Monday, August 14, 2017

MIN101 Recap

Spectacular View from MIT Sloan School
Last Wednesday's Mass Innovation Nights MIN101 event had a tough act to follow after the MIN100 celebration, but they pulled it off with a spectacular setting. Our hosts/sponsors for the night happen to have the best view of Boston and the Charles River. That's right, we were on the MIT campus, hosted by MIT Sloan Executive Education. They provided a ton of experts from MIT Sloan School of Management and other parts of the Institute at the Center of the Universe (my family's pet name for MIT). The theme for the night was process improvement and the products on the agenda were wide-ranging and fascinating.
The four presenters chosen by online voting were:
  • Vinolytics -- Wine collection management software that uses data analytics to simplify the process of trading and enjoying your wine cellar.
  • WatchRx -- A smart watch that manages medication reminders for elders and their caregivers, as well as keeping tabs on users' well-being.
  • Diversity Dashboard -- Project management software that provides the ability to measure the results and analyze the ROI of diversity programs.
  • TwelveJobs -- A system for matching job seekers and employers based on skills and eliminating implicit bias.
Innovation Women Recruiting Speakers
As I visited the tables and listened to the presentations, a kind of a sub-theme of the evening started to emerge.  All four of the presenters were startups with women founders. MIN has had women founders themed events before, but this lineup just happened that way as a result of the pre-event online voting. Diversity issues, especially gender diversity in tech, have been in the news a lot lately, especially with that infamous memo at Google, so it was timely and exciting to hear about how  Diversity Dashboard and TwelveJobs are providing tools that tackle some of those hiring and diversity issues.

Diversity Dashboard Presentation
It was great to see WatchRx again. I remembered them from the IoT-themed MIN98 back in May.

Demoing WatchRx
Ankota is also in that "aging place" space with software for home care businesses and other organizations that manage care that enables elderly people to age in place at home.

I really enjoyed the demo of FlowNote, a to-do list/idea manager, that brings together all the little pieces of project management -- lists, progress charts, slides, photos, emails, schedules, budgets -- and lets you share it all with your team across devices.

Wicked Bandwidth IP provides high speed fiber Internet services to businesses in areas of Boston that have been overlooked by big name Internet companies. Yes, Wicked provides wicked fast Internet. This is wicked good news for a way wicked lot of businesses/buildings in un-served or under-served areas in these parts. Wicked had matching T-shirts and cute little nerf footballs too. This put them in the running for Best Costume and Best Prop.
Wicked Bandwidth
By far, the most popular demo table was Soft Robotics. I couldn't get near it until after the presentations. Everybody wanted to try out the soft robotic gripper. These grippers with their
control systems and software can manipulate items of varying size, shape and weight.  The demo table had a variety of items, such as an apple and a packet of crackers, you could try it out on. One of the big shortcomings of the conventional automation tools for industrial applications has been the inability to handle things that are soft, irregularly shaped, etc. The first thought that leaped to my mind was "can it handle tomatoes?" I asked about tomatoes as soon as I got a chance. Yes, it can. Soft Robotics already has a customer using it to sort and pack tomatoes.  Check out the case study on their website.

Soft Robotics
The Soft Robotics team had matching T-shirts and the demo robot made a great interactive prop, so that put them in the running for Best Costume and Best Prop too. So, I hereby award Best Costume of MIN101 to Wicked Bandwidth IP and Best Prop of MIN101 to Soft Robotics.

Everybody Wanted to Photograph the Audience Choice Winners with the Spectacular View
Now for the real awards, the Audience Choice winners are:
Congratulations to all of them!
MIT System Design and Management Experts Can Handle Anything
There was still plenty of time after the presentations to check out the rest of the demo tables, take photos of the view, and talk to the experts.

Enjoying that View

As is traditional, I'll close with an Expert Looking Expert photo: Belen Zuniga representing the MIT Executive MBA program.  This is what an expert looks like:

Expert Looking Expert

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Six Reasons You Should Come to Lowell this Weekend

Downtown Lowell is the place to be this weekend.  The 31st annual Lowell Folk Festival fills the downtown with some of the best traditional music from all over the world.  This is the longest running and second largest free folk festival in the USA.

