products and companies have, in fact, come from first-time founders, the diamonds in the rough. Success stories like Notch’s Minecraft, Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck’s Riot Games, and David Helgason’s Unity (one of the biggest gaming engines born out of a failed game) show us how fresh perspectives can transform the industry landscape.
After we initially announced SPEEDRUN, we received an overwhelming response, with over 1,600 applications from across the world. After conducting 200 interviews, we ultimately selected an exceptional group of 32 companies who were admitted to the SPEEDRUN program.
These companies were incredibly inspiring and diverse, in technology, idea, and the type of support they needed. We had startups with founders who had been working on their idea as a side project for a long time along with groups of founders who hadn’t even incorporated their company yet. And so our goal by investing in them was to empower SPEEDRUNNERS to incorporate their companies, secure immediate funding, and open the path for them to whole-heartedly pursue their passions and innovations. To our knowledge, this is the first example in the games industry of a pre-seed accelerator program that closes the gap between stage zero and early stage startups. SPEEDRUN is an example of the commitment A16Z GAMES is making to empower startups to build the future of the gaming industry.
Our Demo Day showcased a diverse group of companies, including game development studios (57%), platform developers (32%), and tool creators (36%). These companies were founded by trailblazers not only in the gaming industry but also in fields as diverse as EdTech, BioHealth, Mental Health, Web3, and AI.
While 55% of the SPEEDRUN class worked from San Francisco, the group had representation from many locations across the United States, including Austin, Seattle, and Los Angeles. We also had founders from global game industry powerhouses like the UK and Finland, as well as from innovative tech hubs in Portugal, Norway, India, and Ukraine. We believe this broad representation enhances SPEEDRUN’s ability to impact the worldwide games business and player community.
The SPEEDRUN alumni roster includes founders from esteemed companies such as Zynga, Sega, Bungie, Nintendo, Rovio, Blizzard Games, Epic Games, and Supercell as well as serial entrepreneurs from renowned organizations like YC, Human Interest, Glu, Knock Knock, and JCSoft. Further highlighting the diverse expertise participating, the program included founders from influential technology infrastructure companies such as Worldcoin, Deepmind, Unity, Discord, AppNexus, Roblox, Apple, and Xbox.
None of our accomplishments would have been possible without the support from our network of founders who generously shared their time to deliver excellent talks to our SPEEDRUN class. These talks covered a range of topics, from go-to-market strategies to discussions on how to build world-class companies.
The program culminated with Demo Day, where we welcomed 260+ guests from the gaming and tech investment circles. Notable figures, including the CEO of Krafton, a co-founder of Twitch, and a board member of Epic, were in attendance, underlining the value and potential that SPEEDRUN could bring to the gaming ecosystem.
Following Demo Day, as part of LA Tech Week, we hosted an unforgettable industry unifying event, A16Z GAMES x 100 Thieves: City of Games. This event drew a crowd of over 700 VIP guests and celebrated the evolution of video games within our culture. Surrounded by creators and professionals from the industry, the founders witnessed their place in history while seeing the preceding generations of play. As a special treat, we provided the SPEEDRUN founders with their own dedicated SPEEDRUN lounge, offering a haven for high-quality discussions. The event concluded with electrifying performances by artists Zedd and Noah J.
We are incredibly grateful to the founders for allowing us to join their journey. It was a pleasure to work alongside them, and we extend our heartfelt congratulations to them on being the first cohort of SPEEDRUNNERS.
Ultimately, SPEEDRUN is not just about showcases during a demo day; it’s about changing the way we think about games, technology, and the types of founders who create them. Games are rapidly becoming the greatest drivers of entertainment, the nexus for social media, and cultural landmarks. We believe that innovation and entrepreneurship should be at the heart of this wave.
Startups foster more innovation, reduce development timelines, and most importantly, unleash the talent locked within incumbent game companies or outside of the traditional gaming industry. Through a deliberate blend of education, mentorship, community, and investment, we firmly believe that SPEEDRUN will help propel talented studios, platform developers, and tool creators to trail-blaze the future of the gaming industry and interactive media at large.
Even if you’re not planning to apply for SPEEDRUN, please refer a friend! If your friend makes it into SPEEDRUN, you’ll receive a custom limited edition a16z Games mechanical keyboard.
Joshua Lu is a partner at Andreessen Horowitz on the A16Z GAMES investing team, focused on game studios and the intersection between games and social applications.
Robin Guo is an investing partner with A16Z GAMES focusing in web2 and web3 studios, games adtech, AI applications for games, and the intersection of healthcare and games.