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Meet the Finalists: Leaders From Balanced Media, PeopleFun, ABIA, Asset Panda, and Phynd Technologies

Winners of The Innovation Awards, presented by D CEO and Dallas Innovates, will be revealed at an exclusive virtual event on Jan. 21.
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Startup Innovator of the Year category art

Leading up to our second annual Innovation Awards event on Jan. 21, we’re sharing excerpts from interview Q&As with the 51 finalists, one category at a time. Today, we feature the four Startup Innovator of the Year honorees.

For information on the virtual awards event, presented in partnership by D CEO and Dallas Innovates, click here. Tickets are just $20.

Robert Atkins

Robert M. Atkins

CEO, Balanced Media|Technologies

ON INNOVATION: “We believe we are going to change the world by building technology that empowers video gamers, livestreaming, students, and E-sports fans to help solve the most important challenges of our lifetime. As a purpose driven technology company, innovation becomes the biproduct produced along the journey as our team works toward achieving a world-changing mission. 

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: The world changed overnight, and for Balanced, the shift seemed to become wind in our sails. Highlights included closing our $3.5mm (million?) seed round, winning a Tech Titans award for Emerging Innovation Company of the Year, our CTO Dr. Corey Clark winning the Barbara Bush Adult Literacy XPRIZE and giving his first TEDx Talk about our work in April. Product wise, the highlight was Balanced, partnering with Jerry Jones owned E-sports team, Complexity Gaming, launching an industry first on Amazon’s TWITCH by crowdsourcing medical research for COVID-19 and Cancer. While the audience tuned into the E-sport livestream events, viewers engaged in fun interactive activities, which improved Complexity Gaming’s branding. The crowd’s actions also refined AI and machine learning within medical research industry. With 2.6 billion gamers, nearly a third of the world’s population, we see unlimited potential from the partnership of gaming and artificial intelligence. We are currently leveraging that partnership to make machine learning models perform better and more efficiently, unlock data science insights, and do together, that which cannot be done by man or machine alone. 

LESSON LEARNED: My passion for the past 30 years in the interactive entertainment industry surrounded design and creative direction of video games. Like most developers, the product is where we want to spend our attention; however, I wish I had spent as much time building my network and fostering industry relationships as I had building product. 

RATING DFW: There is no doubt that North Texas is entering an unprecedented stage for supporting Fortune 500 corporations, which lifts our communities and makes Texas an attractive place to live and work. My hope is the same support will be invested in the growth and education of our young talent, so they will cultivate new technologies and launch more innovative companies in Texas, too. 

LOOKING AHEAD: COVID exposed the weakness and need for fundamental change in our educational systems that support all students, no matter their personal situation…Children are spending more time than ever in front of a screen, yet they are more disconnected than ever with their education. At Balanced, we see the opportunities around improving engagement, personalizing education, and [creating] automation tools for teachers, which aid and empower them to support students through their leaning journey…By leveraging the lessons learned from interactive entertainment, we can build technology solutions that will fundamentally level up the education system. The world needs it, our children deserve it, and now is time to bring purpose to play.

Tony Goodman

Tony Goodman 

Founder and CEO, PeopleFun 

ON INNOVATION: “Innovation is not always a linear path. J.R.R. Tolkien’s mantra, ‘Not all who wander are lost,’ embodies the way we come up with some of our most creative ideas. We often talk about random topics and ideas and see where they lead us. For a gaming company, we hardly ever talk about gaming when we’re innovating. 

2020 HIGHLIGHTS:We recognize that so much of our strength comes not just from working hard, but from working together. PeopleFun has experienced massive growth this yearour revenue increased significantly, and we grew from 12 to 50 employees in just under two years...We also invested in building out a new office space in Richardson to accommodate our growing team and evolved our playbook to stay connected remotely so we can continue to prioritize everyone’s safety. 

In addition to growing our business, we are also proud of how we are diversifying our games. We’ve created a blueprint for bringing innovative new games to market by setting a high standard for testing ideas... We take a data-driven approach and apply significant planning, appropriate methods, and analytical rigor to our testing that sets us apart from other companies. 

