RootsTech 2015: Innovator Showdown Winners Announced
Contributed By Ryan Morgenegg, Church News staff writer
The results of a first-time contest called the Innovator Showdown were presented at the 2015 RootsTech family history conference on February 13, 2015. Creators of the contest invited entrepreneurs from around the world to submit a mobile or web app that would affect the world of family history. Nick and Krista Baum, cofounders of StoryWorth, were presented with a $25,000 cash prize.
A half million email invitations were sent out just over two months ago inviting innovators to participate in the 2015 Innovator Showdown app design contest. The morning of February 13, there were only four finalists left. “We received a total of 51 official submissions by the January 15 deadline,” said Thom Reed, partner marketing manager for FamilySearch. “We had submissions from three continents, including North America, Africa, and Europe.”
Finalists had five minutes each to present their ideas in front of a live audience and respond to a bombardment of critical questions by a panel of judges. The five judges were selected from a variety of backgrounds within the tech and family history industry. They included A. J. Jacobs, founder of the global family reunion; Amy Rees Anderson, managing partner at REES Capital; Curt Witcher, senior manager of the genealogy center and digital initiatives from Allen County public libraries; Dan Mano, vice president of business development at MyHeritage.com; and Jay Verkler, former CEO of FamilySearch International.
Cash awards were given out by the judges for the first, second, and third place finalists. The amounts were $10,000, $7,000, and $3,000, respectively. The grand prize of $15,000 was awarded to a finalist by the audience using a live voting system of phone texts. Audience members were encouraged to text in the number of their favorite presenter while live results were displayed on massive screens in the auditorium. It had the overall feeling of a combination between the television programs NBC's America’s Got Talent and ABC’s Shark Tank.
Nick and Krista Baum from the Bay Area in California were the first place winners, taking both the audience award and first place among the judges. Their innovative idea is actually the core of a fully operational company called StoryWorth (storyworth.com) that was founded in 2012 and assists families in gathering and preserving family stories for future generations.
“I wanted to make it easy for people to record family stories,” Nick Baum, cofounder of StoryWorth, told the Church News. “Each week we send out to our storytellers an email with a question about their lives. They can write a response with an email or call in over the telephone and share it like a voicemail.”
The stories that are captured by StoryWorth are saved to a private website, and an email is sent out to loved ones who have permission to access and enjoy the content. The first month is free for up to six family members, but to continue the service a $79 yearly charge is administered.
Speaking about how the $25,000 prize would affect his business, Mr. Baum said, “Along with the attention and prize money, getting the advice from the seasoned judges in the industry was an important benefit as well.”
The second place prize winner was a team from Germany, Welf Wustlich and Uwe Hausler from Palnet GmbH. They are the creators of ArgusSearch, an innovative software program featuring an artificial intelligence that deciphers the handwritten text from genealogical documents with incredible accuracy. “The special thing about our software is being able to recognize probabilities in handwriting even when something is misspelled,” said Uwe Hausler, senior consultant with Planet.
Third place was given to local Orem, Utah, innovator, Matthew Faulconer with GenMarketplace.com. Launched February 11 during the RootsTech conference, GenMarketplace is a website where people can get help or help solve genealogical roadblocks. Those in need of help post their job along with a price willing to be paid for the information. Helpers can claim those jobs, deliver the content, and get paid. “Our marketplace is tied into FamilySearch and helps people find opportunities that they might need assistance with,” said Matthew Faulconer. “We plan on using the prize money for marketing and publicity.”
The creators of the Innovator Showdown were pleased with the results of this year’s contest and view it as a tremendous success. Looking to the future, the hope is to increase the size and scale of the contest as much as possible. “We’re hoping to double the amount of available prize money next year,” said Bruce Brand, business development manager with FamilySearch and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We’re looking to drive innovation and capital into the same space, and the contest is a great vehicle for that.
RootsTech started in 2010 as a gathering for industry professionals and family history consumers to help share discussions and technology development and give training in the industry. Beginning in 2013 there were developer competitions associated with the RootsTech conference to reward the most promising ideas in the family history arena. To begin with, the prizes were nominal with very little recognition given. This changed in 2014 as the creators pushed to make the contest more visible. The result is the new and improved Innovator Showdown of 2015.