The WERX Foundation Receives $345,895 to Create Four Innovation/Maker Spaces in Collin County

U.S. Department of Commerce Invests $15 Million in Entrepreneurs Across the Nation to Move Ideas to Market, Promote American Innovation

The WERX Foundation Receives $345,895 to Create Four Innovation/Maker Spaces in Collin County

MCKINNEY, TEXAS - McKinney’s WERX Foundation, Inc. (  has been awarded $345,895 from the U.S. Department of Commerce to fund a collaborative project with Collin College ( to implement four innovation/maker spaces for Collin County.  The WERX Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit with the mission to foster innovation and build, grow and support small businesses in McKinney. 

These Collin County collaboration and maker spaces will provide collaborative space, software, hardware and curriculum to support the phases of the innovation process.  The space at The WERX will support emerging technology while three spaces at Collin College will support manufacturing, healthcare and media.  The goal of the three-year project is to build on Collin County’s strong existing industry clusters, strong growth, business friendly environment, well-educated workforce and strong quality of life to foster more rapid commercialization of technology, technology workforce growth and technology small business growth.   

The $345,895 grant for The WERX Foundation will be matched by cash and in-kind support from The McKinney Ecomonic Development Corporation, Collin College and The Cotton Mill Partners. 

“The WERX Foundation is honored to be chosen as one of the RIS I6 Challenge grant recipients in this year’s round of funding.  We look forward to partnering with Collin College to take McKinney and Collin County to the next level of innovation,” said Christine Smith, WERX Foundation Executive Director.   

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced yesterday that 35 organizations — including nonprofits, institutions of higher education, and entrepreneurship-focused organizations — from 19 states will receive nearly $15 million to create and expand cluster-focused, proof-of-concept and commercialization programs, and early-stage seed capital funds through the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program.

The diverse group of awardees, selected from a pool of more than 215 applicants, reach urban and rural areas across the United States, including the program’s first investments in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the South; a women-focused, early-stage capital fund in Texas; a Native American-centered, proof-of-concept program in Oklahoma; and urban innovation hubs honing in on fashion technology (New York) and social innovation (Louisiana). Additionally, six awards are being made in EDA’s Investing in Manufacturing Community Partnership regions.

“The RIS program advances innovation and capacity-building activities in regions across the country by addressing two essential core components that entrepreneurs need to take their ideas to market: programmatic support and access to capital,” said Secretary Pritzker. “As America’s Innovation Agency, the Commerce Department has a key role to play in supporting the visionaries and job creators of tomorrow. Congratulations to today’s awardees who will make U.S. communities, businesses, and the workforce more globally competitive.”

The Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE), housed within the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), leads the Regional Innovation Strategies Program to spur innovation capacity-building activities in regions across the nation. The program is authorized through the America COMPETES reauthorization Act of 2010, and received a dedicated appropriation for the first time in FY2014.

“The 2016 RIS grantees will reach a variety of communities and help entrepreneurs gain the edge they need to succeed,” said Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. “The diversity in programs and regional representation proves that innovation and entrepreneurship are igniting all corners of the country and is a recognized tool for economic growth and resilience.”

The RIS grants, broken into two categories — the i6 Challenge and the Seed Fund Support (SFS) Grants were awarded to:

Seed Fund Support Investments

§  CalCEF Ventures, California Clean Energy Fund, San Francisco, Calif. – $250,000 

§  Investor’s Circle, Colorado Seed-Stage Impact Fund, Durham, N.C. $250,000

§  Launch New York, Mentorship-Driven Seed Fund, Buffalo, N.Y. – $245,460

§  Research Park Corporation, Louisiana Deal Flow Accelerator, Baton Rouge, La. $250,000

§  Propeller Social Impact Equity Fund, New Orleans, La. $250,000

§  Telluride Foundation, Telluride, Colo. $150,000

§  University of South Florida, Seed Tampa Bay, Tampa, FL - $150,000

§  University of Texas, Gender Lens Impact Fund, Austin, Texas $250,000

i6 Challenge Investments

§  AZ Board of Regents, RISN Incubator, Tempe, Ariz. - $500,000

§  Cal State LA University Auxiliary Services, LABioStart Boot Camp, Los Angeles, Calif. - $499,087

