Sunday, March 18, 2018

Innovation Thriving at Brandeis -- Recapping #MIN108

Standing Room Only Crowd at Brandeis for MIN108
Brandeis University's Gosman Sports and Convocation Center was the setting for Mass Innovation Nights 108 last Wednesday. On the day after a blizzard, the third in a series of northeast storms that has plagued Massachusetts this month, the turnout was amazing. The Gosman Center was buzzing and it was standing room only for the presentations. Brandeis is a hotbed of innovation and all the companies showcasing products were led by students, alumni, or faculty of Brandeis. Innovation is definitely thriving at Brandeis.
People Checking out the Tables
There was pizza and pie and whoopie pies to celebrate Pi Day and product tables to check out along with a busy Experts Corner. I found it a bit of a stretch to check out every product before the presentations, so I don't have photos of everybody, but I certainly learned a lot. As I made the rounds, I kept thinking that the Girl Scientists (a biochemist and a physicist -- my family grows science geeks) would be excited by some of these products.  Anyway, I had a blast learning what I could learn.

BobbieC Telling Us MIN is Nine Years Old
Rebecca Menapace, Associate Provost for Innovation, welcomed us to Brandeis, told us a bit about all the innovative stuff going on there, and asked us to raise our hands if it was the first time we'd ever set foot on the Brandeis campus.  I was surprised at how many people raised their hands. For the record, it was definitely not my first time on the campus but it has been a long time since I've been there and the university has grown a lot since then.

Then it was time for the presentations. The four chosen presenters for the night were:
GreenChoice presented GreenScore, a software tool (essentially a browser extension as I understood it) to help you assess the healthiness and sustainability of the food products you buy online. GreenScore uses artificial intelligence to aggregate and synthesize information on companies and products to score food products (on a 1 to 100 scale) for things like freshness, nutritional value, health and safety, animal welfare practices, and sustainability. They seem to have a good grasp of their target market: millennials who shop online. 
Green Choice Presenting
RC Survey 2.0 from  Relational Coordination Analytics, Inc. uses a simple survey to analyze complex communication patterns in organizations that have a lot of interdependence along with time constraints and uncertainty -- think health care or airline travel. The goal is to find where such an organization can reinforce strengths and improve weaknesses  for smoother, more coordinated interaction and happier, more engaged workers.
Relational Coordination Analytics
ThermaGenix makes reagents that improve the product yield and specificity in polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplifications (that's biochemist-speak for making lots of copies of a segment of DNA -- told you the family biochemist would dig this). This sounds like a big improvement for use in the world of DNA and RNA sequencing.  That's about as much as I understood about it, but I was pretty impressed.
WorkAround described themselves as an impact sourcing provider helping companies get more done for less, while giving jobs to refugees. The name "workaround" really says it all. The basic concept is to use the Internet to take advantage of work that can be done remotely and entirely online so that refugees who can't get work permits in the countries where they have taken refuge can find jobs.

Tranquilo Mat had one of the busiest tables. The portable, vibrating mat soothes your baby in the crib, the stroller, or wherever you go. The mat mimics a mom’s heartbeat and womb-type motions through gentle vibrations and soft sounds to calm the crying baby.
Tranqilo Mat
Articulate Biosciences showcased their ABX product family of injectable viscoelastic gels for lubricating and cushioning diseased soft tissues. I enjoyed talking with them about their first product offering, which is intended to relieve pain and increase mobility for people with osteoarthritis. I love this idea. They got my audience choice vote. Not surprisingly, they won the grand prize in the voting. I'm definitely going to keep track of their progress. As I was sitting down to write this on Friday, they were in Lowell participating in the ribbon cutting for their move into the M2D2 incubator space at the UML Innovation Hub.
Articulate Biosciences
Vata Verks has developed a smart water usage sensor for buildings. It takes advantage of the fluctuating magnetic fields inside a building’s utility meters, so you don't have to call a plumber to cut pipes to install it. The sensor just  straps on so customers can take advantage of the data stream to detect leaks, track costs, and analyze building performance simply and cheaply.
Vata Verks

ModiBrace is a modifiable back brace designed to improve scoliosis treatment. The brace can be  adjusted easily and quickly to precisely target and correct curvature in the spine. Made for children and adolescents diagnosed with scoliosis, it can grow along with them.

