Monday, June 19, 2017

#MIN99 Recap

The #MIN99 Crowd Starting to Fill the Thelma D Burns Building
Mass Innovation Nights #99 was possibly the best MIN ever! The energy and enthusiasm in the Thelma D Burns building was amazing. This was Mass Innovation Nights' first event in Boston's Grove Hall neighborhood. Ed Gaskin,  Executive Director of  Greater Grove Hall Main Streets our host and sponsor for the evening, welcomed us to this African-American and African tech themed event.  The hall was bustling with 14 companies showcasing products and a larger than usual cohort of experts.
Ed Gaskin
Mayor Marty Walsh spoke to the crowd and made it really clear that innovation is everywhere in Boston, not just in the Seaport District. Oh, and the mayor posed for selfies with attendees too. No wonder the #MIN99 hashtag trended on Twitter.
Mayor Marty Walsh
The enthusiasm level was high and ratcheted even higher when Assistant Secretary of Business Development and International Trade, Nam Pham, addressed the crowd and reminded us that Boston is number 1 in innovation.
Nam Pham
I scurried around trying to meet as many of the entrepreneurs as I could, grab some food, and get some good photos before the presentations. I didn't manage to talk to every one of the 14 companies, but I did meet and photograph many of them. Oh, and I did get some of the fried mac and cheese and the samosas. I was seated and tweeting up a storm by the time the presentations started.

Instead of the usual four presenters chosen for the night, this time we had five and I enjoyed all of them. The five companies presenting were:

FabLabs for America's mission is to provide widespread access to advanced means for digital fabrication -- things like laser cutters, precision milling machines, and specialized software for integrated design and project management.  They began as an outreach project from MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) and quickly spread from Boston to the rest of the world.
Donzlyn Stephenson FABLabsforAmerica
Pulse24/7 is bringing service businesses into the on-demand economy simply and efficiently. Whether you're an attorney's office or a barbershop, Pulse24/7 provides all the technology to automate booking appointments and handling payments, grow revenue, increase your customer base, and save time all in one mobile app customized and branded just for your service business.  My favorite thing about Pulse24/7 was the capacity for tracking and analyzing trends and visualizing the data so you can easily know what to emphasize or what to change.
Kids in Tech got my vote for audience favorite. Founder Olu Ibrahim is an alum of the EforAll Lowell   Lawrence accelerator. Getting more kids into tech is a subject close to my heart and the first time I heard her pitch Kids in Tech, I knew we were on the same wavelength.  It was a thrill to see her present at #MIN99. The workforce of the future is going to need really tech-savvy young people and Kids in Tech aims to create the next generation of leaders in computer science with real hands-on learning experiences that teach problem solving, logic, creativity and the real world implications of technology. 
Kids in Tech
Donii matches donors to the people who actually need the things they want to donate. The percentage of donated clothing that ends up being resold at high markups in other countries instead of ending up in local thrift shops or going directly to folks near you who need those clothing items is downright shocking. Founder Angie Janssen set out to change that using the power of technology to connect people and nonprofits. Do check out the website to learn more or try it out.
UZURI is creating a network of health and beauty centers. You read that right. UZURI's strategy for improving access to preventive healthcare in Uganda is to bring healthcare to where people already go - the spas and barbershops for beauty services. Come in for a hair cut and get health services like vaccinations and checkups. This really could revolutionize healthcare delivery.
The Audience Choice winners were:
The Winners

Black Girls Nutrition provides a web-based application that tailors nutrition information and messaging around dieting to support the Millennial generation of Women of  Color in adopting a healthy lifestyle that is culturally relevant. It also connects them with other dieters. They aim to make eating and living healthy a social experience that integrates seamlessly into young women's daily lives. When a healthy lifestyle becomes the easy choice, more people choose it.
Black Girls Nutrition
Cede is a  role playing game about "Combat Farming" in a post apocalyptic universe.  In this 3D action game, combatants burst monsters that then turn into seeds that will become plants to take back a barren wasteland of a planet. Cede's booth was very popular and it's no surprise that it got voted one of the audience favorites.
MOON Selfie Light captured the Grand Prize with a small, technologically advanced light that attaches elegantly to your phone or tablet. It gives you amazing control of the lighting for selfies, video calls, and all those apps you want to share your perfect portrait with. It's easy to adjust both brightness and color temperature with intuitive controls.  This is probably the smallest and most advanced selfie light in existence.
MOON Selfie Light
It was quite a night and there are a few other companies that weren't presenters or prize winners that I want to mention.

