Disease Diagnostic Group founder and CEO John R. Lewandowski. The startup was among the four $100,000 MassChallenge grant winners on Wednesday. (Photo by Kyle Alspach)


Four startups in this year’s MassChallenge accelerator took home the top prize of $100,000 on Wednesday—and notably, all four are focused on humanitarian pursuits. Two are overtly socially minded, while the other two, in life sciences, have an underlying goal of improving human health.

The Boston program also chose 12 participating startups to receive $50,000 each, and “sidecar” grants from specific organizations were awarded as well—making for a total of $1.75 million in grants given out to startups Wednesday.

MassChallenge is funded entirely by sponsors and doesn’t take any equity from the 128 startups that participate in its four-month, annual program. The accelerator is based in the South Boston Seaport, and this was its fifth annual session; the program has received credit for helping to spark a major surge in South Boston’s tech sector activity in recent years.

Speakers for Wednesday’s awards event at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center included Uber CEO Travis Kalanick—who focused on Uber’s massive growth in the Boston area (500,000 active users, 4,000 new driver jobs created) and also recalled Uber’s repeated clashes with the city of Cambridge. Others who spoke included Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO and current executive chairman; Nancy Frates, mother of Peter Frates, who inspired her to co-found the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge; and Gov. Deval Patrick.

Here are the cash grant winners announced on Wednesday (with descriptions provided by MassChallenge, and their state/country of origin in parentheses):

$100,000 Winners

  • Catie’s Closet – Social Impact (Mass.) — “improves school attendance and removes social stigmas by providing clothing and necessities to students living in poverty.”
  • Disease Diagnostic Group – Healthcare / Life Sciences (Ohio) — “reusable, mechanical device [that] offers a handheld, quantitative malaria diagnosis.”
  • Drinkwell – Social Impact (Mass.) — “transforms the global arsenic and fluoride water crisis into economic opportunity.”
  • SQZ Biotech – Healthcare / Life Sciences (Mass.) — “CellSqueeze (invented at MIT) enables delivery of molecules into cells by a gentle squeezing.”
The 3Derm team: Aaron Orbey, Liz Asai and Elliot Swart (Photo by Kyle Alspach)

$50,000 Winners

  • 3Derm – Healthcare / Life Sciences (Conn.) — “takes 3D pictures of skin with an inexpensive handheld imager to help detect skin cancer at the earlier more treatable stages.”
  • Anfiro – Energy / Clean Tech (Mass.) — “Clean and affordable water for a better tomorrow.”
  • Ashton Instruments – High Tech (Mass.) — “We’re making the first affordable cycling power meter. Think of it as a super Fitbit for cyclists.”
  • Cam Med LLC – Healthcare / Life Sciences (Mass.) — “Evopump [is] the first soft, flexible, bandage-like patch pump for active and simultaneous subcutaneous delivery of one or more medications.”
  • Dimples, Inc. – High Tech (Penn.) — “With Dimples, it’s like printing money. Dimples reduces ink costs when printing documents.”
  • DropWise – Energy / Clean Tech (Mass.) — “on a mission to avert metagons of CO2 with a nanoengineered coating for power plants.”
  • Fluid-Screen – Healthcare / Life Sciences (Conn.) — “makes the world a safer place by enabling faster, more sensitive microbial detection from fluid samples.”
  • Grapevine – High Tech (Mass.) — offers an “advocate marketing platform [that] helps consumer-facing brands generate sales by working with relevant YouTubers.”
  • KnipBio – General (Mass.) — “Our proprietary biotechnology makes animal feed more nutritious & sustainable.”
  • Sano LLC – Healthcare / Life Sciences (Mass.) — “offers a disposable, low cost, Point-of-Care (POC) diagnostic platform with first focus on chronic wounds.”
  • Ustraap – High Tech (Mexico) — “the smart and simple way to sense your surroundings with style.”
  • Voxel8 – High Tech (Mass.) — “a startup company focused on multimaterial 3D printing of electronics that has recently spun out of Jennifer Lewis’ lab at Harvard University.”

Sidecar Prize Winners

CASIS-Boeing Prize for Technology in Space ($600,000):

  • Cam Med LLC – Healthcare / Life Sciences (Mass.)
  • Droplette by Novopyxis – Healthcare / Life Sciences (Mass.) — “effective, portable, painless transdermal delivery of large molecules that generates no waste products and never touches the skin.”
  • SQZ Biotech – Healthcare / Life Sciences (Mass.)

Henry Prize for Social Impact:

  • CareerVillage.org – Social Impact (Mass.) — $30,000 — “crowd-sources career advice for students in low-income communities.”
  • Catie’s Closet – Social Impact (Mass.) — $10,000
  • ArtLifting – Social Impact (Mass.) — $10,000 — “Empower homeless and disabled individuals through the celebration and sale of their artwork.”

Microsoft Prize for Civic Engagement & Leadership:

  • Lengio – High Tech (Mass.) — $30,000 — “Learn to speak English with confidence at your workplace with Lengio’s personalized and dynamic language-learning technology.”
  • Kinems Learning Games – Social Impact (Greece) — $20,000 — “offers engaging & effective learning experiences for children with  learning disabilities  like autism via personalised Kinect games.

MassIT Government Innovation Competition:

  • Astra IDentity, Inc. – High Tech (Mass.) — $25,000 — “Phishing and SPAM are different. Phishing attacks through email cause devastating losses.  Get protected with AstraID’s PhishingGuardian.”
  • CarKnow LLC – High Tech (Mass.) — $25,000 — “liberates information hidden in vehicle networks, enabling a cross-manufacturer API and smart apps for analytics & visualization.”

Perkins Prize for Assistive Technology:

  • Ustraap – High Tech (Mexico) — $25,000