§  California State University Fresno Foundation, Central Valley Regional Energy Innovation Accelerator, Fresno, Calif. - $500,000

§  Clark Atlanta University, Clark Russell Entrepreneurship and Technology Ecosystem (CREATE), Atlanta, Ga. - $432,335 

§  Composite Technology Recycling Center, Recycled Carbon Fiber Innovation Ecosystem Accelerator, Port Angeles, Wash. - $500,000

§  East Carolina University, Proof-of-Concept Project, Greenville, N.C. - $498,443

§  First Flight Venture Center, Hanger6, Durham, N.C. - $441,000

§  i2E Inc, Venture Assessment Program, Oklahoma City, Okla. - $199,749

§  Idea Foundry, Advance Life Sciences Commercialization Project, Pittsburgh, Pa. - $500,000

§  Lorain County Community College, Northeast Ohio Regional Acceleration in Digital Innovation (NEO ReADI), Elyria, Ohio - $499,999

§  Louisiana State University and A&M College, Louisiana State University Industrial Innovation Center (LSU-IIC), Baton Rouge, La. - $498,624 

§  Metro North Regional Employment Board, Form to Factory Advanced Manufacturing Project, Cambridge, Mass. - $500,000

§  mHUB, Catalyze Chicago, Chicago, Ill. - $500,000 

§  Mohawk Valley Community College, Upstate Innovation Accelerator, Utica, N.Y. - $499,500

§  Pratt Institute, Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator, Brooklyn, N.Y. - $486,680

§  Regents of the University of California, Riverside Proof of Concept Center, Riverside, Calif. - $499,950

§  Research Foundation for the State University of New York, Regional SBIR/STTR Mentorship Program, Stony Brook, N.Y. - $500,000

§  Rutgers University, Ecolgnite: Clean Energy Proof of Concept Center and Accelerator Program, Piscataway, N.J. - $439,190

§  Southern Research Institute, Alliance for Innovative Medical Technology Proof of Concept Center, Birmingham, Ala. - $500,000 

§  StartingBlock Madison, Fitchburg, Wis. - $471,875

§  University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc., New Materials Innovation Center, Athens, Ga.- $499,635

§  University of Pittsburgh, Manufacturing Accelerator Program, Pittsburgh, Pa. - $500,000

§  University of Tennessee Health Science Center, The UTHSC Proof of Concept Center, Memphis, Tenn. - $499,885 

§  University of Texas at Austin, Texas Smart Water Innovation Cluster, Austin, Texas - $500,000

§  University of Texas at San Antonio, The South-Texas Innovation Partnership Program (S-TIPP), San Antonio, Texas - $499,997

§  University of Toledo, The University of Toledo Rocket Fuel Fund, Toledo, Ohio - $500,000

§  WERX Foundation, McKinney, Texas - $345,895

Earlier this year, EDA released the 2016 Regional Innovation Strategies Federal Funding Opportunity (FFO) and began accepting applications. The application period was opened for 60 days. Under the FFO, $13 million was allocated for i6 Challenge grants and $2 million was made available for SFS grants. To learn more about the Regional Innovation Strategies program and the awardee projects, visit and the FAQs.   



Tutoring Startup Peeyr Takes Top Prize at McKinney Contest

Tutoring Startup Peeyr Takes Top Prize at McKinney Contest

Jed Rollins (left) and Gautam Bhargava (right), founded Peeyr to offer tutoring to lower income students. [Photo courtesy of Robin Woodall]



Tutoring startup Peeyr snagged the $3,500 grand prize at the Innovate McKinney Local Startup Competition grand finale event on Tuesday.

Judges selected the McKinney-based startup from a group of five finalists in the inaugural competition hosted by The WERX Foundation and McKinney Chamber of Commerce. 

