(Note: This story has been corrected to report that John Austin didn’t help Lab rats secure a publisher.)

RALEIGH, N.C. – John Austin will be wearing two hats as the East Coast Game Conference gets underway in the capital city on Wednesday.

One, he’s conference chair of the two-day event that is drawing companies, entrepreneurs, investors and job seekers.

Two, he’s also there as the head “coach” and director of Durham-based Joystick Labs, which is an investor and incubator for new videogame companies.

“It’s the most fun I have ever had in my life,” Austin said, the enthusiasm evident in his voice. “This gives me an opportunity to coach these teams.”

“Lab Rats,” made up of a team of former Wake Tech students, developed a 3-D shooter game and then secured a major publisher for it through the Joystick program. The deal preceded Austin’s arrival, he said. (Read the details here.)

At the recent Game Developers Conference on the West Coast, Austin took several members of startup companies at Joystick to introduce them to the interactive entertainment world’s movers-and-shakers.

Austin certainly has the connections to help entrepreneurs hoping to be the next Epic Games, the videogame powerhouse in Cary that has produced the “Gears of War” empire and the Unreal game engine which is probably the most popular in the global game industry. Overall he has spent 13 years in the Triangle gaming industry, helping it grow into the third such largest cluster of companies in the US.

Austin ran a Chapel Hill-based company that developed the Gamebryo engine. California-based Emergent acquired the company, and Austin struck out on his own shortly thereafter as a consultant.

But he soon found out he wasn’t going to make much money “helping companies that have no money.”

Along came the opportunity to run Joystick, when one of its founders moved on to a new venture.

Joystick accepted applications from numerous game developer wannabes then picked five for a 12-week program of product and business development. Backed by “five or six local angel investors” whom Austin wouldn’t identify, Joystick provides companies with office space at The American Underground in the American Tobacco District complex as well as seed capital. Joystick makes its money when one of the incubated companies, such as Lab Rats, takes a game to market.

The lab is currently reviewing applications for its second class of recruits. No doubt Austin will be interviewing candidates during the two-day show.

If you want to build the next Epic Games, Austin is ready to talk – and perhaps write a check.

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