Members of the Helm team are still in college as undergraduates. Kai McKinney, Times of E’s interviewee, is at far left.

For our Startup Spotlights, Times of Entrepreneurship scouted the most successful startups that spun out of top university competitions and programs. The impact of such awards can be many years in the making, especially in the DeepTech space.

A brief overview: Helm is a platform for managing culture-drive teams that gives every team member a voice – adding their story to the decisions that build culture and drive progress. Helm started at Ohio State University. This interview was conducted with Kai McKinney.

Which university challenge did you win and when? Or how are you affiliated to a university?

At the Ohio State University, we won three major startup challenges: The Hult Prize (Campus Competition), the Best of Student Startups (BOSS) competition, and the Business Builders IdeaPitch competition. We started Helm at Ohio State as undergraduates, and much of our team is still enrolled in school in addition to running Helm. 

What is your elevator pitch? Has it changed much since you started? 

Helm is a platform for managing culture-drive teams that gives every team member a voice – adding their story to the decisions that build culture and drive progress.

It’s changed quite a bit – most drastically, we switched from a hiring-focused platform to a team management platform (focusing on retention and engagement of existing team members) at the beginning of the COVID crisis. We knew we could make a sizeable impact in hybrid and remote workforces by helping teams that were undergoing drastic change, like growth or going remote.

Along the way, our team has prioritized community, building organizations like LaunchpadOSU, a free startup weekend for all students, and movements like Can’t Stop Columbus, a COVID volunteer initiative.

What should we know about you?

Our biggest asset, and the thing we’re most proud of, is our team and the community that surrounds it. We share a drive and a mentality to serve, build, and endure that’s led us to where we are now. We’re particularly proud of the Columbus startup/tech community we work in – it’s unique collaborative, helpful, and humble. I wrote an article about it!

What are you looking for?

Right now, we’re working with a growing number beta users, and we’re always grateful for connections with more culture-focused companies, people who work in HR/People Ops, and generally anyone who’s passionate about company culture and teamwork! We’re specifically working with Series A and B companies undergoing significant growth. In addition, we value advice from people who work around culture and startups, including org behavior psychologists, consultants, People Ops + HR folks, and leaders and managers. Later on this summer, we’re raising a seed round.

Why should someone invest in you?

We’re really proud of our product – it’s innovative, effective, usable, and adds real value – and our business strategy. But like I said earlier, our greatest asset is our team. Like any other startup team, we’ve endured hardship and worked hard to persevere. Unlike some, we’ve always gotten stronger, more confident, and more capable. And we’ve always worked to include our community in our thinking, putting users and user-centered research at the center of our thinking. Ultimately, our team has always gotten stronger the harder the process gets, and coupled with our user-centered research and development approach, it means we’re always in the position of executing on opportunity.

How much total funding have you raised so far and from which sources?

So far, we’ve only raised small pre-seed amounts from student startup incubators and friends and family. We’re currently working on a seed raise that should formalize late this summer.

How many employees work for your startup? 

There are 5 of us working full-time on Helm. In addition, our team is composed of equity-compensated advisory board and some part-time independent contractors. 

Is there a clear evidence of success you would like to share? 

We’d point to our strong cohort of beta companies that have adopted our product into their workflows and teams, surfacing employee-led insight that’s led to real impact within the organization. With the user as our north star, we see every customer testimonial, case study, and user-led insight as success.

What has surprised you the most after winning/ about starting this?

Ideas are easy and execution is hard. I guess it’s not that much of a surprise, given that everyone tells you about it, but actually working through it really proves the point. But also, people are really nice and always willing to help, share expertise, brainstorm, and listen – especially people in tech and business in Columbus. 

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit and connect with and