Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Recapping EforAll Lowell Lawrence Winter Accelerator Awards Celebration

Crowd Beginning to Arrive at Everett Mills -- Such a Beautiful Space
On Thursday, March 15 (two whole days after the blizzard) Everett Mills hosted the EforAll Lowell Lawrence event celebrating the completion of the winter accelerator program. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful this historic mill is with its old wooden floors and big windows. It also never ceases to amaze me how much entrepreneurial energy there is in the Merrimack Valley. Thank you to Marianne Paley Nadel for hosting such a wonderful celebration of local entrepreneurship in this historic building.
Marianne Paley Nadel Welcoming Us to Everett Mills
A showcase of the businesses in this cohort, tasty food from El Taller and Cafe Azteca, an inspiring keynote speaker, a wonderful class speaker, the traditional one-minute pitches, and the awarding of $15,000 in prize money made for a great evening. I love going to these awards celebrations because I get to catch up with entrepreneurs that I met at the pitch contests and hear about their experience of the accelerator program. Everyone I asked used the word "amazing" to describe it.
Nate McNiff -- The Wandering Stage
I enjoyed catching up with Nate McNiff whose idea for a mobile theater was my favorite at the All Ideas Pitch Contest back in October. He's changed the name of the project to The Wandering Stage (it was Mobile Entertainment Theater back in October) and made great progress in lining up funding and starting to get some bookings.
Michaela Quigley of Shine Magazine with Mentor Todd Smith
Michaela Quigley started Shine, an online publication for teens and young adults with disabilities, so that young people would have a place where they can celebrate their abilities. It's a general interest magazine, not a magazine that's only about disabilities.
Kim Mahady -- TLC Autism Parent Community
TLC Autism Parent Community supports the needs of parents with children on the autism spectrum. There are lots of services for kids with autism, but not so much for their parents. Kim Mahady and Andrea Magnell have been scheduling events to connect with parents to discuss what they need. 
Cindy Ngin -- Sugar Dust
Sugar Dust is a bakery specializing in custom cakes and French macarons. My mouth started to water at the thought of macarons.
Heather DeBerio -- Powerhouse Juice
Powerhouse Juice showcased some of the juices and an article about them from the Globe Magazine. Powerhouse provides cold pressed juices and farm to table catering all over Massachusetts.
Kim BeBe's Table
Kim BeBe is a small batch manufacturing facility that caters to fashion designers. Manufacturing fashion and accessories locally is a growing trend, you could even say it's a movement. Kim's one minute pitch emphasized the importance of bringing manufacturing back to the USA.
Angel Hernandez -- FocusedPT
FocusedPT provides customized personal training and health coaching emphasizing the client's individual needs and goals. Check out Angel's EforAll Lowell-Lawrence post on their Medium blog for a glimpse into his EforAll accelerator experience.
Chris Janowski--WakeMe and Yetta Procope--Yettaz Studioz
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.

Yettaz Studioz is a custom designed clothing company that combines modern fashion and traditional Senegalese fabrics.

As I made the rounds of the tables, the theme I kept hearing from the entrepreneurs is how they have formed a strong bond during the accelerator program and how much they value that connection. I could feel that in the air and see it in practice as they interacted throughout the evening, sharing insights and experiences and supporting each other.

Keynote Speaker Mary Guerrero
Lawrence entrepreneur, Mary Guerrero co-owner of Cafe Azteca and El Taller, gave an inspiring keynote address emphasizing the role of businesses in building community. One insight she gleaned from running restaurants really resonated with the crowd: "I've come to realize that restaurants aren't just restaurants, they're places where people come together."  She convinced us that it's not just restaurants and coffee shops that build community. She had the audience talk with each other about businesses they remembered that had been important in their lives. I was surprised to find myself talking about The Barn, a shoe store in my home town, which also sold sporting goods. I bought my first baseball glove there. It's the sort of place that people remember long after they've moved away. I've actually shared memories of buying shoes at The Barn with people I didn't even know when I was a kid -- a different generation. Thinking about that along with my favorite coffee shops and restaurants and the people I've met through them really brought home what she said about the power of small local businesses:  "Your businesses are going to be much bigger than yourself. They will be apart of a community, and help people feel like they belong. They have the power to transform."
Class Speaker Nate McNiff

Class Speaker Nate McNiff's talk addressed community also -- the community of the EforAll Winter Accelerator cohort. He said he looked up the origin of the term cohort and found out it referred to an ancient Roman military unit and that struck him as very appropriate for the group of entrepreneurs in the accelerator.  The thought that stood out for me was  "We are going to rise together, just like a group of warriors, we're going to have each other's backs."(Hope I got that right.) I could see the spirit of the group in the way they listened to each other doing the one minute pitches and cheered for each other as the awards were presented.
Cohort Lined Up for the One Minute Pitches
One Minute Pitches -- Kim BeBe

Kravant Boutique is a Khmer specialty boutique in Lowell focused on renting, buying, and selling high end dresses. I remembered Bora Chiemruon from the October pitch contest when she pitched it as Jewell by BC.
One Minute Pitches -- Kravant Boutique
 I appreciated hearing the one minute pitches because I somehow didn't manage to talk with each entrepreneur one-on-one and I like to include at least a summary of each one in the write-up. Here are the ones I didn't get to:
  • The Leap Network is an umbrella company for professional services ranging from recruiting and career advisory/coaching to social networking.
  • My Playground Spanish Academy is a for profit bilingual preschool that will expose children to Spanish.
  • Crose Nest Collective, LLC is modern botanica offering locally sourced herbal, holistic, and hand-crafted artisan goods.

Yetta Procope Listening to the One Minute Pitches
The Cohort with Lianna Kushi and Joey Banh
After the one minute pitches, the cohort received their certificates and class gift. Then it was time for the awards. The award money went to:
  1. The Wandering Stage - $5,000
  2. Del Sur - $4,000  A maker of all natural empanadas sold at farmers’ markets, catering, and specialized retail
  3. Sugar Dust - $3,000
  4. WakeMe - $1,500
  5. KimBeBe - Christina Hamilton Award - $500
The Wandering Stage with the $5,000 Check
Del Sur with the $4,000 Check
Sugar Dust with the $3,000 Check

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