Jim Marggraff has been driven to invent things that connect people ever since he was 5 years old and saw his great-grandmother crying through her window when his family left her Connecticut home after a visit.
“It was the saddest thing I ever experienced,” Marggraff says. “This memory is etched permanently for me.”
Marggraff would go on to create the popular LeapPad tablet educational system that has helped more than 100 million kids learn to read. It’s one of seven companies he has founded or cofounded.
And now Marggraff’s latest invention, a family-friendly artificial intelligence and augmented reality-infused app and video chat solution for the iPhone and iPad known as Kinoo, has taken the $10,000 top prize as winner of the fourth annual AARP Innovation Labs’ Grand Pitch Finale. The labs’ mission is to engage early stage startups and help them identify fresh opportunities and tap into the enormous economy of people age 50 and older.
Marggraff’s Silicon Valley company, also named Kinoo, beat out four other startups Sept. 30 in a Shark Tank-like competition in which members of an online audience viewed the event and chose the winner through an app on their phones.
Past Grand Finale winners
• 2020: Zibrio. Its stability scale helps users track their balance and seek help for problems to prevent falls. Wheel Pad’s prefabricated accessible living spaces won an audience vote.
Each runner-up company received $2,500, and all five companies in the finale won earlier virtual pitch competitions, including an event AARP hosted in March in collaboration with the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on the CES electronics trade show.
“These AgeTech founders are committed to the important work of tackling the problems we face as we age," says Jacqueline M. Baker, vice president of startup programming at AARP Innovation Labs. "We hope these innovations will inspire others to keep building for our future.”
For its part, Kinoo was the winner of the Better Aging Through Technology pitch competition held over the summer, sponsored by AARP Innovation Labs and Innovation Collective.
App to arrive in the fall
Kinoo’s first app, which the company says is scheduled to arrive in the fall, is about helping grandparents and grandkids bond virtually through discovery and while playing games and telling stories. Animated characters named Kodii and Kidoo, developed by early childhood social and emotional learning experts, guide those young and older.
Initially, the app will be free to try and available through the Apple Store. After that, the company will have an unlimited-use membership starting at $10 a month. Kinoo says it plans to add a version for Android next year.
The company will also be selling an optional $79 handheld motion-sensing wandlike controller that it says will let kids integrate physical play activities, such as watering plants, fishing and connecting the dots.
“We built Kinoo based on a vision of what might be possible if distance no longer prevented grandparents from frequently and actively engaging in the lives of their grandkids. We see a world where we connect in new ways, listen and play together, understand our mutual needs and help one another grow together,” Marggraff says. “We’re so honored that AARP has recognized the power of what is possible through Kinoo.
“I am now 63, younger than my great-grandmother at that time. But her legacy still lives on for me and has impacted my work at Kinoo for us all, empowering us to choose how we live as we age."
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Edward C. Baig is a contributing writer who covers technology and other consumer topics. He previously worked for USA Today, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and Fortune and is the author of Macs for Dummies and the coauthor of iPhone for Dummies and iPad for Dummies.