Rectify co-founders (from left) Melissa Unsell-Smith and Lisa McComb receive $50,000 toward their company. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

A San Antonio startup took home a $50,000 grand prize Tuesday at a Shark Tank-style competition fueled in part with public funds.

Local tech industry trade association Tech Bloc’s pitch contest brought five startups seeking funding to the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday amid a week-long slate of downtown activities hosted by the city’s tech sector. The event coincided with the 2019 iteration of Startup Week, a weeklong event spotlighting the local startup scene.

A panel of judges selected automated redaction software Rectify as the winner of a $50,000 grand prize. Via an online poll, audience members voted to award the runners-up prizes. Checkups, which allows those under community supervision to check in virtually with their probation officer, took home the $20,000 first runner-up prize. Train the Mind, a mental skills training program, received second runner-up and $10,000. The fourth and fifth-place startups – video marketing tool Sendspark and Tuuk, a platform that allows financial institutions and other services to integrate into popular digital platforms – received prizes of $7,500 and $2,500, respectively.

The Bexar County Innovation Fund, a $1 million cache aimed at improving the local tech industry, provided the $100,000 in prize money. The winners of the event, known as TechFuel, will receive cash rather than investment securities, which are much more commonly awarded at pitch competitions.

“It’s really a difference-maker,” said Dax Moreno, Chief Talent Recruitment Officer at Tech Bloc, on the cash prizes. “It can create a whole new level of opportunities and growth that wouldn’t be possible without putting yourself in debt, or trying to do a fundraising round.”

The first TechFuel was held in 2016 with a $50,000 grand prize. The Bexar County Innovation Fund also funded that year’s contest.

This year five finalists pitched the judges and audience on their respective startups. All five finalists hailed from the San Antonio metropolitan area, although the competition was open to early-stage startups from across the state.

Co-founded by Melissa Unsell-Smith, Rectify was launched in 2017 with the goal of creating a software platform that would help protect data privacy by automating the legal redaction process in digitized documents. Unsell-Smith said the company plans to use the funds to hire more talent and close more funding deals.

“We believe we will be the standard redaction utility that will be adopted globally,” she said.

The second-place startup Checkups pitched the judges on a solution to help eliminate the costs associated with supervising criminals on probation. Low-risk community supervision costs Bexar County about $1 million a month, according to Enrique Pavlioglou, the founder of Checkups.

David Marquez, the executive director of Bexar County Economic and Community Development, said although the County isn’t normally thought of in the context of spurring growth in the technology sector, there are applications such as Checkups’ product that can benefit its operations.

“It’s really important for us to juice up this sector,” Marquez said. “People don’t normally think of the County as a player, but as you heard from a couple of pitches tonight, they’re right in our wheelhouse. Not that that’s why we do it, but it does show that we’ve got a real role to play.”

The County has agreed to fund the program again next year, Moreno said the program would be larger and more comprehensive in 2020.

“We’re going to be running this back,” he said. “We’re going to be working with some more partners. We’re going to be developing our startups. We’re going to be building a stronger ecosystem.”

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.