Monday, November 17, 2014

#MIN68 Recap - Live Music, Skee Ball, Sliders, Oh My!

Innovation, food, games, music, you name it and we had it Wednesday night at the InnoLoft at Constant Contact  for Mass Innovation Night number 68. InnoLoft is a nifty space for startups with lots of amenities, including games. The skee ball games got a lot of use by the Mass Innovation Nights crowd and the competition was fierce.  Constant Contact provided tasty food including several kinds of sliders. The hosts really set the tone for the evening.

Skee Ball

Chicken Sliders Were Going Fast
Where to start with the cool products?  How about Howler with location-based advertising that helps small business get deals right to your phone? The deals find you! I've seen similar apps, but the two things that made Howler stand out for me were the ability to fine tune the type and amount of content you want to receive and the use of Blue Tooth Low Energy radios instead of GPS for location services (less battery drain and it can even find you indoors).

Howler's Table Was Popular -- Two People So They Handled Two Questions At Once
I never thought of the space I'm occupying at the moment as real estate until I heard BetrSpot's presentation.  A seat in a restaurant, a spot in a line (think ticket sales or Black Friday door busters),   or a table near an electric outlet in a coffee shop become  "micro-real-estate" that you can buy and sell with this location-based app (both Android and iPhone)  that creates marketplaces in these crowded first-come, first-served environments.  You think parking spots for your car are a hot commodity? What about seats at the coolest bar in town? The world is way more crowded these days, especially in the urban areas where techies work, so I can see this idea taking off pretty quickly.  I do have to say that parts of his presentation reminded me of the classic science fiction novels  Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up. I started visualizing how useful BetrSpot would be for people selling their standing room on higher ground as sea levels rise.  But that's just my imagination run wild.  Really, get this app now and commoditize your spot in the Black Friday lines.
Live cello music at MIN!!! What next? The undisputed hit of the night was Cadenza, an app for musicians that allows them to play their instrument accompanied by a real orchestra that listens to them and adapts to their tempo in real time. I bet more young musicians would stick with practice if they had this available to them.  The cellist was playing in the presentation area ahead of the presentations and began to draw an audience of his own. The live demonstration of the app adapting to his tempo made Cadenza's presentation the best preso I've ever seen at MIN.
Live Music for the Live Demo of Cadenza
Lindsay Tia 's beautifully designed and crafted bags were a big hit also. Each one is unique and made in the USA, and did I mention gorgeous?

Beautiful Bags from Lindsay Tia are Made in America
EventFish simplifies the process of planning an event. for mere mortals like us, who are not professional event planners and aren't planning blockbuster events but ordinary stuff like birthday parties and family gatherings. They bring together all the tools you need to plan the perfect event, in one spot. Everything from ideas to cleanup can be created, booked, and bought with a click of a button.
Eventfish Had the Most Colorful Booth
The transaction application from realtycloud makes it easy to make an online offer on a property and close the deal on that transaction.
Checking out realtycloud
The presentation on PhishingGuardian from AstraID made a big impression on the audience, many of whom were unfamiliar with "spear phishing" -- targeted phishing attacks -- as a security threat to enterprises. Their impostor detection technology can distinguish between your real users and hackers impersonating genuine users, something that is becoming increasingly important with the rise of social networking. This is a much needed addition to the anti-cybercrime tool box.
AstraID Booth Had a Longer Line than the Food Table
The fan favorite voting rewarded Lindsay Tia, Howler, and BetrSpot with 2000 American Airlines Business Extra Points and the big winner, Cadenza, with 5000 American Airlines Business Extra Points.

And from the Expert's Corner,  the #MIN68 Expert Looking Expert was Rich from Emmett and Company with his expertise on video production, an increasingly important service in this Kickstarter Indiegogo crowd funding world. It was also a delight to talk with Rich about his work with Hidden Pond Equine Rescue.
Expert Looking Expert

Friday, October 24, 2014

E for All -- All Ideas Pitch Contest Recap

When E for All invites "all ideas" to a pitch contest, the variety is truly amazing. It covered everything from self-heating soap to mobile auto detailing. Plus, there were pink fairies and a live hedgehog!
Suggestion Fairy
You know it's going to be a fun event when the first person you see is wearing pink fairy wings. Usman Mutawakil was there to pitch Suggestion Fairy,  an anonymous suggestion box that allows restaurants to catch potentially negative customer feedback before it gets out to review sites, and to respond directly to the customer as soon as they become disgruntled.

