Meet Norihisa Wada: A global citizen and leader in assessment, gaming, and education technology

EduLab Capital
9 min readNov 21, 2023


By Sally Sorte

In early-stage investing, on both the investing side and the company side, your people are what set you apart. To truly understand what this means to have team members as your key differentiators, it is helpful to delve into their rich and storied journeys.

Today we are highlighting Norihisa Wada (known globally as “Nori,” known internally and to his countless allies as “Wada san”), who brings breadth and depth of experience to his role as Co-Founder of EduLab Capital Partners.

Wada-san presenting on gamification at a conference in Israel.

Nori is a bit of a Renaissance man who wears multiple hats. First and foremost, he is a Co-Founder and Advisor at EduLab Capital Partners. He has served as the Chief Marketing Officer, Co-Chief Operating Officer, and Senior Advisor to EduLab, Inc., an Executive Advisor for Zoshinkai Holdings (the largest shareholder of EduLab, Inc.), on a Steering Committee for the Ministry of Education in Japan, and a researcher and lecturer at Kyoto University in the areas of game and habit design.

From being employee number 7 at Advanced Media, Inc. and helping the company IPO on the Japanese stock market, to helping Nintendo launch Brainpop fitness and other bestselling games, to leadership roles with JIEM and EduLab Inc., Wada san has a uniquely nuanced and globalized perspective on the education technology landscape.

“As a father, who is Japanese, and having worked in multinational companies, I consider myself a global citizen,” says Wada san.

His personal mission has evolved over time from integrating play and learning at Nintendo, to layering in assessment, to the more systems change focus he has now.

Taking a core tech company from MVP to $1B

Wada san started his career at a core technology company focused on voice recognition. He was employee number 7 at Advanced Media, Inc.

Wada san points out, “Core tech really has an impact… because it can be used in multiple industries.”

“At that time I was Head of Marketing and Sales as well as the strategic department, so I had to choose which industry would be the best first entry point to showcase this voice recognition technology.”

While the chief investor, Toyota, was eager to deploy voice recognition in telematics for vehicle navigation, the technology’s accuracy was several years off from being ready for this use case.

“I said entertainment and drafted a marketing strategy,” Wada san describes, “Yes, we should use this technology for Toyota, but that’s the long play. In the short term, we should showcase this to game designers and producers so they can use this technology now.”

Wada san notes that gaming provides a perfect sandbox for new technologies to be tested and refined, whether that be voice recognition, 3D, or the metaverse.

“Game designers can wrap the technology with their own creativity…” in a lower stakes environment, “because in a car, you can’t have accidents.”

Nori recalls one game design that created a half man, half fish character for the voice recognition.

“It’s clever because the user does not get frustrated when the voice recognition does not work perfectly because it is part of the character.”

Meanwhile, the technology is learning and improving.

This is an example of how setting and aligning on clear expectations is crucial, which was one of the Wada san’s key take-aways from this role.

In reflecting on conversations with customers, he says, “You have to say, ‘Hey, you will probably have 80% accuracy, but give us 2–3 years, by training the technology to your needs, we can get to 90%+ accuracy.’”

Expectation management and implementing systems so that the technology can improve along with the customer are lessons that can be applied to the emergent technology trends we see coming to market today: VR/AR, the Metaverse, and the latest hot topic: generative AI.

Wada san served as the point person for Toyota, led the IPO, and ultimately Advanced Media, Inc. achieved over a $1B USD valuation.

Game Design & Assessment

Wada san went on to serve as the Senior Vice President at IE Institute, which developed multiple hit titles for the Nintendo DS and Wii. Here, he was excited to apply his experience with core technology to the full product development life cycle.

Nintendo DS BrainPop Fitness, an English language learning game, and Wii fitness games all sold multi-million copies worldwide at a time when games went for $30 a pop, before software downloads. Needless to say, they were quite the success.

While at Nintendo, ETS reached out to see how they could leverage the engagement levels found in high quality game design and transpose these into their work on assessment.

“ETS contacted me to figure out how assessment could be provided on a gaming platform, because gaming was so huge and Nintendo DS was widely used throughout the world,” says Wada san.

This was their first collaboration.

“So ETS, a rigorous assessment company got together with Nintendo, a creative company and they learned from each other, actually. The offspring was the product.”

Wada san helped ETS launch their first product on the Nintendo console, Official ETS TOEIC offering Business English assessment preparation materials.

“I found a lot of similarities between the science of fun and the science of assessment. There is so much science behind assessment — psychology and psychometrics… I thought this holds huge potential in the future, unless you can assess things scientifically, in a fair and valid manner, it doesn’t mean anything / you will never be able to measure anything.”

This curiosity led Nori to integrate his understanding of core technology and game design with the rigor of psychometrically based assessment. He continued this work at the The Japan Institute for Educational Measurement (JIEM) and EduLab, Inc.

Wada-san presenting an award at the GESAwards (Global EdTech Startup Awards), where he serves as a judge.

