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June 18, 2013 | Tom Ballard

“Big Idea” Finalist: Chin pursuing video games as an educational tool

Big Idea Finalist(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series profiling the finalists for this Thursday’s “final knockout” in the “What’s the Big Idea?” competition.)

We first met Charles Chin more than a year ago when he was presenting at the “Spring Vol Court” competition hosted by the Anderson Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus.

Fast forward 13 months, and Chin has maintained his focus on the use of video games to enhance education, albeit with a broader focus. The company is now named Neural Energy Games, and it is one of the three finalists for the 2013 “What’s the Big Idea?” start-up competition.

The final “knockout” judging starts at 5 p.m. Thursday (June 20) at Relix Variety Theater, 1208 North Central. The general public is invited to attend, but pre-registration is requested at

We asked Chin how his thinking has evolved since the “Vol Court” competition.

“As I took my idea to other competitions and people in the industry, it became clear to me that focusing just on the energy sector was simply not a large enough market to be feasible,” he said. “Though I still believe it’s an important topic, I found I needed to find a larger niche to make a foothold before I can go back. That’s where the idea of tackling intro level science classes in college came from, since it’s a much more marketable and understandable demographic when we pitch the idea to people.”

Chin is one of the inaugural students in the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education. We wondered how challenging it is to pursue his education while simultaneously maintaining the momentum of Neural Energy Games.

“It’s not easy, by any means,” he said. “My focus at this point is and must be continuing my research towards my Ph.D., but I spend most of my free time working on these video games.”

Chin added that he’s receives considerable help from friends and family, especially a team that has devoted its spare time to working with him.

“Distributing the load among people I trust has been a big deal,” he said.

Chin applauded the new format for this year’s “What’s the Big Idea?” including the one-on-one mentoring.

“I like the new format, even though it may seem overly complicated from an outside eye,” he said. “The change that I liked and what I believe benefitted me during the early rounds is a larger emphasis on pitching over written documents. A visual and creative business like mine benefits from an oral presentation.”

After the quarter finals resulted in nine companies vying for the three final slots, the organizers teamed each of the nine with a mentor. Chin’s was John Tolsma, owner of Knowledge Launch. Chin characterized their one-on-one time as invaluable.

“Seminars that talk in broad strokes to catch all business types can only take you so far,” he explained. “The help of a mentor is what has gotten me much farther in my endeavors. John has shown a great deal of enthusiasm, and it’s given me a lot of confidence it my business ideas.”

If Neural Energy Games wins Thursday night’s finals, Chin says he will use the prize money to advance the company’s schedule including prototype development.

“We would also be able to get some equipment together, so that we will be able to adequately beta test our games on multiple different platforms,” he added.

“What’s the Big Idea?” was organized by The Development Corporation of Knox County, Knoxville Chamber and Tech 20/20. The overall sponsor is Rodefer Moss & Company.