The contest was designed to foster future business growth in the city.

“We recognize that entrepreneurial spirit is the backbone of our economy.”

Lisa Hermes

“We recognize that entrepreneurial spirit is the backbone of our economy,” said Lisa Hermes, president of the McKinney Chamber of Commerce, in a release. “It is innovative creativity that produces ideas that transform our world and leads to businesses that help our economy thrive. We were excited to be able to foster and celebrate that through this event.”

High school dropouts Gautam Bhargava and Jed Rollins founded Peeyr to make tutoring more accessible to lower income students.

“I noticed my classmates who have less money were struggling, I wanted to help tutor them regardless of their income,” said Bhargava, who serves as Peeyr’s CEO. “Students can choose any time they are available for a session.”

The online booking system allows students to filter a tutor by location and topic of help needed. 

“There are certain tutors to help with certain topics,” Bhargava said. “The coolest thing about this is how affordable it is.” 

Balanced Media Technology came in second place with its video game package that seeks to help in the fight against cancer and curing diseases. 

“This program works on real-world problems,” Balanced Media Technology team member Jason Leary said. “We want people to interact with the virtual reality medium.”

Learnatronics rounded out the winners in third place with a circuit board and electronic training package that’s distributed to classrooms across the state. 

The company aims to help teach robotics to students of all ages said Learnatronics co-owner and Chief Operating Officer Erin Kate “Katie” Walker.

“We have basic circuits and memory games,” Walker said. “We use sound and circuit lights on our boards. There is an instruction manual that comes with the boards to help.”

“With the money we won, we want to give our solution to every student in McKinney.”

Gautam Bhargava

Other finalists who were given special mentions were Divergent Innovation, a child safety mobile app, and Healthbloks, an online patient health care portal.

As for what the creators are going to do next with the money they won, Bhargava said he wants to spread the word about his business.

“With the money we won, we want to give our solution to every student in McKinney,” Bhargava said. “By marketing and getting ambassadors in high schools, we will spread word of our business.”


Innovate McKinney Finalists Discuss Origins of Their Businesses 

Peeyr Matches Students with Tutors in Same Age Range



Dallas Innovates Article on Innovate McKinney Competition


1st McKinney Startup Competition to Name Winners Tuesday June 28th

The finalists for the Innovate McKinney competition. [Photo courtesy McKinney Chamber of Commerce]



McKinney Chamber of Commerce and The WERX Foundation are hoping to spur future business growth with the city’s inaugural startup competition.

Money magazine said we were the No. 1 place to live, let’s make it the No. 1 place to do business,” said Cindy Johnson, development director at The WERX Foundation.

The Innovate McKinney Local Startup Competition invited entrepreneurs and small business owners to submit applications explaining their new products or services. Out of a pool of 21 applicants, judges chose five finalists at the beginning of June.

The finalists, who have products ranging from a cellphone safety mobile app to an online health care portal, include Balanced Media Technology, Divergent Innovation, Healthbloks, Learnatronics, and Peeyr.

“They are an interesting group — definitely standouts,” Johnson said.

Innovate McKinney Grand Finale

Those remaining contenders will make pitches beginning at 7 p.m. June 28 during the Innovate McKinney Grand Finale at the Historic McKinney Cotton Mill. Winners will be announced at 8 p.m.

The first place winner will receive $3,500. Second and third place winners will be awarded a combination of cash and in-kind services.

The June 28 event includes a Small Business Expo, live music, and food beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The finalists took a moment this week to answer questions about how their businesses got started. 

Gautam Bhargava


Gautam Bhargava, CEO of Peeyr

What led you to start your business?

Right now, there’s no affordable solution for students to get academic help outside of school. Also, a lot of students simply don’t enjoy learning from professional tutors they can’t connect with. We wanted to create an affordable solution that allowed students to connect with a vetted peer tutor, for an in-person tutoring session in any topic. 

What differentiates your business from others in your particular field?

