Friday, November 13, 2015

from wireless charging to the bike bus at #MIN80

As soon as I pulled into the parking lot at Autodesk in Waltham for Mass Innovation Nights MIN80, I spotted one of the evening's innovative products: the BikeBus. It's not every day you see a bus full of people working out on stationary bikes.

BikeBus in the Autodesk Parking Lot
Autodesk is a great host. Besides pizza and salads -- really good salads -- they provided a space big enough for the crowd. The turnout was amazing.  Every table had a knot of people at least three deep asking questions about the products. The four presenters BikeBus, QuikForce Movers, Stack AI, and Greenlight Technologies, chosen by online voting before the event, were already generating a lot of buzz before the presentations even started.
By far my favorite product was the GreenTech Charge wireless charging network from Greenlight Technologies. Imagine being able to charge your mobile device at a coffee shop, bar, restaurant, or event venue without having to remember to lug a cable around with you, find a power outlet, or carry a spare battery pack. GreenTech makes it easy for coffee shops, restaurants, and other public places to become wireless charging stations. Their app helps you find places that have these wireless charging systems installed. It's a win for both the venues and the users: more customers for the venue and convenience for the user. You can charge more than one device at a time too! GreenTech's software platform provides added value for the venue with advertising opportunities and customer data.  It was no surprise that GreenTech Charge won the grand prize in the audience choice voting. Well deserved!
Chris from Greenlight Technologies
Another crowd favorite in the audience voting was the BikeBus. Taking a spin class on a bus during your commute may not be exactly as much fun as riding your bike to work, but it is a novel idea for making good use of commute time to get in your workout if you don't have the opportunity to bike to work. It's essentially a mobile exercise studio. You can book a private trip for an event, a tour of Boston, or a company rush hour ride. Say you have a group of workers in Billerica who want to get home to Somerville, if there are at least 6 of them you can book the BikeBus to drive them home while they work out. I'm not sure how this would scale, but it does open up interesting possibilities. Lots of MIN80 attendees tried it out and experienced what BikeBus was calling the BikeBus afterglow. Since it's hard to ignore a bus in the parking lot, I hereby award BikeBus Best Prop of MIN80.
Chatting about BikeBus
How about a data-driven approach to moving? QuikForce simplifies moving using a machine learning algorithm to match you with the best moving company for your needs.  Their presentation generated a bit of buzz on Twitter and definitely got people talking.  I was kind of surprised they didn't place in the crowd favorite voting. I wonder if they use their data and algorithms to solve the problem of the annual student migration in Boston on Labor Day. :-)
The other crowd favorite winners were Happening and Animatron. Happening is an app that helps you find things to do and organize your friends to go with you. Animatron helps you create mobile-friendly HTML5 animations without coding. The crowd made it a little difficult for me to get to their tables, so no pics.
The Crowd
I had a great conversation with the team from Nabi Music Center about finding the right music instructors for kids. They have an online marketplace to connect students and music instructors for private lessons locally. I loved the idea of easily finding teachers by zip code and instrument, and being able to read reviews. It simplifies the decision-making process for parents (or aunties :-)) and gives them the confidence in their choices.  The team rocked matching T-shirts with their logo so well that I hereby award them Best Costume of MIN80.
Nabi Music - Great Idea and Best Costume of MIN80
Fuzzy Compass was attracting a fair number of visitors to their table for demos of their SaaS platform/tool suite for providing top travel influencers like food bloggers and travel writers with a way to turn their destination knowledge into a trip planning service for consumers by providing personalized one-on-one trip planning help for a fee.
Fuzzy Compass
The Student Startup Spotlight this month featured two companies from the Wentworth Institute's Accelerate Innovation +  Entrepreneurship Center: ESI Devices and Organic Connections.

ESI Devices
Catheter Port from ESI Devices makes it easier for patients to deal with catheters and prevent infection.
Organic Connections
Organic Connections' wooden construction toys are creative fun for small children. The abstract shapes and the ability to reconfigure your creation without having to change any connection points stimulates the imagination and encourages role playing.