Once company that made an impression on me was Dolume, a project management consultant group that emphasizes multi-disciplinary collaboration, innovation, creativity, and Agile methods in helping their clients manage projects.
BeautyLynk is a web-based platform for booking salon-quality hair and makeup services to come to you -- at home, at the office, in your hotel, or wherever.
Pitching BeautyLynk
Quality Interactions provides e-learning courses for health care professionals, which emphasize a "person-based" approach to cross-cultural communication.  These courses equip providers to communicate with and care for diverse patients more effectively on a more individual basis instead of relying on broad cultural assumptions.
Quality Interactions
As always, I like to end with a featured expert. This time I decided to feature two amazing experts: Ed Gaskin, Executive Director of Greater Grove Hall Main Streets and our host for the evening and Kevin Wiant, Executive Director of Venture Cafe Boston and a former co-worker a grillion years ago. These guys love Boston to the max!

Experts Looking Expert -- And Loving Boston

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

IoT #MIN98 Recap

The line was literally out the door to get into MITRE's gorgeous event space for Mass Innovation Nights number 98. The security guards were starting to run out of visitor badges. Now that's a well-attended event! There were few, if any, empty seats for the presentations. Our hosts provided delicious food, especially the vegetable dumplings. I lost count of how many people I heard say "Have you tried the vegetable dumplings yet? They're amazing!" You know it's going to be a great night when people are talking about the food at a techie event.
Exhibit Space So Big It Doesn't Look as Crowded As It Is
The event theme was IoT -- that's Internet of Things, not Internet of Toasters :-). Products ranged from temperature and humidity monitoring to electronic medical records to sushi. Yes, sushi. There wasn't a single Internet-enabled toaster or overpriced juicer in sight. The four chosen presenters for the night were:
  • blinkr -- Hardware modules and the software tools to go with them that make connecting whatever IoT device you're developing with way less development time and way more convenience.You can basically connect anything to anywhere.
  • WatchRx --A watch that reminds elderly folks to take their medications.
  • Cimetrics -- Building automation network connection, discovery, and analytics.
  • SiteSage -- Food safety monitoring systems.
I didn't manage to check out every product, but I managed to see most of them. I even got some half-decent photos in spite of challenging lighting conditions.
WatchRx Table
WatchRx was getting quite a bit of attention for the all-in-one watch dedicated to help your aging parents take their meds on schedule. Unlike most of the medication reminder solutions out there, WatchRx is a dedicated device, not just an app. It's a watch that provides voice reminders with the medication information (not just a beep, but a reminder of which medicine it's time for), alerts to family members or caregivers, emergency phone, GPS tracking, and a daily "are you OK" check. It really sounds like it addresses most of the issues with managing medications. The only thing the presentation didn't really address was HIPAA privacy concerns for the patient (who gets to know what medications your grandma is on and has she consented?)
Analytika by Cimetrics
My favorite product was Analytika by Cimetrics, basically "big data" analytical services for improving HVAC system performance in buildings.  Cimetrics combines their expertise in BACnet communication and metering systems with analytics tools to find the hot and cold spots, problem areas, and solutions to achieve both energy efficiency and comfort. No more too hot or too cold places in office and industrial buildings.
SiteSage Table Was Getting Lots Of Attention
SiteSage Smart Kitchen applies IoT technology to commercial kitchens. Basically, connected devices monitor temperature and other data that affect food safety and food quality. Is the food being cooked at the proper temperature? Is it being cooked long enough? Is the food being stored at the right temperature? Is there a problem shaping up with the refrigeration? Is your food preparation equipment working OK? Automating tracking all of these things can not only reduce risk and improve food quality, but also reduce waste, and maybe even save money.
Andros Robotics was getting loads of attention with a video showing a patient and physical therapist using the Robotic Leg Advancement Device (R-LAD) rehabilitation robot. Andros makes low-cost, force-controlled actuators that integrate easily into whatever system their customer is building. The R-LAD is the first product to use the Andros actuator. The R-LAD makes gait-training -- that is teaching the patient to walk after a stroke -- much easier. Gait-training is hard work and usually requires 2 therapists. With R-LAD, a single physical therapist can administer intensive gait-training therapy with reduced strain for the therapist and improved safety for both the patient and the therapist.
Tive Table
Tive's multi-sensor tracker with cloud-based software simplifies supply chain logistics by making it a snap to monitor inventory anywhere it goes. Their goal is to take surprises out of the supply chain.  Pretty cool.
I liked Blustream's package of sensor, app, notifications, and data platform to monitor and protect valuable things that could be damaged by humidity or temperature or even "unwanted motion" (like theft).  It's a nice compact sensor so you can use it for lots of different kinds of valuables like your humidor full of tobacco, your guitar, or your wine cellar. If the humidity is rising to a level that could damage your guitar, a cloud-based alert will let you know right away.

