These startups from MassChallenge improve the way the world works, learns, interacts and lives – here’s how
Today, more than ever, you hear the term “high impact startup.” Investors, accelerators and corporations all want to attract “high impact” and “high potential” startups, but have you ever stopped to think how you would define a high impact startup?
Some may get confused and think it’s just a high potential startup, which is stating that a startup is more likely to succeed than other similar startups. Others may say that high potential startups are organizations with average annual growth greater than 20% per annum over a three-year period.
However, I would propose that high impact startups bring benefits to more than just their shareholders: They also focus significantly on benefiting employees, customers, suppliers, communities, environment, etc. They are those companies creating more jobs, driving innovation and wealth creation, creating products and markets that did not exist before, generating new networks and perhaps most importantly, bringing talent and knowledge to the world. Countries and cities recognize that fostering innovation spurs economic development.
As entrepreneurship grows, the need for entrepreneurial education, training and support has never been greater. University programs like The Zell Entrepreneurship Program provide outstanding students from IDC Herzliya with the opportunity to create real business ventures while having the university as a safety net. Other programs like StartTAU, SifTech, 8300, GEW and even co-working spaces like SOSA and WeWork all contribute to our entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“Basically, most businesses are focused on capturing a slice of the pie (profit) but really they should be focused on the overall size of the pie (total value created),” says MassChallenge CEO John Harthorne. Over 250 entrepreneurs participate in the 4-month accelerator program in Boston, receiving free resources and opportunities, including mentorship, office space, and access to a global network. Entrepreneurs come from all industries, including retail, high tech, low tech, clean tech, life sciences, social impact and even NGOs.
Harthorne continues, “Together with our community of volunteer expert judges, we identify the highest-impact startups from all industries to participate in the accelerator program. Our judges are challenged to find startups that improve the way the world works, learns, interacts and lives.”
Sounds cliché? Judge for nine high impact startups for yourself:
1. Railpod – Smart Transportation and Robotics
Combining hardware and software, the RailPod significantly reduces the cost of regular railroad track inspections while increasing their effectiveness. The data that RailPod captures and analyzes enables track engineers to more quickly identify track issues and prioritize maintenance work, and in doing so, saves company time and money, as well as better ensures the safety of railroad passengers and cargo. Its service provides much needed big data to the multi-billion dollar track inspection industry.
It is a 2013 MassChallenge Diamond Winner of $100,000 and in September 2014, RailPod won the MassTLC (Technology Leadership Council) Award in the ‘Start-Up To Watch’ category.
2. MedAware – Healthcare
After Gidi Stein learned of the death of a child due to a highly preventable medical prescription error, he co-founded this Israeli company in 2012. Today, prescription errors result in morbidity, mortality and wasteful healthcare costs, harming hundreds of thousands of people annually in the United States alone. Levering big data analytics and machine learning algorithms, MedAware prevents such errors from occurring by analyzing and alerting prescribers to potentially inaccurate prescriptions in real time.
Since MassChallenge, MedAware has raised $1.8 million, with GE Ventures and OurCrowd among the investors. They were also listed in Fast Company‘s “The World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies Of 2015 In Israel.”
3. Altaeros – Energy and Clean Tech
Altaeros is developing a breakthrough airborne wind turbine to produce abundant, low cost renewable energy. The startup uses safe and reliable aerospace technology to lift wind turbines to operate at higher heights (altitudes of more than 600 meters above ground), where winds are much stronger than on the ground. Altaeros lowers the cost of wind turbine energy by up to 65% compared to existing diesel generators or other renewable technologies.
So far, they have received funding from a number of sources, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, the California Energy Commission, the Maine Technology Institute, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, Cleantech Innovations New England, the ConocoPhillips Energy Prize, the Alaska Energy Authority and recently, they raised another $7 million from SoftBank.
4. ArtLifting – Social Impact
Co-founders and siblings Liz and Spencer Powers launched ArtLifting in late 2013 with $4,000 of their own money. ArtLifting is the bridge that connects homeless, disabled, and other disadvantaged artists with paying customers. Many skilled artists participate in art groups at hospitals and shelters to create wonderful pieces, but until ArtLifting, there was no sustainable marketplace where these artists could share their work.
ArtLifting sells the artists’ work through two channels: an online marketplace and partnerships with commercial properties. Incubated at the Harvard Innovation Lab and MassChallenge, they currently supports 20 artists, mostly from the Boston area. The Powers siblings recently launched a Kickstarter campaign raising $20,000 to expand ArtLifting to five cities – New York, Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington DC – and add 65 new artists.
5. Dimples – Software
Remember the teen who approached the government to change their font and saved almost half a billion dollars a year in printing costs? Well, his suggestion was to switch the font to a smaller height and skinnier font at the same font size. But this wasn’t bringing that much change, as you could simply decrease the font size, which the government didn’t want to do in the first place.
However, a new startup named Dimples offers patented technology that enables organizations to use their existing fonts while reducing costs by 30-40%. Dimples specializes in engineering ink- and toner-conserving software and font overlays for newspapers, magazines, and more. In simple words, Dimples’ patented method produces unique perforation overlays (or ‘dimples’) for fonts that curb the use of expensive printer ink and toner while making the printed text appear whole to the human eye.
6. RallyPoint – Internet and Social Impact
Founded by two U.S. military veterans who first met at a combat post near Baghdad, RallyPoint launched in 2012 with the mission of empowering military veterans to transition more successfully into the private sector. Called “LinkedIn on steroids for the military” by Forbes, the company has raised over $6.5 million in venture capital financing and has over 300,000 service members represented on the site. RallyPoint also recently appointed Konstantin Guericke, co-founder of LinkedIn, to its board of directors.
7. Handy – Internet and Web
Founded in 2010 by two Harvard business school students, Handy (originally Handybook) has revolutionized the home cleaning and maintenance industry. Handy’s easy-to-use online platform allows individuals to book a home cleaning service or handyman for a specific time, while Handy does the rest. Handy has raised over $45 million and been named as one of Forbes’ “Hottest Startups of 2014.” Recently, Handy acquired Mopp to grow its UK business.
8. Alkeus Pharmaceuticals – Healthcare
This is a biotechnology company developing novel treatments for blindness. Its most advanced therapeutic program is based on new compounds that mainly target dry age-related macular degeneration (dry AMD) and Stargardt’s disease, the two leading causes of blindness in patients over 50 (AMD) and in teenagers (Stargardt). The genetic disorder (Stargardt), for which there are no approved drugs, afflicts 1 in 10,000 children. Alkeus has found what could be an elegant weapon against the disease and other causes of blindness.
Alkeus is a 2011 MassChallenge Diamond Winner of $100,000.
9. RelayRides – Smart Transportation
RelayRides is the world’s first and largest peer-to-peer car sharing marketplace. Alongside Airbnb and Uber, RelayRides is a trendsetter in the peer lending movement and a pioneer of the peer-to-peer car lending market.
RelayRides has raised over $50 million in financing from angel and venture capital investors, and is poised to take advantage of rapid growth in the peer lending space.
Towards the end of this month MassChallenge will announce the startup finalists joining its new class of 2015.
The views expressed are of the author.
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