The Big Apple. Home to hedge fund managers, Wall Street tycoons, media titans, fashionistas, and world-class entertainers. But one evening last month in New York, more than two dozen startups attempting to disrupt the health care, energy, and education sectors took center stage as part of the 7-month-long global Challenge Cup pitch competition run by Washington, D.C., incubator 1776. FreeEnterprise.com was on hand for the pitches, and here is a look at some of our favorites.

Pathgather. Are you looking for a social learning environment that motivates and accelerates your personal development? Then Pathgather, a new entrant into the social LMS (learning management system) space, might be for you. Employees can share their achievements, set public learning goals, and recommend helpful resources. They can discover and organize learning content their employer has created as well as thousands of courses from across the web in a single, searchable learning catalogue. All of this for just $3 per month per user. Pathfinder, with the help of QualComm, launches in January 2014.

Simply Grid. New York has a vibrant street food scene, but along with the hot dogs and tacos cooked up curbside comes a healthy serving of noise and air pollution created by gasoline-operated generators. Simply Grid reduces the level of foul aromas and toxic emissions by enabling food vendors to plug their mobile kitchens into the city's power grid using pedestals that connect wirelessly to Simply Grid’s cloud-based platform, which manages customer accounts, metering, and billing. Food vendors can initiate service with their mobile phones and connect to the grid with cables that they already use for their generators. Citywide, more than 3,000 mobile food carts create the equivalent pollution emissions of approximately 10,000 cars. Simply Grid's pilot program – launched in September in conjunction with the mayor's office, Con Edison, the NYC Department of Transportation, and Closed Loop Advisors – will last up to a year and is expected to cut CO2 emissions by 9 metric tons.

Focus Fertility. Modeled after Weight Watchers, this startup, which has yet to launch, helps women experiencing difficulty getting pregnant by providing them with medical information, their own fertility dashboard, and access to mentors and experts via phone, email, and video chat. To retain customers over a longer period of time, Focus Fertility intends to provide information about pregnancy and infant care in year two.

INF Robotics. Your aging grandmother can't take care of herself anymore, but an assisted living facility is cost prohibitive. What to do? For less than $5,000, you can buy a robot to look after her. INF Robotics has created a robot tailored to meet the needs of the elderly, wounded veterans, and people with disabilities. It can communicate with doctors, give medication reminders, and dial out for help in case of emergency. Still two years away from going to market with its robots, INF intends to disrupt the $16.1 billion telehome and telemedicine market.

Contextuall. Think about all the bad business decisions you've made that could have been avoided if you had a better sense of what the future held. Contextuall takes publicly available data such as stock market prices, website traffic stats, real estate listings, job postings, and economic releases to build more accurate predictions. What are the odds that a particular business will pay back a loan? Contextuall will tell you, and if its algorithms perform worse than your benchmarks, it won't charge you. 

Soceana. This web-based platform uses personalized skill-based filters to match employees with volunteer opportunities. Upon Soceana's launch, volunteers will be able to track and certify their volunteer hours as well as upload photos and communicate with others on the site, and Soceana's analytics will enable nonprofits and charitable organizations to more effectively target their volunteer marketing efforts. Soceana Founder and CEO Tess Micheals and Chief Operating Officer Anil Chitrapu are both juniors at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ranku. With more and more universities and colleges offering online degree programs, Ranku, founded in June 2013, helps prospective students discover, compare, and apply to the programs best suited for their needs. Co-founder Kim Taylor, a former NBA dancer and star of  the "Start-Ups: Silicon Valley" reality TV show on Bravo, ditched a fashion startup she had been working on to launch Ranku. Ranku's registered users, which number in the thousands, can access information on hundreds of degree programs from partnering universities that pay a subscription to be listed on the site. Mark Cuban of "Shark Tank" fame led Ranku's seed funding round.

Check out more of our Challenge Cup coverage here.

 

 

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