Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Smooth and Well Balanced #MIN105 Recap

Whoa! Mass Innovation Night on a Tuesday? Yup. Hosted at WeWork Mass Ave and sponsored by Relativity Whiskey. The theme for the night was "smooth and well balanced".  Relativity Whiskey set the tone with free tastings. Their table and the bar were extremely crowded so I'd say it was a big hit.
Crowd Checking Out Relativity Whiskey's Table
The crowd was surprisingly big given the weather -- rain, fog from the melting snow, and the promise of icy roads later in the evening.  There were so many people that it was difficult to get around from table to table. The products were definitely eclectic this time, ranging from CRM software to cashew milk. There's always something you never thought of before.

The four chosen presenters were:
Team Spiro
Spiro  is the CRM equivalent of a self-driving car.  It uses AI technology to take a lot of the work out of sales. Spiro updates itself,  reminds you who to call,  automatically creates, updates and manages your pipeline, and even recommends which prospect you should connect with next. From the demo, it seems pretty easy to use. Lately I've been hearing about and seeing more products that apply artificial intelligence and machine learning to CRM, so it seems these guys are onto a developing trend.
Treasure Chest -- Best Prop of MIN105
Everybody hates passwords, right? It's so tempting to use the same password for everything, or to write your password down on a Post-It note, or rely on a less than adequate password manager. So how do you protect your treasure chest?
PassHub  is an easy-to-use password manager that provides a very high level of security with mobile authentication through the PassKey Lite app. No more relying on password managers that perpetuate the vulnerability of passwords by relying on one master password.  PassHub provides strong multi factor authentication as well as client-side and end-to-end encryption and it's conveniently accessible any time on any Internet connected device.
GoPetie was getting a lot of attention. Who can resist cute pets, right? Its platform connects pet owners to to each other and also to pet service providers. GoPetie is partnering with many cities and towns in Massachusetts to roll out their proprietary system for licensing pets so owners don't have to make the trek to city hall all the time. It's a whole social network around pets. You can schedule play dates, pet sitting, dog walking as well as report missing pets and find pets available for adoption. Although I can't imagine her Blue cat majesty enduring a play date, I think this is a pretty cool tool.
nutty life
Cashew milk definitely fits into the "smooth and well balanced" theme. The nutty life cashew milk is  handcrafted, creamy and delicious, and contains way more nuts than the usual store-bought, mass-manufactured brands of nut milk. Each bottle is made with organic cashews, organic dates, and sea salt. And while the usual brands only contain about 2% nuts, nutty life contains 8-35% nuts, depending on the blend. No weird chemicals either! I tasted the happy sappy flavor, which contains maple water, organic dates, sea salt, and organic cashews. I absolutely loved it and gave nutty life my vote for audience choice.
The Crowd Assembling for the Presentations
GoPetie, Spiro, and nutty life Chatting before the Presentations

Commonwealth SavingsQuest
I enjoyed chatting with Commonwealth about incentivizing people to save with gamification. Their SavingsQuest product is a website and mobile app that encourages micro saving with badges, and challenges sort of along the lines of some of the fitness tracking apps.Their pilot test among Visa card holders showed that SavingsQuest users saved 25% more often than cardholders who did not have SavingsQuest. Sounds like a fun way to encourage savings.
Savory Living
Savory Living provides a 10-week healthy eating lifestyle program to help you turn healthy eating into an enjoyable and sustainable lifestyle. It runs online, on-demand and is FSA and HSA eligible.
JobGator -- Best Costume of MIN105
Jobgator is machine learning based software that tailors and evaluates resumes to increase candidates' chances of being found and interviewed by recruiters. They had the best T-shirts of the teams that had matching shirts, so I hereby award them Best Costume of MIN105.
Reina Valentina
I enjoyed talking with Reina Valentina and I loved the clothes they had on display. Reina Valentina is an online boutique that sells modest chic clothing for the professional woman. The clothing combines modesty and contemporary style for a professional and empowering look.  They source from female designers and they give a portion of the proceeds to the Hunger Project, so they're socially conscious all around.
Team Reina Valentina
Modest Chic Fashion
I didn't manage to get a photo of the folks from Wasabi, a cloud-based object storage service that's cheaper and faster than AWS.

Wanderful was so popular that I couldn't get close enough for a decent photo,but I did hear enough to understand why it was so popular. It's an identity-verified homesharing network by and for women, kind of a "sisterhood of women travelers meets Airbnb." It sounds like a great way to connect with a place where you don't know anybody yet and be confident and safe doing it. I was not surprised they were among the prize winners.

