John Rattray (Founder, CEO of Sparkwear Inc) – Winner of the 2019 Build412 Tech Demo Showcase (Photo Credit: Build412 Tech)
Aura Spark, a wearable social technology that helps people communicate and connect in- person, took home the 2019 Pittsburgh Tech Championship Belt and $1,000 cash prize in the Build412 Tech Demo Showcase Thursday night at Hip at the Flashlight Factory in the Northside, beating out five other competitors.
Now in its second year, the Build412 Tech Demo Showcase combined tech networking with demonstrations, allowing Pittsburgh tech professionals to mingle and show off new projects that ranged from hardware, software, and even tools tied into nonprofit work.
During the event, the host organization and its presenting sponsor, Rivers Agile, announced new initiatives that immediately rolled out after the showcase. Build412 Tech launched a membership program that would allow the organization to grow and improve its programs and events for the Pittsburgh tech ecosystem. Prices for the annual membership start at $95 for individuals or $295 for startup businesses. Rivers Agile, led by CEO Ben Wilson, announced the Rivers Agile Workshop, which helps nurture early stage machine learning, financial technology and artificial intelligence companies in Pittsburgh.
John Rattray, CEO and founder of Sparkwear Inc, accepted the top prize. Rattray, who is also a Ph.D candidate at John Hopkins University, has worked on the neon smart bracelet for the past year. He said creating this product has been a “labor of love,” making the cash prize and three month Beauty Shoppe coworking membership even more helpful in building his company.
“It’s extremely motivating to know that people are receptive of this idea. This money will go a long way for me,” he said. “And now that we know that other people are interested in the idea, it will help us a lot moving forward.”
Wilson, along with the Rivers Agile employees, led the judging process to determine the winner. When reflecting on all of the showcases, Wilson said that Rattray’s presentation and the immediate impact of his product made him stand out.
“I think he addressed the audience and made them understand what his vision is, and that’s not easy to do,” he said.
Rounding out the field of finalists included:
PPCC Caregiver, an app that helps caregivers track symptoms, organize appointments, set reminders and scan important documents.
ITS Safe by IT Security Solutions, a network protection service that prevents malicious cyber attacks on computers.
Treegle Dictionary, a mobile-friendly dictionary that provides detailed, scaled definitions.
PODSQUAD, a podcast player app that uses social media to help users discover new content.
Wickeditor.com, a free and open source tool for creating games and animations.
Attendees watch as the showcase begins. (Photo Credit: Alex Trader)
Jenn Apicella, President and CEO of Build412 Tech, said the night was an opportunity for the finalists to show the passion behind what they do to the Pittsburgh tech community.
“I know the prize isn’t hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I feel like just a little bit of that support from the community—saying ‘Hey, keep going, we love what you’re doing’—as an entrepreneur, that kind of encouragement, means everything,” she said.
Luca Damasco, co-creator of Wicklets and wickeditor.com, said the opportunity to present his product to a room of people was valuable enough.
“You always would love to win, right? But it’s cool in itself just being here and being a part of a community like this,” he said.