Sclervey  maps the shape of the sclera for the creation of specialty scleral contact lenses. It projects points of light onto the surface of the eye and does views from multiple cameras for precise 3D modeling. That should make for better fitting lenses for sure.
Busy Tables
Cryo-cell is a freezable fluid cell for cryo-electron microscopy. Cryo-electron microscopy is currently emerging as the preferred method to determine 3D protein structures in biomedical research and drug discovery. This technique requires that proteins be frozen in a thin film of water before imaging. Cryo-cell uses a nanofabricated fluid cell to improve on the current freezing technology and to  reduce the amount of protein needed.
Winners of the audience choice vote were:
ABX Viscoelastics (Grand prize)

The Winners Posing with BobbieC and Rebecca Menapace
For this month's  Expert Looking Expert photo, here's Rebecca Menapace representing all of the Brandeis expertise at MIN108
Expert Looking Expert

Monday, February 26, 2018

Recapping EforAll Shop Local Pitch Contest in Lowell

The EforAll Lowell & Lawrence  #ShopLocal Pitch Contest on Thursday focused on a retail and services theme. Products ranged from skin care and hair care items to cutlery, clothing, and play space. Santander Bank sponsored the event.  Mill No. 5 and Coffee and Cotton hosted it, with the tables arranged along the 4th floor bazaar space, much like the weekly bazaars, so it felt very natural to have retail products on display.
Mill No. 5 -- Great Space for Tabling
The pitch contest was inside Coffee and Cotton in the "Victorian Lounge" space. The crowd was so big that it was standing room only and there were even people watching/listening from the hallway. The energy and enthusiasm of the pitchers and the audience ran high.
View of the Tables from Inside Red and White Market
The judges were:
  • Karen Cirillo, Lowell City Councilor
  • Sarah Hand, Mill No. 5
  • Jennifer Howell, Owner of Sutra Studio and EforAll Alumn
  • Deep Singh, Vice President of R&D and Operations at Alcyone
The scheduled pitchers were:
  • The Chameleon Room
  • KOI Inc.
  • Nourish Shakti
  • Dandelion District
  • Eva's Garden
  • Mill Girls Cutlery & Kitchenware
I made the rounds to check out every table and use my table favorite voting stickers to help decide who else would get to pitch. Each attendee gets three stickers and it was hard to choose the product I most wanted to hear. I enjoyed talking to all of these entrepreneurs and I managed to photograph most of them.

Salon Mii is a hair salon based in Lawrence offering hair and skin care, with their own line of products. I enjoyed talking with them and meeting their youngest brand ambassador.
Salon Mii
Manraaj, A Liquid Yoga Company offers cold pressed herbal juice shots that deliver both nutrients and flavor that will wake you up, revitalize you, and maybe even reverse aging. OK, just kidding about reversing aging but I did feel suddenly younger after I tried a little of both juices: Embrace and Revive.
Liquid Yoga
Nourish Shakti offers holistic wellness coaching and botanical creations for personal care, such as herbal lip balm and facial toning mist.
Nourish Shakti
Eva's Garden specializes in natural skin care products, including body butters for people with allergies to coconut and nuts and other sensitivities. They had the best understanding of their market of anyone I talked to. They made a very strong and focused pitch. Loved hearing them.
Eva's Garden
Dandelion District sells vintage, re-purposed, and art clothing in Mill No.5 and is looking to expand her offerings. Her pitch was strong and on point too.
Dandelion District
The Chameleon Room pitched a re-configurable indoor playspace to provide kids with new play experiences. She also had a cool chameleon lamp at her table -- I photographed her with it when it was a nice blue to coordinate with her outfit.  She generated a lot of audience enthusiasm with her pitch.
The Chameleon Room
Mill Girls Cutlery and Kitchenware showcased some of the cool cutlery and kitchen stuff they're planning to carry in a retail store in Lowell soon. Millennials need good knives and there's currently no kitchenware store in Lowell. Just as I was thinking "Maybe they could sell the UTEC cutting boards," I spotted Geoff Foster of UTEC shaking hands with Claire. Guess there might be some UTEC cutting boards coming to Mill Girls Cutlery.
Mill Girls Cutlery and Kitchenware
One of the coolest products there was MOON Selfie Light a handy clip on light for your phone that provides perfect lighting for selfies. Who hasn't been in a memorable situation and wished for better lighting for your selfie to preserve the memory? The MOON light is very compact and fits your devices neatly. The best part is the ability to adjust brightness and color temperature. I was a little surprised it didn't win the table favorite pitch slot, but it did get the Santander Pick pitch slot and Ed handled the last minute pitch opportunity brilliantly.
MOON Selfie
DryLQD is a clothing line of wearable inspirational art. Eli, the artist, creates incredibly detailed artworks and treats the T-shirts, hats, etc. almost as a gallery. DryLQD won the table favorite pitch slot.
XOI makes a skin care juice from gac fruit. Used in traditional Vietnamese medicine, gac fruit heals skin and delivers Vitamin A. I tasted a couple of flavors and liked it. Maybe I should add it to my skin care regime.
The pitches were all interesting, the judges asked good questions, and the timing moved along smoothly. While the judges were off deliberating, it was time for the audience to vote. The fan favorite voting, a fun part of the event, usually done by texting the letter of the pitch you're voting for to a specified number, developed some sort of glitch so the fan favorite was chosen by the loudness of the applause.