The Audience Choice prize winners were:
  • GoPetie- Grand Prize
  • nutty life
  • Wanderful
  • SavingsQuest
Prize Winners Getting Ready to Pose for a Photo
And finally, this month's Expert Looking Expert is Tom Dodge expertly explaining the whiskey-making process in his new role as brand ambassador for Relativity Whiskey.
Expert Looking Expert

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Recapping #MIN104 -- Very Cool Stuff

Innovators from all over the Boston area converged on Waltham for November's Mass Innovation Nights event, #MIN104, at Dassault Systemes/SOLIDWORKS.There was a good crowd and a good crop of new software and hardware products for us to check out. There were tours of  Dassault's 3DExperience with demos of robots and 3D printers.
Crowd Checking Out the Tables
Once again the variety of products was impressive, ranging from a wind turbine to a lab on a chip to a smart lamp and more. Some tables were drawing big crowds right from the start.  The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the crowd surrounding Obvia's table. It's nice to see so many people excited about a new and efficient turbine blade design. The table was seriously mobbed. I couldn't get close enough to totally figure out the concept. Check out their video for a good explanation.
Obvia's Wind Turbine Blade was Popular
It was great to see Vocoli again. Veterans of MIN75, MIN62 and PINSMASS001, the platform keeps getting better and the need for a good employee feedback system just keeps growing.
  The four presenters chosen for the evening by online voting ahead of the event were:
Kaiburr's table was also very popular. The buzz word description for it is "DevOps as a service". Basically it's software for what's called application orchestration. Orchestration refers to the automated arrangement, coordination, and management of computer services (hope I understood that right). Kaiburr automates application deployment across components like infrastructure, network, and security as well as coordination across all your data centers. The idea is to reduce the time it takes to set up and migrate applications. (Didn't manage to get a decent photo of their table or presentation - sigh.)
Presenting Fluid-Screen
Fluid-Screen was by far my favorite product of MIN104 and I was not at all surprised that it won grand prize in the audience favorite voting. Imagine how many outbreaks of illness caused by bacterial contamination could be nipped in the bud with a system that speeds up lab testing so you can identify the contaminant within 30 minutes -- no growing a culture in Petri dish and waiting days for results. Real-time bacteria capture and identification is beyond cool. Fluid-Screen uses the electrical properties of bacteria to sort and identify bacteria in a lab-on-a-chip. Very cool. The presentation included a real time demo. Really most sincerely cool.
I met Christina at MIN103 last month as she was checking out what a MIN event would be like and after chatting with her I'd been looking forward to hearing about her product, so was happy to see PeopleProductive won one of the chosen presenters' slots for MIN104! PeopleProductive is a software platform that aims to reduce employee turnover, empower employees, and improve organizational culture. It uses a systematic data analytics approach along with a holistic approach to assess company culture and implement change. This definitely seems like a more coherent approach to managing human resources. Oh, and she gave me a nifty flashlight for tweeting about PeopleProductive.
Christina Describing PeopleProductive
MoodAnalyzer from MagniFact uses predictive analytics and custom algorithms to provide customer sentiment information in real time based on the language used by customers. The cool part of it is how it uses natural language processing to analyze social media, email, and other sources of customer data and turn the data into information that you can act on.
Coalesce is an artificial intelligence search engine that uses machine learning to improve research and decision making for businesses. It has loads of potential for improving customer service, investment research, work flow automation, and all kinds of business processes.
Beacon Smart Lamp from E-Green lets you adjust the brightness and direction of the light from your smartphone or a remote control. I think I want one.
Describing Smart Lamp
Makerchip is an online environment for developing integrated circuits. You can code, compile, simulate, and debug Verilog designs from your browser. Check out their website for more description.
The iseeBell Video Doorbell lets you see, hear and speak with visitors at your door from your smartphone or tablet anywhere. Do you ever wish your doorbell had a wide-angle camera and could communicate with you over Wi-Fi? I never thought about it until I saw iseeBell, but now I'm thinking about it.
The Audience Choice prize packages went to:
None of those surprised me based on the traffic around the tables. Congrats to the winners, who received prizes provided by WeWork and Dassault.
The Winners
This MIN exhibitor cohort didn't feature many teams with matching T-shirts, so I'm not designating a Best Costume this month. The Expert Corner was busy as usual and I'll close with the traditional Expert Looking Expert photo. Jeff Schantz from EYP is expert in so many things that I can't help but feature him as the Expert Looking Expert.
Expert Looking Expert

