1st McKinney Startup Competition to Name Winners Tuesday

finalists for the Innovates McKinney startup competition


McKinney Chamber of Commerce and The WERX Foundation are hoping to spur future business growth with the city’s inaugural startup competition.

Money magazine said we were the No. 1 place to live, let’s make it the No. 1 place to do business,” said Cindy Johnson, development director at The WERX Foundation.

The Innovate McKinney Local Startup Competition invited entrepreneurs and small business owners to submit applications explaining their new products or services. Out of a pool of 21 applicants, judges chose five finalists at the beginning of June.

The finalists, who have products ranging from a cellphone safety mobile app to an online health care portal, include Balanced Media Technology, Divergent Innovation, Healthbloks, Learnatronics, and Peeyr.

“They are an interesting group — definitely standouts,” Johnson said.

Innovate McKinney Grand Finale

Those remaining contenders will make pitches beginning at 7 p.m. June 28 during the Innovate McKinney Grand Finale at the Historic McKinney Cotton Mill. Winners will be announced at 8 p.m.

The first place winner will receive $3,500. Second and third place winners will be awarded a combination of cash and in-kind services.

The June 28 event includes a Small Business Expo, live music, and food beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The finalists took a moment this week to answer questions about how their businesses got started. 

McKinney startup: Innovate McKinney Grand Finale

Gautam Bhargava

Gautam Bhargava, CEO of Peeyr

What led you to start your business?

Right now, there’s no affordable solution for students to get academic help outside of school. Also, a lot of students simply don’t enjoy learning from professional tutors they can’t connect with. We wanted to create an affordable solution that allowed students to connect with a vetted peer tutor, for an in-person tutoring session in any topic. 

What differentiates your business from others in your particular field?

Our biggest differentiating factor is our affordability, convenient three-step booking process, and tutor quality.

Is there anything else people should know about you/your business?

The founders are both high-school dropouts. I’m 18, while my co-founder, Jed Rollins, is 19. We’ll be rolling out our web platform to every student in the DFW area in September 2016.

McKinney startup: Innovate McKinney Grand Finale

Katie Walker

Erin Kate “Katie” Walker, co-owner/COO of Learnatronics

What led you to start your business?

Learnatronics started out from a desire to improve electronics education and help K-12 teachers integrate circuit building and electronics into their classrooms. Miles and I were at lunch with his uncle, Edward Elizondo — a high school teacher in central Texas, when Edward began telling us about a new class he was preparing and his frustrations in finding educational electronics kits geared for the classroom. That was what started it. We saw an area where teachers needed help, and our unique background in engineering, science, and education put us in a position to be able to provide that help.

What differentiates your business from others in your particular field?

Learnatronics is locally based and locally focused. We emphasize face-to-face sales and support. Our kits and materials are specifically tailored for teachers in Texas. Large-scale national competitors do not provide this level of specialization or personal support.

Additionally, our product is engineered for the school environment. Many of the kits offered by our competitors are more geared towards individuals and hobbyists. They do not include thorough explanations of the science or the resources we have prepared for teachers (lesson plans, worksheets, troubleshooting guides, etc.).

Furthermore, our kits provide a more authentic electrical engineering experience versus Snap Circuits, Little Bits, and Electron Ink. These other products rely on proprietary technologies that are not part of mainstream electronics or electrical engineering, which makes it more difficult for students to transfer the skills they learned from school to future college courses or careers.

Finally, our kits are more advantageously priced per student when compared to those of our competitors that do offer classroom/educational versions of their products. Overall, our kits are more cost-effective for schools and more geared towards helping teachers implement circuit activities in an educational environment.

Is there anything else people should know about you and/or your business?

Our team has a long history with the DFW area and education, particularly with the University of Texas at Dallas. We are proud of the education opportunities the DFW area offers, and we hope to increase the number of K-12 and universities that we work with in the future.

McKinney startup: Innovate McKinney Grand Finale

Justin Bambico

Justin Bambico, co-founder/CEO of Divergent Innovation

What led you to start your business?

My wife and I founded Divergent Innovation LLC because we have a passion to help keep kids safe. We have two children ourselves, so we understand the struggles parents face [in] trying to protect their children in this technology-based world. We want to help alleviate this pain point for parents and give them peace of mind while their kids use mobile technology.

What differentiates your company from others in your particular field?

Our mobile app, SaferImages, is different because we are offering a solution that does more than just monitor your child’s activity on a mobile device. Our app will still monitor and report like our competitors, but SaferImages will also prevent explicit images and derogatory messages from being received or sent through your child’s text message and messaging apps. Our competitors only give you a chance to look at what has already been seen or previewed on the mobile device, while we offer a way to prevent them from ever sending or receiving these images or messages in the first place.

Is there anything else people should know about you and/or your business?

Our team is committed to using current technology in new, innovative ways to help protect children of all ages. We hope that we can aid in the fight to protect our future existence because without children there really is no future. 

Robert Atkins of Balanced Media Technology 

What led you to start your business?

We wanted to redefine the interactive entertainment industry, not only to make quality games but to give them purpose. 

What differentiates your business from others in your particular field?

We combine interactive entertainment with data science in a fun way, so that when users are playing they are also doing something positive in the world. 

Is there anything else people should know about you and/or your business?

This studio is determined to add value into all forms of entertainment. We will entertain, educate, and empower our users.  

Julia Falcon contributed to this report. 

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