Friday, February 17, 2017

#MIN95 at UMass Lowell Innovation Hub

UMass Lowell's Innovation Hub hosted Mass Innovation Nights #95 on Wednesday night. This month's theme was all tech and there were lots of  really cool products. UML and the City of Lowell partnered to provide true hospitality. They provided a shuttle-bus (or, in the best laugh line of the evening, "buttleshus") from the Gallagher terminal to iHub to bring in the Boston/Cambridge crowd. Hosts and sponsors really did a great job showing off  the tech innovation scene in Lowell. All that, and the refreshments were catered by UTEC's catering program -- the social enterprise that truly embodies the concept of social enterprise. It was quite a night!
Wintry Landscape at the Locks
Despite the forecast for that light rain to change to snow, the turnout was excellent. There were well over 200 people, many from our beloved valley and a number from the Metro Boston area. The crowd checking out the tables continued to build steadily as it got closer to time for the presentations. The presenters chosen for the night were:

I was excited to catch up with Erin and Jonathan, the founders of Nonspec. I'd talked with them before at a couple of Merrimack Valley Sandbox (now EforAll) events. Their mission is to develop low-cost, durable prosthetics for the developing world. When I first met them, they were making prosthetic hands. They'd since made the transition to legs and I was eager to find out how it was going. It was great to hear that they have three people walking on those legs in India now. Their approach  is way different from the traditional lengthy and expensive process of fitting prosthetic limbs. Nonspec's limb kits are mass producible and adjustable, making them affordable for amputees all over the world.  It just takes a few simple adjustments to fit the limb to the person. They got my vote for audience favorite.
Other familiar faces were Rajia and Ray from InvisiWear. I met them at an EforAll pitch contest back in November and was eager to hear how they're doing in EforAll's accelerator program.  I just love their idea for smart jewelry that enables the wearer to contact police and/or  family and  friends  in an emergency. Sometimes it can be difficult to get to your phone when you need immediate help. Sometimes you need to be discreet when calling for help. InvisiWear smart jewelry addresses both of those issues. Whether you've been attacked on the street or you've "fallen and can't get up", you don't have to be able to reach your phone and you don't have to wear an ugly device. Just push the button on your stylish watch, necklace, bracelet, or key chain and your mobile device sends out an alert with your location. I continue to be impressed with the product and the dedication of the team. I enjoyed chatting with them about their experience so far in the EforAll winter accelerator class and hearing about how they are working with their mentors.
InvisiWear Presenting
I love the variety of products that fall under the tech theme, especially since so many of these products address real issues in the real world.  This event really showcased how science and technology can make life better.
AquaTerrene is a  handheld device for rapid detection of heavy metals in tap water. Currently, detecting lead in your drinking water usually requires sending a sample off to a lab for testing and then waiting for the results. That can be expensive in addition to being inconvenient. AquaTerrene's device makes this a whole lot easier and more affordable with compact hardware, disposable sensor strips, and a digital display. It can measure heavy metals such as lead and arsenic below the EPA action limit for drinking water. And yes, it can be used on soil too.
AquaTerrene Heavy Metal Detector
Horse lovers know how often sport horses sustain injuries that cause lameness but really aren't otherwise life-threatening and yet the horse has to be euthanized. HorsePower designed FastTrack to solve this problem. FastTrack is an equine rehabilitative brace that enables load-bearing exercise for lame horses. Innovative technology provides an adjustable range of motion stop to limit the maximum allowed angle of the horse’s fetlock joint to reduce strain to the injured tendons, thus preventing re-injury. Considering how much money people have invested in horses, this sounds like a good opportunity. Some of this technology can also be applied to rehabilitative braces for humans too. Sounds good to me.
Wendy Presenting FastTrack
It's somehow gratifying to see so many great ideas that have little or nothing to do with coding and social networking. Chemistry, physics, biology ... maybe more kids would go into STEM fields if they saw people designing products like these.
FishKnip tackles some of the issues in creating sustainable aquaculture. Fish is the primary source of protein for something like 1 in 5 people on the planet. We're already over-harvesting natural fish stocks (I feel a future blog post coming on about Gulf of Maine fisheries). Feeding a growing global population will make us more dependent on fish farming, but farmed fish require food too! With fewer wild feeder fish like anchovies and herring available, aquaculture farms have begun to rely on soy, corn-based protein and chemically derived products to feed their fish. These products can lead to problems resulting in not very good fish. So feeding the world while fish stocks are dwindling is going to require significantly improving fish farming. KnipBio uses microbes to turn low cost feed-stock into FishKnip, a protein-packed replacement food made from a single cell protein. This produces healthier, cleaner fish and helps reduce the need for over-fished feeder species. Fish that are healthier and less costly to farm should help a lot in feeding the world.
The Crowd
The BeeBoard team from General Enchantment gets extra points from me for asking me about my LTAB T-shirt and even using magnetic poetry in their demo. We had great conversation about bees too (another of my favorite subjects lately). They're a Boston-based tech startup and the BeeBoard is a digital bulletin board that bridges the gap with the physical world. It's a physical bulletin board, a wall-mounted tablet holder and an iPhone app, essentially a whole system for creating and sharing digital bulletins from anywhere. Note GladlyDo on the BeeBoard screen in the photo above. The Bee team were demoing their app with photos of folks who visited their table.  They're an engaging team.
It was nice to see the team from Lawrence-based ZwiftPay again. I met them at an EforAll pitch contest in November. ZwiftPay is an electronic payment system that's kind of like E-ZPass for gas stations. It lets drivers pay for fuel wirelessly at gas stations using radio frequency identification technology. No credit card swiping. You don't even have to wave it over a specific spot on the pump like one of those Mobil Speedpass key fobs. They're still in the limited roll-out stage, but this is gonna be a game changer.
GladlyDo -- Best Costume of MIN95
GladlyDo connects people and businesses who need help with odd jobs and event staffing with local college students in Boston. They are looking to connect people outside of Boston too, so check them out. They were fun to talk with. Of all the teams with matching T-shirts, I liked theirs the best so I have awarded them Best Costume of MIN95.
Time to Sit Down and Listen to the Presentations
After the presentations, the audience voting prize winners were announced:
Grand Prize went to Invisawear. The three other audience favorites were ZwiftPay, Nonspec, and Aquaterrene. All well-deserved! The winners got generous amounts of consulting from Choate -- an extremely useful prize to a startup!

