You might expect someone with the name Mariano Di Murro to hail from Italy. And Di Murro, with his dark hair, looks like he fits the part.
But then he starts speaking in a charming Irish brogue.
The product of an Italian father and an Irish mother, Di Murro came to Covington from Dublin, which he pronounces "Doo-blin."
His business partner, Zafer Balbous, speaks with a very different, Eastern European accent. His Syrian father and Polish mother met in Ukraine.
He met Di Murro when they were at Griffith College in Dublin for a weekend hackathon to create a video game, which their team won. In that sleep-deprived environment, they found that they worked well together.
They're in Covington now, putting their business, Social Arcade, through UpTech, a business accelerator, Di Murro said, because Ireland's an expensive place to live and doesn't have enough customers to scale the business.
What does Social Arcade do?
Social Arcade is an online platform designed to make it easy for users to launch branded apps, games and quizzes for digital-marketing campaigns. At its website, Di Murro and Balbous have collected ready-made games and quizzes that marketers only need to add their logos to.
"It's at the stage now that if you can change your Facebook profile picture, you can change the graphic in one of our games," Di Murro said.
They think it's a great way for companies to drive engagement with their customers, he said, because it makes them feel less like they're being marketed to.
(For more about the app, click here.)
Nancy Koors, an angel investor and a mentor of Social Arcade through UpTech, said creating interactive content is a great way to engage prospects and customers.
"The challenge with creating interactive content is often time and money," Koors said. "Most businesses can't afford to create games for a promotion, or to gain awareness."
There are some 700 million people playing online games, said Marvin Abrinica, founder of Thrivera Brand Group and another UpTech advisor to Social Arcade.
"It just makes sense for brands to want to create an experience there, too," Abrinica said.
How'd the company get started?
In Ireland, software developers Di Murro and Balbous were doing this kind of work for marketing companies when, in 2015, they saw a need for companies in a hurry, and companies with low budgets, to create branded games quickly and cheaply.
With 50,000 euros from an Irish government program for startups, they created a beta version of Social Arcade. They did some paid pilot projects, such as one from Netflix to promote "Orange is the New Black" in Ireland.
After concluding that Ireland wasn't the place for Social Arcade, they looked at several U.S. locations for growing the business.
"We came over hoping the roads would be paved with gold, as they say," Di Murro said.
They turned down offers from other accelerators, including one in Hawaii. It would have been three months in paradise, Di Murro said, but the high cost of living would have prevented them from staying there.
As a location for their business, the Tri-State region seemed to offer the best combination of low-cost living and having plenty of marketing companies.
"It seems to be a sweet spot, where it has enough customers, and it's not too expensive to live," Balbous said.
After completing UpTech in February, their plan is to raise $700,000 to $1 million so they can fully launch the business this summer. So far, UpTech has invested $55,000, and Balbous and Di Murro have invested about $25,000 of their own funds.
How will they make money?
After the business fully launches, they plan to charge customers a subscription fee. They eventually want to automate most features, Di Murro said, so that customers simply log on to the website, brand their game or quiz, and pay a fee.
"They have to be able to make this super-easy to do -- as easy as Facebook or the iPhone," Koors said. "Usability is key, as is the affordability."