LESSONS LEARNED: One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned was from playing games. I found that solving big problems is easier than solving small ones. It can be easy to get stuck on the small problems and forget your end goal, but by focusing on the big problems, you can be more creative and think more holistically about what you are trying to solve. We highly encourage all employees, regardless of tenure or level, to provide input on our games. If we want to make the best games, taking feedback from every part of the organization is how we help employees grow and ensure that we stay on top of trends. 

RATING DFW:Dallas is one of the most exciting places to have a gaming studio. Born and raised in Dallas, I’ve seen how the city and surrounding area has grown into a burgeoning tech hub. North Texas supports some of today’s largest industries because of its central location for national companies and lower cost of living and office rent than other parts of the country. We’re fortunate to be able to start and grow multiple companies in Dallas and show people how the gaming industry can thrive in North Texas. 

LOOKING AHEAD: “After this year, I’m most excited about how mankind’s desire to improve itself can overcome all short-term social and political obstacles.

Rex Kurzius

Rex Kurzius 

CEO, Asset Panda 

ON INNOVATION: Innovation in our company means listening hard to our customers and changing fast ... By establishing a client feedback loop of mechanisms and processes that encourage steady input and dynamic collaboration, we can learn from our clients’ experiences and quickly adapt and evolve our product and service to meet their needs. We apply a similar framework internally as well, encouraging open communication and fostering new ideas from our highly skilled melting pot of creative thinkers.  

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: First, we permanently transitioned our office-based operations to a remote work arrangement and implemented a flexible schedule so employees could balance work and home life and care for their physical and mental well-being. This fundamental shift also broadened our opportunities to hire new global talent and sparked creative and innovative product ideas that are currently in development.  

We then focused our resources on supporting clients as they too adjusted to the new normal. The invaluable feedback and data we collected during this period acted as a catalyst for restructuring our product road map. We dramatically improved the responsiveness, speed, and uptime of our mobile app, introduced several feature enhancements and modules that made our product even more adaptable, and successfully launched a sleek, new user interface. Our efforts are now centered on scalability and launching new features that will propel Asset Panda into new markets. 

LESSONS LEARNED:Early in my career, I took pride in being the first one in, and last one out, of the office and wore my outperforming work ethic and figurative desk chains like badges of honor. Over the years, I experimented with different approaches to running a business and pocketed wisdom from the places I traveled to and the people I worked with around the world.  

My journey has led me to believe that the only durable competitive advantage a company will ever have is its culture... What sets one company apart is its ability to build a culture that empowers its people. Companies gain a competitive advantage by establishing a strong worklife balance and giving people creative freedom to work on their own terms.  

I’ve learned that being a leader is not about being the smartest or hardestworking person in the room. It’s about learning to adapt your approach to company culture and creating an environment where others can freely be themselves and express ideas. 

RATING DFW:I’ve worked in many different cities and countries, and what sets North Texas apart is its unwavering support for the diverse group of companies assembled in the area. Groups such as D CEO, Dallas 100, Frisco Chamber of Commerce, SMU, and others publicly acknowledge North Texas companies and celebrate them on a global scale. The recognition and honors we’ve received from these organizations and other companies in the area have encouraged us to keep pushing boundaries.” 

LOOKING AHEAD:We are competing in a highly fragmented market with an adaptable platform that has been proven to help organizations around the world reclaim control of their assets and invest their substantial cost savings back into their people, communities, and passions. Our team is growing and becoming more versatile as our product expands. We are moving closer to scalability and extending product capabilities to meet our goal of becoming the dominant asset tracking company in the world.

Kumar Narala

Kumar Narala 


ON INNOVATION: Innovation is working upon an idea to create a product or service that seems near impossible to achieve yet gives great value to the company as well as the customer.”  