Our biggest differentiating factor is our affordability, convenient three-step booking process, and tutor quality.

Is there anything else people should know about you/your business?

The founders are both high-school dropouts. I’m 18, while my co-founder, Jed Rollins, is 19. We’ll be rolling out our web platform to every student in the DFW area in September 2016.

Katie Walker


Erin Kate “Katie” Walker, co-owner/COO of Learnatronics

What led you to start your business?

Learnatronics started out from a desire to improve electronics education and help K-12 teachers integrate circuit building and electronics into their classrooms. Miles and I were at lunch with his uncle, Edward Elizondo — a high school teacher in central Texas, when Edward began telling us about a new class he was preparing and his frustrations in finding educational electronics kits geared for the classroom. That was what started it. We saw an area where teachers needed help, and our unique background in engineering, science, and education put us in a position to be able to provide that help.

What differentiates your business from others in your particular field?

Learnatronics is locally based and locally focused. We emphasize face-to-face sales and support. Our kits and materials are specifically tailored for teachers in Texas. Large-scale national competitors do not provide this level of specialization or personal support.

Additionally, our product is engineered for the school environment. Many of the kits offered by our competitors are more geared towards individuals and hobbyists. They do not include thorough explanations of the science or the resources we have prepared for teachers (lesson plans, worksheets, troubleshooting guides, etc.).

Furthermore, our kits provide a more authentic electrical engineering experience versus Snap Circuits, Little Bits, and Electron Ink. These other products rely on proprietary technologies that are not part of mainstream electronics or electrical engineering, which makes it more difficult for students to transfer the skills they learned from school to future college courses or careers.

Finally, our kits are more advantageously priced per student when compared to those of our competitors that do offer classroom/educational versions of their products. Overall, our kits are more cost-effective for schools and more geared towards helping teachers implement circuit activities in an educational environment.

Is there anything else people should know about you and/or your business?

Our team has a long history with the DFW area and education, particularly with the University of Texas at Dallas. We are proud of the education opportunities the DFW area offers, and we hope to increase the number of K-12 and universities that we work with in the future.

Justin Bambico


Justin Bambico, co-founder/CEO of Divergent Innovation

What led you to start your business?

My wife and I founded Divergent Innovation LLC because we have a passion to help keep kids safe. We have two children ourselves, so we understand the struggles parents face [in] trying to protect their children in this technology-based world. We want to help alleviate this pain point for parents and give them peace of mind while their kids use mobile technology.

What differentiates your company from others in your particular field?

Our mobile app, SaferImages, is different because we are offering a solution that does more than just monitor your child’s activity on a mobile device. Our app will still monitor and report like our competitors, but SaferImages will also prevent explicit images and derogatory messages from being received or sent through your child’s text message and messaging apps. Our competitors only give you a chance to look at what has already been seen or previewed on the mobile device, while we offer a way to prevent them from ever sending or receiving these images or messages in the first place.

Is there anything else people should know about you and/or your business?

Our team is committed to using current technology in new, innovative ways to help protect children of all ages. We hope that we can aid in the fight to protect our future existence because without children there really is no future. 

Robert Atkins of Balanced Media Technology

What led you to start your business?

We wanted to redefine the interactive entertainment industry, not only to make quality games but to give them purpose. 

What differentiates your business from others in your particular field?

We combine interactive entertainment with data science in a fun way, so that when users are playing they are also doing something positive in the world. 

Is there anything else people should know about you and/or your business?

This studio is determined to add value into all forms of entertainment. We will entertain, educate, and empower our users.  

Julia Falcon contributed to this report. 



Calling all Entrepreneurs: First Annual Innovate McKinney Startup Local Competition in McKinney

The McKinney Chamber of Commerce and The WERX Foundation, Inc. are Looking for the Best New Businesses That Will be the Future of McKinney

McKinney, TX:  Do you have a great new product or service that you want to build a business around?  Do you have a new business that is innovative in meeting customer needs?  The Innovate McKinney Competition wants to hear about you! 