The Fan Favorite went to The Chameleon Room. An additional prize of personal mentoring from Santander went to DryLQD.
Chameleon Room Wins Fan Favorite
The big money prizes went to:
Dandelion District  3rd Place $500
Mill Girls Cutlery and Kitchenware  2nd Place $750
Eva's Garden First Place $1000
Dandelion District 3rd Place $500
Mill Girls Cutlery and Kitchenware  2nd Place $750

Eva's Garden First Place $1000
What a great night!

Monday, February 19, 2018

You bet there's a lot to like about Lowell -- #MIN107 Recap

Mass Innovation Nights returned to Lowell on Thursday, February 15th for #MIN107 at UMass Lowell's Innovation Hub.  The City of Lowell and UMass Lowell's Innovation Hub co-sponsored and co-hosted the event and provided excellent food catered by UTEC's catering program.
The Crowd Begins to Build
The turnout was impressive. It was great to see so many innovative folks from near and far, especially people I know.  I loved  running into Rajia Abdelaziz and Ray Hamilton, founders of invisaWear,along with EforAll Lowell and Lawrence Program Manager (and FreeVerse! co-founder as well as Sizzling Kitchen restaurateur) Joey Banh. InvisaWear presented at MIN95, a year ago right here at the Innovation Hub, and they are EforAll alums too. There's a great concentration of entrepreneurship and innovation all around the Merrimack Valley, especially in Lowell. You bet there's a lot to like about Lowell!
Ray, Rajia, and Joey
The four presenters chosen by online voting before the event were:
  • WakeMealarm
  • wmnHealth
  • CAIDE Studio BSR
  • adopets
WakeMe is a social video alarm clock that plays short, personalized videos from your friends and family on your smart phone to wake you up. Making waking up a social experience gets you engaged in your day immediately. It's a much more pleasant awakening than an alarm clock -- you might even start to look forward to waking up.
wmnHealth, introduced by Dynamicly,  is a conversational platform for women to tackle mental and neurological diseases. Mental illnesses and neurological disorders, such as depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease affect women differently from men. wmnHealth aims to promote conversation and research and development using analytics and AI. Daily flash briefings on the latest information on women's mental and neurological health are available through an Alexa app.  A chat-bot (they call it a virtual agent) named Marine answers questions and helps you track your brain health. It sounded like a really interesting application of both analytics and AI.
Also in the cool uses of AI category, CAIDE Systems made a big impression with CAIDE Studio BSR, which uses deep learning technology to speed up stroke diagnosis. It can automatically diagnose and detect three different types of strokes from analyzing the CT scans (or other medical images) of the brain. It can reduce the time to analyze the image and make the diagnosis to under two minutes. Given how crucial every minute is in dealing with stroke, this is a big win. They got my vote for favorite.
Olive Lee and Jacob Lee Demonstrating CAIDE BSR
Everybody loved adopets, the latest pet adoption management platform. People interested in adopting a pet can view animals available for adoption across various locations. You can filter by gender, size, and age too. So if I want to find an older male cat near me, it's a snap. I've seen variations on this idea at pitch contests and MIN events before, but what stood out was that it's provided at no cost to the shelters or the potential adopters. Their plan is to make money promoting pet supplies to adopters once they've adopted their pet. It was no surprise that adopets won the grand prize.
The AI theme of the night continued with axelvideo's  axle ai tool for content creators to find and re-purpose video quickly. Deep learning software automates the analysis and search. You can search for video content by selecting frames or still images from the Internet and find content that contains similar objects, themes and logos. It makes managing your video content library way simpler.
axle ai
DSP Wireless  showed off the RCB-W24A-LVDS Wi-Fi interface for the Intan Technologies RHD2000 series of electrophysiology amplifier boards. It was fascinating to see so much progress in devices for bioelectric signal acquisition -- so small and low cost compared to what data acquisition devices were like back in my "real-time data acquisition" days. There are so many useful applications for this kind of technology, like monitoring electrophysiology lab experiments or even acquiring signals from the brain and transmitting them to control a prosthetic.  I wish I could have spent more time talking with them about these devices.

