22 Colorado Startups to Compete Tonight in Global Startup Challenge

1/23/14Follow @MichaelXBD

Washington, DC might be the nation’s capital, but it’s not known for putting its resources toward helping startups. A group known as 1776 is trying to change that, and they’ve come to Denver as part of their effort to build a global network of startups.

1776 runs a startup co-working space and mentorship program in Washington. It will be at Galvanize tonight for the Challenge Cup, a tournament that pits startups from around the globe against each other in a pitch competition. Denver is one of 16 cities participating.

Tonight’s event, which runs from 5:30 to 9 p.m., will be quick and intense, 1776 co-founder Donna Harris said. Startups developing tech for the education, health, energy, and smart cities markets will have one minute to give their elevator pitches. The judges will pick two finalists from each of the four categories, and they will then have five minutes to further explain their ideas. Judges will follow up with questions.

The stakes are high. Regional winners will get an expenses-paid one-week trip to Washington for the final competition, where they will be among 64 teams competing. The two best teams in each category will receive a $50,000 investment from 1776, and the champion will receive $150,000. The investment will be in the form of a convertible note, she said.

There will also be chances to make connections with industry and government leaders and to attend meetings with experts who will discuss global issues facing their industries, Harris said.

Connections are the lifeblood of DC, and tapping into them and building a worldwide network for startups is the ultimate goal for 1776, Harris said.

“If you think about Washington, DC as the nation’s capital, the currency of the community is power and connections, but the power and those connections have never been used to help startups scale,” she said. “The end goal is to convene a global community around these startups so we can identify the most promising companies anywhere in the world and put the full power of Washington, DC to work to help them scale.”

Connections could be vital for some of the startups competing tonight. Boulder-based Uvize is an edtech company that creates virtual veterans centers for universities that connect vets with mentors. CEO Dave Cass, a Navy veteran, said connections with agencies like the Veterans Administration and organizations like Student Veterans of America would be helpful for his startup.

“We want to win, of course, but if nothing else, we want to build our network a little bit,” Cass said. “Exposure in DC and building relationships in DC is very important to us.”

But 1776’s visit and the Challenge Cup are not all about competition and global plans. The startups will go through what Harris calls a pop-up accelerator during the day and meet with mentors who were recruited from the local startup scene and ones that 1776 brought with them.

“The big challenge with pitch competitions in general is you put a lot of effort into it, and only one company wins,” Harris said. “What we wanted to do is make sure that every company that is competing benefits, regardless of whether they are winners.”

The Challenge Cup also gives 1776 and other investors a peak at promising startups in far-flung locations.

“There are a number of companies around the world we’re going to want to have a relationship with regardless of whether they’re winners,” Harris said

The event kicked off in October at 1776’s headquarters in Washington, and since then has traveled to U.S. and overseas entrepreneurial hotspots. Its next stops are Sao Paolo, Brazil; Cape Town, South Africa; Tel Aviv, Israel; Beijing, China; New Delhi, India; and San Francisco.

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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