Sponsored by First United Bank, AT&T and Encore Wire Corporation, the Innovate McKinney Competition seeks to link McKinney small business people with the resources available in the community to support them.  The WERX Foundation, Inc. and The McKinney Chamber of Commerce have developed a website,, with resources for small businesses and have planned events during the competition.  Everyone who applies will benefit from the competition process, the resources available and the planned events.  The Grand Prize winner will take home $3,500 cash.  Second and Third Prize winners will take home a combination of cash and in-kind services.

      “First United Bank believes strongly in supporting entrepreneurs in McKinney and the mission of McKinney WERX and the McKinney Chamber of Commerce.” Said Alan McDonald, Senior Vice President, First United Bank.  “Entrepreneurs are critical to the success of our community as they bring innovative ideas and products to market and create jobs that provide for a strong and stable community and region.  When we inspire and empower entrepreneurs to succeed, the entire community benefits.”

Entrepreneurs and small business owners may apply for the competition starting April 11 through May 14 at  Applications will be reviewed and judged and five finalists will be announced June 3rd.  The five finalists will present at an Innovate McKinney Grand Finale at The Historic McKinney Cotton Mill on June 28.  The Finale will include a Small Business Expo with music, beer and wine and appetizers.  Judges will attend the finalists’ presentations and select the top three winners which will be announced that evening. 

“The mission of The WERX Foundation is to build, grow and support small business in McKinney and we feel that this competition is right in line with that mission.”  Said Christine Smith, The WERX Executive Director.  “We hope that the competition shines a light on the great support and eco-system that McKinney provides for small businesses.” 

April 11-15, 2016 was proclaimed Innovate McKinney Week by McKinney’s Mayor Brian Loughmiller, To celebrate the launch of the Innovate McKinney Competition and Innovate McKinney Week.

“The McKinney Chamber of Commerce is excited to be partnering with The WERX on the Innovate McKinney Competition.”  Said Lisa Hermes, President of The McKinney Chamber of Commerce.  “Our wonderful business environment in McKinney has delivered very successful startups in the past and we look forward to recognizing the startups of the future.”



New Promotions!

The WERX is offering new promotions including our "co-WERXing Week" and "Bring a Seat, Take a Seat!" Stay tuned for more promotions to come!


The WERX is opening its doors for a FREE co-WERXing Week for all, for the week of Aug 24th- Aug 28th.

If you have thought about joining a co-working center or just want to get connected to the entrepreneurial community in the McKinney area, now is your chance to experience it for FREE.  Come by Werx anytime between 9am-5pm the last week of August and sit in on the super cool collaborative eco-system at Werx!  We look forward to meeting you :) 


The Werx Foundation is in need of clean working office chairs. The Werx will give a 1-month 'Open Seat Plan' membership in exchange for a donated office chair for all new members! Help out an entrepreneur by donating your unwanted office chairs. Everybody needs a place to sit and bring your chairs to WERX and take a seat for a month!... butts everywhere will love you for it! 



Werx Resident ShoppeThat wins $3K from Revtech Accelerator, Plans Crowdfunding

'ShoppeThat' wins $3K & more in the Revtech People’s Choice Awards Contest
McKinney, TX. July 27th 2015.

