Thursday, May 10, 2012

epic search for batteries

Insights into the Massachusetts startup scene, urban density and design of cities, bicycle safety, entrepreneurship and batteries all lurk between two stops on the Red Line.

Boston in the Rain -- As Seen from Cambridge
I'm always excited to attend Mass Innovation Nights wherever it is in a given month. This month we met at Microsoft NERD in Cambridge, known for, among other things, its spectacular views of Boston. Surrounded by photo-ops before I even entered the building, I whipped out my trusty Nikon L110 to capture the scenic clouds and rain over the Boston skyline. One of the features of the L110 that I don't like, is that it gives no visual indication of battery life until it's so low that it's only good for one or two shots. Oops. Thus began what turned out to be an epic quest for AA lithium batteries.

I figured I'd just walk up to the Coop, grab some new batteries, and maybe photograph the Entrepreneur Walk of Fame before heading to #MIN38. The Coop has only alkaline batteries. The Marriott lobby shop has only alkaline batteries. "The 7-11 four blocks away has them," they assure me. OK, it's only 4 blocks, can't be that bad.

Thomas Edison's Star on the Entrepreneur Walk of Fame
Several intersections later, still not at 7-11. What's a block anyway? Cyclists who are not wearing helmets are all over the place, not stopping for walk lights.  So many MIT-educated noggins at risk! Two helmet-less people on bikes pass me on the sidewalk as I trudge on toward 7-11.

Steve Jobs' Star
7-11 has only alkaline batteries. They suggest CVS, 4 blocks away. Someone else there suggests Micro Center "if you're really in need." Micro Center? All I need is 4 AA lithium batteries, not a PC. Several intersections later and well past the giant hole of the future of biotech, I am still nowhere near CVS, but am in Central Square.

Economy Hardware is open again. Surely a hardware store has lithium batteries. Nope. Alkaline batteries only. Economy sends me to Radio Shack, which, oddly enough, is not 4 blocks away. Radio Shack seems to have batteries, but they're behind the counter and a customer ahead of me is buying a new phone and signing up for a new plan. Much personal data is being exchanged. I wait.
Bill Gates' Star

Waiting gives me time to contemplate Central Square vs. Kendall Square. Kendall Square has taller buildings. Central Square has more restaurants, shops, and street life. There aren't really any visual cues to tell you that Kendall Square supposedly "hosts nearly five times more startups per square mile than any other place on the planet." Both areas seem to offer plenty of burritos and coffee, both things that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs claim are missing in the Boston startup scene. Cambridge isn't Boston, I know, but from Silicon Valley you can't see the Charles River. Anyway, right now, my startup scene would be well-served by more availability of AA lithium batteries.

At last, the Radio Shack guy gets a break from the complicated phone purchase while the phone customer makes decisions.  Yes! We have lithium batteries! O frabjous day!

On the walk back, the same two helmet-less sidewalk cyclists pass me, then circle around and pass me again. They circle pedestrians for some time without colliding with any of us. A group of teenage girls line up on the steam vent in the sidewalk and do some kind of line dance as they revel in the steam. I stop to photograph a few of the stars on the walk of fame and ponder how on earth MIT could honor tech entrepreneurs and not include Ken Olsen, without whom neither Steve Jobs nor Bill Gates would have been able to earn that honor. A rabbit emerges from a flower bed onto the sidewalk.

I think the Red Line is under there somewhere.
Just as I arrive at NERD, an MBTA bus pulls over and the driver asks me for directions. Yeah, I know this place. I have known it for a very long time.
Me on Memorial Drive a Way Wicked Long Time Ago in a Tech Scene Far Away

#MIN38 at NERD in the rain

Whoa, #MIN38 already? Weren't we just at #MIN37? A little rain couldn't dampen the entrepreneurial spirits of the presenters and attendees. Besides that, Boston looks great from the Cambridge side even in rain and fog.

Rain and Fog and Citgo Sign -- Ah, Boston, You're My Home

I didn't get to talk to all of the companies because I was busy having an epic adventure trying to buy camera batteries. Maybe I'll make that a separate blog post :-) Anyway, I did get to talk to some cool people about some cool products.

Aimed at college students, of which there are an awful lot in Boston, Jebbit shows you websites and products you like, and pays you to explore them. "Discover, Answer and Get Paid" is their motto.  It's a new take on online advertising, much more engaged, that benefits consumers as well as the advertisers. Yup, you can really earn money by answering questions. Open to all college students, all you have to do is go to, login with Facebook, and answer a few questions.

Jebbit Team -- Best Costume of #MIN38
The Jebbit team were friendly and engaging to talk to and easily recognizable with their matching t-shirts.

Want to sign up for a Hip-Hop class, organize a laser tag session, or find something new to do with your friends? Savique helps you discover fun things to do in Boston and environs, and seamlessly make plans to go with the people you care about. Raoul gave an enthusiastic pitch and he's definitely onto something with Savique. It needs to become a mobile app too, though.

Raoul Pitching Savique to Suzanne and Susan, both from Lowell
I enjoyed talking with Michael from Massinvestor about the VC News Daily app for Android and iPhone. It's the only mobile app providing round the clock access to news about venture capital and private equity financing. It's the source for updates on the latest transactions and industry news in the startup world.

VC Daily News Team
The VCs who fund startups and scientists who invent new technologies sometimes need a little something else to come up with a product that serves a real world need. Crowd sourcing is a brilliant way to come up with those insights.  That's where Allied Mindstorm comes in. It's an open innovation website that invites the public to brainstorm new commercial applications around exciting university technologies in order to advance research and form new companies.

David from AlliedMindstorm
It's not just a good idea for the investors, it pays you for your insight too. If your specific application of the technology results in a new startup you will receive $25,000. There are also smaller prizes for best in class suggestions. Everybody wins.

GaggleAMP, old friends dating back to at least #MIN26, were there too showing off their latest enhancements and posing with MIN's fastest and most prolific tweeter, Eric Andersen.

Eric with the GaggleAMP Guys

Alas, I didn't get much chance to talk to  Photo Oral about their BlueLight mouth sanitizing innovation, to High Impact Designer  about their Email Design Builder, or to Dailyfeats about their goal setting iPhone app. I did get a nice action shot of DailyFeats.


Things were buzzing in the Experts Corner as always. Conversations seemed to be going on nonstop. Great to see folks taking advantage of all that expertise.

Experts Looking Expert