D.C. Challenge Cup Points to Trends Among Tech Startups

December 19, 2013

11:00 am

This post was previously published on The Challenge Cup News by author Emily Brown

Today’s tech startup space differs from the one that created the tech bubble—and bust—in the 1990s. Entrepreneurs now pitch their tech products to an informed audience that uses technology daily; they can’t just roll out a fancy-sounding “dot com.”

Today, innovations in the field must be more sensitive to the needs and desires of a world already connected through smart technologies—and that’s exactly what the audience saw at the Challenge Cup kickoff in D.C. on Tuesday night. The standing-room-only crowd was captivated by the solutions created by some of D.C.’s best tech minds for some of the world’s most-pressing problems.

Here are some of the trends their ideas keyed us into.

Cutting Through The Data Fog

Although “big data” is the term on everyone’s lips, an increasing number of companies are finding success cutting through the data fog. As the amount of information in our world increases exponentially each day, companies that can streamline data navigation will be at an advantage.

For example, RideScout, the winner of the smart cities category, aggregates all available transportation options into one smartphone application. Users don’t have to toggle between apps, trying to find the most efficient, cost-effective way to their destination; instead, they can navigate their transportation options through one platform. Similarly, CollegeAppz streamlines the college application process, while VisitDays, another edtech company, helps universities use targeted data to connect with potential students.

Dorsata, the winner in the health category takes it a step further. Dorsata provides an intuitive system for doctors to navigate diagnoses, making established best practices and cutting-edge research available at the touch of a finger.

A Sharp Focus on Customer Values

Other companies take a different approach, creating a lens through which customers can view products that align with their values. Ethical consumption is a huge market and Challenge Cup contestants  SpendConciously, NettaDonna, and Greenease provide a window into product’s social and environmental impacts, so that customers can make an informed choice.

The energy industry is prime for this kind of innovation, thanks to customers who are motivated by cost, conscious consumption or both. Energy category runner-up, Sunnovations appeals to both of these factions with a money-saving, solar-powered, water heater monitor system, and winner Ethical Electric makes it simple for customers to switch to clean energy through existing utilities providers.

Easy to Use Interfaces Reduce Barriers

Whether cutting through data, or focusing on values, all of the top-placing competitors placed a priority on customer experience. Applications were designed for users to navigate them as easily as possible, from transforming a daunting amount of medical data into an easy system of color-coded buttons in the case of ChronoKair, to EduCanon making a video learning user interface accessible to teachers at all level of the tech spectrum. Barriers must be reduced if products are to take hold, for instance, customers can sign up for Ethical Electric in the time it takes to register for Twitter.

Innovating Within and Outside of Professions

Another source of motivation for both the entrepreneurs and their intended audience was frustration with the current system. Time and again, founders came to the stage telling stories of wasteful inefficiencies in their fields—from transit consulting to teaching. In the case of ChronoKair, doctor Kelly Swords pinpointed patient-care lapses to the transition points between doctors’ shifts. There wasn’t a good solution, so she created one: Her visual, interactive chart can ensure consistent care and replace cumbersome, expensive medical records. Solutions this effective are a result of specific, institutional knowledge combined with innovation.

Alternatively, in the age of the Internet, skills transfer. Ethical Electric Vice President of Business Development Richard Graves is a veteran of online organizing, while Founder and CEO Tom Matzzie, is a former Washington director for the political group MoveOn.org. Their proficiency in leading online engagement platforms translates into valuable development skills leading to a smooth transition from nonprofit to business.

Spurring the Tech Revolution

Like all successful entrepreneurs, contestants in the Challenge Cup provided a solution to a problem. However, the solutions proposed by these tech startups aren’t designed just to make money; they  have the ability to reduce wasteful spending, tackle climate change, and even save lives.

And this is only the beginning, with 15 competitions to go, the Challenge Cup is well on its way to creating a revolution.

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