MassChallenge Boston, a zero-equity accelerator program for start-ups, awarded $1 million in cash prizes to 15 of the highest-impact start-ups at a ceremony Oct. 17.
The winners were chosen out of 128 early-stage start-ups that made up the 2018 cohort, with 51 percent of the cohort having at least one female founder, up from 48 percent in 2017.
Although the 2018 MassChallenge Boston cohort was a strong representation of gender parity among entrepreneurs, the 2018 MassChallenge Awards still have a long way to go.
With cash prizes ranging from $50,000 to $100,000, the influx of capital to these early-stage businesses is an invaluable resource and makes the difference between a failed start-up and a flourishing one.
Out of the 15 cash prize winners, four have at least one woman founder, or 26.7 percent. Zero out of four $100,000 Diamond Winners were founded by at least one woman; one out of the two $75,000 Platinum Winners is a woman-founded start-up; and three out of nine or 33 percent of $50,000 Gold Winners have at least one woman founder.
The female-led business winners are: Platinum Winner SurgiBox, an ultraportable inflatable surgical environment that fits in a backpack for doctors who are the on the go, founded by Debbie Lin Teodorescu, M.D.; Gold Winner addapptation, a user experience service for Salesforce.com customers, co-founded by Carla Vanderhoof; Gold Winner PionEar, ear tube technology for hearing or ear-infection issues, co-founded by Ida Pavlichenko and Joanna Aizenberg; and Gold Winner Project Alianza, an organization that builds schools and provides education in rural communities around the world, founded by Kristin Van Busum.
As a bonus, CASIS & Boeing awarded $500,000 to two start-ups at the 2018 MassChallenge Awards, one of them being Kernal Biologics, a cancer cell immunotherapy developer, co-founded by Catherine Moroski-Erkul.
Revere-based Makomas, founded by Magbè Savané, produces nutrient-rich health beverages with exotic ingredients such as hibiscus, moringa, and baobab. Pumpspotting, a Maine company, founded by Amy Vanharen, is a social app with a global network of breastfeeding mothers who locate and share spots to nurse and pump.
“Everyone dreams of changing the world, but very few people actually set out to do it,” says Kiki Mills Johnston, managing director of MassChallenge Boston in a media statement. “It’s been incredible to engage with top entrepreneurs as they develop solutions to dramatically improve our society—from the way we live to the way we work.”
The majority of the 2018 MassChallenge Awards winners are in the healthcare and technology industries such as WatchTower Robotics, a company that uses robots to help water pipe operators find leaks, save water, and protect infrastructure. As well as companies like Oxalo Therapeutics, a biotech company developing a novel drug to prevent kidney stones.
Unsurprisingly, there is major value placed on the STEM fields, where innovative solutions to improve how we work and live spring from, and the 2018 MassChallenge Awards reflect this.
But the lack of equal gender representation among scientists, entrepreneurs, and tech gurus is not an issue isolated to MassChallenge; it’s a wider societal issue, one that begins with how girls and boys are raised, educational opportunities, and cultural bias. As we start to break down these barriers, we are hopeful that more and more start-ups in Massachusetts will reflect the population in not only gender, but race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic backgrounds too.