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MassChallenge Awards $1M to 16 Startups Across IT, Cleantech, Retail, and Healthcare (Also Some Words of Wisdom from Steve Case)

It was a packed house at the MassChallenge finals last night in Boston’s Seaport District. Business luminaries such as Desh Deshpande, Steve Case, Josh Boger, Brad Feld, and Greg Bialecki were in attendance. And Boston mayor Tom Menino kicked things off by emphasizing that, especially compared with other innovation clusters around the country, “what Boston has is brainpower.”

Case, the co-founder of AOL and chairman and CEO of Revolution, stole the show early. A few gems from his keynote:

—“Big companies mostly play defense. Entrepreneurs create the future of this country…They are, in some sense, American heroes.”

—When Case was an undergrad at Williams College, he applied to Harvard Business School: “They rejected me…No donations headed that way!”

—In the early days of AOL, Case entered an Inc. 500 national competition: “I lost to Outback Steakhouse. The Bloomin’ Onion kicked my butt. So I redoubled my efforts to make AOL the best performing stock of the ‘90s. Which is more than Outback Steakhouse can say.”

—“Think big, and think bold…There’s way too much incremental thinking. The real change [comes from] bigger bets that are harder and take longer. Err on the side of thinking big instead of miniaturizing.”

But the real stars on this evening were the 26 MassChallenge finalists who gave one-minute pitches for their companies. Nobody tried anything particularly daring or unusual in their presentations—which is too bad, because the final awards had already been decided, so they had nothing to lose. Their pitches were pretty conventional (and polished for the most part) spiels for their companies. One of my takeaways is, once you’ve seen enough of these presentations, you can tell most of what you need to know in one minute.

In the end, four startups won $100,000 each, and 12 startups won $50,000 each. The companies were refreshingly diverse in terms of their focus, but there were lots of familiar names; some of the finalists previously have received startup awards or other financing around town. They include Ksplice (winner of the MIT $100K last year), Sproxil (winner of a MITX technology award this year), Aukera (MIT $100K finalist this year), OsComp (MIT clean energy prize finalist this year), Locately (raised seed funding last month), and Zyrra (currently closing a financing round).

Here’s the complete list of all 26 finalists; tweet-like descriptions of what they do based on their one-minute pitch; and the amount of money they won (if any). Congratulations to all—let’s keep this competition and mentorship program going strong.

3Play Media—interactive, searchable transcripts and closed captioning for video search ($50K)

7Solar Technologies—greener heating and cooling system for buildings

Abroad101—like TripAdvisor for study-abroad reviews ($50K)

Architexa—-analyzes code and helps developers understand complex software

Aukera Therapeutics—early-stage therapy for Lou Gehrig’s Disease

BrassMonkey—turning smartphones into videogame controllers like the Wii remote

Embed.ly—turns links into embeddable URL previews of video, text, or images (sort of the inverse of Bit.ly)

Energesis Pharmaceuticals—therapeutics to combat obesity and diabetes ($50K)

JoyTunes— interactive videogame to help people learn to play musical instruments

Ksplice—making rebooting obsolete for system administrators ($100K)

Locately—turns mobile phone data into insights for market research, retailers, and transit authorities ($100K)

Novophage—greener, non-toxic alternatives to bleach and antimicrobials

OsComp Systems—natural gas from marginal wells, more efficient compressor system ($50K)

OsmoPure—“clean water in a pinch,” using a special filter ($100K)

Pearl’s Premium—ultra low-maintenance lawn seed that grows slowly and needs no chemical fertilizer ($50K)

RelayRides—car-sharing service for neighbors, wants to “reinvent the wheels” ($50K)

Relay Technology Management—provides real-time data to biotech companies and other organizations to improve drug development

Rentabilities—Amazon.com for renting stuff, everything from a kayak to a slip-and-slide ($50K)

Samanta Shoes—“Give a woman a great pair of shoes and she can conquer the world.” Luxury shoes in hard-to-find sizes ($100K)

ScholarPro—matches up high-school students with private scholarships for college ($50K)

Seeding Labs—reclaim used lab equipment to enable world-class science in the developing world ($50K)

Sproxil—using cellphones to protect against counterfeit drugs

StorageByMail.com—provides access to warehouse space as an alternative to self-storage ($50K)

Symmetric Computing—“supercomputing for the masses” ($50K)

ViThera Laboratories—genetically engineers bacteria that produce drugs in your gut to fight bowel disorders

Zyrra—computer-aided design of custom-fit bras. “Let’s face it, if the bra-wearing population is happier, the rest of us will be happier.” ($50K)

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