MassChallenge Texas Awards $500,000 to Five Startups

Mike Millard, managing director of MassChallenge Texas, photo courtesy of MassChallenge Texas

TRAXyL, a startup that installs high-speed Internet on roadways, received the top prize of $150,000 in cash from MassChallenge Texas in Austin on Thursday night.

The company, based in Warrenton, Virginia installs high-speed fiber optic cable on roads, and parking lots. It coats the fiber optic cables in heavy-duty paint that can be glued on top of roads and other paved surfaces.

TRAXyL has also gone through the DreamIt UrbanTech Accelerator program and received a $225,000 grant Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation.

Four other finalists received a total of $350,000 in cash awards. In total, 74 startups participated in the second annual MassChallenge Texas Austin accelerator program. The accelerator picked 14 finalists that competed for the prize money.

Three startups received $100,000 each including Collective Liberty, based in Washington, D.C., that has created a platform to help prevent human trafficking. And Mens Gold Boxx, based in Austin, a big and tall e-commerce site for men. And teleCalm, based in Allen, Texas, which created a phone service aimed at keeping seniors safe.

Olifant Medical, based in San Antonio, won $50,000. The startup has developed a medical device to insert breathing tubes into patients easier.

About 400 people turned out for the second annual awards ceremony held at the Hilton downtown.

The managing director of Mass Challenge Texas, Mike Millard, started the Austin awards ceremony by running around the ballroom high fiving everyone and encouraging the audience to do so also.

Millard has been with the organization since it launched in Texas two years ago.

“It’s been a journey to bring MassChallenge Texas to where it is now, Millard said. “Our goal has been to build a connected ecosystem that attracts the world to the Lone Star State to innovate at an accelerated pace. Through this community, we can provide startups the access they need to achieve milestones and goals.”

Sara T. Brand, a founding general partner of True Wealth Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Austin, gave one of the two keynote addresses. She highlighted studies that show diverse startup teams with at least one woman in a leadership position outperform other teams.

Women-led startups made up 58 percent of the 74 startups selected for the MassChallenge Texas Austin cohort.

“Diversity breeds innovation,” Brand said.

Having diversity at the early stages of a startup builds a culture that leads to greater innovation, Brand said. It’s critical to focus on diversity in the beginning because it’s hard to add it in once the culture has been established, she said.

William Hurley, known as Whurley, founder of Strangeworks, a quantum computing startup, gave the second keynote talk on things they don’t tell you about being an entrepreneur. Previously, Whurley founded and sold Chaotic Moon to Accenture and Honest Dollar to Goldman Sachs.

The number one thing that they don’t talk about is exhaustion, Whurley said.

“Startups don’t like you to have a life,” he said. He talked about how difficult it is to balance family life with the demands of a business.

And the struggle is real, Whurley said.

“Startups are always in one of two phases, they’re either struggling or they’re out of business,” he said.

There is a lot of entrepreneurial bullshit, Whurley said. The covers of magazines like Inc, Entrepreneur, portray a glamorous the startup life, he said. But In reality, it’s difficult path to choose.

When a startup founder says everything is great, I know they are either lying to themselves, the person they are talking to, or both Whurley said.
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“You, as a founder, have to do everything,” he said, “the only person that will make your startup successful, the only one you can count on, is you”.