And now for the traditional "Experts Looking Expert" photo. There were many worthy experts at this event, but I thought it was about time that I featured Carlton PR and Marketing.
Experts Looking Expert
But wait, that's not all ...

The after party was at Coffee and Cotton, a wonderful coffee shop in the wonderful Mill No. 5 just across the way on Jackson Street. The Mill No. 5 shops were open and I did spot folks shopping, especially at Mill City Cheesemongers. I hope the event resulted in some spending (besides mine :-)) at the shops. I couldn't resist Vinyl Destination (of course) and came away with a delightful fado album (which generated a delightful conversation with Jamie Bradley of Sophwell about fado in the Portuguese culture of southeastern New England). Naturally, I visited the cheesemonger and got a nice wedge of Pinnacle -- one of my favorite cheeses of all time.

Networking by the Fireplace in the Lounge
Coffee and Cotton's Famous Lightbulbs and Antlers
Join us for the next Mass Innovation Nights 96 at Cramer in Norwood on March 15!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Artists on 20 Lessons for the 21st Century

Last week I attended the opening reception of 20 Lessons from 20th Century History: Artists and Designers on Civic Engagement, an art exhibition based on the writings of Yale historian Timothy Snyder. Twenty artists had a total of twenty four works on display. Each artist took on one of the 20 points of Snyder's essay and interpreted it in a poster-sized 16"x20" format in a wide variety of styles and media. Two of the posters were accompanied by sculptures.

Poster for the Show
Art and words are both powerful ways of communicating. Seeing how these artists fused art and words to create powerful statements about what it means to be an active participant in our society in these times felt really inspiring. There were a couple of works that I kept returning to over and over during the evening because the visual imagery brought the ideas to life in a way that the words didn't.

Early Arrivals
I was impressed with the attendance on a winter Tuesday night. People started arriving on the dot of 6PM and just kept coming. By 7PM or so, it was quite busy. There were tasty refreshments and, of course, coffee (I think there must be a Lowell bylaw that wherever two or more are gathered there must be coffee). I talked with some of the artists and asked questions about the work. That's part of the fun of going to the opening reception.

Some of the "Posters" were Paired with Sculptures
LTC is always a great host for these kinds of events in addition to their role as a community communications technology center. I've been to many FreeVerse! events,  LCK events, and cool art shows  that they've hosted. It seemed fitting to be reminded of our responsibilities as citizens in such a community-minded place.

