By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News
The XPRIZE Foundation organized a four-day adventure trip to visit tech companies in California last February.
XPRIZE Founder Dr. Peter Diamandis wanted to showcase space and ocean innovation to a select group of entrepreneurs.
Part of the event involved a Zero G flight in which the passengers float about weightless for several minutes. That’s where software entrepreneur Christian Cotichini literally crashed into Graham Weston, chairman and co-founder of Rackspace, during the flight.
When the flight ended, Cotichini, Diamandis and Weston met and dreamed up the idea for HeroX, a smaller, community-oriented version of the XPRIZE, which seeks to solve the world’s big challenges by creating and managing large-scale incentivized prizes focused on learning, exploration, energy & environment, global development and life sciences.
On Thursday night at an invitation-only event on the fourth floor of the Rio Plaza on the Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio, the first HeroX challenge officially launched. It’s called the San Antonio MX Challenge, a two-year $500,000 prize to foster entrepreneurship between San Antonio and Mexico.
The team behind the San Antonio MX Challenge: Tito Salas, Emily Fowler, Christian Cotichini, Lorenzo Gomez and Graham Weston
“XPRIZE was a grand idea for very lofty things at an ivory tower aspiration level,” Weston said. “What I love about HeroX is it takes what we learned about offering big grand prizes and it brings it down to a city-level. We are not going to Washington, D.C. to change the world; we can change it in our city. The most important unit of economic action is the city. The HeroX prize is about bringing that innovation and technology to the city level.”
San Antonio has the opportunity to be the gateway to America for the entrepreneurs in Mexico and the San Antonio MX Challenge will serve as that catalyst to make it happen, Weston said.
San Antonio has so much of the infrastructure to offer entrepreneurs in the startup world, Weston said.
“Mexican entrepreneurs can come to America to launch their products and then go back to Mexico to build their companies,” Weston said.
San Antonio is the first city to launch a HeroX prize, but soon it will be everywhere, Weston said.
“HeroX is going to be in every city around the world from London to Lubbock,” he said.
HeroX democratizes innovation, Cotichini said, co-founder and CEO of HeroX. He sold his software company, Make Technologies, based in Vancouver, to Dell in 2011. He soon became immersed in studying the world’s problems. It almost made him become depressed until he read Diamandis’ book Abundance, which paints an optimistic view of the future. Cotichini then knew he wanted to be part of making that vision become a reality.
“This is the very first HeroX branded challenge,” Cotichini said. “The Internet is creating new models that allow us to be far more powerful as a species. These new models are going to change the world.”
Open innovation can change cities and companies. It’s a tool for anybody who needs innovation, he said.
HeroX is an online crowdsourcing platform that allows people to realize visions and live out dreams, said Emily Fowler, co-founder and vice president of possibilities for HeroX.
HeroX plans to launch hundreds of competitions worldwide.
Whereas the XPRIZE challenges offer prizes from $10 million to $30 million and last from five to eight years, the HeroX challenges offer prizes of $10,000 to millions and last from six months to a few years, Fowler said. Anyone can take on a challenge or offer one up, she said.
“We’re stimulating a new generation of entrepreneurs and it’s really interesting,” Cotichini said. “The millennial generation really gets the power of crowdsourcing and collaboration.”
One of those is Tito Salas, project manager of San Antonio MX Prize. He was born in Northern Mexico and graduated from the University of Texas with a double major in marketing and business management.
“The San Antonio MX Challenge wants to make it easy for Mexican entrepreneurs to move to San Antonio to launch their business,” Salas said. His role is to help provide Mexican entrepreneurs with Visas, mentors, business services, access to capital and more.
“We’re also looking to get together all of the entrepreneurs from Mexico in San Antonio and bring them to Geekdom to make something bigger,” Salas said.
Walter Teele, co-founder of ParLevel Systems .
Walter Teele and Luis Pablo Gonzalez are both from Mexico. They came to the U.S. to go to college. They graduated recently and launched ParLevel Systems, a company that connects vending machines to the Internet to monitor them remotely. ParLevel last year graduated from the Techstars incubator program. Teele and Gonzalez are building their company at Geekdom.
Teele sees the San Antonio MX Challenge as a way to fill a need that exists in helping Mexican startups.
“I think it’s going to give entrepreneurs in Mexico awareness that there are people here that want to support them and help them realize their dreams,” Teele said. “We don’t have a startup culture in Mexico. You have it here.”
Mexican entrepreneurs can benefit from the infrastructure that already exists in San Antonio, Teele said.
So far three people have expressed interest in registering for the San Antonio MX Challenge, said Lorenzo Gomez, director of Geekdom. The organization provides the criteria a company needs to meet to win the prize, but they don’t provide any seed stage capital or pre-determined solutions, Gomez said. Early registration ends on Aug. 25 and final registration is Jan. 14, 2015.
“The beauty of the prize models is it’s always the person that didn’t know they could win it that wins it,” Gomez said. “It’s probably going to be someone you never thought or maybe it’s someone that was very obvious. That’s one of the exciting parts of the prize is to see who steps up to solve it. It might just be one person with a magic Rolodex that makes it happen.“