The category winners of the first annual Challenge Cup. From left, Feyi Olopade of CancerIQ, Adam Woolway of PlugSurfing, Rose Broome of HandUp and Benjamin Levy of eduCanon. (Steven Overly/The Washington Post)

A San Francisco company that uses crowdfunding to help the homeless took top honors in the first annual Challenge Cup, a business competition organized by start-up hub 1776 that brought young companies from across the globe to Washington this past week.

The awards ceremony Saturday night was the capstone of a months-long process that saw event organizers and sponsors travel to 16 cities around the globe, from New York to Cape Town to Beijing, to judge pitches from technology start-ups.

Each of those companies had to serve up a fresh, commercially viable idea in one of the four sectors where 1776 has carved out a niche: smart cities, education, energy and health care.

Formed last February, 1776 provides office space for start-ups in the District, as well as events and seminars designed to educate entrepreneurs and promote the local tech economy. The group is now developing a venture capital arm, and each of the Challenge Cup finalists walked away with an investment.

Meet the Challenge Cup winners and finalists:

Smart Cities

Challenge Cup & Category Winner: HandUp

Investment: $150,000

The competition’s big winner hails from San Francisco. HandUp allows people from around the Web to make small donations to homeless individuals or other neighbors in need. Its community partners, such as shelters or service organizations, help the homeless to create profiles outlining their plans for the money.

Runner-up: Mellowcabs

Investment: $50,000

The Cape Town company is manufacturing a fleet of miniature, electric-powered cabs that can provide inexpensive, eco-friendly transportation around cities. The company makes money primarily from advertisements on its vehicles, rather than the passengers it carries.


Winner: eduCanon

Investment: $100,000

The only District-based upstart to make the finals, eduCanon offers interactive lessons delivered via video so students can pause and rewind to learn course material at their own pace.


Investment: $50,000

The Tel Aviv-based company promises a fresh approach to learning a foreign language that combines traditional flash cards with an online dictionary to teach students new words in their proper context.


Winner: PlugSurfing

Investment: $100,000

Berlin-based PlugSurfing offers a Web site and mobile app for drivers of electric vehicles to more easily locate charging stations and pay to fill up, so to speak.

Runner-up: Water Lens

Investment: $50,000

The company’s patent-pending system allows real-time chemical analysis of the water that results from hydraulic fracking when digging wells. It hails from Austin.

Health Care

Winner: CancerIQ

Investment: $100,000

Based in Chicago, CancerIQ allows oncologists to collect genetic information from cancer patients and compare that information against a large database of similar patients. The goal is to identify high-risk patients and offer preventative treatment.

Runner-up: MediSafe

Investment: $50,000

Also from Tel Aviv, MediSafe uses a mobile app to remind patients when it’s time to take prescribed medication, reducing the likelihood of inconsistent doses that may lead to further health issues and medical expenses.

Follow reporter Steven Overly on Twitter: @StevenOverly