Startups Vying for Bexar County Money in San Antonio Tech Contest

San Antonio—A week after Techstars Cloud showcased the 11 companies that were selected for its accelerator program in San Antonio, another group of five startups were picked to participate in a separate Alamo City competition inspired by Techstars.

Called Tech Fuel, the competition asked each early-stage company to pitch a panel of judges on its business plan, in hopes of being selected as one of five that would be picked to compete for three cash grants. This past Tuesday, judges listened to the plans of eight young businesses, most from San Antonio, and picked five to move on to a final round.

Those selected (see below for descriptions) now have three months to execute their plans, with mentorship help along the way from the competition’s judges, which include local investors and startup founders, according to Tech Bloc, a tech-focused nonprofit created last year that co-sponsored the event. The remaining competitors, which include a healthcare app and a self-checkout system for small businesses, will in May vie for first-place prize money of $30,000, second-place money of $15,000, and third-place money of $5,000.

The money is being provided by Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, and it isn’t entirely free. The companies that win are obligated to stay in the county for at least six months after the competition, according to Jordana Decamps, deputy director of the Bexar County Economic Development Department, the other sponsor. Tech Bloc started accepting applications for the competition in January, and received almost 50 from around the country, Decamps says.

That group was narrowed to eight for the pitch day on Tuesday, she says. Tech Bloc handled the selection process, with help from Blake Yeager, the managing director for Techstars Cloud, who also found judges for the competition.

“We wanted to do something similar (to Techstars), but on a smaller scale, for companies that are located in San Antonio or would relocate to San Antonio,” Decamps says. “This is an easy way for us to give them a small grant to help them develop their company further.”

The grant funding is one part of a new initiative that Bexar County is testing out to bolster the local startup environment. Last year, the county approved a $1 million fund to be spent on four initiatives around startups: recruitment, expansion of local businesses, workforce and talent development, and marketing, Decamps says.

The the Bexar County Commission is expected to vote on Tuesday about whether to approve the details of a policy, created by the economic development office, that would direct where the money will be spent, Decamps says. So far, the $50,000 in Tech Fuel grants have been approved to come from the $1 million fund.

“I’ve spoken to companies that have job openings with great wages, but they can’t seem to find enough of the talent to fill their need,” Decamps says about one possible use of the funds. “We want to make sure that we develop cohorts of training groups, where once they go through the training program, they have jobs they can apply for and will be eligible to apply for.”

The effort is partly trial by fire. The economic development department plans to use this first year of funding to see where the money is most useful, and how much it needs or doesn’t use for subsequent years, Decamps says.

“Once we get the application process on our website and market this effectively, we’ll see maybe more dollars need to go to recruitment or maybe expansion doesn’t work,” she says. “We want to try to help local companies, recruit companies, and to market San Antonio as a place to expand or relocate.”

Here are the five companies that are moving forward in the Tech Fuel program:

Part Thyme is attempting to connect employers who have a last-minute opening for a worker, with workers who are available to take a job. The company lists few details about the industries or type of workers it focuses on, but its website shows plenty of photos of restaurants.

Rising Barn is a company that has literal building kits. Think of it as an Ikea for an actual building, rather than furniture, targeting the type of do-it-yourself person who wants to assemble their own home, garage, or some other smallish structure. The company has a few blueprints from which to choose, ranging in cost from about $8,000 to more than $50,000.

Evermarket is an online marketplace that it says is built on community, trust, and transparency. Users can buy and sell with people they know, and who share common interests, and can earn “badges” as they do so to discourage scammers, the company says. Its “Offer System” encourages the fairest deal for everyone, the company says.

Snackdot is a self-checkout system for small businesses that operates on a tablet and syncs with a business owner’s Stripe account.

Denify helps patients and healthcare providers find alternative funding for medical care, according to The Rivard Report.

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow @xconholley

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