“I did some really cool stuff in space,” Air Force veteran Krissa Watry says humbly. It’s not something most human beings can say. Then again, Watry is not most people. A graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and an MIT-educated mechanical engineer, Watry helped design power supply units for cargo modules that docked at the International Space Station, and the first satellite in a network intended to become the Uber of terrestrial imaging. “Pretty cool stuff, but it wasn’t my dream.”
Her true passion is creating a platform to safely connect kids to the digital world. “The sooner we can get kids safely into technology, the better,” she says, “because they’re going to be even more primed to start inventing their future.”
Spoken like a true inventor. (Oh, Watry also holds a fistful of patents for space flight, fitness, and toy technology.) “I want kids using 3D Printers,” she says, referring to the open source technology that empowers users to make objects from three-dimensional models. “But kids can’t control most printers because they can’t have a cloud account. And that really sucks. Somebody’s got to solve this problem.”
Three years ago, Watry decided to be that somebody.
She made the move from aerospace to entrepreneur and formed her company Dynepic, where she began developing a Twilio-type platform to safely connect kids under 13 years old and provide parents with a one-stop app to manage who and what their children connect with online.
This month, Dynepic will launch stage one of Watry’s grand vision: iOKids, a secure digital space where under-13ers can chat with Santa. “When kids turn 13, we can’t expect them to magically know how to behave on social media,” Watry cautions. “They need training wheels, and that needs to start as young as possible.”
Watry knows what she’s talking about. She noodled on an Apple IIe in kindergarten; by high school, she was coding HTML and managing the school’s web pages, fixing Apple computers and going to MacWorld. “It was the technology put into my hands at a super young age that gave me the skills to achieve the success I experienced so early in life,” she believes.
As a kid, Watry dreamed of going to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“People said ‘Only the best go to MIT’ and I wanted to be the best”), but financially, MIT wasn’t in the cards. So she engineered a way: she excelled at the Air Force Academy, earned a prestigious Draper Fellowship, and got paid as a 2nd Lieutenant to earn her Master’s at MIT.
Through it all, she suffered crippling exhaustion and pain, the symptoms of a then-undiagnosed autoimmune disease and gluten intolerance that attacked her joints and thyroid. The not knowing what was disabling her was nearly as bad as the body slam to her immune system. It was the closest she’s ever come to throwing in the towel, but she soldiered on, she says, “Because I never give up.”
Watry’s determination to power through—along with her proven leadership and a healthy dose of ambition—earned her a promotion. Looking back, her post-collegiate military experience running high level satellite communications as a young Captain yielded an unexpected benefit to her role as tech entrepreneur: “I operate well in a male-dominated environment; maybe better than I might have otherwise,” Watry notes. “People tend to think that being a female in tech or the military can be difficult, and while that’s true, I find women can turn it into an advantage. I actually look at it as a huge win, because I stick out.” She laughs. “If you have some good things to say, then you really stick out. And people remember you.”
Watry made an impression when she presented her vision at AOL cofounder Steve Case’s 2015 Rise of the Rest tour stop in Charleston, where she was encouraged to check out Patriot Boot Camp, an accelerator specifically designed for veterans aspiring to be tech entrepreneurs. “Patriot Boot Camp is the best startup event I’ve been to, by far,” Watry says. At PBC, she picked the brains of API gurus at A-list tech companies, and received targeted feedback on her ideas and guidance on next steps from major players who would’ve have been unreachable if she had simply cold called them.
“Some of those leads led to even bigger conversations, and everyone we connected with at PBC has really put time into following up with me and making themselves available when I reach out,” she says. “You never get that from other accelerators.”
The 36 year-old athlete and self-described adrenaline junkie finds herself problem-solving even in her limited spare time. One morning, she paused her daily powerlifting session to take a closer look at the mediocre tricep rope she’d been using. “Someone just slapped it together and no one ever questioned it,” she marvels. “I was like, I’m going to solve this problem real fast. I went home and invented the neutral grip.” Her Spiral Strength Grip alleviates hand fatigue with its unique shape that naturally locks the hand into place in a relaxed grip for use with ski poles, bike handles and other gym and sports equipment, and is now used by top bodybuilders and fitness competitors.
When it’s jokingly suggested that cloning Watry might be an even faster way to innovate solutions to the world’s problems, she recalls the time she taught a class of second through fifth graders how to build their own robots. “The second graders were able to manipulate 3D objects on a 2D computer screen in a much faster way than the older students, which floored me,” she says. “But It’s because technology has been integrated in their life from an even younger age than the fifth graders.”
At the end of class one day, Watry had to hold a hallway door open for the kids to walk through because the latch was broken. “One of the students stopped and turned to me and said ‘Hey, we can fix that latch, can’t we?’ All of a sudden they were coming up with solutions. Four hours of actual class time, and they were engineering and problem- solving. If you can inspire that in a kid at a young age, then that’s cloning myself right there.”