Over in the Expert Corner we had wordsmith Alan Dillingham providing information about the 1776 Challenge Cup. Judging by the number of people surrounding his table, expertise on the Challenge Cup was in demand.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Women Rule #MIN79

Women entrepreneurs invaded the Innovation District for Women Entrepreneurs Week and Mass Innovation Nights MIN79. District Hall was jam-packed. Boston Harbor was looking a lot less icy than the last time I was in the district (must get there more often :-)).  I parked a short distance away from the hall so I could get in a bit of a walk, enjoy the weather, and take in the view from Marina Park.
Welcome to the Seaport Innovation District
On my waterfront walk, I reached the conclusion that Babson, one of the MIN79 sponsors,  is amazing before I even got to the event when I saw this ingenious advertisement:
Babson Must Have the Best PR Folks Ever

This MIN Women Founders event is part of Women Entrepreneurs Week in Boston. WEBOS is the City of Boston's program to support its women entrepreneurs and they were there in full force (and obviously got the color coordination memo for their outfits :-)). It was a delight to talk with them, and you should check out their programs.

The crowd was huge. The table display area was practically already full before the doors even officially opened.
This Crowded and the Event Hasn't Even Started Yet
It was great to see Sherry Handel of  Energy Harvesters again and follow how things are going with the Walking Charger™ , one of the coolest hardware inventions ever.  Imagine being your own power source.  Charge your mobile device batteries just by walking.  At first the Walking Charger will be integrated within footwear by companies like Wolverine and Timberland. The next step after that is a version that's swappable among footwear. I've been imagining putting one of these on my hiking boots since the first time I heard Sherry speak.  Energy Harvesters deservedly won the grand prize in the voting.
Sherry Handel of Energy Harvesters Talking Entrepreneurship with Amanda from Babson CWEL
Second place went to JumpSmart with their super fun way of helping kids ages 8-12 learn programming and creativity. Their interactive mat full of lights and sensors reminded me of the musical stairs at the Museum of Science. Kids interact with it by jumping on it and use a programming language on a tablet to create interactive games that use the mat. Engaging mind and body in teaching coding takes learning to a new level.

Beam impressed me with its simplicity and usefulness. It's an app that lets two people share their current locations in real time for an hour,  privately - just between the two of you. This beats the heck out of texting and calling repeatedly when trying to rendezvous for lunch with someone.  They definitely deserved their prize too.

You and Me as Map Pins
The other prize winner was  Cintell, a cloud-based "customer intelligence" platform that uses data  analytics to help companies to better understand their customers. It makes personas more dynamic and more detailed for way better insight into things like buying habits, preferences, and so on.

My personal favorite was Cabbige, an online business management tool specifically designed for small-scale agriculture.  It makes figuring out the best price for a crop, tracking inventory, and keeping records easy and centralized all in one tool. Anything that helps small farmers become more profitable gets my vote. Plus they had the most beautiful butternut squash on display.  Judging by what I've seen at the local farms around me out here in "rural vibe with mills" this has been a great year for butternut squash.
Beautiful Butternut Squash
MIN regular Susan Ahern introduced me to Canadian entrepreneurs Janine Kwoh and Lily Zou.  Janine designs/makes wonderful little cards that celebrate all kinds of sentiments for our absurd and diverse lives.  Boston and Bale includes Janine's Kwohtations cards in their bales.  Lily's company, NutraEx Food, makes a line of alternative natural sweeteners called Sugarlike to help you reduce sugar and calories but keep the taste.