November, EforAll Summit, and Mid-Size Cities

November seems to be going by faster than ever this year. I can't believe it's been almost two weeks since the EforAll Summit. The summit is one of my favorite events of the year. It brings together entrepreneurs, city leaders, people who run entrepreneurship programs, and academics to share insights on how to foster economic development and social impact in mid-size cities and regions like our beloved Merrimack Valley.
First Keynote: Fredericton Entrepreneurship Ecosystem
Ever since the first summit, where I learned so much from the attendees from Atlantic Canada, I particularly look forward to hearing from them again, especially the Fredericton delegation. Hence I was particularly excited for this year's first keynote: Deconstructing Fredericton's Entrepreneurship Ecosystem. It definitely did not disappoint. All three speakers, Desh Deshpande, Gerry Pond, and Mike O'Brien shared insights that really resonated. My key takeaways were: the importance of a focus on collaboration, how municipal government can jump start things by putting the infrastructure in place, and that cultural change starts from the bottom up.  I took a ton of notes, so there may be another blog post lurking in there somewhere.
Janin Duran - EparaTodos
It's sometimes tough to choose among the panel sessions, but Nurturing Inclusivity called out to me. Ji Mi Choi from the University of Arizona facilitated the session. Panelists were: Joanna Ramirez Barret from Meda (Minneapolis), Janin Duran from EforAll/EparaTodos (Lawrence), Marco Perez from LAUNCH Chattanooga, and Anuradha Yadav from Fairmount Innovation Lab (Boston).
Inclusivity Topics
The questions/topics ranged from the definition of inclusion to how to reach specific audiences. I have to say that this is the first time I have ever heard anyone bring up disabilities when talking about inclusion. That discussion didn't get far, but it was great to hear somebody bring up the fact that people with disabilities can and do start businesses. Hmm, maybe that's a topic for a future workshop or panel.
Ji Mi Choi Facilitating the Inclusivity Panel
My biggest takeaway from the inclusivity session was something Ji Mi Choi brought up about how important it is to audit your marketing methods/content and your image when presenting an event or program so that you will attract the people you're trying to reach. Who is the face of the event? A pitch contest where all the judges are white males might not attract a broad diverse audience. (Interestingly, David Parker told a story that reinforced this point later in the day at the Program Models panel.) What networks are you promoting it on? You need to find out where to connect to your intended audience.
Crowd Listening to David Introducing Keynoter Yancey Strickler
The absolute highlight of the entire event was Yancey Strickler's keynote at midday. Yancey is one of the founders of Kickstarter.  The idea behind Kickstarter was to help bring creative projects to life. Out of that he's managed to start an important conversation, in the tech world and the entrepreneurship world in general, about how companies can stick to their ideals, resist conformity, and contribute to the public good.
Yancey Strickler
From the story of Kickstarter to the dangers of the mono-culture and the definition of success, Yancey got everybody fired up. The word "inspiring" doesn't even begin to cover it.
Let's all resist letting the media (social, mainstream, lamestream, or whatever) define what we're supposed to do and be in the name of success. 
Judging by the number of people who needed selfies with Yancey after his talk, I'd say he was far and away the star of the summit.
Getting Ready to Start Panel on ROI of Inclusive Entrepreneurship
Speaking of defining success, the next panel I attended was The ROI of Inclusive Entrepreneurship. Theresa Park from the City of Lawrence facilitated the session. Panelists were Steve Grossman from ICIC (Boston), Marcos Marrero from the City of Holyoke, Allison Moronta from Mass Growth Capital Corp. (Boston), and Tessa Murphy-Romboletti from SPARK (Holyoke). Again, I took a ton of notes, way more than I can summarize here. There are multiple ways to measure ROI on the investment in inclusive entrepreneurship  -- everything from number of jobs created to how we're creating change. My key takeaways were 1) you need data that you can compare with other organizations in the same space,  2) at a small scale it's hard to get statistically significant data and you have to point to the businesses themselves with anecdotes of success to show the return, and 3) you need to know what type of data the funders are looking for.
Program Models Panel
The next panel I went to dove-tailed nicely with the one from the morning session. The title was Program Models that Can Work in Your City and it featured panelists from several different kinds of entrepreneurship programs, from incubators and accelerators to co-working spaces. David Parker facilitated the session and told a great story about the first pitch contest that EforAll put on in Lawrence. Basically, the event did not reach the target audience. His solution was to ask people from his target audience for suggestions and finding advertising pathways to reach the local community. This reinforced what I heard in the first panel of the day. Panelists were Hal Bowling from LAUNCH Chattanooga, Devin Cole from Workbar (Boston), Enoch Elwell from CO.STARTERS  (Chattanooga), and Trish Fleming from North Shore InnoVentures   (Beverly). My key takeaway from this one was that for all these different types of programs, the common thread is making sure your outreach is in sync with the community and being intentional about it.
As if the summit couldn't get any more inspiring, the final keynote featured a graduate of  EforAll South Coast's accelerator program, Victoria Hall, founder of WORKINGURL bags.  I met Victoria last year at Mass Innovation Nights #MIN88 event. I enjoyed hearing how her business has grown since then and how she handles the challenges of entrepreneurship. Annie Jean-Baptiste from Google interviewed Victoria and did a great job of facilitating the audience questions too. It was a great way to end the day.

