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The Challenge Cup winners posing with judges and organizers following the conclusion of the event in Toronto in November, 2014.

JARED LINDZON/The Globe and Mail

Some of Canada's most promising startups in the energy, health care, education and smart-city sectors faced off Wednesday night as part of an international competition hosted by Washington-based incubator and investment fund 1776, in partnership with Toronto-based accelerator INcubes.

The Challenge Cup will visit a total of 16 startup hubs around the world, searching for leaders in their fields and bringing one qualifier in each category from each city to Washington for a final competition in May.

The top eight pitches in the final round will be provided with mentorship and advice to help get their startups off the ground, as well as a share of a $650,000 investment fund. That said, according to 1776 co-founder Donna Harris, the most valuable reward for startups in these fields is contacts they can make in Washington.

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"We do a lot to help them get the connections they need, because in these markets it's often about who you know, and being able to get the right enterprise customers or government conversations," she explained. "Washington is a city that operates on connections."

Winners will also be awarded the opportunity to get their ideas in front of the right audience. For example, the top two ideas in the education sector will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to New Orleans to pitch their concepts to the National Charter Schools conference in June.

A total of 40 startups lined up against the wall of a conference room in the Telus building in downtown Toronto Wednesday night, waiting for their turn to wow the judges with a 60-second pitch. With no visual aids and a gong interrupting each presentation at the one-minute mark, the first round of the competition looked like the open mic night of the startup world.

Two startups from each of the four categories were then given 10-minutes to make a more formal pitch, with the winner of each moving on to the competition in Washington.

Winners included Permission Click, which seeks to automate the permission slip and payment process for things such as school trips; Grid Cure, which provides smart grid analytics to anticipate potential problems in the electric grid; Limestone, which created a smart device sanitization solution for healthcare professionals; and RainGrid, which proposes a solution for excess storm water runoff with the use of smart rain barrels.

"I think it really tells the story that Toronto is on the same level as other top cities around the world," said Ben Zlotnick, founder of INcubes and one of eight judges in the competition. "It's not a Canadian competition or a North American competition, this is a global initiative and Toronto was chosen as one of the 16 cities to be a part of this."

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