Leawood-based startup Blooom wins Kauffman Foundation contest

Happy winners from the Leawood startup company called blooom savored their win Wednesday at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City. The company won the One in a Million contest.
Happy winners from the Leawood startup company called blooom savored their win Wednesday at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City. The company won the One in a Million contest.

A Leawood-based startup named Blooom on Wednesday won the One in a Million competition at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City.

The company helps individuals handle their 401(k) retirement plan choices, largely focusing on consumers who have no help and little knowledge of investing.

Blooom received $10,000 for the win. Second-place winner DryBox received $5,000 and third-place winner SwineTech $1,000.

In his presentation to judges, Blooom CEO Chris Costello stirred some local pride with an announcement he’d recently raised $4 million in backing.

“Proof,” he said, “that Kansas City companies can raise money without relocating to Silicon Valley.”

Five finalists compete for a $10,000 prize and Blooom, a Leawood based company, wins the Kauffman Foundation's One In A Million contest on Tuesday (Nov. 18, 2015)

His point also highlighted that the $10,000 top price was not the contest’s only selling point or maybe even its most valuable benefit. Many other start-up events hand out more money — for example, the 10 prizes of $50,000 each at Techweek Kansas City this summer.

“That’s not the value here,” said Ken Morris, founder of KnectIQ Inc. in St. Paul, Minn., one of 10 semifinalists that failed to make the finals. “The value here are the connections you make.”

Morris’ time in the Kauffman Foundation competition netted an introduction to someone at Cerner Corp., the North Kansas City-based company that helps hospitals and other medical groups adopt electronic medical records. KnectIQ helps protect private data.

Wednesday’s judging and presentations were part of Global Entrepreneurship Week Kansas City, which is holding its eighth event here since starting in 2008.

Chris Costello, Blooom CEO, presents his company during the final round of judging in the One In A Million competition at the Kauffman Foundation conference center on Tuesday (Nov. 18, 2015)

Judges for the finals included Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, which made for an interesting exchange with Upsie founder Clarence Bethea. His company offers a free app that helps shoppers find less expensive warranty plans for appliances, computers, cellphones and more.

Claure noted that big retailers sell those warranties now, as do companies like Sprint.

“Every mobile phone carrier doesn’t want you to succeed,” Claure told Bethea.

The other judges were Nicole Glaros, entrepreneur and chief product officer of Techstars, and Miriam Rivera, investor and former first vice president and deputy general counsel of Google.

Each of 377 applicants for the contest had previously presented their businesses at weekly 1 Million Cups events.

Emcee Tim Scott explains the format for the finalists in the One In A Million contest, a competition for participants in the Kauffman Foundation's 1 Million Cups program.

These sessions, which began at the Kauffman Foundation in April 2012, provide interaction among entrepreneurs and feedback from the audience. They’ve grown to more than 70 cities.

The five finalists offered their business stories to the judges and the audience, both of which had their turn to ask questions.

The other winners:

▪ DryBox is a product of Dry Ventures Inc. in San Antonio, Texas, founder David Neumann. It makes a stand-alone vending machine that dries cellphones that have gotten wet.

▪ Swine Tech, New Sharon, Iowa, founder Matthew Rooda. It makes Sound-Off that analyzes piglets’ squeals for distress from being laid on by their mother, which receives an impulse to the flank that causes the sow to stand.

The other finalists:

▪ Pick My Solar of Los Angeles, Calif., CEO Max Aram. Its online bidding platform connects homeowners shopping for residential solar systems with quotes from vetted suppliers and analyzes the offers to display the top three bids.

▪ Upsie of Minneapolis, Minn., CEO Clarence Bethea. It is a free mobile app that provides warranty coverage and pricing options by searching product categories or scanning bar codes in stores.

Ten other companies had made the competition’s semifinals and attended the Wednesday finals.

▪ Aegle Palette, Shawnee, CEO Yulin Li, produces a “smart” placemat that give users a simple way to make intelligent dietary choices.

▪ Cirkul Bottle, Sarasota, Fla., co-founder Andy Gay, is a water bottle with changeable flavor cartridges that mix the taste and water as the user drinks.

▪ Crowd Energy, Zephyrhills, Fla., general manager Brian Allen, designed and developed a turbine to convert deep-water ocean currents into electricity and produce fresh water.

▪ GO Box, Portland, Oregon, founder Laura Weiss, makes reusable containers for takeout food with drop boxes for consumers to return containers for cleaning and reuse.

▪ GoWorx, Asheville, N.C., designer Ryan Klinger, makes camera mounts and accessories that attach GoPro cameras and smartphones to almost anything, almost anywhere.

▪ Idle Smart, Kansas City, Kan., co-founder Ryan Bennett, works like a home thermostat to start and stop semi-truck engines to reduce idle time while regulating the cabin temperature for sleeping drivers overnight.

▪ Increment, Providence, R. I., co-founder Maeve Jopson, develops playthings to encourage kids with and without disabilities to play together.

▪ iPourIt Inc., Lake Forest, Calif., co-founder Joseph G. McCarthy, allows bars and restaurant customers to pour their own draft beer and wine, adding the ounces to their tabs.

▪ KnectIQ Inc., St. Paul, Minn., founder Ken Morris, connects and protects sensitive data while allowing users to transfer and authorize the use of cloud-based depersonalized data.

▪, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, CEO John Schnipkoweit, connects popular wearable devices to health advisers who analyze the device wearer’s habits and set daily goals. Its mobile game helps users eat healthier and remove stress.

Mark Davis: 816-234-4372, on Twitter @mdkcstar

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