November 14, 2014

Inspiration Comes in Early Stage Startups – Powerful Answers Award Finalists Show Bold Mission

A good idea can come from anywhere. We believe good ideas combined with powerful technology can help solve the world’s biggest problems. As investors, we are continually focused on finding new and innovative solutions, not only for businesses but also for real world problems that affect the daily lives of people. In order to encourage innovation and positive social change we created the Powerful Answers Award. Now in its second year, this multi-million dollar global competition seeks to find – and fund – creative solutions to the world’s challenges in the areas of education, healthcare, sustainability and transportation. The competition rewards innovators for using technology to find groundbreaking solutions to serve the world’s population. 

We recently hosted our 40 finalists, which represent the top 10 in each of the 4 categories, to pitch their solutions to an expert panel of judges at our Innovation Center in San Francisco and Development Center in Palo Alto. There were 5 judges in each panel category selected for their leadership and expertise in their respective categories. Judges heard each of the finalist’s solutions and thoroughly questioned them about their solution and plans to scale for maximum impact.  

While the finalists varied in the products and services they were offering, each and every one of them inspired us and captured our attention with their bold visions. Below are just a few of the powerful answers from the Finalists:

An Ann Arbor, Michigan-based startup, GENOMENON provides software utilizing large-scale genomic data to help physicians discover and diagnose disease more quickly. Professor of Pathology at University of Michigan and GENOMENON founder Megan Lim commented on the Powerful Answers Award process, “Winning the award would mean we can hire the people who have been volunteering with us for so long, and having access to Verizon’s network would mean we can move even faster than before in making personalized medicine a reality.” 

Another company, VoiceItt, has a mission of enabling people with speech impairments to speak using the most natural methods they have. Their product, Talkitt, is software that works on smartphone or tablet to capture what the user says and translates it in real time. This will serve people with a variety of cognitive and speech disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, ALS, down syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, and throat and mouth cancers.

As the world’s cities become more densely urban and transportation systems starts to grow significantly, there is a need to be more proactive to monitor and maintain that infrastructure which is carrying people and resources to reduce accidents.  When it comes to railways, SmartRail has developed a solution that allows railway operators to keep tabs on the health of their railway networks to ultimately prevent rail accidents and save lives.  Combining microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) sensors with wireless communication, the condition of railway infrastructure can be determined using accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers.

And while SmartRail focuses on railway infrastructure, another company, Energy Intelligence, looks to capture all the wasted energy from moving and stopping vehicles on today’s roadways.  While similar in concept to how hybrid vehicles today recharge their batteries as brakes are applied, this differs in that the technology is not in the car but on the road itself.  As vehicles are moving and stopping, Energy Intelligence places a layer on top of the road that converts vehicle movement into electrical energy.  With the vast system of roadways throughout the world, this could be a new power source that can help make the world continue to run.

The founders of the finalists made us sit up and take notice – they warmed our hearts and helped us understand how some global problems require uniquely innovative technologies. Powerful Answers Award is a vote of confidence, a cheer to go exponential, encouragement to build smarter designs that have substantial global impact.

Check out a detailed summary of finalists in the Healthcare category from the Powerful Answers Award team and stay tuned for information about the finalists from each category in the coming weeks. You can follow the contest at #VZPAA and winners will be announced on January 27, 2015.

Tags: Powerful Answers Award , Venture Capital , Early Stage Startup