On Tuesday February 19, Launcht attended the MIT $100K Accelerate Finale, which honored the top eight of over 200 groups that put together project concepts to bring to market as a part of the year-long MIT Accelerate $100K Challenge.
The eight finalists had previously been selected from a group of 36 semi-finalists, which had in turn been selected from over 200 project proposals. The judges were VCs, angel investors, and others with a vested interest in such projects. Each team had just 7 minutes to demo their idea and another 2 to answer questions. At the end, the judges awarded $10,000 to the winning team, the audience voted on a team to receive $2,000, and the AARP Foundation gave away a $2,000 prize as well.
To open the event, Craig Newmark–the eponymous founder of craigslist–gave a keynote speech in which he discussed his ascent to a leadership position, the role of luck, and the importance of knowing “when to get out of the way” when others bring new and valuable skills to the table. He encouraged the audience to “boldly go where no nerd has gone before” as he has and to figure out what they do best and do it with passion.
His speech combined self-deprecation and wisdom and set off the night on a positive note, and also cleverly played into the idea of crowdsourcing solutions for major problems. When VCs and other financial backers host events such as the MIT Accelerate 2013 Challenge, they allow students to creatively think of new solutions with energy, dedication, and perspectives not always found in the workplace. The competition encourages out-of-the-box thinking while connecting students with mentors who can guide them to make their solutions viable in the marketplace. About twenty of the groups from last year’s Accelerate Challenge have since grown into actual companies. These types of business plan competitions allow financial backers to “get out of the way,” as Craig would say, and allow the students to play to their strengths–innovation and passion for new concepts.
At the end of the night, the Benevolent Technologies for Health–or the BETH project–took home the $10,000 Daniel M. Lewin grand prize for their low cost high impact healthcare solutions for underserved populations. Bit Harmonics, which is developing a software service to remotely monitor the energy efficiency of communities, homes, and individual appliances won the AARP prize, and glutenTech, which is developing a portable, point of use sensor for individuals who are gluten intolerant took home the audience award.