Crowd Grooving to  Spencer Taylor and the Highway QCs at 2016 Lowell Folk Festival
Need a list of reasons to come to the festival? Here are six of them:

1. Music

This year's festival lineup features interplanetary jazz icons the Sun Ra Arkestra visiting from Saturn under the direction of 95 year old Marshall Allen. A chance to see the Arkestra -- for free -- is reason enough to come. Don't miss this chance.

The legendary CJ  Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band are bringing the zydeco. And who doesn't love zydeco? You just can't help dancing when the crown prince of zydeco is playing.

We are especially lucky to have El Septeto Santiaguero, the leading son ensemble in the Cuban music scene. Cuban son is an amazing music and El Septeto Santiaguero keeps this centuries old tradition fresh and delightful.

I'm particularly looking forward to Brooklyn-based Innov Gnawa playing some hypnotic, mystical, fantastic Moroccan music in a centuries old tradition. This music transports you and it's absolutely irresistible.

Interested in America's indigenous cultures? The OngwehoƱwe Singers & Dancers bring Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) social dance traditions to the Lowell Folk Festival for the first time. You don't want to miss this.

Those are only a few of the highlights among the amazing lineup of musicians on the Folk Festival stages. Still need more music? There will be music all over the place. Restaurants, bars, coffee shops and the streets all add to the musical landscape. The Gentleman Songsters will be roaming the streets of downtown Lowell all weekend, so you might just encounter an impromptu barbershop quartet performance where you least expect it.

2. Traditional Khmer Ceramics

Meet Yary Livan, master ceramicist in the Folk Craft Area. Yary is a master of Cambodian ceramics and temple ornamentation. He carries on a tradition dating back to the 11th century, which was nearly extinguished by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. A 2015 NEA Fellow, Yary is the only known Cambodian in the USA carrying on this living tradition. This is a great opportunity to see him demonstrate traditional carving techniques.
Yary Livan Demonstrating Traditional Khmer Carving Technique in Lucy Larcom Park (2013)
According to Folk Festival publicity you will also be able to see a firing of Yary's traditional Khmer kiln. The kiln is located on Aiken Street just across the canal from Father Morissette Boulevard. Check Folk Festival information for details on the timing. Stop by anyway just to see the kiln and read the informational signage to learn more about it.
Cambodian Wood Fire Kiln

3. Food

Tour the world's traditional cuisines without leaving downtown. Local churches and nonprofits showcase their ethnic food traditions to raise money for their community programs. My personal favorite is the loobie and rooz from St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church. They have a way with green beans that I've never experienced anywhere else. Longtime crowd favorites are the lumpia and the turon from Iskwelahang Pilipino and the pierogi from the Lowell Polish Cultural Committee.  There's tons more delicious stuff to check out, especially the variety of African foods like Calla, a traditional Liberian donut from the Emmanuel Temple of Hope or pumpkin/squash stew from the pan-African menu served up by Christ Jubilee International Ministries.
The Food Booths at Boardinghouse Park

4. Baklava Sundaes

I know I already listed food, but the baklava sundaes from the Hellenic American Academy PTA are the most anticipated sweet treat of the entire folk festival. There are people who come to the festival just for the baklava sundaes. You have not experienced Lowell Folk Festival if you have not had a baklava sundae.

Baklava Sundae

5. Meet the Untitled Homies and the Mill City Slam Team

Saturday afternoon, noon to 2PM, is your chance to meet and experience the fabled Untitled Open Mic. There will be street poetry, music, dancing, and a feature by the Mill City Slam Team.  Swing by the street in front of Brew'd Awakening Coffeehaus to check out the action and to help send the Mill City Slam Team to Denver for the National Poetry Slam. There will be a merch table and a raffle.
Members of Mill City Slam

6. Tour B&M Locomotive #410

This weekend is your chance to look inside B&M Locomotive #410 and the Combine, which will be
open for visitors during the Festival at the Dutton Street Trolley Stop. Take a look at some of  Lowell’s railroading history and a model train layout. You'll also learn about the ongoing preservation and restoration efforts for this historic railroad equipment. 410 is one of only 5 remaining B&M steam locomotives and it's the only one in Massachusetts. It's not always open to the public, so be sure to take advantage of this opportunity on Saturday and Sunday during the Lowell Folk Festival. It will be open  from 11AM–5PM.