I was eager to see the new second floor space at El Taller and was not disappointed. It's a wonderful space for a pitch contest, a theater performance, or a meeting (maybe for planning a revolution).  El Taller did a great job of hosting, with fabulous snacks and a warm welcome from Mary Guerrero (speaking of women entrepreneurs...).
Sunday Dinner Stories
I had a delightful chat with Michelle of Sunday Dinner Stories about the importance of recording the family stories. Later that segued into a conversation about when and how the "center of the universe" moved from Cambridge to Somerville (oddly, this was just before this Globe story about cities wanting to become the next Somerville came out.)
Connor Miller - The Soap Guy
Connor Miller showed me his heated soap.  It did indeed feel warm when he added water. Basically, H.OAP (Heated Soap)  is a bar of soap that emits heat when it comes in contact with water.  What a great idea for places/situations where there's no hot water! Camping, military deployment, rural areas, I can think of all kinds of applications for this. Connor nailed his pitch. H.OAP won both first prize and fan favorite.
Fresh Beginnings Answering Questions
Tamea Bacon and Sara Calapiz pitched  Fresh Beginnings  -- organic, nutritious and conveniently portioned meals for young children.  Little meals for little kids, but packing loads of nutrition without the additives and processing of commercial purees and kiddie meals. Their excellent pitch earned them third prize money.
Stopping by the Innovation Women Table
Bobbie Carlton and Kristen Avini from Mass Innovation Nights were there to pitch Innovation Women, a much-needed speaker's bureau for women entrepreneurs and techies. There are an amazing number of women innovators and entrepreneurs out there so it ought to be easier to get them onto the stage at conferences and events. Lots of people were stopping by and asking questions. As you would expect from the founder of Mass Innovation Nights, Bobbie nailed the pitch.

BobbieC Pitching Innovation Women
So many excellent pitches. So many excellent ideas. So many photo ops with pink fairy wings...

Sam Antonaccio Pitching Foodventure
Lowell food truck entrepreneur Sam Antonaccio of Spiceventure is launching a new initiative called Foodventure. An online portal linking food trucks throughout Middlesex County to provide information about codes, regulations and permitting processes for food trucks in the different cities and towns, as well as giving users a space to share experiences about best practices for food truck ventures. I enjoyed talking with Sam as always. We had a great conversation about livening up downtown Lowell at night with food trucks.
On The Spot Posing For A Photo-Op
Thomas O’Hearn  pitched On The Spot,  a mobile car detailing business that can come to your home or work.  What a great idea! On The Spot won second prize. Well deserved.

Josue Jerez pitched Invest in Tech,  a business skills education program for Lawrence youth. The idea is to give young people money to  purchase PC/tech products/accessories and have them find ways of selling the products through different channels. What better way to learn business skills than actually doing business?
Josue Jerez Pitching Invest in Tech
The wild card opportunity went to EQUESTrian Cards, quiz card decks for horse lovers. The idea is to make learning equine science fun. I have to say that until I heard this pitch, I had no idea how huge the horse business is in this state.
Pitching EQUESTrian Cards

A Wealth of Equine Info

The official photographer for the night was Nowfal of Lookbug, who got an impromptu opportunity to pitch. He did an excellent job pitching (he's pitched at a previous E for All pitch contest) and a great job of perching on chairs to get the perfect photo angle.  Of course, by getting the perfect photo position he missed getting the pink fairy wings into every shot :-)
Nowfal Pitching Lookbug
And guess who showed up to add ultra-cuteness to the event? That's right, it's Eugene! I met Eugene at MIN67, where he became an instant celebrity. Eugene brought his entrepreneur, Brianna, founder of Meet Eugene, Inc. the purveyor of healthy and affordable hedgehog food.

