by Mark Carter
Posted 11/4/2013 12:00 am
The night before Josh Moody pitched his startup, Overwatch, at the 2013 ARK Challenge Demo Day in September, he did his trigonometry and calculus homework.
Josh, after all, is a 17-year-old senior at Little Rock’s Catholic High School. His immersion in the realm of entrepreneurship and business accelerators, of course, has been a little unorthodox. But so far, it’s been a successful dip.
Josh got that homework done and the next day led his team to a win in the ARK Challenge startup boot camp in Fayetteville, where he competed against seasoned entrepreneurs from all over the world. The win earned $150,000 for Overwatch, an app that aims to bring users’ combat gaming skills into the real world through paintball, laser tag and airsoft games courtesy of live GPS radar, voice chat and other features. Think “Call of Duty” for real life, only no one dies.
The Overwatch experience comes with the iPhone- and Android-compatible app plus hardware including universal mount styles to hold a user’s smartphone in place on the arm and gun while playing paintball, laser tag or airsoft games.
To take Overwatch from idea to reality, Josh and his parents Gwen and David Moody relocated to northwest Arkansas for three months over the summer to participate in the ARK Challenge, after Josh worked out a deal with Catholic High to begin his senior year remotely.
At the ARK Challenge, which ran from June into September, he underwent a grinding 17-hour-a-day schedule that included meetings, planning sessions and development of the app. Once school started, he maintained his schoolwork and took tests during breaks from work.
The concept for Overwatch was hatched by Josh when he was 15 and became a reality when his dad, a startup consultant, introduced him to Joe Saumweber and Michael Paladino (himself a Catholic High grad) of Bentonville software development startup RevUnit.
As president of a battery technology startup launched in Fayetteville, David had spent lots of time in the area and became ingrained in the growing northwest Arkansas startup ecosystem. Ultimately, he was named an ARK Challenge mentor. He ran Josh’s idea by Saumweber and Paladino, former developers at Rockfish Interactive, who agreed to hear Josh pitch his idea.
“They agreed to look at Joshua’s gaming concept and Joshua sent them the product plan, features and mockups he had developed completely on his own,” David Moody said.
Saumweber admits he didn’t expect much from the initial meeting.
“The minute we tell anyone we’re an app development company, among other things, the next words that follow are almost always, ‘Oh, I had this idea for an app the other day,’” Saumweber said. “So we hear a lot of ideas, and we could never have the time and energy to pursue them all. When we first sat down with Josh Moody, I’ll be honest, it was a courtesy visit because we have a lot of respect for his father. But about 10 minutes into that dinner table conversation, Michael and I were exchanging excited looks, and we started to catch the vision.”
That vision led them to establish a formal company called Innovis Labs with Josh as CEO (and whose age required lots of extra paperwork) and apply for the ARK, where David mentored other teams but not the Overwatch team. Both Overwatch and RevUnit are client firms of Innovate Arkansas.
Despite (perhaps because of) the intense workload, Josh discovered something many adults never realize: his calling.
“It really is my passion. I love creating and customizing,” he said. “As a kid, I had an incredible interest in electronics and engineering. I disassembled McDonald’s toys to see how they worked, modified my Playstation Portable to control TVs, and then constructed a series of pulleys to open the door to my room from my bed.
“Eventually, I began experimenting with circuits, adding rapid-fire buttons to Xbox controllers for friends. Shifting my interest to speakers and amplifiers, I built iPhone docks out of any box I could find, using speakers ripped from old CD players. With the knowledge I’d learned from tinkering with speakers, I built a Bluetooth, waterproof speaker box capable of playing music both above and below the surface of pools. Hacking and creating products has been a big part of my life since I can remember.”
Overwatch has already partnered with Cybergun, the world’s largest airsoft gun manufacturer, to make its app available with Cybergun products.
“Cybergun shares our belief that once gamers get their hands on Overwatch, they will love it just as much as we do,” Josh said. “It’s their support and partnership, we believe, that served as the best credibility for the potential of Overwatch to improve the airsoft industry, but also bridge the gap between digital and physical gaming.”
Plus, Overwatch is preparing to launch a fundraising campaign through Kickstarter.
For now, Josh continues to work on Overwatch and enjoy his senior year. If Overwatch hits it big, it could mean delaying college. But he’ll be ready either way. Already accepted into the University of Arkansas, Josh has applied to schools across the country but is prepared to push back his freshman year if necessary.
Catholic High Principal Steve Straessle thinks Josh’s ARK Challenge experience gives him an edge, whether he begins college next fall or not.
“The ARK Challenge has enhanced his high school experience tremendously,” he said. “The program requires entrepreneurs to be present in seminars and classes on how to speak in public, how to sell, how to create a business model, among other things. Without question, the program is a condensed but hands-on, college-level business class. I do not believe Josh would have been as successful had he not already done extremely well in his fundamental classes. Likewise, his fundamental high school classes are now enhanced by his real life experience that ARK Challenge provided him.”
UA Technology Ventures director Jeff Amerine, an ARK Challenge mentor and Innovate Arkansas adviser, believes that both Overwatch and Josh are ready for the big time now.
“We had 90-plus highly qualified startup company applicants from 15 countries for this ARK Challenge,” he said. “From that process, a 17-year-old from Little Rock, Arkansas, was near the top of everyone’s list for selection. It was not a surprise that they received the ARK Fund investment because the business model and development team led by Joe and Michael clearly proved to be investment ready.”