Monday, June 19, 2017

#MIN99 Recap

The #MIN99 Crowd Starting to Fill the Thelma D Burns Building
Mass Innovation Nights #99 was possibly the best MIN ever! The energy and enthusiasm in the Thelma D Burns building was amazing. This was Mass Innovation Nights' first event in Boston's Grove Hall neighborhood. Ed Gaskin,  Executive Director of  Greater Grove Hall Main Streets our host and sponsor for the evening, welcomed us to this African-American and African tech themed event.  The hall was bustling with 14 companies showcasing products and a larger than usual cohort of experts.
Ed Gaskin
Mayor Marty Walsh spoke to the crowd and made it really clear that innovation is everywhere in Boston, not just in the Seaport District. Oh, and the mayor posed for selfies with attendees too. No wonder the #MIN99 hashtag trended on Twitter.
Mayor Marty Walsh
The enthusiasm level was high and ratcheted even higher when Assistant Secretary of Business Development and International Trade, Nam Pham, addressed the crowd and reminded us that Boston is number 1 in innovation.
Nam Pham
I scurried around trying to meet as many of the entrepreneurs as I could, grab some food, and get some good photos before the presentations. I didn't manage to talk to every one of the 14 companies, but I did meet and photograph many of them. Oh, and I did get some of the fried mac and cheese and the samosas. I was seated and tweeting up a storm by the time the presentations started.

Instead of the usual four presenters chosen for the night, this time we had five and I enjoyed all of them. The five companies presenting were:

FabLabs for America's mission is to provide widespread access to advanced means for digital fabrication -- things like laser cutters, precision milling machines, and specialized software for integrated design and project management.  They began as an outreach project from MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) and quickly spread from Boston to the rest of the world.
Donzlyn Stephenson FABLabsforAmerica
Pulse24/7 is bringing service businesses into the on-demand economy simply and efficiently. Whether you're an attorney's office or a barbershop, Pulse24/7 provides all the technology to automate booking appointments and handling payments, grow revenue, increase your customer base, and save time all in one mobile app customized and branded just for your service business.  My favorite thing about Pulse24/7 was the capacity for tracking and analyzing trends and visualizing the data so you can easily know what to emphasize or what to change.
Kids in Tech got my vote for audience favorite. Founder Olu Ibrahim is an alum of the EforAll Lowell   Lawrence accelerator. Getting more kids into tech is a subject close to my heart and the first time I heard her pitch Kids in Tech, I knew we were on the same wavelength.  It was a thrill to see her present at #MIN99. The workforce of the future is going to need really tech-savvy young people and Kids in Tech aims to create the next generation of leaders in computer science with real hands-on learning experiences that teach problem solving, logic, creativity and the real world implications of technology. 
Kids in Tech
Donii matches donors to the people who actually need the things they want to donate. The percentage of donated clothing that ends up being resold at high markups in other countries instead of ending up in local thrift shops or going directly to folks near you who need those clothing items is downright shocking. Founder Angie Janssen set out to change that using the power of technology to connect people and nonprofits. Do check out the website to learn more or try it out.
UZURI is creating a network of health and beauty centers. You read that right. UZURI's strategy for improving access to preventive healthcare in Uganda is to bring healthcare to where people already go - the spas and barbershops for beauty services. Come in for a hair cut and get health services like vaccinations and checkups. This really could revolutionize healthcare delivery.
The Audience Choice winners were:
The Winners

