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15 start-ups win $1m

The MassChallenge start-up accelerator program crowned 15 winners and awarded $1 million in cash prizes Wednesday night, capping four months of intensive business training in a ceremony at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

The biggest checks were for $100,000 and went to Hemova Medical, maker of a medical device for improving kidney dialysis; MoneyThink, which offers personal finance courses to urban teens; RailPod, maker of a robot that inspects railroad tracks; ViralGains, a digital marketing firm; and 99Degrees Custom, which manufactures personalized apparel in Lowell and Lawrence.

Ten others took home $50,000 apiece.

“Once again, I am blown away by the start-up community in Boston,” said MassChallenge founder and chief executive John Harthorne. “We have always envisioned a global start-up renaissance — a rebirth of inspired, creative innovators who strive to create new value without an unnatural obsession over maximizing short-term, personal gain.”


In addition to the MassChallenge winners, the program’s partners awarded another $525,000 in sidecar prizes. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space gave $75,000 to three companies, including Silverside Detectors, which also won $50,000 from MassChallenge and finished the night with the fattest overall purse: $125,000. Silverside makes low-cost radiation detectors designed to spot nuclear bombs in high-traffic areas like airports and subways.

The center gave five other start-ups $45,000 each, and included with the cash prizes a chance to work at the International Space Station National Laboratory.

The John W. Henry Family Foundation Prize for Social Impact went to three businesses, including A Little Easier Recovery, which received $10,000. A Little Easier Recovery also picked up $15,000 in the form of a Perkins School for the Blind Assistive Technology Prize. The company makes a hospital gown alternative for breast cancer surgery patients that resembles a blazer, and is designed to be more dignified than a “johnny.”


The winners represented a fraction of the more than 1,200 young companies that entered the fourth annual MassChallenge competition, which bills itself as the biggest accelerator in the world. In June, 128 finalists from a dozen countries took up residence in the program’s shared workspace in South Boston, where they worked with experienced mentors to develop their products and services, and networked with potential investors.

Winning companies were selected from among the program’s top 26, which MassChallenge picked two weeks ago. In the days before awards night, founders made 15-minute pitches to a judging panel that included Kayak cofounder Paul English and BJ’s Wholesale Club president Laura Sen.

Though most finalists are leaving without a cash prize, one entrepreneur after another insisted that no one is walking away empty handed. The program offered in-kind support valued at more than $10 million, in the form of free office space, business and legal advice, and marketing help, among other benefits.

“MassChallenge has been totally worth it,” said Shawn Harris, chief executive of Nyopoly, an online retailer that lets shoppers negotiate purchase prices. “It legitimized our business in the eyes of a lot of people and gave us access to resources that we otherwise would have had to scrap for.”

Callum Borchers can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.