ShoppeThat, Inc. – a Texas corporation is one of 4 winners of the Revtech Accelerator People’s Choice Awards Contest. The contest was held on LaunchLeader, a new crowdfunding platform for very early stage startups to help build their prototype. ShoppeThat won a $3K investment from Dallas Restaurant & Retail Accelerator – Revtech. Prizes also include getting strategic planning & advice from mentors & workshops. We also get to pitch to VCs, Angels & Industry Execs on the Revtech Demo Day in September.
About ShoppeThat
ShoppeThat is an ecommerce startup based in McKinney, Tx. We are an online marketplace & shopping platform. We are open to general merchandise across all of our departments with simplicity, transparency & better multi-channel tools for merchants & relevant products for shoppers. We are planning several other features such as kiosks & catalogs later on.
ShoppeThat is currently in a free public Beta for the next several months. We are very excited to announce that we will move to the domain upon leaving beta with an updated logo. We are welcoming new merchants now to help test our platform – and there are no fees this early in beta.
After winning the contest, ShoppeThat has now moved into the Werx in McKinney Co-Working Space as a resident. Our new address is ShoppeThat, Inc. 610 Elm St. McKinney, Tx 75069 STE #700. Our $3K investment can be found on our CrunchBase Article.
Since winning, ShoppeThat has been featured in the Dallas Business Journal & the Revtech Blog.
“I am very excited about the progress being made via Revtech & Werx. ShopeThat will be releasing more details about the progress we are making from all of this in another release in a week or so. A lot is happening very quickly.” – ShoppeThat, Inc. Founder & CEO – Tristan Brisbon.
ShoppeThat is currently planning another LaunchLeader campaign & an IndieGoGo afterwards. The new LaunchLeader Campaign will start in less than two weeks. We will release details of the campaigns upon their launch to the press. We are very excited about all of it!
Contact Info for journalists, writers & bloggers:
Tristan Brisbon – Founder & CEO of ShoppeThat, Inc.
Phone 469-307-2339 – I’m happy to interview between 1PM – 5PM by phone or email anytime.

610 Elm St. STE #700 McKinney, Texas 75069 United States ShoppeThat can also be followed at:   



Speaker Series: McKinney Housing and Community Development Grant Opportunity Presentation

This week Will Honea, the Community Service Coordinator of McKinney Housing and Community Development, came and gave a compelling presentation about the grant opportunities for small start-up businesses here in McKinney.  These are fantastic opportunities that are largely unknown about, so we are so glad to be able to share this with our resident companies and the community!

Big thank you to Will for coming to Werx and providing this information to the local start-up community! 



Speaker Series: Becoming Your Own Banker Through Private Family Financing

Chris Gardner from 'Mindshift Financial', came and gave an extremely informative presentation on a different way to finance your business through private family financing rather than using a traditional financing methods or capital investments.

This method has proven successful in many businesses and has been used by Walt Disney, Bill Gates, and even Walmart to finance their business models. 

If you were unable to make the presentation or if you were at the presentation and still have questions, Chris is scheduling free one-on-one webinars to teach the public more about this fascinating method! To schedule a webinar please use the link below: 

Thank you Chris and everyone who came to this presentation!



Genius Den Presentation

Current WERX resident, Robert M. Atkins, was invited to fellow co-working center Genius Den this past week to give his presentation on Crowdfunding. Robert shared some of his past failures and successes with approximately 40 attendees, many of which were in the process of starting their own campaigns.  Robert spent time before-hand directly mentoring some of these folks, and shared his 'secret sauce' for running a successful campaign.  Big thank you to Joe Peyton,  founder of Genius Den, for the hospitality !

Robert was co-founder of 'Green Eye Games' who by using Kickstarter was able to raise 1.4 million dollars to help fund his board game 'Cthulhu Wars', plus an additional 500K in direct sales after the campaign ended. 

Thanks Robert for sharing the lessons you have learned and helping other potential start-ups!



Werxshop Series: "Mogulize Your Business"

June 23rd, 2015

Damian Skinner, in association with The Agency Partner, is leading a "WERXshop"  "mogulize your Business:  What Hollywood Knows About Your Business That You Dont!"  Damian is an award winning international speaker, marketing strategist, entertainment consultant and film director/producer, who will discuss marketing, positioning and messaging- value vs. perception and delves into how to efficiently utilize Hollywood marketing strategies in your own business.

This Werxshop kicked off yesterday, June 23rd, and will continue every other Wednesday throughout the summer. Thank you Damian and The Agency Partner for leading this series and to everyone who came out to the first session!

If you missed the first class, no worries! Swing by the next session on July 7th from 5:00-6:30 p.m. and come and learn "What Hollywood Knows About your Business that you Don't"!