Two months after opening, Two Bit Circus is already drawing crowds of about 1,000 people on Saturdays and Sundays, according to Brent Bushnell and Eric Gradman, the roboticists and event producers behind the downtown business that combines aspects of a carnival, amusement park, video arcade, virtual reality theater, event space, bar and restaurant.
To date, the company has raised $21.5 million in two rounds from investors that include Intel Corp.’s investment arm, Intel Capital, and Jazz Venture Partners.
Bushnell, who serves as chief executive, and Gradman, the company’s chief technical officer, oversee a staff of about 125 employees, including about 80 people who work in the park, and 20 engineers and fabricators building and maintaining games in the Arts District space.
The two recently took a break from running their urban carnival to speak with the Business Journal about the inspiration for Two Bit Circus and their plan to expand the concept to other cities beginning next year.
Tell me the history of Two Bit Circus. How did it come about?
BUSHNELL: In 2008, we were looking for new ways to play with a bunch of great technology and particularly focused on getting people together in public. It was early days for downtown L.A.’s rebirth, and there was this rave for nerds called Mindshare. We were part of a group of nerds building fun attractions for the public − rooms with laser beams and walls with buttons. Frankly, a lot of the stuff that you see on the floor today, those were early prototypes.
Then we started doing big corporate events. We also transitioned into helping tech companies build attractions for Comic-Con and South by Southwest. We were doing huge events, the Super Bowl and Davos. Then we said, ‘We’ve done all these events for other people. Let’s do our own.’
You host an educational event called STEAM Carnival. How did that come about?
BUSHNELL: We wanted a place to showcase all that stuff we were making – whether we made it for ourselves or for those (other) brands. We wanted to inspire kids about science and engineering. STEAM Carnival really came out of this. We spun that out as a nonprofit, the Two Bit Circus Foundation. We’ve trained 5,000 teachers; 300,000 students. It’s a complete alternative to the science fair. Kids learn all the fundamentals of being an inventor by building games, and then they throw their own carnival.
At what stage did you start to take on investors?
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