Picton-based digital firm Yugen receives $213,000 toward development of interactive storytelling app

Interactive storyteller - Yugen chief executive officer Ram Puvanesasingham explains how the Gepeto app will provide active learning for children after receiving $213,000 in provincial funding in Wellington Monday afternoon. (Adam Bramburger/Gazette staff)

Leal visits to dole out provincial allocation Monday in Wellington



A $213,000 grant through Ontario’s Interactive Digital Media Fund (IDMF) will help a Picton-based technology company recruit some leading creative talent to work on its products.

Monday afternoon, the province’s agriculture, food, and rural affairs minister Jeff Leal was at the Drake Devonshire Inn to hand over the funding to Yugen Inc. The company among 136 that will share in over $9 million invested through the Ontario Media Development Corporation for 2017-2018.

Leal said interactive digital technology has become a leading sector in an Ontario economy that is changing and it is bringing talent to every corner of this province.

“Technology is changing the way we express ourselves, the way we work, the way we move and even the way we relate to each other each and every day,” he said. “Interactive digital media content is more and more a fundamental part of how we connect, learn, and play.”

To illustrate that point, the Peterborough MPP related a story he shares at high school graduations about how different generations might define the word “Amazon.”

Leal, who is also the minister responsible for small business, said that when the IDMF was created in 2005 the interactive digital media sector was a smaller one. Now, it supports 20,000 jobs and is estimated to be worth $2.7 billion of the province’s gross domestic product.

“We’re making great strides in a growth industry, but there’s more to be done as we continue to shift from a manufacturing and resource-based economy to one that’s powered on knowledge and innovation.”

Prince Edward County was one rural area that saw that vision and started positioning itself as a technology cluster. Yugen Inc. founder and chief executive officer Ram Puvanesasingham said he had been interested in working in the county for a number of years. With funding from the federal government, he said he and his partners were able to realize a dream to work remotely outside of the city.

“It became a really nice option to do something outside of Toronto,” he said, adding he worked in the county full time last year from May-November and has a business partner working here full time.
Puvanesasingham said a number of years ago he was working for a digital media company and that’s where the genesis of Yugen began.

“We did a project in kids’ storytelling and interactive storytelling. I saw a unique space emerging where we can use different technology to help kids participate in stories rather than being pure consumers,” he said. “They’re obviously attracted to their iPads and tablets, but a lot of that time is spent consumptively. We thought there were some good ways we could help them be more creative with that technology.”

The company is the pre-launch phase for a storytelling app aimed at children, called Gepeto, which uses advanced augmentative technology. Essentially, Puvanesasingham said, that means using physical puppets to help children direct their own adventures in their digital world. Essentially, through hands-on involvement, they believe creativity and critical thinking can be encouraged. It is hoped a product launch will come this fall.

Puvanesasingham indicated the funding will help to attract top talent for the project.

“Specifically, the OMCD funding will help with some great Ontario talent we wouldn’t have been able to tap into — authors, illustrators, animators, and game designers who are helping to bring our first major product to life.”

Mayor Robert Quaiff said he was excited to learn more about Yugen Monday. .

“It’s incredible, as far as I’m concerned, to see that kind of talent right here in Prince Edward County and to see three brand-new individuals come here and create some employment here for us in a brand-new field that we actually until today knew very little about,” he said. “It’s an exciting opportunity for us and I can just see the benefits of this going beyond and beyond.”