What You Missed at the MassChallenge Awards

$1.75 million was awarded to 16 startups, Uber’s CEO dissed Cambridge, and more.

Travis Kalanick

Travis Kalanick speaking at the MassChallenge Awards. Photo by Madeline Bilis

A total of $1.75 million was awarded to 16 finalists in MassChallenge’s accelerator program earlier this week. Four social-minded startups took home the Diamond Prize of $100,000, 12 startups won $50,000 prizes, and a number of other finalists were awarded sidecar prizes from organizations like the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and Microsoft.

But before the jumbo checks came out, emcee Kara Miller, host of WGBH’s “Innovation Hub,” reminded the audience that they were at the “Academy Awards of startups” and introduced the event’s speakers: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, and Nancy Frates, mother of Peter Frates and co-creator of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

In case you missed the event, here are the highlights:

1. Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick dissed Cambridge.

Kalanick boasted of Uber’s successes, saying that Uber has created 4,000 jobs in Boston, and he also announced the launch of UberPool in the city, a carpooling system where users can share the bill when taking similar commutes. But one place Uber hasn’t made similar progress is Cambridge. Kalanick said as much in his first sentence after getting on stage. “It was actually a long time ago in 2012. There’s a little town called Cambridge, Massachusetts, that amongst a number of very interesting set of laws, they have one where that if you call for a town car to come to you, you have to wait eight hours before you’re legally allowed to get inside of the vehicle.” He went on to list his numerous issues with the laws of Cambridge. When he was reintroduced to give his talk, he quipped, “Well… you already heard what I think about Cambridge, Massachusetts.”

2. Deval Patrick received an award named after himself.

Governor Patrick took the stage to accept the 2014 Governor Deval L. Patrick Commonwealth Innovation Award from MassChallenge. “I’ve never received an award named after me,” said Patrick. “But I guess naming it after me and then not honoring me with it would have been awkward.” The award was created in his name to be granted every five years to the individual who has contributed the most to the innovation community. “This is where it is happening if you have an idea about changing the world,” said Patrick. “Keep inventing our own future. If you do, I’m quite confident our best days lie ahead.”

3. Google’s Executive Chairman and former CEO called Travis Kalanick one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the century.

Eric Schmidt empowered the crowd of startup teams. “I can’t think of a better use of time than cheering on entrepreneurs and helping them win,” he said. “Why do startups matter? I think Travis is perhaps the best example. Travis is probably one of the greatest entrepreneurs of this century.” Schmidt called Uber one of the greatest business ideas of all time and highlighted the explosion of startups in Boston. “Why do we need more entrepreneurs? Because they create jobs,” he said. “They solve every known problem.”

4. The ALS Ice Bucket challenge wasn’t just a bunch of Facebook videos.

Speaker Nancy Frates is the mother of Peter Frates, who was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) at age 27. This summer, her family inspired the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to go viral, successfully spreading awareness about ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Her story of the creation of the Ice Bucket Challenge inspired awe and a standing ovation. “When you find a problem, dig deep and find your best momma bear and go after it,” she said.

5. You’d be hard-pressed to find another event that brings together so much innovative talent in one room.

Of the 128 participants in MassChallenge, 26 came out finalists, and 16 of those finalists went home with an award. The four Diamond Prize winners are setting out to better the world, with three of them based in Massachusetts. Dracut’s Catie’s Closet provides clothing and other necessities to students living in poverty in order to improve their school attendance and performance. Drinkwell seeks to revolutionize the global water industry by transforming contaminated tubewells by employing local villagers to deliver clean water, boosting economic opportunities. Invented at MIT, SQZ Biotech has introduced the concept of squeezing cells in order to deliver molecules like proteins, antibodies, RNA, and DNA into cells. Of course, there are numerous other startups doing great work. Check out the full list of winners at MassChallenge.org.