Owners Expand Their “Escape Room Entertainment”

By Jacob deNobel Carroll County Times, Westminster, Md.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Escape rooms are growing in popularity. So what is an escape room? It's a facility that features multiple themed rooms, where groups of people are locked in for an hour. The challenge is to find clues and solve a series of puzzles to make your way out before time is up!....and yes, people pay to be trapped!

Carroll County Times, Westminster, Md.

Would you pay to be locked in a room with your co-workers for 60 minutes? Kristen Ellis and Lisa Yzaguirre are hoping the answer is yes, as they work to bring escape room entertainment to Carroll County.

As co-owners of Enter Exit Escape, Ellis and Yzaguirre have entered the Carroll Biz Challenge, looking for a leg up on the start of their business.

The fifth annual Carroll Biz Challenge showcases Carroll County entrepreneurs during a show similar to "Shark Tank" for local startups on Thursday, Aug. 11, at the Carroll Arts Center, according to Carroll County Chamber of Commerce President Mike McMullin. The Chamber coordinates and presents the Biz Challenge. The winner will receive a $5,000 grand prize to apply to his or her business costs. One finalist will win the $500 People's Choice Award, and one of the original 26 applicants will be awarded the $2,000 Downtown Award."

An escape room business features multiple themed rooms, where groups of people are locked in for an hour. The challenge is to find clues and solve a series of puzzles to make your way out of the room before the time limit is up.

Ellis said she first discovered the escape room concept while on vacation in North Carolina. Together with her husband and two sons, Ellis said they were able to crack the codes and escape the room in time. Invigorated by her success, she came home determined that escape rooms were going to become a part of her life.

"Something just clicked. I just knew this was what I wanted to do," Ellis said. "I had been a math educator all my life. I was a teacher for 10 years, and for 15 years worked as a freelance math content editor. I felt it was time for whatever's next."

Ellis came home, and soon, she and business partner Yzaguirre began work on planning their own escape room business.

Though neither of the partners had any business experience, they said they've been hard at work preparing everything their new business would need, from hiring legal and accounting aides to searching for the proper location for their site. While the full escape room experience is under construction, the pair have created an Egyptian-themed mobile escape room for an abbreviated 15-minute version of the full game. During the mobile escape room, players must solve the mystery of what happened to an archaeologist who mysteriously disappeared while researching the Egyptian pyramids.

There are a number of cascading puzzles and clues that need to be solved in order to escape the room, including mazes, riddles, codebreaking and low-tech add-ons like magnetism and mechanical pieces. Ellis said the joy of the escape room is working together to win the game.

"You need a person who can observe the room and do a quick assessment, and realize that something fits with something else across the room," Ellis said. "You need someone who is good at communication and a person who is good at leading and coordinating. It's about pulling together different skills."

Yzaguirre said they aim to take advantage of this ability of escape rooms to analyze the skillsets of players and leverage it into a corporate team building opportunity. She said they plan on offering business packages, where the play styles of individual players will be analyzed and offered back to companies that book team-building events at the escape room.

"This way, we can see the strengths of the individual members and see how they work together. See who holds back and who steps up, then we can report that to managers," Yzaguirre said. "A lot of corporate retreats are just a matter of, 'Oh that was fun; we had the day off.' We are hoping to have a package that will have lasting value for corporate groups."

Both Ellis and Yzaguirre were passionate about hosting their escape room in Carroll County. Ellis said it's not fair that families have to travel all the way to Baltimore to experience a fun activity like this. Yzaguirre said Mount Airy is uniquely located to draw people into the county.

"We're located in four counties; we're right on [Interstate] 70," Yzaguirre said. "It's a great location to draw people in for this kind of fun activity."

Ellis said it's been new and exciting to try and create a pitch for the business challenge. She said it's difficult to condense a 60-plus page business plan into a five-minute pitch. One of the challenges their team faces, according to Ellis, is the concept of the escape plan entirely.

"People know what a winery is. They know what a bakery is," Ellis said. "We have to explain what our concept is from the beginning. That leaves us less time to talk about what makes us different."

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