The size of the works and the resistance theme brought back memories of the 1960s for me. I was already thinking about the history of those times because earlier in the day I'd gotten email from my Mom who had been contacted by someone working on a history of Freedom School and the Boston School Stay Out. She asked if I could provide any memories, so I had just sent her what I could come up with.  (The Roxbury-Newton Freedom School grew out of the second Boston School Stay Out in 1964 and continued for years as an after school program. The historian was asking about that too.) It felt good to relate the 20 lessons to what I learned all those years ago. I only hope that we don't lose those advances that people fought so hard for in the sixties.
Works in a Variety of Styles
 Each work spoke to me in a different way. Some were abstract and some were quite literal. One of my favorites was a map of North Carolina congressional districts in red and blue, clearly showing the results of gerrymandering. One of the blue districts had a tree growing out of it. Such a simple graphic, yet it clearly communicated the importance of voting in state and local elections (lesson 13 on the list).  Another favorite was a painting of the faces of participants in the Boston Mother's Day March for Peace. One face cried tears so affecting that I almost started to cry myself.

I don't think I've ever been to an art opening and come away with a reading list and a handout meant to spur action. I kind of like that Orwell's 1984 and Camus' The Rebel are on the reading list.  I hope anyone who hasn't read 1984  goes to the library and checks it out ASAP.
The Crowd Kept Growing
Words and art are powerful and relevant. I feel glad to have been reminded to use them well.

Words are Powerful

Thursday, January 12, 2017

At Innovation Central #MIN94

Tech Square at Night -- View of Draper Garage from One Kendall Square
Host Sembler at Draper provided a first class space, food, and overall hospitality. The location also provided for some feelings of nostalgia on my part -- twofold nostalgia if there is such a thing. My office at Boston Technology 1000 years ago overlooked the Draper parking garage and we used to make jokes about the stunning view. And 100,000 years ago my Dad worked at Draper making it possible for humans to go to the moon among other things.
Cool Display near the Entrance to the Function Room
So many products got thru to me that I'm not sure where to start. So I guess I'll go with the four chosen presenters first:
I was impressed with Airing's amazingly small CPAP device with no mask, no hoses, and no cord.  It uses tiny micro-blowers to create the airflow and all the electronics, including the battery, is built into the molded plastic housing. It just fits right into your nose and stays put without straps or anything.  This could make life way better for people with sleep apnea and for their partners too.
Airing CPAP Device is Really Small!
My favorite was definitely BlindWays, an app that helps blind people find bus stops. Just recently, my partner (who is blind) and I were discussing the difficulties involved in finding bus stops and identifying which bus stops where. She'd heard they're working on that very problem at Perkins, and lo and behold they are.  Betcha didn't know that being 30 feet away from a bus stop can often mean missing the bus and that GPS technology only gets you to within 30 feet of the destination. Hence blind people often miss the bus. So how to navigate those last 30 feet? Landmarks. The BlindWays app crowdsources "clues" that describe permanent landmarks near the bus stop that are detectable with a white cane. Things like fire hydrants, trees, benches, rocks, and mailboxes can get you within four or five feet of the bus stop. Trying to catch that Number 60 bus? Ask the app where the bus stops near you and when it will arrive. Knowing where the bus stops and when the predicted arrival time is can give a blind or low vision person way more confidence in getting around. They got my vote for Audience Choice.
JoAnn Demonstrating BlindWays
Ever noticed your sunglasses slipping off your nose or experienced ill-fitting frames for your regular glasses? Heads aren't all the same. Skelmet makes customized sunglasses fitted to your individual head. It's a simple 3-step process. The Skelmet app scans your face and head. Their algorithms analyze your features to create a design specifically for your head.  Then they use 3D printers to build your custom sunglasses.That's it. Their presentation included a demo using the scanning app to scan the head of a volunteer from the audience. Really cool.
Skelmet Sunglasses --Best Prop of MIN94

