After months of sorting through applications, Tech Bloc staff and volunteers chose eight companies that are eligible for the Tech Fuel startup competition. Representatives from each of the startups pitched their product or service ideas to a panel of five judges from the local tech industry on Tuesday.
Five companies were selected as finalists to compete for the $30,000, $15,000, and $5,000 prizes that will be awarded after another round of pitches in early May:
Part Thyme is an "on-demand" app that connects part-time service industry workers looking for extra work to managers at high-end restaurants that have last-minute shifts available. From its website: "After each completed job, both you and the employer provide feedback to Part Thyme, (ensuring) only the best opportunities and talent have a home."
Denify is a platform for patients and health care providers to connect to alternative funding options for medical care. It allows patients to set up crowdfunding and saving accounts as well as donate plasma and sell old electronics, jewelry, and gift cards to pay for medical expenses. From its website: "Working directly with hospital executives, nurses, and private practices on an ongoing basis allows us to focus on the pain points of the health care industry."
EverMarket is launching a peer-to-peer, online marketplace built specifically for the Military community. The platform will provide transparency in transactions through open communications, as well as the comfort of dealing with others in their circle of trust through member service verifications. EverMarket also aims to provide its members with access to exclusive deals to local and national retailers, as well as resources for each installation-based EverMarket community.
Rising Barn is a San Antonio-based do-it-yourself homebuilding kit manufacturer that also offers turnkey construction packages. Click here to read our coverage of its first project in Dignowity Hill. From its website: "We’re committed to using only high-quality materials, so you know you’re getting a sound, reliable structure that you’ll love."
SnackDot – is a self-checkout system that allows any business to offer its members and employees their favorite snacks. It serves as both an amenity and source of profit for the business, without the expense and high-maintenance of a vending machine.
Each company has about three months to address the challenges identified by the judges and industry mentors to more fully develop their business models and technology. The startups are in various stages of development, but a requirement of entry into the competition was that it had raised less than $1 million in outside funding, and have less than $1 million in revenue.
The competition is funded through a $50,000 grant from Bexar County, part of a more than $1 million Innovation Fund the County set up last year to further develop the local tech industry.
"We're a little late to the game in terms of emphasizing tech," Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told the judges before the pitches began. "But we're getting in the game now."
Wolff admitted that the prize money is peanuts compared to the capital that startups need to successfully scale up their operations into full-fledged businesses, but "the publicity they will get out of this (competition)" will be a valuable tool in growing their connections and investor interest.
Tech Fuel judges AirStrip Technologies Vice President of Engineering Augie Pedraza, Geekdom co-founder and founder of CoffeeCup Software Nick Longo, Codeup CEO Michael Girdley, Techstars Cloud Program Manager Kara Gomez, and San Antonio Pets Alive! CMO Razil Owen ranked each company's pitch according to four "dimensions."
- The strength/experience of the team
- How big is the idea/vision?
- What will be the impact on San Antonio in three years?
- Overall strength of company
Each team was given 10 minutes to pitch and about five minutes to field questions from the judges. Tuesday was about sifting through the "red flags" to select the cream of the crop, said Blake Yeager, Tech Bloc community member and managing director of Techstars. Yeager and Executive Director Marina Gavito are organizing the competition.
"The (finalists) will receive mentoring on an ad hoc basis over the next three months," Yeager said. He will meet with each team to find out their specific needs to informally connect them to people and places in San Antonio that can help. Most of these resources will be within Tech Bloc's growing local network of tech industry advocates and experts.
Tech Bloc will announce the winners of the competition during its next membership rally slated for May. The rallies attract more than 500 industry advocates – from software engineers to angel investors to those with a casual interest – hailing from all over San Antonio. The County announced the $50,000 grant to Tech Bloc to host the competition in May during the first Tech Bloc rally that attracted more than 700 people to the Pearl Stable.
Winners will sign a contract with Bexar County that compels the startups to, among other things, stay in San Antonio for at least six months after receiving the prize money.
The Innovation Fund was set up because the traditional economic development and incentive package criteria used by municipalities to reward companies based on how many jobs they create and how much they invest in capital goods, Wolff said, is obsolete when it comes to the tech industry.
"It's a different animal, they're not over here buying a $50 million building and they're not bringing 1,000 jobs," he said. "They're small ... but (startups provide) high-pay and high-skill level jobs and they have a chance to grow."
They've cut the Innovation program into focus sections: recruitment of new companies, expansion of local companies, talent competitions, talent development (education), and branding/industry promotion, said Jordana Decamps, deputy director of Economic Development for Bexar County. The County will be investing in existing programs like SA Works and finding new areas/programs to develop.
"The policy was really crafted with IT leaders here in the community saying, 'this is what our ecosystem needs to thrive,'" Decamps said.
The County's plan for using the Innovation funds will be discussed during the Bexar County Commissioner's Court meeting on Tuesday
"We haven't found a model that we're just copying," Wolff said of the County's new tech initiatives. "We're kind of like a startup ourselves."
*Top image: Tech Fuel judge and AirStrip Technologies Vice President of Engineering Augie Pedraza listens to a company representative pitch his product. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.