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Startups To Watch: It’s a busy summer for baby food, video games

story by Kim Souza
ksouza@thecitywire.com

Editor’s note: The City Wire has consulted with people closely affiliated with Northwest Arkansas entrepreneurial programs to compile a list of the five entrepreneurial startups to watch in 2014. Our goal with this effort is to document as much as possible about the ups and downs and other directions a new venture may take as it struggles to prove a product, service or both. Link here for the initial story in the series.

It’s shaping up to be a busy summer for two entrepreneurs – one a recent high school graduate – pushing baby food and video games.

Fran Free, CEO and founder of Oh Baby Foods, said she has lots of irons in the fire as she gears up for a new product launch of toddler foods she hopes to bring to market by March 2015.

“Growth takes capital and expanding a product line quite be quite intensive in terms of time and money. It takes about a year to develop from the concept phase to end product. We are working to secure about $2 million in added capital to support this new product launch,” Free said.

Free is not just interested in securing the loan, but she also hopes to garner advisory expertise with strategic funding partners. The company recently was able to pay off an investor, which Free said felt “really good.”

Earlier this week Oh Baby completed its second production run in two months as it gears up to enter eight states in August with rollouts at Whole Foods and other retailers. The eight states are new markets for Oh Baby, and will give the company a presence in 39 states.

“We are excited to be going to the Rocky Mountain area and the Northeast and Mid- Atlantic regions, where we have not been sold before. We recently brought on new brokers in those regions which took some time to find,” Free said.

Because Oh Baby Foods uses fresh fruit and vegetables in its product formulations the summer harvest period is busy for Free who is working to negotiate contracts with suppliers for the next year.

“We had a production run yesterday, and it was the first time I haven’t been to there to oversee it. This time my food scientist took care of it for me so I could continue to work on other things like the supplier contracts. This is huge for me to be able to delegate something as important as production runs. But having a food scientist to oversee production responsibilities which take place in California makes sense at this time,” Free said.

OVERWATCH
Since The City Wire’s last update, Overwatch CEO Josh Moody graduated from high school and is now working full-time toward product launches that will begin as early as next month.

Moody said the Overwatch gaming application for iOs Apple users was beta tested and submitted to Apple for approval this week. He expects the app will go up on the App store in the next two weeks or so. The Android app continues to be developed, and the company will begin announcing more information about its release in the near future.

Moody said the beta testing including both Apple and Android users and the developers received some good feedback from the tests which they used to tweak the iOs user interface. Improvements were made to the overall gaming experience regarding the location of teammates and use of radar that helps track opponents. Moody said hardware components are taking longer to complete as they are working with Cybergun’s manufacturing facilities based outside the U.S.

“The finalized design on the rail mount hardware is done. We are waiting on receipt of the 3-D printed design from the manufacturer so we can put it through durability and functionality testing. At that point we order manufacturing to begin. We expect to have the hardware case mounts in retail stores before the holiday season,” Moody said.

In the meantime, Overwatch’s armband hardware has been approved and is ready to manufacture once the apps are approved by Apple and Android.

“We still have to design the packaging for the armband product which will be sold online once the apps are approved and manufacturing begins,” Moody said.

The company has not been without a few setbacks. The largest of those being a trademark challenge by a large gaming company.

“We were able to come to an agreement with them, successfully securing the Overwatch trademark for our mobile gaming use — and making us the official Overwatch app on both the iOS and Android app stores,” Moody said.

He said the company is also looking for other products that will enhance the game play of the apps. They are acquiring a Heads Up Display (HUD) which it will use for experimental testing.

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“We are extremely excited about the future of HUD integration with Overwatch, as it offers a unique, highly unobtrusive way to display important gaming information right in a player's line-of-sight,” Moody said.

He explained that the HUD product is a SNOW2 made by Recon Instruments which was designed for snowboard/ski goggles, but it can modified to fit into a paintball mask.

All of this work takes money and Moody said the company is working to nail down its final funding round of $300,000.

“The product will be released regardless of the funding raise, but the raise will give us the necessary funds to operate a full marketing campaign to promote our release,” Moody said.

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