Janine, Susan, Lily - Women Entrepreneurs
Janine's Kwohtations on the Boston and Bale Table
Boston and Bale delivers monthly or one time curated packages full of handcrafted products. What a great way to discover new local products. They donate a portion of their proceeds each month to a Boston-based charity/organization.
Boston and Bale
I liked the concept of Design SySTEM from Teaching Garage.  It's an online engineering curriculum for elementary schools. Here's hoping it inspires a new generation of innovators that's more inclusive of girls. (BTW, girl scientists rock, especially those related to me.)
Teaching Garage
It's about time somebody came up with a service like Date My Wardrobe, an online marketplace to rent high end fashion pieces available near you. Plus, they had the best prop - a really stylish high-heeled shoe. I hereby award it Best Prop of MIN79.
Best Prop of MIN79
Digaboom is a new collaboration platform and community for digital marketing, design and technology experts. It brings together all the talent for a particular project. Tracey, the Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder,  gave an energetic presentation. The Digaboom team's matching t-shirts, edged out all the other matching t-shirt teams for Best Costume of MIN79 too.
The Babson WIN Lab featured entrepreneurs this month were Green Pinata Toys and Lusterity. I enjoyed talking with both of them.  Green Pinata is basically a toy-sharing service. Kids lose interest in their toys so quickly, it's great to be able to rent them. You can subscribe by the month or every 2 months and get a box of non-toxic toys delivered. Lusterity is a one stop event planning shop for socially conscious celebrations. They've got a pop-up "Make It Matter" marketplace coming up on November 15, which should be festive and fun and get your holiday celebration preparation off to a good start.
Green Pinata
For the traditional closing shot of Experts Looking Expert, I give you the women of Silicon Valley Bank, generous sponsor of MIN79.

Experts Looking Expert - Silicon Valley Bank

Friday, August 14, 2015

big crowd for #MINFoodie9

This is the Place for #MINFoodie9
Wednesday's Mass Innovation Nights Foodie event was huge: record number of products, enormous crowd, and vast space at Lord Hobo Brewing Co. The actual brewing area was roped off, but open for us to view and photograph. All that gleaming stainless steel made for some bright and shiny photos!

Gleaming Brewing Tanks
The food innovations were diverse as always from juices to prepackaged Indian meals to spices for kids and beyond. The crowd favorite was Makomas Juices.  Samples were going fast, and once I tasted the hibiscus, I could see why. It tasted a little bit like Red Zinger (my favorite hippie dippy herbal tea back in the 1970s) but fruitier.  All the flavors are based on West African family traditions. They're available at many Whole Foods stores (alas, not my local one) and other natural foods stores.

Makomas Juice
I loved meeting the folks behind Natural Food Exchange. Their food is not only organic but also GMO free. Hey, they stock my favorite kale chips -- the ones from Revitalive in Newburyport -- and they are conveniently located in Reading (here in the north country of Massachusetts).

Me Chatting with Natural Food Exchange (photo by Maureen Mansfield)
And guess who was finally spotted at a Mass Innovation Night after nearly a year? That's right, Eric Andersen! It was great to reconnect with Eric. Lots of other regulars were happy to see him too. And his prolific tweeting inspired me to up my Twitter game :-)

Everybody is Glad to See Eric!
TippiTopper seasonings are made especially for kids. They're organic and made from fruit. Kids can sprinkle them on plain foods to enhance the flavor. Sounds like a cool thing for picky eaters. I tried the Banana Bread and the PB and J sprinkled on plain yogurt. The Banana Bread really perked up the yogurt.
Purple Carrot delivers vegan meal kits -- all pre-measured ingredients and the recipes. They seemed to be getting an enthusiastic response from people.

Purple Carrot
India in a Box supplies delicious Indian meals, yes, in a box. Pour, heat, eat. 

India in a Box
Glenwood Garden was there to introduce a new Artisan Food Gift Box. Each sale triggers a donation to one of their participating nonprofits. Great food, sustainability, and charitable giving. What more could you want?
Glenwood Garden
Glenwood Garden Gift Box

The Coffee Bar from New Grounds Food was delicious. It's organic, vegan, and gluten free and is infused with a full cup of fair trade coffee. This gives new meaning to the term "energy bar."