DSP Wireless
With the growth of indoor farming, the FLW900 LED Grow Light from Exact Lux  seems like a  product whose time has come. It's a powerful LED grow light that delivers constant light levels for the life of the LED. These light fixtures are designed to be sustainable -- that is they can be repaired and upgraded over time. The Exact Lux table was getting a lot of attention.
Exact Lux -- Best Hat of MIN107
Also, I hereby award Best Hat of MIN107 to the Exact Lux trucker style hat. There were no teams with matching T-shirts this time, so I guess I have to award Best Costume to Exact Lux too.
Plants Growing under FLW900 Grow Light
Another crowd-pleaser was 360 Properties's immersive approach to viewing a property.  If you're selling/leasing a property you can showcase it online in ways that your customers can explore it from every angle. It's impressive enough on a traditional browser or a smart phone, but it's amazing  using a VR headset. Check out the demo on their website.
Checking Out 360 Properties
Probit Systems had a table with materials about their cloud solution for monitoring data center servers as a service. That's about all I can say about it as there didn't seem to be anyone manning the table.

The winners in the audience choice voting for the night were:
That's quite an impressive array of products.
The Audience Favorites
As a finishing touch on a great night, attendees got nifty gift bags from our City of Lowell hosts. In addition to coupons and special offers from Lowell's local businesses and restaurants and a nice pocket sized map of downtown, the goodie bags featured a Sweet Lydia's chocolate-coated marshmallow on a stick. Lydia's s'moresels are a reason to come to Lowell in themselves.

As is traditional, I'll close with a photo of experts looking expert. Director of Economic Development Andrew Shapiro and Vice Mayor Vesna Nuon repping the City of Lowell agreed to be my featured experts.
Experts Looking Expert

Friday, January 19, 2018

Recap of #MIN106 in Haverhill

What a night! Mass Innovation Nights came to Haverhill and put on an amazingly lively event at the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub in the brand new Harbor Place development right on the Merrimack River. Wednesday's snow moved the event to Thursday January 18, but that didn't seem to reduce attendance or dampen the enthusiasm.
Along the Merrimack River
The product showcase was buzzing with people checking out the tables and asking questions. Lots of the attendees said this was their first Mass Innovation Nights event. Many of the folks I talked with were from Haverhill and surrounding towns. It was great to see so much local support for the entrepreneurs and their products.I was especially excited to see EforAll Lowell-Lawrence participants BareHand, Veggie Table Foods, and nohmii. It was nice to see a really strong EforAll presence.
Roomful of Products
The evening's sponsors, The Merrimack Valley Planning Commission and the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, along with our host the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub - Haverhill, served as the Experts Corner and general good Merrimack Valley vibes providers.
Our Host
The four presenters chosen for the evening were:
Team Veggie Table Had Matching Aprons
Veggie Table Foods was very popular. Their team was constantly busy handing out samples of the cauliflower crust pizza. They had samples of some of their other cauliflower-based healthy, low carb, gluten free snacks too, but everybody was raving about the pizza. It tasted great!
Kezia Demonstrating CareAline Sleeve on a Doll
The CareAline Sleeves and Wraps story is a great example of innovation that came out of the founder's response to a real and personal need. When her daughter was diagnosed with cancer and had to have vascular access lines for chemo, founder Kezia Fitzgerald discovered a need for some way to make line management safer and more comfortable. She came up with a sleeve for PICC lines, and later a wrap for central lines, that keeps the lines off the skin and covered but allows full access for treatment. CareAline made a big impression on the attendees and I was not surprised when it won Grand Prize in the Audience Choice voting.
Found It! -- Barbara and Hunter the Owl
It was great to see Barbara Tibbets with her The LOOK Book Scavenger Hunt again. Last time we met was in a tent in a winter wonderland in Boston's City Hall Plaza (MIN93). Her scavenger hunts are now available as an app and the crowdfunding campaign is well underway to make that adorable plush owl, Hunter, available to customers. The scavenger hunts, in both book and app form, are great ways for families to get to know the featured tourist destinations. Currently the app is available only for IOS devices -- search on "look book hunt" in the Apple App Store -- but it will be available for Android soon.
Clean Energy Organics
Hyperlocal Haverhill-based CEO Organic Energy Beverages offered tastes of its organic energy beverages. I tried the watermelon, lime, mint flavor and really liked it -- not too sweet and plenty of flavor. Each bottle of CEO (Clean Energy Organics) has only 30 calories and 5g of sugar, roughly the same amount of caffeine as a small cup of coffee, coconut water, and no artificial anything. They are available at Market Basket as well as many other retail locations.
Standing Room Only for the Presentations
(the one empty chair is the one I got up from to take the picture)