Scanning the Head for a Perfect Fit
Floelle takes a new approach to dealing with the problem of involuntarily peeing when you sneeze (or laugh for that matter). This is a common problem for women. Think how many commercials for undergarment solutions to this problem you see during the nightly news.  Floelle's approach does away with the need for absorbent pads and special undergarments. Instead, they've developed a really small device, I do mean really small,  that gets inserted into the urethra. A tiny pressure-sensitive valve blocks the involuntary urine leaks caused by coughing, laughing, sneezing, etc. while allowing you to urinate normally.
Jerrold Shapiro Describing Floelle
I enjoyed talking with Denise about IMMAD, the solution to a problem I've been thinking about since Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana. How can law enforcement officers test for driving impairment after marijuana use? There's no equivalent of the breathalyzer for pot.  IMMAD  is a finger tap tablet application that does a visual test to identify the changes in the ability to perceive depth, speed, and contrast that cause impairment with marijuana use. As more states legalize medical and recreational use of marijuana, there's more and more need for something like this.
Denise Valenti -- IMMAD
Kyrus Mobile automatically disables smartphones while driving. The combination of a device that plugs into the car's data port (you know, that port that your mechanic uses for maintenance data) and software running on the phone disables all those distracting apps on the phone as soon as the vehicle starts moving. The phone works again when the vehicle comes to a complete stop. It's that simple.

Kyrus Mobile
In the Student Startups corner were two startups from Wentworth Accelerate: MyoTherm and Moonwalks.

MyoTherm is an internally heated foam roller. This makes injury rehabilitation and physical therapy involving heat and foam rolling much easier. It also guides the user through learning to do the rolling part correctly. The MyoTherm also provides cold therapy.
Moonwalks is a virtual reality device that attaches to the user's feet to make the experience of moving and walking around in virtual reality more meaningful. It allows you to walk freely in a confined space by compensating for movement. I'm sort of picturing climbing Mt. Monadnock in virtual reality in my living room and really feeling like I'm climbing. I don't know if any of the components of VR are really ready for that kind of experience yet, but Moonwalks brings it a step closer (pun intended). I did have a hard time not laughing at a virtual reality device named Moonwalks being presented at the very home ground of much of the technology that made it possible for actual humans to walk on the actual moon.
I can't say I saw everything. I didn't get a chance to talk to Franklin Robotics, who was there demonstrating Tertill, the weeding robot. I've chatted with him at both MIN and EforAll events previously. I also couldn't get near NextShift Robotics' table, which was very crowded. The crowd for this MIN was one of the largest I've seen.
Crowd -- We're Talking Jam-packed
The Audience Choice winners were:

Among the experts in the Experts Corner were these expert-looking experts from Sembler at Draper.
Experts Looking Expert
But wait, there's more:
I also got to meet Tom O'Donnell from the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub (UML iHub). iHub will be hosting MIN95 on Wednesday, February 15. You definitely want to come to this one. It's all tech-themed and you'll get to see Zwiftpay's wireless payment platform to pay for gas, whom I met at November's EforAll pitch contest, among a great lineup of cool tech products.  Come early and stay late, because you'll discover a lot to like about Lowell.
MassInno Founder Bobbie Carlton and UML iHub Director Tom O'Donnell Want You to Come to Lowell

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Winter Wonderland of Innovation #MIN93

Each Mass Innovation Nights event is different. This month's event (MIN93) was a first: an event within an event! Boston Winter is a new thing this year, meant to enliven City Hall Plaza. It features a holiday shopping market with vendors in cute little chalets, food stalls, heated tents with various attractions, and the centerpiece, a wonderful custom designed ice skating path.  MIN93 fit right into this winter wonderland with a holiday shopping themed night in the Vinopolis tent.
Boston Winter at City Hall Plaza -- Amazing Setting for MIN
The Vinopolis tent was really crowded. It's nice to see such a good turnout for local shopping on a really cold night.
Vinopolis Tent Looks Pretty Full Already
Because of space constraints in the tent, the presentations happened via live video before I got there. No I wasn't watching Facebook Live or whatever while sitting in traffic on I93 (disabled truck at the Government Center exit -- huge delay).  See the presentations on Youtube with the handy dandy links I've provided. Presenters for the night were:
Amooti had lots of beautiful African art/craft/fashion items for sale at their table including the beautiful giraffe-patterned bowl shown below. Amooti is an online market place for designers, artists, and other sellers of African-inspired products to sell their wares. It struck me as a kind of Etsy-like or even Amazon-like site.
Amooti's Table
I didn't know giraffes ate Hershey Kisses :-)
One Savvy Mother curates and sells fashion accessories that are ethically sourced and earth-friendly. If you're looking for high quality and stylish fashion items like jewelry, scarves, socks, handbags, and such and you want to minimize the impact on our planet, this is your place to shop. I tried on the soft, cozy alpaca finger-less gloves. I decided I didn't need them, but they were definitely stylish and comfortable. It was tough choosing between One Savvy Mother and Made Organics for my vote for Audience Choice.
One Savvy Mother with Some Warm Gloves
Made Organics produces a moisturizing body butter handcrafted from all natural, organic, and fair trade ingredients. They pride themselves on the short list of high quality ingredients and on the light and fluffy texture. The body butters and balms come in a variety of scents/blends. I tried a sample of the white mint cocoa, their most popular blend. It felt nice on my skin and the scent was subtle and pleasant. I gave them my vote.
Made Organics
Kyu by Kesi is on a mission to put humanity back into fashion. This luxury brand is not only stylish but also socially conscious, with great attention paid to ethical production. The table was getting lots of attention and  Audience Choice votes.
Beautiful Clutches from Kyu by Kesi
And so, the Audience Choice winners for the night were in ascending order: EventHues, Made Organics, Amooti, and Grand Prize Winner: Kyu by Kesi.

