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Venezuelan tech entrepreneur revolutionizes social storytelling with video-sharing app FlickPlay

Pierina Merino is the 29 year old Venezuelan tech entrepreneur behind FlickPlay, a new revolutionary platform changing the world of social storytelling through innovative use of augmented reality (AR). At its core, FlickPlay is a gamified video-sharing social app that combines interactive game elements with social media. The app creates immersive and gamified experiences that offer a new canvas for social storytelling, allowing users to create their own content to share in and out of the app. 

Pierina Merino, CEO and Founder of FlickPlay (Photo courtesy Pierina Merino)

The first sparks of creativity

Pierina has worked across different creative industries over the past 8 years. From designing large scale architectural projects for Frank Gehry, to leading creative and design strategy for premium VR experiences for luxury fashion brands, her career has revolved around innovation and pushing the boundaries of technology to bring the physical and digital world closer together.

Her creative passion first sparked at a young age. Growing up in Venezuela Pierina was always known as the “creative one” in school. 

“I was the one that designed the cheerleaders’ outfits, painted murals, and was the perfect partner to successfully achieve any creative assignment,” she says. “Most students in Venezuela pursue traditional fields, such as law or medicine. However, I decided to choose architecture when I was a little girl. Back then, I did not know where it would take me. Entrepreneurship runs in the family; it is in my DNA.” 

At the age of 16, Pierina left her home country for Canada to study English and urbanism and further pursue her creative drive for architecture. From there she eventually found herself in Miami where she enrolled in Miami Dade Community College to get her start in the field of design. She worked diligently to earn a scholarship at one of the top worldwide schools:  SCI-ARC Southern California Institute of Architecture, where she graduated with honors and earned a recognition as the best thesis. Pierina then went on to work for renowned Canadian architect, Frank Gehry where she gained invaluable experience and worked alongside distinguished professionals.  

Starting out with her first start-up

Before founding FlickPlay, Pierina launched and led PIEMER–the first 3D-printed product line to be sold at Nordstrom, nationally. The line included jewelry pieces such as rings and bracelets and was a complete success gaining nomination for the Fashion Rising Brand Award by the renowned Los Angeles Business Journal in November 2017. PIEMER also received an invitation to exhibit in the Los Angeles Architecture and Design Museum.

While traveling nationally to Nordstrom stores for her start-up, Pierina became aware of the huge social disruption that has taken place in offline social life since the introduction of social media. 

“At Nordstrom, I came across grandmas and mothers that chose my products in the department store to get sent to their granddaughters and daughters. In turn, young women seemed less interested in stopping by at the traditional point of sale and preferred to visit creative sites where they could create content for social networks. Retail stores have suffered a huge social disruption in the past 10 years. Our daily online and offline experiences are more disconnected than they should. As digital images (through our phones) feel more and more real and tangible, I became obsessed with the possibility of generating creative experiences that could help users communicate fun and interactive moments in their favorite locations. Therefore, I pursued this until I discovered its full potential and came up with FlickPlay.”

From “mall culture” to social media

In the 80s and 90s “mall culture” was at the center of social life for young people. People would go to malls to spend one-on-one time with their friends. This also greatly benefited retailers as their physical locations were the site for gathering and socializing. However, in recent years with the introduction of social networks in our everyday lives, retailers have suffered. Pierina describes that now more than ever the locations where millennials and Gen Z-ers decide to visit is primarily determined by their experiential value. The cooler and more “share-worthy” the place, the more likely they will frequent that location. 

Social media and social storytelling has evolved tremendously over the past decade alone. From the 1-dimensional world of Facebook and Twitter that launched as platforms for text and images, to the 2D era of Instagram and SnapChat that focused on images and video, we are now entering a new era of 3D platforms that incorporate innovative technologies like virtual and augmented reality, immersive content tools, and even gaming elements as FlickPlay delivers. This new era of social storytelling is weaving a web between our physical and digital worlds, bringing them closer than ever before. 

How FlickPlay is revolutionizing social storytelling

Layering gaming and immersive content tools, FlickPlay is leveling up the way we tell and share stories. Described as a combination of Pokémon Go, TikTok and Snapchat FlickPlay uses gaming and augmented reality (AR) content tools to power a new canvas for social storytelling. At FlickPlay, users can access creative AR experiences through their interactive map game and camera. Once videos are shared, they get gamified for the community to unlock points, and engage in content and leaderboard challenges with their friends and FlickPlay community.

“From Pokémon Go, we have all the gaming interactions and we capture the city spaces. In terms of content distribution, we resemble TikTok in how repetition is used to boost vitality. In terms of creative inclination and technology, we are like Snap,” says Pierina. 