OMG Eugene is here!
What a fun night!  I was impressed with all the entrepreneurs and I love the new upstairs space at El Taller. I can't resist one more pink fairy picture, so I hereby award Best Costume  of the night to Suggestion Fairy.
Best Costume = Suggestion Fairies

Friday, October 10, 2014

Recap of Mass Innovation Nights #MIN67 - Women Founders

The Crowd Waiting for the Doors to Open at Workbar for MIN67
Women entrepreneurs, huge crowd, a big announcement,  and a live animal! What more could you want in a Mass Innovation Nights event?

Artistic Rendering of the Crowd before It Got Really Dense
Workbar was the gracious host for an evening of women founders and Babson's Center for Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL) was a generous sponsor. The Student Startup Spotlight featured startups from the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship. Autodesk was there too, featuring a recruiting table.
Tables on the Second Floor Too
From the crowd lined up on the sidewalk waiting for the doors to open to the jam-packed tables throughout the venue, this was one busy, crowded, loud, huge event. Good on women founders for making some noise! Good on Mass Innovation Nights and BobbieC for providing the megaphone for all this great noise.

Tables were spread out over two floors and tucked away in alcoves. I knew from the get go that I wouldn't make it to every table (usually my goal at MIN) so I tried to get the most out of the ones I could get near :-) I think the only creature shorter than me at this thing was Eugene the hedgehog. :-). Did I mention the first ever live animal at MIN? Yup, Meet Eugene, the purveyor of healthy and affordable hedgehog food, actually had Eugene at the table. Sooooo cute! I learned lots about keeping a pet hedgehog and loved meeting Eugene.
I Met Eugene!
I loved ReFleece's colorful and trendy iPad cases, bags, and other products made from fleece and wool upcycled from your old jacket (recovered garments, collected through Patagonia's Common Threads Program), scraps from the cutting room floor (Woolrich, Polartec), or other odd bits and ends that couldn't be used by one or another of their partners, and, of course, plastic bottles!
On the Dot Books got my attention with a table full of well-curated books, and a wildly ambitious and brilliant plan for using books and  the arts to connect people all over the world. Passepartout is an airport-to-airport, train station-to-train station rental service for books, magazines, games, and toys - operated by local independent bookstores.  From a pop-up bookstore in Dot 2 Dot Cafe to networking the world through books! Using indie bookstores to connect the world! Looking forward to hearing more from them as the network develops.

Books of Dorchester
The team from WeGush was probably the most enthusiastic and assertive group of women in the house. It was impossible to miss them unleashing gratitude all over the place.  How do you productize gratitude? Simply put,  WeGush makes it easy (and fun) for a group to express their appreciation for someone special -- a retiree, a coach, a teacher, a BobbieC -- by posting messages to virtual appreciation wall boards. Yup, they worked a surprise live appreciation of BobbieC into their presentation (confession, I knew about this in advance).

WeGush Team Leaning In
The chosen presenters were WeGush, Booze Epoque, Orora Global, and Secret Ships Caravan, an impressive lineup. Gratitude, craft cocktails from local produce, electricity for rural communities, and a mobile boutique -- a typical MIN lineup if ever there was one.

Orora Global made the biggest impression on me: renewable, off-the-grid, energy solutions for places with unreliable or no power AND empowering women micro-entrepreneurs in those places. Oh yea, state of the art technology too. It was no surprise that they won the American Airlines Business Extra Points fan favorite voting. They'll be using the points for an upcoming trip to India. You go, girls!

The other Business Extra Points winners were Secret Ships Caravan, ReFleece, and BoozeEpoque.  All of them made big impressions with attendees. Booze Epoque served samples of their craft cocktails. Those who partake of such beverages gave good reviews. It is pretty cool that they use beets and other wonderful vegetables from local farms, like my personal favorite Mill City Grows (speaking of women founders -- Yay Lydia and Francey!), to make party beverages.  Secret Ships Caravan added the most color to the presentations with slides of their beautiful textiles from all over the world. They also issued a call to action for the City of Boston to get a permitting process up and running to allow retail trucks. If you want retail trucks like Secret Ships Caravan in Boston, tweet about it with the hashtag  #WeWantRetailTrucks.

Business Extra Points Winners Posing for Photographer
But wait, there's more! MIN Founder Bobbie Carlton announced a new initiative called Innovation Women. It's a much needed solution to the problem of getting more visibility for technical and entrepreneurial women. Innovation Women's speakers bureau will help event managers find awesome panelists and help women entrepreneurs get in front of the right audiences.  Follow @WomenInno on Twitter to watch this develop.

