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Harrisburg firm combines pun-filled creativity with business branding

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Brain Vessel LLC's Douglas Koozer, left, and Jason Kreiger in their Harrisburg office. Photo/Stuart Leask
Brain Vessel LLC's Douglas Koozer, left, and Jason Kreiger in their Harrisburg office. Photo/Stuart Leask

A quick Bing search of the term “pea-brains” returns several links to unflattering definitions.

It also leads to an image of an eyeglass-wearing animated pea character who looks the part of a scientist.

That character — Pea Brain — is part of the pun-filled Gotta Pea? universe, a children's game property created by Cumberland County artist Douglas Koozer.

Koozer, who has parlayed his original artwork into an expanding mobile and social entertainment brand that subtly educates on upcycling ingenuity, has taken his talents a step further with the January launch of Brain Vessel LLC.

Together with business partner Jason Kreiger, the Harrisburg-based firm's animator and illustrator, Koozer has set his sights on helping midstate businesses navigate the turbulent waters of branding.

"We're looking for anyone not afraid to try something different," Koozer said.

The two-man firm recently helped McGrath's Pub in Harrisburg launch a fresh look, which included a new logo and website, menu boards and other signage, as well as custom tap-handle chandeliers.

"We could do a lot of cool brand-building for restaurants," said Koozer, who is also targeting other service-type businesses. "We're creative but business-oriented."

Brain Vessel has worked on an electronic judging app and done website and branding for a Cumberland County salon.

Different model

Brain Vessel thinks outside the box (or bottle), said Koozer, who sent company-themed beer bottles with internal scrolls of the firm's services to prospective clients.

"You get ideas (from us). Give us a budget and we'll tell you what we can do. And we'll go above and beyond," he said.

Koozer and Kreiger have taken that same approach to their intellectual property, or IP, projects. The team has a board game in development, along with other mobile apps and a Gotta Pea? storyboard for an animated short.

The latter could open the door for an animated television show, Koozer said, hoping to some day pitch to Nickelodeon or Discovery Kids.

The growing popularity of the digital side of the IP has already led to plush toys in the United Kingdom. Gotta Pea? T-shirts and greeting cards also are available.

The goal is to build that mobile audience in the U.S.

"Sometimes a property will take off in a foreign territory and then it will be exported here," said Mark Freedman, president of New York-based entertainment development company Surge Licensing, who launched the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles brand and is Koozer's licensing agent.

For a brand to be successful today, optimizing the search is critical, Freedman said.

"A lot of it is organic, too," he said. "I look at the characters and the richness of the IP. Are the games fun, infectious? Is there character development?"

Freedman said Koozer's junkyard-themed world that proves how one man's trash is another pea's treasure really has an ability to resonate with an audience. Plus, he's genuinely likable and very passionate about his work.

"That's a good barometer of where he's going," he said.

It's likely the creativity of the developing gaming brand and new path of business branding will feed off each other, Freedman said: "It's a good allied business. It gets (Koozer) to understand the marketing needs of his clients."

The duo also has learned quite a bit about business from andCulture Inc. The Harrisburg-based interactive marketing and communications studio currently houses Brain Vessel. It also is a minority investor in Gotta Pea?

"It has raised our standards," Koozer said. "They gave us an opportunity we would not have gotten at an early stage."

David Hickethier, founder and CEO at andCulture, which has grown to about 40 employees, said seeing a technology startup like Brain Vessel venture out on its own is exciting for Central Pennsylvania.

"It's hard for me not to think of the region," he said. "We really in every way possible would like to see more and more companies get started and stay here. We are committed to this areas. We want to see Lancaster, York, Harrisburg, as much as we can, collate and bring together creative and technical talent."

This is not a unique scenario for andCulture. In the past, a few of its partners have taken their talents and creations beyond its walls, including music app OnSong.

"Doug is a unique individual. We wanted to give him a place to plant his feet," Hickethier said of Koozer, who has been andCulture's artist-in-residence for about four years. "The more we can support and grow other firms with branding and storytelling (ability), digital and animation work, it helps create critical mass."

Pea projects

To further propel the Gotta Pea? brand, Brain Vessel LLC's Douglas Koozer and Jason Kreiger have turned to Kickstarter, a popular crowd funding site that relies on large groups of people investing smaller amounts of money, as opposed to traditional investments relying on small groups of people with large sums of money.

With an anticipated 2014 launch of new products, including a board game, Brain Vessel is planning to appeal again to donors through Kickstarter, Koozer said.

They are hoping to raise about $15,000 for the board game.

"We're trying to find a U.S. company to manufacture the game," he said.

From pizza delivery to peas

Kreiger, a graduate of Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School, studied animation at Savannah College of Art and Design.

After college, he found it hard to find a job pursuing his passion. He moved to Pittsburgh, where he literally lived in a friend's closet and worked as a pizza delivery boy.

At the end of 2007, he met Koozer at a hometown art show.

"He was looking for an animator to do Pea stuff," Kreiger said, referring to the Gotta Pea? brand.

The meeting led to constant development of the intellectual property, which launched an iTunes App Store game called Peakour, a parkour puzzle game that incorporates the IP. The collaboration sparked a new business venture, Brain Vessel LLC, an IP and creative brand development firm started in January.

"It's more than I could be doing at a studio," Kreiger said of this business, which has given him creative license. "It's all pretty exciting."

Brain growth

With several digital projects in the works, including character design and development of game assets for a large retail chain, Brain Vessel is in the process of moving to a bigger creative suite above the Igneous Rock Gallery on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township.

The firm would not disclose the large client due to a confidentiality agreement.

Brain Vessel expects to move in on July 1.

"It's just time to move on," Koozer said.

Brain Vessel and andCulture plan to continue working on projects together, both companies said.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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