Most electronic medical records (EMR) applications are designed for hospitals and big medical centers.They can be cumbersome, expensive, and inefficient. MedKit takes on the challenge of EMR for small medical practices. It's designed specifically to meet the doctor's needs in a streamlined and customizable way so they can focus on the patient relationship instead of the records.

The Student Startup Spotlight featured two companies from Bentley University: Sales Sparks and SOOSHAY.

Sales Sparks aims to help startups in the Software as a Service market identify their best opportunities and create sales plans by analyzing the market, territory, accounts for them. Whether the startup has a sales force in place or not, Sales Sparks can help spur the startup's growth with plans to maximize return. 

SOOSHAY creates fast-casual sushi from the high quality and sustainably sourced ingredients. Every roll is created fresh-to-order just for you. Wouldn't you rather know your fish is fresh from Gloucester or New Bedford instead of older and imported from the Philippines? With SOOSHAY you can feel better about the sushi you're eating knowing that you're supporting regional fishermen. All that freshness and it's fast too - no need to spend hours in a sit-down restaurant.

The winners in the Audience Choice voting were:
The "Expert's Corner" was bustling with activity -- lots of folks consulting the various experts. Who should I feature as the Experts Looking Expert? Hmm, how about the Bedford Chamber of Commerce? They were providing expertise on the history of the Bedford Flag when I stopped by the table to ask if I could photograph them, so I can assure you they are very expert.

Experts Looking Expert - Bedford Chamber of Commerce

The next Mass Innovation Nights Event (MIN99) will be June 14 at the Thelma D. Burns Building in Boston's Grove Hall neighborhood.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

#MIN97 Recap

Robots were all over the place at the Innovation and Design Building in Boston's Seaport District for Mass Innovation Nights #MIN97. The joint was loud and crowded with lots of first time MIN attendees as well as lots of robots. There were weeding robots, cleaning robots, underwater robots, warehouse robots,  ride-em robots, and even robot-assisted bikes. 
What We Think Robots Look Like

What Robots Actually Look Like
It was cool to catch up with a former co-worker from ancient times and to meet new people.  It was also cool to be in the Seaport District and realize that despite the gentrification, it is still a seaport with ships and stuff like that. The view from the end of Drydock Ave was gorgeous.
View from Drydock Ave
The four chosen presenters for the night were:
  • Superpedestrian an electric assist robot wheel that responds to how and where you ride and makes bicycling easy
  • Pong Robotics a personal electric vehicle that mimics the biomechanics of downhill skiing to provide a fun ride that might even be helpful for back and joint pain in addition to getting you around from point A to point B
  • MiniMole LLC a small robotic sweeper for cleaning hard-to-reach places
  • Collabots robotics consulting and training
The first thing I saw when I walked in the door was people lined up to try the Superpedestrian bikes, which use "The Copenhagen Wheel" to amplify your pedaling power and enhance your ride. It's a pretty cool alternative to the basic electric bike. Everybody who rode one of the bikes enjoyed it. It might be time to get my bike out of the basement again and fit it with one of these wheels.
Robot Assisted Bikes Were Very Popular
William Pong rode his nifty electric vehicle right up to the microphone to give his presentation and rode it all over the exhibit area too. It made me think of a seated version of Segway without the need for exquisite balance. It's way cooler looking than those clunky scooters advertised to "seniors" on TV. If you can walk short distances but need something for getting around beyond a few steps, this seems like a good idea. The height seems perfect and he says that riding it can actually help build core strength.
Pong Robotics Discussing His Ergonomic Electric Vehicle
Who doesn't love something that's small and cute and cleans your floor even under the furniture?  Mini-Mole is only one inch high and four inches wide, so it can get underneath most furniture. It scooted around its table and avoided obstacles, attracting lots of attention. I lost count of how many people I saw taking video of it.