Crowd Listening and Tweeting
Between the crowd and the noise, I was a little overwhelmed so didn't take as many interesting photos as I usually do. I have been working on my crowd photos, but am beginning to think I should get me a drone and a GoPro for that purpose. I did get a couple of shots that convey the density and diversity of the crowd. It was quite an intense, lively, and amazing event.  Another home run by Mass Innovation Nights.

For the closing shot, here's an attempt to convey how loud and crowded it was:


Friday, September 26, 2014

Good People of Lowell

Two of my photos of the poets and artists of Lowell were selected for this show at the Zeitgeist Gallery, which features residents of Lowell in and around the city. Looks like I'm in some good company too. I can't wait to see the other photographers' work. Come check it out Oct 2- 26.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mass Innovation Nights #MIN66 Recap

The MIN Crowd Mingling and Enjoying Pizza Provided by Cummings
Wednesday's Mass Innovation Night number 66 featured another great lineup of products and a great space provided by Cummings. Oh, and they provided pizza. Thanks, Cummings! So besides pizza and a great space, the event featured a wide-ranging assortment of products. The diversity of innovation showcased at Mass Innovation Nights is always amazing to me.
Northeastern Entrepreneur Lamar Talking About  Hydrolite
The new Student Startup Spotlight featured a couple of entrepreneurs from Northeastern's IDEA program: Hydrolite, a vitamin water,  and Genius Box, a program that delivers a monthly package of STEM activities to homes.  I especially liked Genius Box because the activities boxes had definite budding scientist appeal (the Girl Scientists would have loved these kits when they were young scientist wannabes).
Genius Box Full Of Cool Stuff
TechBootCamps's table was attracting lots of attention for its 8-week program to turn you into a Drupal developer.
Who wouldn't want to invest 8 weeks to qualify for a $92K-$95K per year job?
The 3D scanner from Dot Product attracted a big crowd too.  Imagine turning your tablet into a device that gives you the ability to capture the real world in 3D, with accurate measurements and all, while you're out there in the real world. This definitely takes 3D modeling to another level.
Dot Product
I moved from 3D modeling to online dating with just a few steps over to Ken from Jess, Meet Ken. We all know great guys who'd be fantastic for one of our girlfriends, but not for us, right? The old fashioned fix-up meets technology!
he crowd was so into checking out the tables, that it was hard to round everybody up to go upstairs for the presentations. Everyone seemed to be having a seriously good time.
The 4 chosen presenters were:
  • Energy Harvesters' Walking Charger
  • The Metropolitan from Upstanding Designs
  • JenytaMarket
  • Vsnap
JenytaMarket talked about their cloud-based e-procurement process management product. It allows buyers and suppliers to collaborate in real-time.
Jenyta Presenting
Energy Harvesters Sherry Handel
Walking Charger from Energy Harvesters  is easily the coolest thing of the night. I'd seen Sherry Handel talk about it before at the Merrimack Valley Sandbox Summit in June.  Just think of it, you can charge your smartphone battery by walking for just a single hour wearing the Walking Charger. I definitely want that embedded in my hiking boots.
Dave Talking Vsnap
Speaking of products I'd heard about before, it was great to see how Vsnap has evolved since I first encountered them at MIN30. Wow, that was awhile back! Love the emphasis on how enterprises can make their customers feel valued by sending quick, personal video messages.  And there's real-time analytics too! Still a neat idea.
Upstanding Designs
Sitting at a desk all day at work is not good for you. Upstanding Designs makes a line of adjustable height furniture for corporate and home offices. Whose office wouldn't be better with stylish and well-crafted adjustable furniture? The Metropolitan is a big improvement over the other clunky stand-up desks that are out there now.

The winners of the American Airlines Business Extra points were:
  •  Lubax (mobile app for skin disease identification)
  •  Dot Product
  •  Upstanding Designs - The Metropolitan
  • Top prize: Energy Harvester's Walking Charger
There was no "Experts Corner" so instead of an "Expert Looking Expert", here's the Best Prop of MIN66.