Black Girls Nutrition provides a web-based application that tailors nutrition information and messaging around dieting to support the Millennial generation of Women of  Color in adopting a healthy lifestyle that is culturally relevant. It also connects them with other dieters. They aim to make eating and living healthy a social experience that integrates seamlessly into young women's daily lives. When a healthy lifestyle becomes the easy choice, more people choose it.
Black Girls Nutrition
Cede is a  role playing game about "Combat Farming" in a post apocalyptic universe.  In this 3D action game, combatants burst monsters that then turn into seeds that will become plants to take back a barren wasteland of a planet. Cede's booth was very popular and it's no surprise that it got voted one of the audience favorites.
MOON Selfie Light captured the Grand Prize with a small, technologically advanced light that attaches elegantly to your phone or tablet. It gives you amazing control of the lighting for selfies, video calls, and all those apps you want to share your perfect portrait with. It's easy to adjust both brightness and color temperature with intuitive controls.  This is probably the smallest and most advanced selfie light in existence.
MOON Selfie Light
It was quite a night and there are a few other companies that weren't presenters or prize winners that I want to mention.

Once company that made an impression on me was Dolume, a project management consultant group that emphasizes multi-disciplinary collaboration, innovation, creativity, and Agile methods in helping their clients manage projects.
BeautyLynk is a web-based platform for booking salon-quality hair and makeup services to come to you -- at home, at the office, in your hotel, or wherever.
Pitching BeautyLynk
Quality Interactions provides e-learning courses for health care professionals, which emphasize a "person-based" approach to cross-cultural communication.  These courses equip providers to communicate with and care for diverse patients more effectively on a more individual basis instead of relying on broad cultural assumptions.
Quality Interactions
As always, I like to end with a featured expert. This time I decided to feature two amazing experts: Ed Gaskin, Executive Director of Greater Grove Hall Main Streets and our host for the evening and Kevin Wiant, Executive Director of Venture Cafe Boston and a former co-worker a grillion years ago. These guys love Boston to the max!

Experts Looking Expert -- And Loving Boston

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

IoT #MIN98 Recap

The line was literally out the door to get into MITRE's gorgeous event space for Mass Innovation Nights number 98. The security guards were starting to run out of visitor badges. Now that's a well-attended event! There were few, if any, empty seats for the presentations. Our hosts provided delicious food, especially the vegetable dumplings. I lost count of how many people I heard say "Have you tried the vegetable dumplings yet? They're amazing!" You know it's going to be a great night when people are talking about the food at a techie event.
Exhibit Space So Big It Doesn't Look as Crowded As It Is
The event theme was IoT -- that's Internet of Things, not Internet of Toasters :-). Products ranged from temperature and humidity monitoring to electronic medical records to sushi. Yes, sushi. There wasn't a single Internet-enabled toaster or overpriced juicer in sight. The four chosen presenters for the night were:
  • blinkr -- Hardware modules and the software tools to go with them that make connecting whatever IoT device you're developing with way less development time and way more convenience.You can basically connect anything to anywhere.
  • WatchRx --A watch that reminds elderly folks to take their medications.
  • Cimetrics -- Building automation network connection, discovery, and analytics.
  • SiteSage -- Food safety monitoring systems.
I didn't manage to check out every product, but I managed to see most of them. I even got some half-decent photos in spite of challenging lighting conditions.
WatchRx Table
WatchRx was getting quite a bit of attention for the all-in-one watch dedicated to help your aging parents take their meds on schedule. Unlike most of the medication reminder solutions out there, WatchRx is a dedicated device, not just an app. It's a watch that provides voice reminders with the medication information (not just a beep, but a reminder of which medicine it's time for), alerts to family members or caregivers, emergency phone, GPS tracking, and a daily "are you OK" check. It really sounds like it addresses most of the issues with managing medications. The only thing the presentation didn't really address was HIPAA privacy concerns for the patient (who gets to know what medications your grandma is on and has she consented?)
Analytika by Cimetrics
My favorite product was Analytika by Cimetrics, basically "big data" analytical services for improving HVAC system performance in buildings.  Cimetrics combines their expertise in BACnet communication and metering systems with analytics tools to find the hot and cold spots, problem areas, and solutions to achieve both energy efficiency and comfort. No more too hot or too cold places in office and industrial buildings.
SiteSage Table Was Getting Lots Of Attention
SiteSage Smart Kitchen applies IoT technology to commercial kitchens. Basically, connected devices monitor temperature and other data that affect food safety and food quality. Is the food being cooked at the proper temperature? Is it being cooked long enough? Is the food being stored at the right temperature? Is there a problem shaping up with the refrigeration? Is your food preparation equipment working OK? Automating tracking all of these things can not only reduce risk and improve food quality, but also reduce waste, and maybe even save money.
Andros Robotics was getting loads of attention with a video showing a patient and physical therapist using the Robotic Leg Advancement Device (R-LAD) rehabilitation robot. Andros makes low-cost, force-controlled actuators that integrate easily into whatever system their customer is building. The R-LAD is the first product to use the Andros actuator. The R-LAD makes gait-training -- that is teaching the patient to walk after a stroke -- much easier. Gait-training is hard work and usually requires 2 therapists. With R-LAD, a single physical therapist can administer intensive gait-training therapy with reduced strain for the therapist and improved safety for both the patient and the therapist.
Tive Table
Tive's multi-sensor tracker with cloud-based software simplifies supply chain logistics by making it a snap to monitor inventory anywhere it goes. Their goal is to take surprises out of the supply chain.  Pretty cool.
I liked Blustream's package of sensor, app, notifications, and data platform to monitor and protect valuable things that could be damaged by humidity or temperature or even "unwanted motion" (like theft).  It's a nice compact sensor so you can use it for lots of different kinds of valuables like your humidor full of tobacco, your guitar, or your wine cellar. If the humidity is rising to a level that could damage your guitar, a cloud-based alert will let you know right away.