[For some reason, Blogger is having a hard time displaying my video -- sorry about that. I added a still photo instead.]

Collabots provides consulting, training, and public speaking engagements aimed at encouraging social robotics through collaboration and advocating dialogue about robots in society.
In addition to the four selected speakers, we had a Student Spotlight presentation from StormGears FRC, a team of high school robot engineers. They presented their award winning robot and talked about their SteamSplash project, a set of kits and challenges to inspire younger kids to become interested in STEM. They were the hit of the evening with their enthusiasm and their desire to pass on that enthusiasm to younger kids. No wonder they were one of the audience choice winners! They also nailed the matching T-shirt game, so I hereby award them Best Costume of #MIN97.
StormGears FRC -- Best Costume of #MIN97

The Audience Choice winners were:
Winners got a pack of prizes provided by Innovation Women and WeWork.
Stanley Robotics showed off their vector autonomous mobile robot. It's a compact, multi-purpose, omni directional work horse capable of carrying a payload close to 300 pounds (people were riding around on it, but none of them came close to the specified payload). It navigates autonomously, and yes, it really can move sideways.The wheels are cool-looking too.
Stanley Robotics Robot Moving Sideways
The Tertill from Franklin Robotics takes a lot of the work out of gardening by automating weeding. It lives in your garden, charges itself in the sun, moves around the garden avoiding plants and obstacles, and cuts down emerging weeds.
Tertill Lurks in the Garden Waiting to Weed
Electrona Robotics showed off their underwater drone, suitable for collecting scientific data, taking underwater pictures, inspecting underneath docks, or retrieving objects from as deep as 400 feet.
NextShift Robotics demonstrated their TM-100 robot that aims to improve e-commerce order fulfillment. The autonomous robots can scoot around the warehouse aisles with ease, collaborating with each other retrieving totes of varying sizes, working safely with humans, and avoiding obstacles.
NextShift Robotics Autonomous Warehouse Robot
All those fun robots, good food from The Savory Cater, wonderful juices from Suja, and amazing experts made for quite an event.
Traditional Suja Juice Shot -- Stalwart Juice Providers of MIN
With such a variety of experts, I decided to pick two "experts looking expert" for MIN97. Expert Julia Hansen displayed cool stuff from CIC's Design Town 3D printing service.
Expert Looking Expert -- Demonstrating Makerbot 3D Printing
Alpine Bearing , purveyor of high quality bearings, had two tables full of bearings on display as well as their expertise. (Speaking of bearings: the very first startup I ever worked for -- in my teen years during the late Jurassic -- was a company that made air bearings.) 
Experts Looking Expert - Alpine Bearing

Monday, March 20, 2017

EforAll Winter Accelerator Awards 2017 Recap

Lawrence from the Sixth Floor of the Everett Mill
Everett Mills hosted the awards celebration for EforAll Lowell Lawrence's latest accelerator class on Thursday night, March 16. Thank you to Marianne Nadel, owner of Everett Realty, for welcoming us all to this historic space. It's wonderful to see all this entrepreneurial energy gathered in the heart of Lawrence.
The Crowd Checking out the Showcase Tables
There was a good crowd including not just the entrepreneurs and their mentors, but family, friends, supporters, random public officials, and other interested people. Bell Tower Cafe did a great catering job with delicious food and juices. Angel Bella Bakery, one of the accelerator finalists, added to the flavor with jack fruit and also hot and sour soup. There was even a cake featuring a photo of the accelerator finalists.
Tables around the room showcased the diverse products/businesses. This gave everybody an opportunity to meet the entrepreneurs and ask questions. I got to catch up with entrepreneurs I already know from the pitch contests, meet people's families, and do my photographing entrepreneurs thing.
Andreina Viera -- Viera Admin Solutions -- With Her Grandmother
It was great catching up with Andreina Viera of Viera Admin Solutions, as I hadn't had much chance to talk with her at the last event. Plus, I got to meet her grandmother, who is both inspirational and stylish. Viera Admin Solutions is the type of business that plays a really important role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. By taking care of the administrative and event services for the businesses, they free up time for the entrepreneur to concentrate on the actual money-generating activities of the business -- think making pizza or robots instead of paperwork.
Al Machado -- Phoenix Rising Pizza
The Machado family's  Phoenix Rising Pizza serves up traditional wood-fired Neapolitan pizza from a mobile pizza oven. I've encountered them at Winterfest and at Mill No. 5 events, so I can vouch for the fact that they're everywhere and the pizza is good.