Ande Lyon (EforAll) and Edwin Jack (BareHand)
I was very happy to see Edwin Jack of BareHand again. He was there demoing Cede,  a 3D Action RPG game of combat farming in a post-apocalyptic universe. Lawrence-based BareHand is a graduate of the EforAll Lowell-Lawrence Summer Accelerator 2015. The last time we met was at MIN99 in Roxbury. It's fun catching up with entrepreneurs again and again at both EforAll and MIN events as they progress through the stages of startup growth. Cede is a very cool game featuring monsters that get turned into bursts of seeds that grow into plants to take back the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Definitely take a look at the website if you like games.
Blackburn Energy

RelGen Connects to the Drive Train Easily
My favorite new thing was Blackburn Energy's RelGen energy recovery system for long-haul trucks. It captures the kinetic energy from the rotation of the driveshaft during braking, converts it into electricity, and stores it in an array of batteries. For long-haul truckers this means they could power the heat or air conditioning in the sleeper cab from the battery for a comfortable sleep after a day of driving. The thing that impressed me was how easily it connects to the drive train. I'm tempted to go into geeky detail, but that would make this blog post way too long.  Anyway, I was pleased to see Blackburn Energy among the audience choice winners.

The outskert from nohmii (pronounced "know me") combines style and function in a skirt designed to keep a woman warm and dry while trekking in the snow. You can take it from a mountain hike to a downtown setting while staying warm and looking stylish. All nohmii's clothes are designed and manufactured locally.

1620 Work Wear
1620 Work Wear showed off their line of men's work clothing that's tough and durable as well as modern and good looking.  Made in Haverhill using American-made technical fabrics and ergonomically designed to reduce fatigue and increase worker safety, these clothes are a combination of the features of outdoors gear and traditional work wear. The pants have an impressive number of pockets, double-knees, and a gusseted crotch for better range of motion. They're quick-drying and stain-resistant too.

yuso is an on-the-go snack inspired by onigiri, a popular Japanese snack. The combination of sushi-rice and a savory filling wrapped in nori comes in five different flavor profiles and is beautifully packaged. I tried the Moroccan Falafel flavor, which is made with chickpeas, cilantro, and a blend of spices. These delightful snacks are made in Amesbury -- right downriver from Haverhill.
Two Minute Turtle

Two Minute Turtle is a timer designed to help children visualize where and how long to brush their teeth. A blinking LED leads the child through the four parts of the mouth ending with brushing the tongue.
The Audience Choice Winners

The audience choice winners were:
All extremely well deserved.

As always, I like to end with an Expert Looking Expert.  This time I asked Steve Tello, Vice Chancellor for Entrepreneurhip and Economic Development at UMass Lowell, to pose for me looking expert and representing UMass Lowell's presence in Haverhill -- expertly linking great Merrimack Valley cities.
Expert Looking Expert: Steve Tello