Art provided by Seraph 7 Studios
gBETA participant Jules Porter ’18 JD/MBA is on a mission.
Ms. Billie Mahalia Rudolph can run on water, hear ultrasonic sounds and move at supersonic speeds. The 77-year-old African American with an aeronautics degree is one of several senior citizen video game characters created by the University of St. Thomas alumna Jules Porter.
Porter, who in 2018 received a joint JD/MBA, plans to officially launch Ultimate Elder Battle Royale on Juneteenth 2022. The role-playing game moved into beta testing during Black History Month. Imagine: aging superheroes living in nursing homes who still have prime skills and a continued desire to save the world from villains. They have secret weapons hidden in their walkers and they stay fit by engaging in underground fight clubs. Most importantly, the majority of these heroic characters are people of color.
“It’s rare to find positive Black characters in video games – many of them are gangsters, mobsters, drug dealers and prostitutes, and that’s not representative of who we are,” said creator and founder Porter, who is a licensed attorney with multiple college degrees .
Porter is on a mission to change the face of the estimated $175 billion video game industry, both on the screens and behind the scenes. Through her Minneapolis-based start-up Seraph 7 Studios, the entrepreneur is accomplishing far more than debuting video games with an array of characters who reflect the world’s racial diversity and aging population.
The longtime video gamer and coder is also empowering Black, Indigenous and Latinx youth to build generational wealth by becoming software developers and animators.
“So many of our kids – like 80% of Black youth – are playing video games and only 3% of characters look like us,” said Porter, whose business is cited as being the first Black female-owned video game company in the world to make console games for Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo. “Part of the problem is, we have so few BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] developers in the gaming space,” she said.
This Minnesota native, who simultaneously earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics from a Florida university while serving in the Marine Corps, has a hands-on solution to increase the pipeline for diverse tech talent. During the 2022-23 school year, her business will launch a three-year applied work-study program for St. Paul high school students from underestimated communities. Additionally in the fall, Seraph 7 Studios will roll out a paid one-year apprenticeship for young adults.
“I really want to see a world where all kids can see themselves as heroes,” Porter said.
She’s funding the after-school program, in part, from the $200,000 she received from the MEDA Million Dollar Challenge, a nationwide pitch competition geared toward women and BIPOC entrepreneurs. Guided by two co-directors, a social worker and five teachers, the diverse participants will learn script writing, storyboarding, 3D modeling, animation, architecture, as well as the programming languages C++ and Python.
“We’re going to make sure we have healthy snacks for the students, build up their confidence, and kind of take care of the whole student,” said Porter, who faced a race-based struggles when she was a
Porter credits Thomas for her company’s upward trajectory. She developed her first business plan for Seraph 7 Studios in 2017 with the encouragement she received from faculty and classmates during her final year as a graduate student at the university. She entered the video game idea in the social venture category of the ninth annual Fowler Business Concept Challenge hosted by St. Thomas’ Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. She said that the $16,000 scholarship she won for landing first place, along with another $10,000 she received through the St. Thomas Business Plan Competition, “have been essential” in getting her company off the ground.
st. Thomas again had her back in summer 2021. That’s when a top start-up accelerator called gener8tor, in partnership with the Schulze School, selected Porter’s company for its gBETA St. Thomas. This free, seven-week accelerator program mentors start-ups founded by University of St. Thomas students and alumni.
The advice she has received from her mentors, she said, has been invaluable. Well, in some ways she could put a price tag on it. She originally valued her business at $2 million when she applied to be on the hit TV show “Shark Tank.”
“I am happy that I didn’t make it on the show then because at that point I undervalued my business,” she said. Her mentors and angel investors showed her how she could dream bigger, beyond video game products to a multifaceted business model.
I really want to see a world where all kids can see themselves as heroes.
JULES PORTER ’18 JD/MBA
“I have investors now valuing my company at $50 million. That’s the true value when you consider the possibilities beyond video games: an animated series, comic books, movies,” she said.
Access to capital is one of the main challenges facing BIPOC entrepreneurs. And when it comes to Black women, they receive less than 1% of the funding doled out by venture capitalists, according to 2021 Crunchbase and ProjectDiane data cited by Forbes and Fortune magazines.
All in all, Seraph 7 Studios, a Minnesota public benefit corporation, has raised nearly $500,000 in funding. Porter’s St. Thomas connections helped prepare her for other “wins.” She received $10,000 when she was named the top innovator woman of technology and $25,000 for being a top veteran-led company. She gained another $25,000 through the American Express “100 for 100” program in partnership with iFundWomen of Color and crowdraised nearly another $30,000. She was honored as a MN Cup semifinalist and received a Finnovation Fellowship from the Bush Foundation and Finnegans Brewery & Taproom. Also, she landed the February/March 2021 cover of Twin Cities Business magazine for being named one of “20 Minnesotans Designing the Future of Innovation.”
Porter has goals to be more than a one-hit wonder. Ultimate Elder Battle Royale is only one of several game series she is developing. Porter plans to release a different game at least every two years. She has five others already in the works, including: War in Heaven, a game in which players fight angels who rebel against God; and Harriet, a virtual reality horror survival game that puts players in the shoes of American heroine Harriet Tubman to decide whom they will trust, whom they will save, and how they will escape.