The Future of Assessment

When Wada san looks ahead at the future of assessment, he sees continuous, embedded assessment as the next frontier.

“If you want to measure someone’s skill, putting them under pressure or in a state of anxiety, may not be the best way. Maybe if they do not know they are being tested, that would be the best way. I think there is the possibility to stealthily test people in the near future, and that stealth assessment has a better and more correct view of some people’s skills and knowledge. So that is the new theme that I want to explore.“

Yet of course the art will be to alleviate the pressure, stress, time allocation, and other challenges of the current model of assessment without creating a Big Brother feeling of being watched all the time.

Wada san uses the analogy of the ghost in Mario Kart as an example of this.

“The first time you play, of course you don’t get a good time score, but your second lap will show a ghost of your previous best lap time. It’s a ghost that you can imitate. By showing that ghost, it’s stealthy by giving a fun experience, but really educating you, giving you an objective view of yourself to learn from yourself and improve.”

“Because it’s you, it’s easy for you to imitate and overcome. It’s not a very large hurdle, it’s you, so you can play again, improve, play again, improve. So eventually, playing 3–4 times, your lap time really gets better. This is a stealth way of assessing and of giving great feedback — feedback that supports your learning without you thinking that you are being taught,” Wada san describes.

Applying this kind of creativity could create a continuous, integrated, and formative assessment model that provides tailored feedback almost imperceptibly.

Can AI and the Metaverse help humans overcome death?

Nori shares his insights into generative AI, starting with an allusion to Carl Jung’s collective consciousness that transcends the individual to benefit all of humankind:

“AI is very fast. AI doesn’t die, people die, that’s something we haven’t overcome still. So with history — there is always a disconnect when a certain generation dies, it is not passed on — for example in Japan, in terms of like WWII, my father’s generation was very young — baby or Kindergarten during the war period — my grandfather knew that time period. Once they die it is not really transferred experience”

While he notes that you can read books or see movies, and if you have a powerful imagination you may glean some level of understanding, Wada san sees the combination of generative AI to create content, game design to hook people, and the simulation power of the metaverse as a trifecta to more effectively transfer experience.

“I think we can intellectually overcome death,” Wada-san muses.

Perhaps we could finally learn from history and take an inter-generational perspective on decision-making?

“Otherwise we cannot beat AI. How we transfer knowledge — not just understanding — but really transfer experience over generations. This is really important. This changes people’s behavior.”

At the same time, Wada san honestly says, “I’m kind of scared of generative AI.”

In a world that already has a hard time distinguishing between verifiable facts, subjective slants, and ‘fake news’, he sees this issue only becoming more dicey.

“There will be a fight between real content and cheap content.”

“Real content and real experience has a lot of value of course. To create that real content and real experience, it takes money [and time]. For example, if you want to really scientifically assess someone, creating multiple items, multi-tier review, it’s a high cost, that’s why assessment, high stakes assessment especially is expensive.”

“Now people who do not understand the science behind it, will say, you can create great assessments with Chat GPT, why do I have to pay that much money? So I think there is going to be a fight between real content and very cheap — but I don’t know whether it’s real content.”

Selecting and dissecting content, how it is generated, and its value will be essential.

“With real content, we know that subject matter experts, psychometricians, and multi-tier review are behind it; but with ChatGPT we don’t know what’s behind it.”

At the same time, Wada san acknowledges the vast potential for ChatGPT.

“The economy and capitalism say cheaper is better, faster is better… in this digital age, we consume a lot of content so people are hungry for a lot of content, and taking time to create that content is something we need to overcome.”

“So we need to incorporate the good part of generative AI into this process so we can reduce costs better and create more process efficiency. It’s not like we can 100% replace that through generative AI…it’s about expectation control.”

Wada san says that we should use generative AI to increase efficiency, but we should maintain a healthy fear of the technology.

“We should be afraid of blindly believing the technology and saying ‘Hey, it’s going to change the world.’ We have to send out a message that explains, ‘These are the limitations of ChatGPT.’”

These limitations are where Wada san is keen to focus his attention.

“What are the systems that should be implemented in the age of generative AI? This is something I am looking at.”


Now, Wada san is interested in bringing together his understanding of core technology, game design, assessment, and the education technology market to think through broader systems change.

“I want to focus on the system itself. How do you create a learning system so you can impact people’s behavior and try to improve outcomes?”

His current roles interface with the government and the Ministry of Education given their role in influencing policy change, along with stakeholders at every level, because he sees himself as a connector

“Investment is a great way to attach everything. Especially at the seed stage — you get to connect with innovative minds first, as well as innovative technology, platforms, core technology, solutions…”

“That’s one way I like to contribute, by selecting companies, connecting them to resources, and showcasing them to broader markets, and so the government can see what is coming, what is the impact, and the whole system can benefit — the students, the parents, the teachers.”



EduLab Capital

EduLab Capital Partners is a VC fund that invests in early stage education and workforce technology companies to scale measurable impact in our communities.