4 Boston Startups Advance with Chance to Win $650k

1776 Challenge Cup Boston winners
1776 Challenge Cup Boston winners
Winners from AdmitHub, Orco Power, Fluid-Screen and OpportunitySpace pose after the competition Thursday night. (Photo by: Sonia Su)

CAMBRIDGE—Four Boston startups pitched their way to join 60 other teams in a global competition culminating in D.C. that promises $650,000 in prizes Thursday night at the Microsoft New England Research Center.

AdmitHub, Orco Power, Fluid-Screen and OpportunitySpace—each innovating in education, energy, health and smart cities, respectively—beat 21 local startups at the Challenge Cup event, hosted by 1776, a Washington, DC-based global incubator and seed fund.

“We were really pleased with the winners,” 1776 co-founder Evan Burfield said. “You could really see the Boston DNA in a lot of the ideas, particularly the very strong depth of the field in healthcare.”

With access to complimentary pizza and an open bar, about 100 entrepreneurs and startup community members watched 25 startup founders present one-minute pitches and then eight semifinalists—two from each category—present five-minute pitches.

The Challenge Cup partners with the Startup Federation in 16 cities and 11 countries around the world “to identify the most promising new startups and connect them with the information, mentors and resources they need to succeed,” according to its website.

Boston, the “the lucky No. 13” stop out of 16, follows the competition in Mexico City, with the remaining stops in Berlin, Dublin and San Francisco, Challenge Cup reporting fellow Dena Levitz said.

Andrew Dolan, 1776 assistant director of special projects, served as the night’s master of ceremonies, encouraging audience members to cheer after each pitch and enforcing the time limits.

“Respect the gong,” Dolan said, prompting laughter from the audience, after one presenter continued talking after the gong a volunteer used to signal time sounded.

Cleo Wolf, an event volunteer who works at a mapping company whose clients include startups in Boston, said she heard about the competition through tech publication BostInno’s newsletter.

“I’m interested in hearing pitches and what people in Boston have to offer,” Wolf said.

Burfield said the diversity in both the founders pitching and the ideas themselves impressed him.

“At a time when startup community leaders need to be really intentional about engaging all the talent within their ecosystems, the Challenge Cup Boston was an encouraging sign for Boston,” Burfield said.

Due to extended judge deliberations, the four-hour event ran longer than scheduled, but many still stayed to network after a night of diverse pitches.

“We’ve seen pitches from about 850 to 900 companies in the first two years,” Burfield said. “Last year in Chicago, one of the competitors got up on stage, threw up and fled. As long as that doesn’t happen, you’re not the worst.”

1776 will provide an all-expenses paid trip for the final teams in the weeklong D.C. Challenge Festival in May.

More about the Boston winners:

EDUCATION
Winner: AdmitHub — Offers free, college-admissions advising online.
Runner-up: LearnLux — Targets millennials with online learning tools to teach personal finance.

ENERGY
Winner: Orco Power — Produces additives that modify crude oil to replace diesel fuel in high RPM engines.
Runner-Up: WrightGrid’s Sol Power — Provides free charging stations in outdoor locations, such as city parks, college campuses, outdoor shopping centers and outdoor events.

HEALTH
Winner: Fluid-Screen — Enables rapid bacterial detection from fluid samples with flagship product being a hand-held device that detects bacteria in water, blood and other fluids in 30 minutes, as opposed to days.
Runner-Up: Admetsys — Provides fully automated glucose control system for the needs of hospital and surgical care.

TRANSPORTATION AND CITIES
Winner: OpportunitySpace — Finds unused land owned by cities and government to be used for various purposes.
Runner-Up: Zwayo — Helps city drivers park their cars through app request.