I didn't even come close to visiting every table, but despite the crowd, I did manage to meet and photograph a few more of the entrepreneurs and check out their products.

Unleash Possible is a how-to book for marketing and sales people that takes on the practical realities of B2B marketing.
Unleash Possible (Dig that Led Zeppelin shirt!)
I remembered Jade Robot from MIN90 and was pleased to see him again. He was selling his appealing robots and again emphasizing that they appeal to both girls and boys -- no need for special girly robots. Also he was rocking an MIT T-shirt. Therefore, I award him Best Costume of MIN93 because the Institute at the Center of the Universe (it's a family thing) is even cooler than Led Zeppelin (well, maybe that's a stretch, but still...)

Jade Robot Repping the Institute at the Center of the Universe
Konenkii  fearlessly curates gift boxes for women "north of 40" (I tried to insert a joke here about plowing the back 40 or living north of I495 but couldn't come up with one) who want to age fearlessly and have some fun fearlessly. This month's theme box is "warmth" and that shawl looked mighty warm, so maybe I should give her Best Costume.
Un Mundo is a Boston-based community selling bracelets to raise money for charity and encourage good deeds. They also offer social impact and marketing consulting for startups. Half of all proceeds go to charity. The bracelets on sale at MIN93 benefit Resilient Coders, a Boston-based organization that teaches coding to young people from traditionally under-served communities. I bought a really pretty orange and white bracelet, which I love. Maybe I should give her Best Costume for the Santa Hat, but I guess that counts as Best Hat :-)

Un Mundo

American Bench Craft had cool leather wallets and warm knit hats for sale.

Checking out American Bench Craft
The Look Book scavenger hunt seems like a really fun way for kids to get to know a destination. They were selling the Boston Look Book and introduced me to their plush owl mascot, Hunter. They had some Boston postcards too. By the way, they did develop a Look Book of Lowell for the Kindle some time back, so if you want to do a Lowell scavenger hunt, check it out on Amazon.
Team Look Book with Hunter the Owl
The crowd really got to me so I set off to explore the winter wonderland and get a hot pretzel (yes, with mustard) and a hot chocolate. I loved watching the Zamboni groom the skating rink between shifts of skaters, visitors taking selfies with the huge lighted BOSTON sign,  and kids pedaling like crazy to light the human-powered Christmas tree.

Zamboni Grooming the Ice
Human Powered Christmas Tree Lights
The holiday market had all kinds of stuff ranging from gadgets from The Grommet to nativity scenes. One of the cute chalets was full of items by several Boston-based Etsy artists.  Another one was full of those Russian nesting dolls. Oh and I spotted an olive oil chalet too.
Entering the Holiday Market

Cute Chalet Full of Art
Watching the skaters glide along the ice path brought back many happy memories of skating on the Charles River at Ware's Cove when I was a kid. Sure, a carefully designed refrigerated track is not the same as  the winding Charles from Auburndale Park to the Moody Street dam, but ice is ice and skating is skating. So instead of an Expert Looking Expert this month, I give you Skaters Looking Nostalgic, plus as an added bonus, a beautiful poem by Gail Mazur, which makes me wonder if our skate tracks ever crossed on the Cove's ice: Ice by Gail Mazur

Skaters Looking Nostalgic