When Christina York and Marjorie Knepp arrived at Startup Weekend Detroit, they weren’t sure what to expect. The pair ventured to the Grand Circus co-working space that was hosting the event looking to make something happen. At first, they were told their idea, involving augmented reality, was too hard.

“We had a lot of iffy moments at the beginning … At the time we were trying to recruit tech people or developers, and they were like, “No. No. Too hard. Too hard,” said York. “Who does that [augmented reality] for Startup Weekend?”

But they persevered, and proved the naysayers wrong. The pair, along with two developers, made a demo of MagicBooks happen in just one weekend.

Startup Weekend is a global event that has local competitions in various cities. Teams form in a sort of ad-hoc basis to create something in one weekend and the winner as judged by a panel gets a prize and the ability to move on to the next round, which people then vote on.

So what is this MagicBook? It’s an app for your smartphone that takes an already in-print book and turns it into a live, animated experience through augmented reality on a phone. When I saw a demo a few days ago, it was breathtaking. Looking through the phone, you can see the characters come alive – and even “picked them up” by taking my hand and putting them under the characters and set them down on the floor, as if they were toys.


“Once Seth and Shawn turned it into something real, like, “Oh my God!” It was so amazing to see it, in something that you could actually interact with or pay attention to. It was very, very cool once that happened. Again, sort of taking on a life of its own,” said Knepp.

One of the powerful things about MagicBook is that it can use already in-print books, as long as they’re part of the system. So you don’t have to buy special books to make the “magic” of augmented reality work.

“Our big goal is to really get kids reading more and get them engaged with books as a regular habit and to enhance that reading experience. The demo we did had animations,  characters dancing, and music. But there’s all kinds of possibilities around interaction. A child could touch a page in a book and a tree could grow where they touched. Or it could possibly show video or other types of things,” says York.

The pair both have a Master’s degree in Information Science, and have had a variety of jobs. York’s degree is from Wayne State University (as well as did a stint as, of all things, a welder and now is a user experience professional) and Marjorie Knepp from the University of Michigan (and she’s been doing project management and business analyst work).

They say the project is a starting place for something bigger, something that could impact all of Southeast Michigan.

“There is so much potential in this space that really we have a long-term vision about what this could look like or how it starts contributing to Southeastern Michigan, eventually on a large scale,” said York. “We have these huge goals of what it could actually bring to the region and how it could continue to grow as opposed to feeling like a very contained app that serves a very specific purpose. This place has a lot of potential.”

So here’s where you can step in and help Christina and Marjorie make their dream of magical books happen. The next phase is that there’s a public voting period, and they qualify in five different voting tracks. There are a variety of prizes if they win, depending on the track.

Champions track


Education Empowered Track


Innovator Track 


Startup Women Track


Do the KIND thing track


In order to vote, you’ll need to create a Pitchburner account and then click the “thumbs up” button if you’re so inclined. You can vote once per day and voting closes Wednesday, December 3 at 11:59 p.m.

Regardless of what happens in the future of this contest for these ambitious women, they have Detroit in mind.

“Our experience brought me a lot of hope. You can come up with an idea and you can form a team and you can push through and do it no matter what. I think particularly for the fact that we started in the city of Detroit is sort of super exciting to us, because it’s almost like this rebirth thing, you know? Marjorie and I have already had somewhat lengthy careers and it’s really so exciting to start fresh for ourselves,” said York.

You can learn more about them at their website.

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