Most electronic medical records (EMR) applications are designed for hospitals and big medical centers.They can be cumbersome, expensive, and inefficient. MedKit takes on the challenge of EMR for small medical practices. It's designed specifically to meet the doctor's needs in a streamlined and customizable way so they can focus on the patient relationship instead of the records.

The Student Startup Spotlight featured two companies from Bentley University: Sales Sparks and SOOSHAY.

Sales Sparks aims to help startups in the Software as a Service market identify their best opportunities and create sales plans by analyzing the market, territory, accounts for them. Whether the startup has a sales force in place or not, Sales Sparks can help spur the startup's growth with plans to maximize return. 

SOOSHAY creates fast-casual sushi from the high quality and sustainably sourced ingredients. Every roll is created fresh-to-order just for you. Wouldn't you rather know your fish is fresh from Gloucester or New Bedford instead of older and imported from the Philippines? With SOOSHAY you can feel better about the sushi you're eating knowing that you're supporting regional fishermen. All that freshness and it's fast too - no need to spend hours in a sit-down restaurant.

The winners in the Audience Choice voting were:
The "Expert's Corner" was bustling with activity -- lots of folks consulting the various experts. Who should I feature as the Experts Looking Expert? Hmm, how about the Bedford Chamber of Commerce? They were providing expertise on the history of the Bedford Flag when I stopped by the table to ask if I could photograph them, so I can assure you they are very expert.

Experts Looking Expert - Bedford Chamber of Commerce

The next Mass Innovation Nights Event (MIN99) will be June 14 at the Thelma D. Burns Building in Boston's Grove Hall neighborhood.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

#MIN97 Recap

Robots were all over the place at the Innovation and Design Building in Boston's Seaport District for Mass Innovation Nights #MIN97. The joint was loud and crowded with lots of first time MIN attendees as well as lots of robots. There were weeding robots, cleaning robots, underwater robots, warehouse robots,  ride-em robots, and even robot-assisted bikes. 
What We Think Robots Look Like

