Three weeks ago, gaming app Pokémon Go invaded smartphone screens nationwide, bringing Nintendo's classic '90s creatures to life through augmented reality. While fans continue devoting their days to "catch 'em all," Howard County businesses are utilizing the game as a recruiting tool for prospective employment.
Recognizing the craze throughout their communities, Columbia-based IntelliGenesis and Laurel's Jailbreak Brewery joined forces July 27 by declaring a Pokémon Go Battle Royale inside the brewery's taproom, allowing players to compete with others and converse with IntelliGenesis recruiters.
"We started the Pokémon event not only as a recruiting event, but also to help get our brand out there as we are growing," said IntelliGenesis business manager Mary Anne Harasim. "We primarily focus on government contracting, specifically at Fort Meade, [and] we provide intelligence analysis, artificial intelligence and software engineering."
IntelliGenesis president and CEO Angie Lienert said she started the woman- and veteran-owned business in 2007 after serving in the Air Force as an Arabic linguist for NSA. With just under 100 employees, the business has begun to expand, searching for security-cleared software developers, software engineers, intelligence analysts and a variety of linguists.
By tag-teaming an event with Jailbreak, Lienert said incorporating Pokémon Go was a win-win scenario to bring customers in and spread the word of both businesses.
"It's definitely fun, exciting and high-tech, so it fits right into our world," Lienert said. "We, as a company, try to associate ourselves with the different types of activities and organizations that bear the type of culture that we have. For us, it was a no-brainer."
Watching "Poké-fever" spread among her coworkers, Harasim said Pokémon Go was the perfect way to catch the community's attention while they play the game.
Beginning at 3 p.m., players gradually trickled into the brewery's taproom, the light from their Android and iPhone screens bouncing off their faces. Using GPS, Pokémon Go allows "trainers" to search for and find the critters whose availability depends on time and location.
Pokémon surrounding the brewery included Caterpies, Weedles, Parases and Pinsirs.
"Pokéstops" are also displayed throughout the game, where players can collect the classic white and red Pokéballs to capture the characters, as well as healing potions, incense and lure modules.
At a certain level, players will also select one of three teams – Team Valor, Team Mystic or Team Instinct – as they travel to certain landmarks referred to as "gyms" to battle other players.
The Tabernacle of David Worship Center, next door to the brewery, serves as a Pokéstop while Jailbreak represents a gym.
"Whichever team is in control of the Pokémon gym will get $4 deals on beer," Harasim said. "If [players] come and talk to IntelliGenesis at our table, we'll be giving away tickets for free beer."
Jailbreak was also in on the action, said event coordinator Gina Mattera, giving away gift cards to the team in control of the gym at precisely 8:01 p.m.
"I think any entrepreneur should constantly be reinventing themselves and staying up on the times to up the business," Mattera said. "I think it varies from business to business, obviously, but for us, we've done events like 'May the Fourth Be With You' with the new Star Wars movie release and had a huge blowout that day. It's keeping up with the current trends."
Given the brewery's proximity to NSA, Mattera said the IntelliGenesis/Pokémon tech-themed event was an easy transition for business. As a "gym," she said brewery employees have also seen people outside the building when the business is closed, battling to become the champion.
"It's proven for us that it brings in more business," Mattera said.
Sipping a glass of ice-cold beer, Columbia residents Trev and Neshea Horsey said the business owners were smart for capitalizing on the Pokémon Go trend. While Trev said he doesn't usually flock to the nearest Pokémon's location, the IntelliGenesis and brewery event was an added bonus and motivator.
"I was like, 'Pokémon and beer? You can't lose,'" Trev Horsey said. "The Pokémon brand has been around for at least 15 years now, so a lot of those kids who played it then are adults now. You can use that as a marketing tool to pull them in and interact with the game, while also interacting with your brand."
Attendees weren't the only ones entering their Pokémon into the ring. Sitting at a high-top table, IntelliGenesis program manager Jeremiah Jensen, 40, rapidly tapped and swiped his phone screen to attack and dodge his opponent's Pokémon, called Dragonite, with his own Vaporeon.
Jensen said his 14-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter, who both grew up collecting Pokémon trading cards and playing the video games, brought the game to his attention following its release on July 6. Shortly after, he was hooked.
Jensen said the game has become widely popular within the intelligence field due to its augmented reality capabilities. Using Pokémon Go, he said, IntelliGenesis can then draw in potential hires using a casual, less-structured approached, leaving business suits and resumes behind.
"[Candidates] come down here, they're playing and it gives us that common ground that you can talk about," he said. "Putting Pokémon inside Jailbreak, you have the bar scene and the game going on, so I think it's going to bring in a lot of different candidates that we may not have exposed to our company."
Jensen said he talked with other businesses prior to the event, including Jailbreak and Columbia's Red Robin, to discuss how they were using the game for gain.
During the month of July, Red Robin general manager Judy Yoo said the restaurant has offered $3 discounts to those spending at least $10 after guests show their Pokédex – a list of their collected Pokémon – to their server.
The promotion is scheduled to end July 31.
"We're going to continue to do some promotions on social media sites as well," Yoo said. "I think it's really smart to drive traffic, getting people out and bringing people in. Why not? I think people have definitely come in for it [and] we do see a bunch of people on their phones in here."
"I think for business there's going to be a lot of opportunity," Jensen added. "It opens up some potential leads for the future."
After a Pokémon battle- and beer-filled night of success, Lienert said IntelliGenesis will continue experimenting with new recruiting techniques in the future, always saving room for Pokémon Go.
"It was really just a fun event to show that we like to have a good time, we want to have fun and we want to capitalize on it just like a lot of the other companies," Lienert said. "It just gives a little bit more of a reflection of what our corporate culture is."