Competitions / Events / Pitches / Startups

5 ‘whoa’ moments from 1776 Challenge Cup Philly

A winning startup, a heckled Mayor and more from Tuesday night's competition at the Pennovation Center.

RoundTrip in 2017. (Courtesy photo)

Eleven Philly startups gave their two-minute pitches Tuesday night at the 1776 Challenge Cup Philly.

The event was organized by D.C.-based incubator 1776 and Benjamin’s Desk. Reportedly, the two companies are negotiating a merger deal, though the Washington Business Journal is calling it an acquisition. No big announcements were made, but more on that in a bit.

From consumer-facing companies like realLIST alum Tern Water to more Philly’s more traditional B2B plays like drone startup Aerial Applications, the night gave a glimpse at some of Philly’s most interesting seed-level startups.

Once the pitches were heard, medical transportation startup RoundTrip — which was recently involved with the Philly Startup Leaders accelerator — took the top prize and earned a ticket to the Global Finals at Challenge Festival in New York City from Nov. 13–17.

It was quite a night so let’s break it down in parts so we don’t miss anything:

Vijay Kumar stumps for Philly

The night kicked off with a fireside chat between Penn Dean of Engineering Vijay Kumar and Benjamin’s Desk’s Shelton Mercer.

Kumar, who has formerly called Philly a hotbed of robotics research, said as he neared the 30-year mark at Penn he was becoming more and more encouraged by the city’s progress. He also called for academia to help educate legislators on the need to invest in cutting-edge technology.

11 well-rounded startups pitch

Most startups could have done a good job at the global finals, repping Philly’s varied ecosystem. This isn’t Philly fawning for Philly: this is simply a sign that most of the startups picked for the competition were evidently at a more mature stage and were at ease answering questions from the judges.

There were crowd favorites like the Benjamin’s Desk–based LeagueSide which came bearing big growth projections (to the tune of $7 million in revenue for 2018) and NeuroFlow, repped by cofounder and Army veteran Christopher Molaro. It was a solid group, and the judges (Howzer’s Mike Maher and 1776’s Penny Lee among them) could tell.

“More news coming?”

The rundown of the event called for a fireside chat with 1776 CEO Evan Burfield and Benjamin’s Desk co-CEOs Anthony Maher and Jen Maher, moderated by’s own Juliana Reyes. Anthony Maher even pointed to that chat as a venue for “reporters making wild accusations” to get answers a few weeks back. As far back as April, Anthony Maher pointed to the event and said there was “more news coming.”

The chat, however, was cancelled, replaced instead by a quick back and forth between Burfield and Jen Maher, thanking folks and praising the startups that pitched. Burfield said “we look forward to more partnerships” but that was it: no major announcement or reference to the reports of a merger happening between the two. Anthony Maher declined to comment on why the forum was canceled.

Mayor Kenney gets heckled

If you were watching our livestream of the event, we’re sorry for that jolt right around the 48-minute mark. There was no way to foresee that a heckler would interrupt Mayor Jim Kenney mid-speech.

A protester, who later identified herself as Aileen Callaghan, shouted at Kenney from the audience: “The only innovation we needs is the abolishment of the SRC by November 2017! Will you agree?” A flummoxed Kenney said they were “working on a couple options for that” and asked if the protesters were done.

After the event, Gallaghan spoke with about the ask. The SRC is the School Reform Commission, which Gallaghan said was an undemocratic body that’s been leading Philly to more charterization and prevents parents and teachers from having a voice in the school system. More context on that here.

“We’ve gone through all the proper channels, so we have no other choice left,” Gallaghan said when asked why she decided to voice the protest at the event.

RoundTrip takes the cake

Per the company’s CIO Ankit Mathur, having a “relatable product” that people can understand swayed the competition in RoundTrip’s favor. The company will head to New York representing Philly.

Here’s video of the full pitch competition (plus the heckles):

Live from 1776 Challenge Cup at Pennovation

Posted by Technically Philly on Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Companies: LeagueSide

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