What Robots Actually Look Like
It was cool to catch up with a former co-worker from ancient times and to meet new people.  It was also cool to be in the Seaport District and realize that despite the gentrification, it is still a seaport with ships and stuff like that. The view from the end of Drydock Ave was gorgeous.
View from Drydock Ave
The four chosen presenters for the night were:
  • Superpedestrian an electric assist robot wheel that responds to how and where you ride and makes bicycling easy
  • Pong Robotics a personal electric vehicle that mimics the biomechanics of downhill skiing to provide a fun ride that might even be helpful for back and joint pain in addition to getting you around from point A to point B
  • MiniMole LLC a small robotic sweeper for cleaning hard-to-reach places
  • Collabots robotics consulting and training
The first thing I saw when I walked in the door was people lined up to try the Superpedestrian bikes, which use "The Copenhagen Wheel" to amplify your pedaling power and enhance your ride. It's a pretty cool alternative to the basic electric bike. Everybody who rode one of the bikes enjoyed it. It might be time to get my bike out of the basement again and fit it with one of these wheels.
Robot Assisted Bikes Were Very Popular
William Pong rode his nifty electric vehicle right up to the microphone to give his presentation and rode it all over the exhibit area too. It made me think of a seated version of Segway without the need for exquisite balance. It's way cooler looking than those clunky scooters advertised to "seniors" on TV. If you can walk short distances but need something for getting around beyond a few steps, this seems like a good idea. The height seems perfect and he says that riding it can actually help build core strength.
Pong Robotics Discussing His Ergonomic Electric Vehicle
Who doesn't love something that's small and cute and cleans your floor even under the furniture?  Mini-Mole is only one inch high and four inches wide, so it can get underneath most furniture. It scooted around its table and avoided obstacles, attracting lots of attention. I lost count of how many people I saw taking video of it.

[For some reason, Blogger is having a hard time displaying my video -- sorry about that. I added a still photo instead.]

Collabots provides consulting, training, and public speaking engagements aimed at encouraging social robotics through collaboration and advocating dialogue about robots in society.
In addition to the four selected speakers, we had a Student Spotlight presentation from StormGears FRC, a team of high school robot engineers. They presented their award winning robot and talked about their SteamSplash project, a set of kits and challenges to inspire younger kids to become interested in STEM. They were the hit of the evening with their enthusiasm and their desire to pass on that enthusiasm to younger kids. No wonder they were one of the audience choice winners! They also nailed the matching T-shirt game, so I hereby award them Best Costume of #MIN97.
StormGears FRC -- Best Costume of #MIN97

The Audience Choice winners were:
Winners got a pack of prizes provided by Innovation Women and WeWork.
Stanley Robotics showed off their vector autonomous mobile robot. It's a compact, multi-purpose, omni directional work horse capable of carrying a payload close to 300 pounds (people were riding around on it, but none of them came close to the specified payload). It navigates autonomously, and yes, it really can move sideways.The wheels are cool-looking too.
Stanley Robotics Robot Moving Sideways
The Tertill from Franklin Robotics takes a lot of the work out of gardening by automating weeding. It lives in your garden, charges itself in the sun, moves around the garden avoiding plants and obstacles, and cuts down emerging weeds.
Tertill Lurks in the Garden Waiting to Weed
Electrona Robotics showed off their underwater drone, suitable for collecting scientific data, taking underwater pictures, inspecting underneath docks, or retrieving objects from as deep as 400 feet.
NextShift Robotics demonstrated their TM-100 robot that aims to improve e-commerce order fulfillment. The autonomous robots can scoot around the warehouse aisles with ease, collaborating with each other retrieving totes of varying sizes, working safely with humans, and avoiding obstacles.
NextShift Robotics Autonomous Warehouse Robot
All those fun robots, good food from The Savory Cater, wonderful juices from Suja, and amazing experts made for quite an event.
Traditional Suja Juice Shot -- Stalwart Juice Providers of MIN
With such a variety of experts, I decided to pick two "experts looking expert" for MIN97. Expert Julia Hansen displayed cool stuff from CIC's Design Town 3D printing service.
Expert Looking Expert -- Demonstrating Makerbot 3D Printing
Alpine Bearing , purveyor of high quality bearings, had two tables full of bearings on display as well as their expertise. (Speaking of bearings: the very first startup I ever worked for -- in my teen years during the late Jurassic -- was a company that made air bearings.) 
Experts Looking Expert - Alpine Bearing