MassChallenge celebrates innovation, Deval Patrick’s influence in tech community

Governor Deval Patrick receives an award from MassChallenge's John Harthorne and Uber's Travis Kalanick (Photo via Barry Chin/Boston Globe)
Governor Deval Patrick receives an award from MassChallenge's John Harthorne and Uber's Travis Kalanick (Photo via Barry Chin/Boston Globe)

On Wednesday night, MassChallenge, the world’s largest startup accelerator, awarded $1.75 million in funding to 21 companies.

The festivities at this year’s MassChallenge Awards, the fifth such ceremony, included a group of drummers marching through the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, talks from Google board chairman Eric Schmidt and Uber founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick, and a special dedication to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

Kalanick took part, along with MassChallenge chief executive John Harthorne, in a small ceremony to start the event that thanked Governor Deval Patrick for his work promoting innovation and technology in the state and beyond. Harthorne announced the creation of a new award named after the governor, to be given every five years to the person who has done the most to support the innovation community. And, strangely enough, the first recipient of the Deval L. Patrick Commonwealth Innovation Award was Deval Patrick himself.

“I’ve never received an award named after me,” Patrick said. “But I guess naming it after me and then not receiving it would have been awkward.”

Uber’s Kalanick said that an opportunity to thank Governor Patrick for helping create an environment in Massachusetts where companies such as Uber could succeed is what drove him to come and speak at the awards,

During his talk, Kalanick discussed the number of jobs created by Uber, its massive growth in Boston, the impact it is having on getting transportation access to areas that are often shut out by taxis, as well as Uber’s new Lyft-like ride-sharing product UberPool.

When Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s turn to speak came, he had high praise for the Boston area and its growing potential, which he acknowledged is rare for an area with such a long technology history.

Google's Eric Schmidt at the MassChallenge Awards (Photo via Barry Chin/Boston Globe)

Google’s Eric Schmidt at the MassChallenge Awards (Photo via Barry Chin/Boston Globe)

“It was ten years ago when I think the low point happened here,” Schmidt recalled. “Ten years ago it just seemed the energy was sucked out…and then something remarkable happened and people realized the extraordinary talent and the opportunity to rebuild the technology industry in a new and incredible way.”

“To me, the most interesting thing about this area has been the explosion of startups,” Schmidt said. “Why does it matter so much that you win? We need more entrepreneurs because they create jobs, they solve every known problem.”

“If you want to solve the economic problems of the US,” he concluded, “Create more entrepreneurs and get more immigrants in as well.”

The MassChallenge program, which annually includes 128 early stage companies, gives no-strings-attached funding to some of its most potentially impactful and startups. MassChallenge is unique in the sense that it disperses its financial awards across a wide swath of its participants and also doesn’t take any equity in return for the services and help it offers its cohort companies, something rare in the startup world where other highly-regarded programs take large chunks of early ownership in the companies that take part in their accelerators or incubators.

“We launched MassChallenge in 2009 to restore creativity to the soul of the global economy,” John Harthorne said. He added that companies have two roles, to create value and to sustain it in order to reward those who contributed to its success. “When we obsess over short term value capture, however, at the expense of value creation we do a serious detriment to ourselves and to society more broadly,” he said.

“MassChallenge is an attempt to remind us and refocus as a community and a society on creating value,” Harthorne said. “We designed it to help entrepreneurs win because entrepreneurs are the value creators of society.”

There were pitches from 26 of the 128 startups that began this year’s MassChallenge program in June, all of went home with either no-strings-attached funding or gifts in kind.

The five companies who were selected as recipients of this year’s $100,000 awards were Catie’s Closet, which provides clothes to student living in poverty; Disease Diagnostic Group, a company that has created a handheld malaria diagnosis device; Drinkwell, which is trying to use technology to turn the global arsenic and fluoride water crisis into economic opportunities in emerging markets; and SQZ Biotech, a biotech startup out of MIT that squeezes molecules into cells.

The full list of winners is below:

$100K Diamond Winners

– Catie’s Closet – Social Impact – USA: Mass.

– Disease Diagnostic Group – Healthcare / Life Sciences – USA: Ohio

– Drinkwell – Social Impact – USA: Mass.

– SQZ Biotech – Healthcare / Life Sciences – USA: Mass.

$50K Gold Winners

– 3Derm – Healthcare / Life Sciences – USA: Conn.

– Anfiro – Energy / Clean Tech – USA: Mass.

– Ashton Instruments – High Tech – USA: Mass.

– Cam Med LLC – Healthcare / Life Sciences – USA: Mass.

– Dimples – High Tech – USA: Penn.

– DropWise – Energy / Clean Tech – USA: Mass.

– Fluid-Screen – Healthcare / Life Sciences – USA: California

– Grapevine – High Tech – USA: Mass.

– KnipBio – General – USA: Mass.

– Sano LLC – Healthcare / Life Sciences – USA: Mass.

– Ustraap – High Tech – Mexico

– Voxel8 – High Tech – USA: Mass.

In-Kind Silver Winners

– ArtLifting – Social Impact – USA: Mass.

– AutoAgronom – Energy / Clean Tech – Israel

– – Social Impact – USA: Mass.

– EdTrips – Social Impact – USA: Mass.

– Gecko Health Innovations – Healthcare / Life Sciences – USA: Mass.

– Jisto Inc. – High Tech – USA: Mass.

– Oncolinx – Healthcare / Life Sciences – USA: NJ

– ReFleece – Social Impact – USA: Mass.

– Unima – Healthcare / Life Sciences – Mexico

– ZOOS Greek Iced Teas – General – USA: Mass.

CASIS-Boeing Prize for Technology in Space ($600,000 total – precise allocation to be determined based on proposals)

– Cam Med LLC – Healthcare / Life Sciences – USA – Mass.

– Droplette by Novopyxis – Healthcare / Life Sciences – USA – Mass.

– SQZ Biotech – Healthcare / Life Sciences – USA – Mass.

Henry Prize for Social Impact

$30,000 – – Social Impact – USA – Mass.

$10,000 – Catie’s Closet – Social Impact – USA – Mass.

$10,000 – ArtLifting – Social Impact – USA – Mass.

Microsoft Prize for Civic Engagement & Leadership

$30,000 – Lengio – High Tech – USA – Mass.

$20,000 – Kinems Learning Games – Social Impact – Greece

MassIT Government Innovation Competition – These companies also get to pilot their products with MassIT.

$25,000 – Astra IDentity, Inc. – High Tech – USA – Mass.

$25,000 – CarKnow LLC – High Tech – USA – Mass.

Perkins Prize for Assistive Technology

$25,000 – Ustraap – High Tech – Mexico

Dennis Keohane was a Senior Staff Writer for BetaBoston.
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