Orange Tennis Balls To Match The Orange Laptop

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Entrepreneurship for All Summer Accelerator Awards Recap

A Logo and a Mission Statement in One
Tuesday night's celebration of the summer accelerator program participants was also the official announcement of the name change from Merrimack Valley Sandbox to Entrepreneurship for All so it was a doubly exciting event. The product showcase was a great opportunity to catch up with all the finalists, most of whom I have seen at more than one pitch contest or event. I'm truly impressed with how all of the finalists have benefited from the program and taken their products and their pitches to the next level.

Huge Crowd
There was a huge crowd at the Everett Mill for the event and things were bustling around the product showcase tables and the food table. BTW, the stuffed mushrooms were delicious.

Delicious Appetizers
The new name and logo was everywhere, so by the time David Parker began the opening remarks, he could be sure everyone already knew what the highly anticipated "big announcement" was.  It's an exciting change that really puts the organization's mission and philosophy front and center. Entrepreneurship for All is the heart and soul of what drives the organization.

David Parker Welcoming Us
Marianne Paley, the owner of Everett Mills, welcomed us to the historic building, now a growing business center right in the heart of downtown Lawrence. If the name Everett Mills sounds familiar to you, it's because something really important happened here in 1912. In fact we just had a festival on Campagnone Common on Labor Day to commemorate that event.  It's kind of amazing to think of the changes this old building has witnessed.

Our Host Marianne Paley, Owner of Everett Mills
Deshpande Foundation co-founder, Desh Deshpande, congratulated the finalists and  introduced the keynote speaker, Gerald Chertavian. Deshpande is always inspiring even in short introductory remarks.

Desh Deshpande
Gerald Chertavian spoke passionately about the importance of entrepreneurship to job creation and of social enterprise and shared responsibility. Chertavian grew up in Lowell, graduated from Harvard Business School, and made a career on Wall Street before turning his attention to addressing America's opportunity gap by founding Year Up. Year Up teaches young people the skills they need to move into the professional work force. Poverty to professional career in a year!

Keynote Speaker - Gerald Chertavian, Founder and CEO of Year UP
Veronica Chapman of My Crowning Jewel gave the class address. I'm starting to feel like Veronica is becoming an old friend because I've watched her pitch her stunning head wraps at various events since #MIN46 (that was like 20 Mass Innovation Nights ago!)

Veronica Chapman
Each of the finalists got to do a 1-minute pitch and it was amazing to hear the diversity of their enterprises and the polish of the their pitches. Well done!

EforAll Finalists
This awards celebration featured the first Christina Hamilton Award. I started to tear up when Christina's family came forward to present the award to Michael Bertrand of Edible Land Designs. Christina was the Founder of Delightful Surprise Sweets, a Lowell-based venture that sold delicious fudge in many different flavors. Christina was a participant in the 2014 winter accelerator program , who passed away suddenly in February. Christina was one of the most determined and inspiring entrepreneurs I have met, and it is a wonderful thing that EforAll has established this award in her memory. The Christina Hamilton Award will be presented to one participant in every future accelerator class who exemplifies her characteristics of grit and determination. You can read a bit more about Christina and this award on the EforAll website.

Christina Hamilton's Family Ready to Present the Christina Hamilton Award in Her Memory
Besides giving an inspiring speech, Veronica Chapman was one of the $5000 award winners.

Veronica Chapman
Other winners were Leanne Tremblay of Loomination, Nkese Applewhite of Oshun Undies,  Nareth Muong of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association's (CMAA) translation service,  the UMass Lowell Support our Students program, and Brian Dutton from Asinine Games who won the $1000 MassDiGi award.

Nareth Muong
Mai Le Libman  and Sagi Yaacoby of Savione, a platform that makes it easy to shop local, won the largest prize, $7000.  I remember being impressed with Savione back in April at the all ideas pitch contest.

Mai Le of Savione
It was great to see Sovanna Pouv, the new Executive Director of CMAA and long time supporter of  Entrepreneurship for All. Sovanna and Visal posed with Nareth and his big check.

I ran into so many people I know at this event that I am truly beginning to believe I'm not that bad at networking after all. :-)

Oh, and the moon peeked out from behind the clouds briefly just as I left the Everett Mill. Nice night.

Moon Peeking Through the Clouds over Lawrence