Friday, March 14, 2014

Merrimack Valley Sandbox Consumer Ideas Pitch Contest

The Merrimack Valley Sandbox Consumer Ideas Pitch Contest that got snowed out in February was rescheduled to Tuesday night, March 11, which provided much better weather. As an extra added networking bonus, this was a combined event with Friends of Kevin so the sandbox space was jam packed. It was a great mix of people. There were folks I know to catch up with and new folks to meet and, of course, lots of opportunity to photograph entrepreneurs and their products.
Lianna and Lucky at the Check-in Desk

Entrepreneurs Setting Up as Early Comers Arrive
Entrepreneurs were still setting up when I arrived. There were crackers and cheese with grapes as well as juice and iced tea for light refreshments. That somehow created a welcoming, down-home, bootstrap feeling conducive to conversation.

Social Pup
I enjoyed talking with Sarah Quigley about Social Pup doggie day care and grooming. She has a very good understanding of her target market. There are a lot of dogs in Lowell.
Concussion Detector Prototype
Matt and Dylan from Pure Innovation, Inc. are engineering students who are working on detecting concussive impacts to make sports safer. I talked with Matt about watching my brother take a high stick to the head in a high school hockey game and wondering how the trainer would know whether he should come out of the game. Turns out Matt had some hockey experience, so we connected around that. Concussions in high school sports are a major problem and these guys are onto solving a real problem.

Nkese with Bra
Great product, great presenter, great pitch all came together with Nkese Applewhite's cleverly and beautifully designed combination pumping and nursing bra. Who says you have to change bras for pumping vs. nursing? And who says a nursing/pumping bra can't be beautiful? Nkese made a big impression with a practical and beautiful product.

Spiceventure is a food truck in the planning stage, getting ready to offer the best authentic Thai, Lao, Khmer, and Indian foods in New England plus some exquisite specialties not found anywhere else. They just successfully funded their Kickstarter campaign. For those who remember the original Southeast Asian Restaurant in Lowell (1985-2006) this is the longed-for return of the Antonaccio family to the  food business. Sam grew up hanging around his parents' restaurant and he'll be managing the Spiceventure operation.  I'm sure the food business is ready for the next generation. 

Weaver Leanne Tremblay of Western Avenue Studios had a colorful array of her handwoven scarfs on display and she had the good luck to be picked as the wildcard presenter.

I enjoyed talking with Gloria about event planning and the endless possibilities of decorating with balloons.
Gracie's Hair Butter
Gracie's Hair Butter started out to solve her husband's hair loss problem. She's built a home grown solution into a business.

Inclusive Toys
The women of Increment have designed these clever stack-able rings to encourage play and help children of all abilities develop spatial reasoning and other important developmental skills through inclusive play. They're already in use at one preschool.

Beautiful Vegetables Go Into Asulia Dumplings
I've been waiting to sample more of  Asulia Foods' dumplings since #MINFoodie6. I love the kale and the taro ones a lot.  It was great to see them again and to resume my tweet campaign to get my local Whole Foods to carry these delicious vegan delectables. (Yeah, I like dumplings, OK :-)).  I can't pass by a beautiful bunch of kale either. Vegetables are just inherently wonderful. I got into a conversation with another veggie dumpling lover and Andover Whole Foods customer, so the demand outside of Boston/Cambridge is growing. That led to discussion of how farming is growing in Massachusetts and how amazing the farms of Essex County are - some in business for hundreds of years, some new, all with great food.
Confidence Covers
Confidence Covers makes beautiful designer help button covers that make it much less clunky and stigmatizing for seniors who need these devices to wear them. You can match the cover to your outfit and fit right in instead of standing out and looking frail and weak.

I kept running into people I know. It was great catching up with Gary Tremblay of Pro Diagrams and hearing how the Merrimack Valley Sandbox Winter Accelerator program has helped him refine and develop his easy to use presentation tool and the business strategy for it.
Entrepreneurs Sharing a Laugh
Cam Preciado of Design 4 Lowell Deep in Conversation about Best of Lowell
Design 4 Lowell has big plans for design and creativity in  Lowell and The Merrimack Valley.  Imagine a creative network designing a beautiful future, a one stop marketing shop featuring local designers, video directors, web developers, artists and other creatives. Design 4 Lowell is already bringing that network to life in Lowell. Cam is one of several entrepreneurs that I heard use the word community repeatedly and mean it!

Asinine Games
I can easily see becoming addicted to Asinine Games' Palindromic Puzzle Game, the latest of his game offerings.
Everybody Photographing Nkese

Not surprisingly, Nkese Applewhite won the fan favorite voting. She also won second prize! The fans and the judges picked up on her knowledge of her market and the brilliance of her product. Congrats to Nkese!

Scarf Lady
Leanne weaves the most beautiful scarves and gave an excellent presentation. Third prize was well deserved.
Social Pup
And the first prize winner was Sarah's Social Pup. Again, well deserved.

This blog post doesn't begin to cover how much fun this event was or the energy of the entrepreneurs, the judges, and the attendees. You have to experience this for yourself, so check out the upcoming events on the Merrimack Valley Sandbox website.

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