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Brooke Facer, DeseretNews.com
Bill Nelson presents his mobile app, Old News USA, at RootsTech's Innovator Showdown.

As Jason Hewlett, a well-known speaker and impressionist, entertained the audience with his facial antics, five competitors waited nervously backstage while the judges deliberated the winners of the Innovator Showdown at RootsTech 2017.

The Innovator Showdown at RootsTech is an opportunity for five start-up companies to showcase their ideas for developments in technology in a genealogy-related field. Competitors have three minutes to convince judges that they deserve a slice of $190,000 in cash and in-kind prizes. The judges then have four minutes to question the innovators in the style of ABC’s “Shark Tank.”

In this year’s showdown there were diverse apps and sites, ranging from photo and video documentation to browsing and data tools.

One of the judges, Partner in Kickstarter Seed Fund Dalton J. Wright, said at the showdown that the challenge with genealogy technology is fulfilling a need.

“In our industry we talk about painkillers and vitamins,” he said. “Is your solution an urgent need that somebody has or is it something that they ought to be doing, that’s good for them? And I think with genealogy products sometimes we see a lot of vitamins and we know we ought to be doing those, but in order to make a buying decision you have to fulfill a sense of urgency.”

The first-place winner of the showdown, earning $95,000 in cash and in-kind prizes, was Bill Nelson and his mobile app Old News USA. This mobile app fulfills a need in family history, allowing users to search old newspapers for their family stories in a quick, efficient way.

Nelson said in an interview that being a genealogist himself, he searched for a problem that needed fixing in family history research, and found it when he was trying to search through newspapers for his family’s stories.

“At the time I was doing newspaper research for my own family and I just thought it was painful. It was so hard and so tedious,” he said.

He said in his showdown presentation that many novices give up because the amount of results from a Google search makes the task of newspaper research seem insurmountable.

This app will allow users to enter a name, date range and location, and then the app will suggest the most relevant newspapers. There is also a suggested search feature that automatically populates the advanced search fields, making finding family stories easier.

Another feature controls for mistakes. “You’re searching the text,” he said in an interview with the Deseret News. “And from the scanning process and there is often lots of error.”

The app helps search through the often-erroneous data for possible misspellings of the relative’s name.

Nelson told the Deseret News that his favorite part of RootsTech so far was an experience he had where he was explaining his app to someone and the gentleman used his app to find newspapers about his grandfather.

“He was floored. He was so excited. And I was more excited than he was, because I was like, that’s exactly what I wanted to do, to create something that someone brand new [to it] can use, and in less than a minute he found an article about his grandfather. That was a big validation point for me,” Nelson said.

Another app introduced took second place: QromaTag, a tool simplifying the connection between photos and the stories associated with them, allowing users to use their voices to caption the photo. “My goal is to help people put their stories inside photos,” said presenter Tony Knight in an interview.

Knight said in his presentation that this problem arises from people downloading family photos and not knowing where they are from. “With print images, if you ever wanted to know something that was going on in a photo, sometimes you’d flip it over, and there would be a story behind it...now is that always the case with our digital images? Not always.”

Double Match Triangulator, a tool for simplifying family DNA connections, took third place. Kindex, a site for indexing family documents such as journals or letters, won the people’s choice award by text-in voting from the audience.