Coffee Bar
Vegetable bouquets from Crudite Creations are the prettiest food I saw all evening. They're also the perfect gift for when you have no idea what to give.  And who knew vegetables came in so many bright colors?
Pretty Food from Crudite Creations
Smoked Maple Syrup. Smoked Maple Syrup. Smoked Maple Syrup. Did I say that enough? Sugar Bob's Smoked Maple Syrup  is just that, rich, dark maple syrup infused with wood smoke. The sample tasted delicious. The syrup is intended for cooking with, not for pouring on your pancakes. The idea is to use it in sauces, marinades, and glazes to give big flavor to things like barbecue. And even though they didn't have matching T-shirts, I hereby award them Best Costume of MINFoodie9 because of their father and son name tags: Sugar Bob and Sugar Dad.
Sugar Dad and Sugar Bob
Community Brew was getting raves for the samples of Downeast Cider, but Community Brew is actually software (a SAAS application) for craft breweries from East Coast Product. Their aim is to make it easier for craft brewers to communicate with their customers.

Community Brew
The Adey Foods table was drawing big crowds with their samples of delicious Ethiopian cuisine. Who wouldn't want fresh, locally produced, high quality Ethiopian foods? Now imagine finding them in your local grocery store instead of searching for an Ethiopian specialty store.

A Glimpse of Adey Foods thru the Crowd
As I said in the first paragraph, this event was huge with a record number of products.  It was impossible for me to sample everything and talk to everybody. The spirit of the crowd was very upbeat and everybody seemed to be having lots of fun. There was even a corn hole game set up and some people were getting to be quite expert at it, so I will close with a photo of some corn hole players/experts.

Getting Serious about Playing Corn Hole

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

6 reasons to come to Lowell this weekend

Lowell is the place to be this weekend July 24-25-26 with 5 stages of traditional music, amazing ethnic foods, art, and all manner of amazing things. The Lowell Folk Festival is celebrating its 29th year as the longest running free Folk Festival in the country. Need more reasons to join in the fun?
Crowd in JFK Plaza for San Francisco Taiko Dojo -- LFF 2014
Here are 6 reasons to come to Lowell during Folk Festival weekend:

1. Food! Food booths at Boardinghouse Park, JFK Plaza, and Dutton Street offer a culinary tour of the world without leaving downtown. This foodie extravaganza is put on by local churches and nonprofits to showcase their ethnic food traditions and raise money for their community programs. It is totally worth the drive from Boston or Portland or even Albany for the lumpia and the turon from Iskwelahang Pilipino. My personal favorite is the loobie & rooz from St. George Antiochian Church. They make green beans sing.
Pilipino Food! Lumpia and Turon
2. Learn to make pickles! This year's foodways theme is "Pickling Traditions".  See how folks make refrigerator pickles, Jamaican pickled pepper sauce and other yummy things. Hey, the refrigerator pickles demo is by Mill City Grows' own Lydia Sisson -- urban farming entrepreneur and one of Lowell's amazing people named Lydia (Lowell is just full of amazing Lydias for some reason).

Loobie & Rooz

3. Selfies with the Geico Gecko!  Geico is one of the Folk Festival's sponsors and this year they plan to have the Gecko at their booth for your photographing pleasure.

4. Downtown Lowell! Folk Festival is the perfect time to check out the Mill City's many attractions, from public art to three, count them three, vinyl record stores.  Red brick mills, canals, the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Mill No. 5 (you have to experience it to understand), art galleries, art in the park, and did I mention record stores?
Boott Mill
Vinyl Records!
5. Coffee! Brew'd Awakening Coffeehaus is celebrating its 10th anniversary during Folk Festival, so be sure to stop in for the famed cold brewed ice coffee. Need some coffee beans to brew at home? Check out Brew'd's two locally roasted blends -- The Poet and The Painter And you know what? Brew'd is just part of the amazing Lowell coffee scene. Be sure to swing by Rosie's for more locally roasted coffee. Just need a quick pick me up? Try the Coffee Mill. Need atmosphere and antlers? Try Coffee and Cotton in Mill No. 5.


6. Free Music! Free Music! Free Music! Just look at this list of amazing musicians playing at this year's festival. And that's not even mentioning street performers at Busk Stops and local favorites playing at clubs and coffee shops, and the amazing hip hop dancing in the streets.

Dancing in the Streets