FlickPlay

The FlickPlay app combines gaming elements with immersive content creation tools and augmented reality features to level-up your social stories (Photo courtesy Pierina Merino)

FlickPlay App is the first digital platform that allows users to get into a content game in the city. Users gain relevance through these experiences because they are based on two pillars:

  1. Scores, rewards, and goals that allow to reinforce the interaction of content with the user
  2. Brand interaction in relevant locations and highly creative content that drives the users to share it

Fans of experiences and creative content can gain access to the creation of and participation in interactions with game dynamics that enable them to access creative experiences that are not open to everyone. Augmented reality videos generate a cerebral impulse that enhances the retention of the shared visual content. Any event, object or person that goes through the camera in this app becomes memorable. 

Facing obstacles as a female tech entrepreneur

Venezuelan tech entrepreneur, Pierina Merino (Photo courtesy Pierina Merino)

Despite the success of FlickPlay, Pierina still faced obstacles throughout her journey with the project. One of her biggest obstacles was acquiring funds and investors to back her venture. As a woman entrepreneur in the tech field, Pierina was part of the 2% of women founders and CEOs of technology companies in the U.S. This meant she had to prove herself. 

To pass the test with Venture Capital, I had to face more than 100 meetings and screenings with my project pitch in my portfolio. I made a lot of pitches and can barely remember how many industry events I have attended to introduce myself and to try to raise funds,” she says. 

However, eventually she gained her first investors, Muse Capital, led by two women. This drew the attention of other executives in the technology industry and Pierina was able to finally secure the rest of her investors to bring her project to life. 

You might be interested: Ivana De Maria presents her storytelling app at 2019 Entrepreneur Empowerment Lunch

To other minority women who are thinking of starting their own business Pierina says, “It’s time to take space. We cannot change the past or what leaders used to look like, but it is our responsibility to break the biases for us and future generations. Building a tech  company from scratch is not easy for anyone no matter gender or ethnicity, it requires a lot of mental and emotional strength. The moment you let biases crush your goals you are proving them right. Find your true believers and have enough drive and determination to get what you want when you want it. You will probably have to prove more along the way but that will only make you stronger and a better leader.

The future of social storytelling

Augmented Reality (AR) is transforming not only the way we communicate and tell stories, but also the way in which brands interact with their consumers. It is projected that by 2022 AR advertisements will lead 15% of brand publicity strategies. Therefore, it is key that leading brands include AR as soon as possible to secure a competitive advantage over the others.

FlickPlay is already taking that step forward with its innovative technology. 

New and old activities find the way toward reformulation. Political campaigns, daily life stories, interactions with distant worlds, brand content creation, treasure hunts in the city, challenges among friends, virtual competitions and much more is in store

“This is a novel platform in the app market. Our focus is not on ‘selfie mode’ -as Instagram- but on the physical space and relevant locations for users,” says Pierina. “Our strength lies in the introduction of game mechanics so that content creation and consumption become more entertaining.  Rewards get users excited about getting benefits. Some users engage in the competitive aspect and want to make it to the top of the list, while others only seek to produce high-level creative videos remaining outside of the game dynamics. We want to reach one billion users and still focus on the consumer. We want to be fun and interactive. FlickPlay is making room for a new social segment to tell the best stories in their favorite places.”

On the subject of Covid-19 and how it has impacted our perceptions of our physical world and our relationship with social media, Pierina says: 

“After the shock associated with cultural and social changes in the world due to the pandemic, I’ve noticed that everything we can touch is getting closer to everything we cannot see in the real world. Therefore, while virtual reality becomes the only tangible way to view the world, what we cannot attain in a real way will become part of the digital world. No matter where you are, two realities coexist across the globe, the one you reach through your senses and the one that defies them, that you can find looking through FlickPlay. The magic of this app makes this happen.” 

Get FlickPlay using the QR Code above!

FlickPlay is currently available in the Apple Store in the U.S. and Canada, and will be launching soon in Spain as the first European release. 

Microsoft’s female founders competition awards $2M to Latina Tech-preneur

Latina tech-preneur Cecilia Flores, CMO and co-founder of IoT tech startup Webee, was recognized as the winner of the Female Founders Competition, winning $2M for her business. 

female founders competition

Cecilia Flores, CMO and Co-Founder at Webee (Photo courtesy Cecilia Flores)

Originally from Salta, Argentina but based in San Jose, California, Cecilia is a tech-preneur passionate about the social impact of disruptive technologies and innovation. An advocate for inclusion and equal opportunities for Women in Tech, she is an active mentor of Stanford Latino Entrepreneur, an active member of the Vital Voices Network since 2010, and a board member of We-Evolution, a non-profit that leads the women third revolution.

In 2013, Cecilia and her husband, Lucas Funes, co-founded Webee, a technology innovation company that develops IIoT (Industrial-Internet of Things) and AI (Artificial Intelligence) solutions for industrial and commercial markets. 

Webee was selected as a winner in the US Enterprise software category of the Female Founders Competition for its ability to achieve sustainable industrialization through easy-to-deploy solutions to reduce the impact of manufacturing processes on the environment. 