2020 HIGHLIGHTS: Many business processes often have long, complex, and opaque workflows that encompasses vast dimensions and metrics. We have developed and released the first commercial, multidimensional process mining model, which gives the ability to instantly analyze the process with ease across many dimensions and metrics. 

LESSONS LEARNED: “The lesson I have learned is to keep faith and belief in my vision, intuition, and the team supporting me despite setbacks. This belief, in combination with tenacity and self-motivation, eventually resulted in a clear path to success.   

RATING DFW:I would rate North Texas a 10 out of 10 in growth and innovation.  North Texas is one of the most conducive locations for startups and growth. It has low operational costs, an incredible talent pool, and vast potential leads.” 

LOOKING AHEAD: I am excited to be on a path to put North Texas on the global map as the industry leader in the world of process intelligence and digital automation.

Thomas White

Tom White 

CEO, Phynd Technologies 

ON INNOVATION: Innovation means identifying areas of opportunity to apply information technology to improve healthcare processes. In Phynd’s case, we are healthcare’s first and only enterprise provider data platform which serves as a central hub for all data needed for a health system to run effectively. For Phynd, providers mean all their people, places and services, including telehealth. Health systems have struggled for more than 30 years to organize their clinical care assets into a single system that served consumers, providers, marketing, and operations (IT, revenue cycle, value-based care) teams. Phynd is a powerful but simple approach to help provider organizations manage these assets to make the health system run better and improve the consumer experience. 

2020 HIGHLIGHTS:We’ve accomplished a lot. We’ve taken the raw assets of a healthcare systempeople, places and servicesin combination with scheduling inventory, and delivered a powerful, simple tool for consumers to purchase healthcare...I’m proud of the many new health systems that have gone live on Phynd in the past yearNewYork-Presbyterian, Cedars Sinai, USC Keck, and Ballad Health, among othersjoining more than 30 of the largest and most influential health systems in the US who rely on Phynd. All are enjoying the benefits of a brand new ‘digital front door.’   

We’ve expanded our integration with systems that healthcare relies on to operate. Using Phynd Provider Search and Phynd Schedule Advisor, patients can self-schedule appointments with providers directly in an EHR.  We have also launched exciting new Phynd workflow, embedded in EHR registration and scheduling software, that lets users search for providers inside of the EHR to enroll referring providers missing in EHR. Missing providers has been an unsolved challenge for Admit-Discharge-Transfer (ADT) systems for over 30 years. We’re the first to crack the code.  We solve the issue in real-time, eliminating revenue cycle and provider communications breakdowns.   

We’ve also launched Phynd Provider Search–Web App, a plug and play version of our provider search, so digital teams can instantly replace their legacy Find a Doctor capability. This rapid-deploy provider search capability makes our offering universally accessible to health systems large and small. That’s all pretty cool to have done in just a year. 

LESSONS LEARNED: There’s an old saying that ‘all politics is local.’ So, too, must startup leaders stick to their knitting and remain focused on the problem their products are trying to solve.  I’ve started up four companies, three in areas which I know well, and one in an area outside of my knowledge set.  You can probably guess which ones were successful and which one wasn’t. I’ve taken this lesson to heart. 

RATING DFW:North Texas has become a fertile region for tech start-ups and is favorable to both entrepreneurs and employees. Phynd has been able to hire at a fast pace, recruiting both experienced talent and recent recruits from local colleges and universities who have strong technical and communications skills. I’m active in Health Wildcatters, which provides workspace, networking, and other nurturing support for healthcare start-ups in North Texas.  

Over 1,000 people move to Texas daily for overall quality of life as well as job prospects; not having a state income tax also helps.The downside of North Texas is that today, it lacks a structured venture capital market.  We’ve raised our professional capital rounds outside of North Texas because we had to. There are a few of our investors who are starting to build that community. I see the seeds of their effort; it will pay dividends down the road. 

LOOKING AHEAD: Phynd has been able to help our clients awaken to their need to invest in and build out a provider data platform that serves consumers and providers. We’ve helped the industry accelerate its overall digital transformation.

Click here for more information on The Innovation Awards.

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