McAllen Chamber Innovation Grants – Changing Lives

grant winnersMcAllen Chamber of Commerce Innovation Grants is a program designed to encourage product innovation and venture creation in the McAllen trade area. Every year, the McAllen Chamber provides up to $50,000 in grant funding to McAllen innovators, allowing entrepreneurial pioneers to advance their groundbreaking ideas towards reality. Meet the grant winners whose ideas were the strongest, best presented and most potentially viable ideas.

While most of the Valley population goes about its business working, sleeping and eating, there are individuals who delight in discovering new goods and services to offer the world – be it food, fun, or problem-solving ideas. McAllen Chamber Innovation Grants of 2015 highlight the variety offered.

Be-live Deodorant

Starting off the list is an all-natural deodorant.

Alejandra Rabago was studying to become a Health Coach, which sent her searching for healthier options in eating and lifestyle habits.

“I started paying more attention to my personal care products because I read they were full of chemicals,” Rabago said. “I was especially interested in deodorants because they had been linked to many diseases such as breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, hormonal disruptions and kidney disease.”

Gathering a collection of available natural deodorants, Rabago found none brought her the protection she wanted. She did the only thing she knew – she looked for recipes and began the process of developing her own, selling it locally at Farmers Markets, and to her clients, friends and family.

Working with the Small Business Development Center, Rabago decided to take it to the next step, but to do that would take money. Applying for, then winning the Innovation Grant, will provide the funds to do the branding, labeling and webpage necessary to bring it to a wider market.

“When I was approved for the second round, I was very excited. When I received an email stating I was one of the winners, I was thrilled,” she exclaimed.

For Rabago, it was confirmation her product was destined for greater things, as she follows a Spanish saying, “If you are willing to have what only a few have, you must be willing to do what only a few do!”

Cruise Control Entertainment

Cruise Control Entertainment is the dream-child of Miguel Cruz and Jose Salinas, professional video-game developers. To game is to dream, and Cruz and Salinas are dreaming big, with four games in the studio’s repertoire so far.

There’s only one little problem. Where other gaming studios have hundreds of thousands of people working for them, to date Cruise Control Entertainment has only Cruz and Salinas. Designing games is extremely time consuming and requires upgraded computers to develop the intricate details of a great game.

With a degree in Game Design, Salinas gained his experience in a large company. His final goal was to own his own company. When a friend told Cruz about her co-worker, Jose Salinas, who was into game developing, a meeting was arranged and they immediately hit it off.

“We’ve been doing this for a year and we’re going to continue moving forward with it no matter what,” Salinas said. “We’re very dedicated to this. We’re very passionate about our work.”

Both have other jobs helping keep their dream alive. Cruz, a student working towards his Computer Engineering degree and who is in the Army reserve, owns Cruz Custom Computers. As they both agree, working towards their ambitious plans is worth every moment it takes.

Using their grant funds to upgrade their equipment in order for them to design more efficiently, the two have plans to hold a boot camp for like-minded people.

Nuts & Cows

Elizabeth Davis of Nuts & Cows fame is taking her pecan works to a new level.

“For two years I have been selling my Pecan Butter at Farmers Markets and developed a good following,” Davis said. “I sent the butter to the Primo Picks competition for H-E-B who said they were interested but my product needed to be properly labeled with bar codes.”

Realizing an Innovation Grant might be her answer to making her product ready for market, she submitted her application. Winning the grant has assured her that this final process will be completed in a timely manner.

“I had opened Mi Cocina by the Hour, a pay by the hour commercial kitchen, and had the product ready except for the lab results for FDA requirements, standardized bottles and labeling,” she said. “There are two natural products with no sugar – Coconut Pecan Butter and Pecan Butter – and two sweetened items – Chocolate Pecan Butter and Cookie Pecan Butter.”

More than having developed a promising product, Davis wants to show others they don’t have to spend a lot to make their ideas successful.

“I started Nuts & Cows with $89, one tent, one table, one table cover and three pounds of pecans,” she laughed. “I think behind the fact that you are building a business is the fact it is all passion. You have to love what you are doing. That’s the most important thing.”

Brilliant Inventors LLC

Sam and Jennifer Shipp, owners of Brilliant Inventors LLC, have been developing the Knife Glider for the last few years. It’s won three business plan competitions and was named Innovative Company of the Year by the Small Business Administration of South Texas for 2015.

Still, the process of developing a product like the Knife Glider needs molds, which are quite costly.

“This year was my second year applying for the grant,” said Sam Shipp. This time we were accepted and were able to present to the committee. After our presentation, we felt it had been a good presentation and the judges liked what they saw.”

“We were in the process of making the molds and really needed the funds to finish. It came at just the opportune time,” Jennifer Shipp added.

The Knife Glider, a transparent, durable, BPA-free, dishwasher safe plastic, holds fruit and vegetables safely in place while being cut. Attachments included with the device are a vegetable peeler and hot meat holder.

“We would never have been able to do this without the Innovation Grant,” Sam said. “Our passion is to make the world a better place, helping people any way we can. Hopefully our Knife Glider will help springboard the next ideas we already have in the pipeline to help make life better for people, starting here in the Rio Grande Valley.”

(Find be-live deodorant and The Buttery by Nuts & Cows products at local Farmers Markets. Find the Knife Glider on www.knifeglider.com)