Backing Female Founders 

Did you know that last year, companies founded solely by women received less than 2% of the total capital invested in venture-backed startups? 

Unfortunately, despite it being well documented that women-led companies deliver higher returns over time than those founded by men, female entrepreneurs continue to receive significantly less access to capital. This is what the Female Founders Competition hopes to change.

The competition, organized by M12, Microsoft’s venture fund, and partnership with Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures and Mayfield invested USD $6 million in four winners. Two winners–one global and one US-based startup–were selected in each of the two categories: Deeptech and Software as a Service (SaaS). Webee was one of two winners in the SaaS category, receiving $2M for her business, while Deeptech winners each received $1M. 

female founders competition

Weebee video can be seen at https://www.webee.io

“We look for founders that are willing to go the extra mile and commit to tackle important challenges in the world,” says Tamara Steffens, GM t M12 Venture Capital. “We saw in Webee a combination of a technological vision with  strong purpose and the willingness to make it happen. The expertise of its founders and the proven track record make it possible to achieve the goal of sustainable industrialization.” 

How Webee’s IoT tech is revolutionizing agriculture

One of the key components recognized by the Female Founders Competition judges was Webee’s mission of sustainability. Webee has specifically been working within the Food, Beverage, and Agriculture industry to help reduce ineffecient processes that lead to food waste.

Webee Corporations has developed a unique, no coding visual approach to building complex IoT applications for the industrial and commercial markets. Their products enable customers to benefit from IoT technology without impacting operations and obtaining an immediate return on investment. 

For those who may not be as familiar with the world of tech, IoT refers to the Internet of Things. IoT technology is defined broadly as “objects that ‘talk’ to each other.” It is everything connected to the internet. It’s about networks, devices, and data working together in communication. From your phone to smart-refrigerators, home security systems, and automated light fixtures, these all operate as part of IoT. 

So what does this have to do with agriculture? And how is Webee working to help the Food, Beverage, and Agriculture industry? 

Well, IoT has become a crucial component in the current agricultural industry, helping to eliminate food waste. 

“One-third of all food produced in the world every year goes to waste, and 40% of that comes from inefficiencies during manufacturing processes,” says Cecilia. “IoT is a key enabler of the ‘Third Green Revolution’ to achieve efficient production and sustainability.” 

The original Green Revolution has Latino roots, originating in Mexico during the 1940s. This first revolution began as a means to develop new, disease resistant crops. Through the use of technology, scientist Norman Borlaug began conducting research in Mexico to produce a disease resistant variety of wheat that would also produce a high-yield of crop. This technology then spread across the globe in the 50s and 60s, revolutionizing food production by allowing a single plant to produce far more crops than ever before.

Now, IoT is spearheading a new Green Revolution by helping to combat food waste in the manufacturing process through what is being called “smart farming.” 

Like our smartphone and smart-houses, smart farming is utilizing technology to make farming more efficient. By using a system of sensors, farmers are provided with a mobile application that receives input and data from the sensors. These sensors can be used for a variety of functions such as crop monitoring, watering, cattle monitoring, and greenhouse automation. With IoT, smart sensors collect information on the soil, which help assess the quality of the soil and crops. Smart sprinklers are also set to water plants when soil reaches a certain level of dryness. This helps reduce wasting water and is cost friendly as well. 

These are just a few of the many ways IoT technology is helping to revolutionize the agriculture industry. 

“We work tirelessly to continue our deployment to reduce the impact of the inefficient manufacturing processes on the environment,” says Cecilia. “Our mission is to democratize the adoption of disruptive technologies to achieve sustainable industrialization.” 

With the USD $2M investment from the Female Founders Competition, Webee will be continuing the expansion in the Food, Beverage, and Agriculture industry and help reduce the impact of Food Loss on the environment. 

You might be interested: A Latina innovator on becoming a successful Tech entrepreneur

Webee and COVID-19 

In addition to their work in the Food and Agriculture industries, Webee has also been involved in helping industries across the globe transition their manufacturing processes during Covid-19. 

Since the Covid-19 outbreak began, we have seen industries across the globe impacted by the virus. Supply chains were quickly shut down worldwide causing many companies to re-examine their supply chains and how they will ensure continuity in the event of the next crisis. 

Technology, such as Webee’s IoT and AI tools, will be a key ally in this transitional process. Automation and AI can help take over the redundant tasks in the supply chain of production, reducing human error and allowing employees to stay safe at home with their families without disrupting the supply chain. 

Cecilia Flores and Lucas Funes with their daughter, Lisa. (Photo courtesy Cecilia Flores)

We are only seeing the beginning of where IoT tech will go. But in order to ensure future innovation and development, it is important that more companies follow in the footsteps of the Female Founders Competition to create opportunities for women in tech and female founded companies to receive the necessary support and financial backing to continue producing innovative technologies.