Jim Marggraff has been driven to invent things that connect people ever since he was 5 years old and saw his great-grandmother crying through her window when his family left her Connecticut home after a visit.
“It was the saddest thing I ever experienced,” Marggraff says. “This memory is etched permanently for me.”
Marggraff would go on to create the popular LeapPad tablet educational system, which has helped more than 100 million kids learn to read. It’s one of seven companies he has founded or cofounded.
On May 19, following a six-month beta and presales period, Marggraff launched his latest invention. It’s called Kinoo and is a family-friendly artificial intelligence — and augmented reality — infused app and video chat solution for the iPhone and iPad. Kinoo took the $10,000 top prize last fall as winner of the fourth annual AARP Innovation Labs’ Grand Pitch Finale. The labs’ mission is to engage early-stage start-ups and help them identify fresh opportunities and tap into the enormous economy of people age 50 and older.
Marggraff’s Silicon Valley company, also named Kinoo, beat out four other start-ups Sept. 30 in a Shark Tank–style competition in which members of an online audience viewed the event and chose the winner through an app on their phones.
Past Grand Finale winners
• 2020: Zibrio. Its stability scale helps users track their balance and seek help for problems to prevent falls. Wheel Pad’s prefabricated accessible living spaces won an audience vote.
Each runner-up company received $2,500, and all five companies in the finale had won virtual pitch competitions, including an event AARP hosted in March 2021 in collaboration with the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on the CES electronics trade show.
“These AgeTech founders are committed to the important work of tackling the problems we face as we age,” says Jacqueline M. Baker, vice president of start-up programming at AARP Innovation Labs. “We hope these innovations will inspire others to keep building for our future.”
For its part, Kinoo was the winner of the Better Aging Through Technology pitch competition last summer, sponsored by AARP Innovation Labs and Innovation Collective.
Available in App Store
Kinoo’s first iOS app, available in Apple’s App Store, is about helping grandparents and grandkids bond virtually through discovery and while playing games and telling stories. Animated characters named Kodii and Kidoo, developed by early-childhood social and emotional learning experts, guide those young and older.
The app is free to try and can be used for one hour a month. Unlimited-use membership costs $10 a month. Kinoo says it plans to add a version for Android but hasn’t settled on a date.
The company is also selling an optional $99 handheld motion-sensing wand controller, $59 under a current promotion, in a bundle that includes a family subscription to the app and two months of unlimited use. The wand lets kids integrate physical play activities, such as watering plants, fishing and connecting the dots.
“We built Kinoo based on a vision of what might be possible if distance no longer prevented grandparents from frequently and actively engaging in the lives of their grandkids. We see a world where we connect in new ways, listen and play together, understand our mutual needs and help one another grow together,” Marggraff said after winning the AARP pitch competition. “We’re so honored that AARP has recognized the power of what is possible through Kinoo.
“I am now 63, younger than my great-grandmother at that time," he says. "But her legacy still lives on for me and has impacted my work at Kinoo for us all, empowering us to choose how we live as we age."
The Millbrae, California, company uses avatars to tackle social isolation and reduce loneliness and depression with video visits to older adults. Avatars deliver personalized coaching advice in the manner of a health care–trained family member, CEO Victor Wang says. For example: “Before playing a client’s favorite Frank Sinatra song to relax them for bedtime, we may ask them how they did on their diabetes-friendly diet for the day,” Wang says.
Flowly is a mobile app that uses biofeedback and virtual reality to help people manage chronic pain. A Flowly kit, available with a $15 monthly subscription, includes a VR headset and heart rate sensor. CEO Celine Tien says the Pasadena, California–based company’s patented VR experiences can actually train your nervous system to relax.
As people age, they often lean on family members to help with chores, run errands or drive them places. But what if nobody is around to assist? This Richmond, Virginia, company has a solution built around a network of vetted community members, or “Nabors,” largely made up of empty nesters, schoolteachers and retirees. They can help on demand.
Founded by a former math teacher, this financial wellness start-up builds automated financial plans with the goal of reducing all the stress around money. After downloading an iOS app, a client is asked questions about their lifestyle and goals. The answers are used to generate a visual, simple-to-follow financial plan and strengthen the person’s money skills. The Atlanta-based company says it works with nearly 10,000 banks.
This story, originally published Oct. 1, 2021, has been updated to reflect that Kinoo is now for sale.
Edward C. Baig is a contributing writer who covers technology and other consumer topics. He previously worked for USA Today, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and Fortune and is the author of Macs for Dummies and the coauthor of iPhone for Dummies and iPad for Dummies.