Last week, 80 startups flew to Washington, D.C. with hopes of taking home 1776’s second Challenge Cup and its $150,000 investment prize. One came out victorious Saturday night: Twiga Fruits, an exporter of bananas, pineapples and avocados in Kenya and the finalist in the cities and transportation category.
By cutting out the middleman and implementing digitized tracking for produce, Twiga has lowered prices and augmented the incomes of Kenyan farmers. “No more 5 a.m. trips to the wholesale market: people can sleep longer, or they can work longer,” explained CEO Grant Brooke. “Expanding product line is not entirely difficult when you solve how you distribute the product.”
Winners in each of the other three categories — education, energy and health — will receive $100,000 in investment from 1776. Here they are:
- Education: Cognotion, a mobile platform that aims to be a “community college in your pocket,” explained founder and president Jonathan Dariyanani.
- Energy: Brooklyn-based Radiator Labs, the maker of The Cozy, “a smart, drop on enclosure that can control the amount of heat from the radiator,” explained lead data scientist Meg Sutton.
- Health: Reliefwatch, which allows clinics and hospitals to keep track of inventories through a basic cellphone-compatible app. “All they need to do to respond and digitize that data is hit the keys on the number pad,” said founder and CEO Daniel Yu.
Besides the cash prizes, the participating startups spent a week attending tailored round tables and learning sessions, and polishing their pitches during the semifinals. 1776 “made sure every competitor that participated got value,” said the incubator’s cofounder Donna Harris, touting the “social and intellectual capital that we can invest in those companies even if we’re not writing a check.”
Harris, one of the cup’s judges, added that Twiga Fruits emerged the winner because it did not propose an incremental, nor an innovative idea. But rather, it proposed a “completely disruptive one.” It is a “swing-for-the-fences idea.”
Runner-ups were LearnLux, HandsFree Learning (the startup didn’t make it to the finals because founders attended the funeral of Rachel Jacobs, the new ApprenNet CEO who tragically died in the Port Richmond Amtrak crash) in education; BaseTrace in energy and sustainability; Unima in health; and EverCharge in transportation and cities.
Audience members appreciated the free T-shirts, creative one-minute pitches to win over the audience and the international aura of the competition.
Richard Graves, the cofounder of 2014 Challenge Cup contestant Ethical Electric, noticed a distinct improvement in “the quality of the competition.”
“It takes time to be established as an international event,” he said.
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