Student startup Comikka earns top prize at Spectrum competition

By Andrew Baulcomb, April 2, 2015
    Winners of this year's Spectrum Student Startup Competition, from left to right: Graham Spry of UWallet, Henry Beckett of Comikka, Cristina Beghiano of Sound Options and Chetan Singh of RotaNovus. Beckett received the $25,000 grand prize for his innovative new comic publishing platform. 

For decades, the mark of a true comic lover was ink-stained fingers dancing over stacks of yellowing pulp as an entire afternoon melted away.

Henry Beckett wants to harness and transform that passion for a whole new generation of readers and artists.

On Tuesday evening, the MBA co-op student walked away with the Spectrum Student Startup Competition grand prize of $25,000 to further his innovative online comic platform, Comikka.

It was a dream come true for the 51-year-old Boston native, who co-founded Comikka with his wife and business partner, Carla Ventresca. The pair created the popular comic series On a Claire Day in 2006, and have since shifted their efforts toward promoting and supporting emerging artists.

"Winning the Spectrum prize was one of those moments in life that doesn't seem real," says Beckett. "It was like something out of a movie. Everything was moving in slow motion."

Unlike traditional publishing platforms, Comikka allows artists to revise and fine-tune their work after publishing — whether that involves re-writing dialogue, adding or removing cells or changing the artwork.

The team's goal is to provide a dynamic platform for artists to not only hone their craft, but cultivate a following. To date, Comikka has attracted 27 artists from around the globe. By this time next year, Beckett is confident they'll have more than 500 international artists on board, producing work in a number of different genres and languages.

"Comikka offers a much more nuanced approach to publishing, and that's the appeal," offers Beckett. "Contributors are able to reflect on their work and focus on what's really important — becoming a better artist."

Revenue is generated by traditional click-through advertising, but there's a twist. Artists are able to select where and when ads will appear in their comic strips, and determine the number of ads that will appear next to their work. Incoming funds are then divided between Comikka staff and participating artists.

Beckett says he'll be using the funds to cover patent attorney fees in Canada and the United States, and attract more international artists in the weeks and months ahead.

Readers can register for free (allowing them to save preferences and bookmark pages), or browse the site as a guest.

The Spectrum Student Startup Competition was a three-month endeavour that opened in January, initially attracting more than 50 submissions.

On Tuesday, the Top 10 finalists delivered two-minute pitches to an audience of 200 students, faculty and community members. Winners were selected by a panel of industry experts based on overall progress and the long-term potential to grow a startup into a thriving enterprise.

"We're happy to invest in their success, with the hope that they can return to the University in the future to give back valuable time and support to our future students," says Justin Policarpio, Spectrum's manager of student entrepreneurship.

The second-place $15,000 prize went to Chetan Singh of RotaNovus — a design firm striving to create new and innovative solutions for those experiencing a loss of physical mobility. Cristina Beghiano of Sound Options, a startup focusing on sound therapy treatment for tinnitus sufferers, received the third-place $10,000 prize.

The $5,000 people's choice winner was Graham Spry of UWallet. The mobile app allows students to reload meal cards, check balances and view hours of operation for nearby eateries.

Launched in 2014, Spectrum is an extracurricular program that promotes and supports entrepreneurial development involving McMaster students. The March 31 competition was the organization's year-end event.