Friday, June 15, 2018

Innovation Thriving in Roxbury -- Recapping #MIN111

On Wednesday June 13 Mass Innovation Nights returned to Roxbury following on the success of last year's first ever event in Roxbury. Once again Greater Grove Hall Main Streets hosted us at the Thelma D Burns building for an African-American and African tech themed event. An enthusiastic and diverse crowd checked out tables showcasing 12 startups, consulted with experts in the Experts Corner, and networked with each other. There was a wonderfully lively vibe circulating through the space.
MIN111 Crowd Beginning to Build
Products ranged from health care analytics to a mobile barber shop, so there was a lot to take in. The format for the presentations was different this time. Instead of four presenters chosen ahead of time by voting on the website everybody got to do a 1-minute pitch. I managed to talk with most of the presenters at their tables beforehand.
The audience choice winners were

  • Eden GeoPower
  • Amooti
  • AfyaKit
  • Vinylmint -- Grand Prize
AfyaKit aims to bring cutting edge analytics capabilities to health facilities throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.  Afya's comprehensive health facility supervisory tool, deployed on both web and mobile, provides in-facility analytics to assist decision making by public health managers. This is an impressive project. Naturally they were one of the audience choice vote winners.

Vinylmint is a marketplace that connects video producers to musicians and voice actors around the world to create custom sounds on demand. Its huge community of creators ensures that producers will find the right match for their projects. It was generating so much enthusiasm that I wasn't surprised when Vinylmint won the grand prize in the audience choice vote.
Amooti is an e-commerce platform that enables African artisans, artists, and fashion designers to sell their wares to people living in North America -- basically, expanding the global market for African design. It was great to see Amooti again -- I remembered them from MIN93 (yikes, that was a long time ago). Once again, they had a table full of beautiful goods. The necklaces were particularly gorgeous and very popular. The table was constantly busy. Amooti won second place in the audience choice vote.
Diane from Amooti Posing with Cool Guys

Eden GeoPower is on a mission to generate megawatts of renewable energy by converting oil and gas wells that are no longer used into sources of geothermal power. Their unique technology transforms low-grade heat from depleted oil and gas reservoirs into geothermal power using the existing infrastructure.  Their method greatly reduces cost. Do take a look at their website. The technology is fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with them. Their table was very popular and I was not surprised that they won an audience choice prize.

Note that they've chosen California as the first place to deploy this but they have also had interest from Texas. Note to self: tell my Texas oil and gas brother about this.

They had cool T-shirts too, so I got a couple of them to pose wearing the shirts so I could award them Best Costume of MIN111.
Eden GeoPower

Best Costume of MIN111
Ganderflock is a marketing and technology company that covers all the bases: content strategy, website design, and omnichannel marketing. They offer an integrated customer experience solution that brings together usability, diversity, and strategy to help your company establish and nurture deeper and more meaningful relationships with your customers.

CyberHabits is a cybersecurity awareness system that helps your company manage the shift to a cybersecurity conscious culture. More than half of cyber threats result from a company's own employees either through lack of awareness or a company culture that undermines security. Training,  personalized learning, and analytics combine with cybersecurity advice and insight to engage all your employees in the solution.
Vibechain is a peer-to-peer platform for making playlists and sharing music for party organizers and their guests. Connecting friends around music and dance brings good vibes to the party. Who knew you could use the power of the internet to bring people together and to make a good time even better? Vibechain CEO Donaldy Salvant gave the most enthusiastic 1-minute pitch of the night.

FRWD (pronounced forward) is an automated savings app that helps consumers build an emergency fund and reports positively to credit bureaus. More than half of the people in the US don't have enough savings to handle a $400-$500 emergency. That can mean more debt for even a fairly small financial emergency. That realization inspired FRWD founder Savant Moore to teach himself coding so he could develop an app to make the process of saving automatic and setting and meeting savings goals easier.
Savant Moore FRWD Founder
Through their mobile application, ExpressCuts allows barbers to connect with the clients right where they are. The app makes getting a quality haircut simple. Just select your barber, choose your hairstyle, time, date and location. A professionally licensed barber will come to the specified location and deliver an exceptional haircut experience.
Mobile Cuts offers a men's haircutting service for professionals during the work week (Monday-Friday) out of a custom-designed state-of-the-art recreational vehicle built specifically for this purpose. It's a barber shop that comes to your office. They travel to corporate locations, working with the property managers and companies to secure permission to serve the tenants and employees.
Mobile Cuts

It was great to see so many exciting entrepreneurs and such an enthusiastic audience. Just seeing everybody lined up on stage after the presentations while they awaited the awarding of prizes was inspiring. So much energy! So many great ideas!
What a group of entrepreneurs!
The Experts Corner wasn't really a corner, more like tables in the center of the room and roving experts circulating around the showcase. Our host Ed Gaskin, Executive Director of Greater Grove Hall Main Streets, introduced the experts, who told us about their agencies or services.

Expertise Flowing in the Experts Corner
As always, I'll end with an Expert Looking Expert. This month's Expert Looking Expert is Damon Cox, Assistant Secretary of Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Expert Looking Expert

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!