April 22, 2024


education gives you strength

Skillsgapp combines video games with job training to spur rural economic development

As a mother, Tina Zwolinski doesn’t need to look at the statistics to know just how ubiquitous video games are in the lives of today’s younger generations. She need only look to her kids for that information.

But as the co-founder of the startup Skillsgapp, which uses video games to promote skills-based training, it helps to have the statistics on hand.

“A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that there are currently 2.7 billion gamers in the world right now,” Zwolinski said. “And 48% of those gamers are playing on mobile.”

No matter where you go in the world — the jungles of South America, the wetlands of mainland China, the tundras of Siberia or the most rural pockets of the United States — people have access to mobile phone technology, Zwolinski said.

“That’s why we started Skillsgapp,” she said. “We want to put skills-based gaming in the hands of middle schoolers and high schoolers that is adding value to their future, especially those in rural America.”

Zwolinski, who currently serves as CEO of the South Carolina-based branding and marketing firm ZWO, founded Skillsgapp alongside Cynthia Jenkins, who also serves as CCO and partner of ZWO.

With decades of experience in economic development, Zwolinski said she felt traditional methods of targeting underserved students were ignoring the younger generation’s mobile fluency. Skillsgapp aims to meet that need by offering training in coding, robotics, big data analytics and other industry-specific credentials through mobile apps that are “gamified”  — in other words, made to be as compelling and entertaining as possible.

“This generation was born with a phone in their hand,” she said. “While our country does not have a people shortage, we do have a skills-based talent shortage.”

With apps geared especially for rural outreach, Zwolinski aims to use broad data tracking to better develop and promote the growing workforces of different regions so that they can see progress on economic development — namely, to get big manufacturers interested in overlooked areas.

“If BMW didn’t come to Greenville years ago, so many people probably wouldn’t be living here now,” she said. “We can customize these apps for specific areas and demographics to provide not just the skill sets but also the insight for companies.”

But of course, none of this will work if the apps offered by Skillsgapp aren’t compelling and rewarding enough to attract the attention of the younger generations.

To that, Zwolinski agrees.

“The reason we’ve spent so many years working with our heads down on this is because we knew we can’t start out as our own little gaming company that has the most boring game of all time,” she said, adding that the company is in talks about partnering with a “big name in the gaming sector” to create original content.

“We’re working through the details, and while I can’t say anything specific yet, we’ll have an announcement very soon,” she said.


Number of employees: 4

Startup costs: Under $100,000

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