Not the Real Wood-Fired Pizza Oven -- Definitely Real Wood Though
The Welcome Immigrant Network is working on creating a place to welcome, include and connect recently arrived immigrants to their local community.  The idea is to give people a jump start on becoming actively engaged in civic and economic life here. Our discussion especially resonated for me on the eve of  Saint Patrick's Day as I was thinking of my grandmother and how if she had not come from Athlone (in central Ireland) to Boston, I wouldn't be here.
Elsabel Rincon and Daughter --The Welcome Immigrant Network
Rajia and Ray showcased their Invisawear smart jewelry that enables the wearer to contact police and/or  family and  friends  in an emergency.  They had the prototype mentioned in my last blog post with them. Great to see them both again and to hear how the accelerator has helped them progress. I'll definitely be keeping up with them as they continue to get their device into production.

Rajia and Ray -- Invisawear
I had another great chat with Olu Ibrahim about Kids in Tech and about learning how to be flexible as an entrepreneur. We could have chatted all evening. As a techie from ancient days, this is a project close to my heart.
Olu Ibrahim -- Kids in Tech
VibraTours offers two types of tours: 1) group tours to two prime destinations, Cuba and Peru, with English and Spanish speaking guides, and 2)  day trips and stay-cations around New England for Spanish-speaking communities. The New England tours in Spanish are a niche that's been waiting to be filled for some time.
Vibra Tours Had the Most Colorful Table

Maryelle Artistry provides professional makeup and hair services for celebrities, commercial photo-shoots, VIPs, and wedding parties. Maryelle's artists have worked with clients ranging from VP Joe Biden to Shonda Rhimes. Just looking at the photos on her table was a treat.
Maryelle Artistry's Table Showcased Beautifully Made-up Clients
Also in the makeup space, but in a totally different business, is Make Me Over a makeup class to empower women with knowledge of the right makeup techniques for them and the confidence to do it on their own.
Make Me Over by Barbara Rodriguez
Desh Deshpande spoke about how these days what the economy needs is a culture of individual initiative. The quote that stuck with me is “We need job makers, not just job seekers." These entrepreneurs and the accelerator classes before them are indeed job makers. According to EforAll CEO David Parker, the program's graduates have generated 271 jobs (full and part time) and  83 percent of the enterprises that have participated in EforAll's programs are still around.

Desh Deshpande  - Reminding us how important it is to be job makers
Keynote speaker Gail Goodman, former CEO of Constant Contact, spoke about persevering  and learning from the difficulties you encounter. She also emphasized community -- the enterprise's role in the community and the importance of building community. My most memorable quote from her speech was  "for every dollar that a small business brings in, 70 cents stays in the community."

Gail Goodman

Class speaker Gabby Davis of Made in Lowell also emphasized community in her speech. Her business focuses on deepening community connections and stimulating economic growth by creating cool events and with marketing, sales, and service programs that promote Lowell.

Gabby Davis
Joey Banh -- EforAll
EforAll's Joey Banh presented the class gift and the completion certificates to the finalists. 

The Class Trying to Fit All in One Photo
Each finalist gave a 1-minute pitch, not really a pitch contest, just a chance for each of them to give the audience a good idea of what they're doing.
One Minute Pitch: Lindsay Joseph -- The Greater Now

One Minute Pitch: Daniela Valdivia -- Vibra Tours
As always, there was much excitement in the room as the prizes were awarded. The Christina Hamilton Award for grit and overcoming obstacles went to Angel Bella Bakery.
Vicky Theng -- Angel Bella Bakery with Lowell Friends and Supporters
The prize money was awarded as follows:
  • Viera Admin Solutions $6,000
  • Invisawear $5,000
  • Phoenix Rising Pizza $4,000
  • Angel Bella Bakery $500 (Christina Hamilton Award)
The Winter Accelerator Class with Giant Cardboard Checks
Congratulations to all who participated in the 2017 Winter Accelerator Class! Such passion and dedication is an amazing thing to see.