I came away from the summit feeling more optimistic about society, entrepreneurship, the economy, and the future of mid-size cities than I've felt in ages. If I wrote down every single insight I had that day, this blog post would be way longer than it already is. All I can say is there is hope for a positive, inclusive, entrepreneurial future in my favorite cities (Lowell and Lawrence) and beyond.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Women Entrepreneurs Night at #MIN103 Recap

WeWork South Station -- Our Hosts for #MIN103
This month's Mass Innovation Night  focused on women founders and was once again the kick-off event for WEBos Week. Our host for the night, WeWork South Station,  a coworking space had a bit of a -- dare I say it?--  hipster vibe. The decor in the networking areas and common spaces was mad cute as my poetry slam buddies would call it. Besides the cool venue, we also had a cool surprise
special guest, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Nuala McAllister, in Boston for WEBos Week gave the opening remarks. Even cooler, she told us the entire Belfast city council is made up of women.
Hip Decor at WeWork
The event was spread out over several floors, with the product showcase on floors 2,3, and 4 organized by theme. The three floor themes were Assistive Technologies, Apps, and Lifestyle & Fashion. The presentations took place on the 8th floor and the Experts Corner was on that floor too. Getting to all the exhibitors was like a combination of a scavenger hunt and trick or treat. We each got a map at the check-in desk and set off in search of entrepreneurs. Each product had a room to itself. Some of the rooms were quite cozy.  It was a bit of a challenge to photograph all the product teams in close quarters. Somehow, I did manage to find all of the products and make it to the 8th floor in time for the presentations.
More Interesting Decor
The four chosen presenters were:
Coeo Fitness

The audience choice prize winners were:
Own the Boardroom
All Set - Grand Prize Winner

My scavenger hunt started floor 2 and I worked my way up.

Puffin, a Mass Challenge Finalist, is working on an assistive technology device that adapts to the user, instead of the other way around. Their aim is to provide the same level of access to computers and mobile devices that most folks take for granted to people with significant disabilities. They want to see how far they can go towards making interfaces that not only adapt to the user's needs, but also to advance user abilities by furthering opportunities. It was fun talking to these women co-founders.
Team Puffin -- Founder Adriana Mallozi (R) and Co-Founder Shana Penna (L)
I remembered will-it from last month's MIN102 Fintech Their collaborative estate planning tool is the perfect solution to cataloguing those sentimental items -- and their stories -- so you make sure your "stuff" goes to the folks you want to have it and who want it.
Team Will-It
Own the Board Room bills itself as a professional closet. They offer men's suits and women's professional dress+blazer outfits for rent to wear to interviews. With clothes from Own the Board Room you can make a great first impression without having to buy an expensive outfit that you probably won't need once you're hired. They ship within the continental US, and all outfits arrive ready to wear. Simply wear the outfit to the interview and send it back in the same packaging. The return label and dry cleaning between rentals is included.
Own the Boardroom
FriendlyU is a mobile app for high school students to find out more about the colleges they are considering. It allows you to connect to colleges and their students for information and advice to help determine the right fit academically, socially and emotionally.
Henry from FriendlyU
AllSet  connects you with the local house cleaners that your neighbors already use and trust. The All Set platform is available both on their website and as a mobile app and handles every step of the housecleaning process, from choosing your professional house cleaner through scheduling and paying them. And because the team had matching orange T-shirts that matched their orange tablecloth, I hereby declare them winners of Best Costume for MIN103.
AllSet -- Best Costume of MIN103
Simone Simon designs and produces stylish women's clothing at the cutting edge of technology and fashion. Their bold black and white patterns were attracting quite a crowd at MIN103. Their use of 3D CAD software to visualize and test patterns before actually cutting fabric eliminates waste. The virtual fashion animations also lets them visualize and refine the pattern, the cut, and the thickness of the dress for any body type.
Simone Simon

Coeo Fitness connects fitness instructors, clients, and studios to create a streamlined and integrated fitness experience.
invisaWear got my audience choice vote. It's always great to catch up with Rajia and Ray to see the progress they've made with invisaWear. Ever since I first met them at an EforAll event about a year ago, I've been impressed with the idea of  smart jewelry that enables the wearer to contact police and/or family and friends in an emergency. Being equipped to get help quickly in a life-threatening emergency is simple, discreet, and stylish.  Seriously, check out their website for information on when the devices will go on sale.
Rajia Answering Questions about InvisaWear
Aste describes itself as "a full service team of digital investigators leading the fight against online dating fraud to keep you safe in your search for love." That says it all. Aste does the online background check on your online date so you can feel safer. Aste's table was very popular and I am not surprised that they won an audience choice award.
Oze is a  mobile app -- kind of a complete data-driven business advisor in your phone -- that provides African small business owners with the data they need to make decisions. It collects, aggregates, and analyzes financial data and makes recommendations for growing the business. Their passion is enabling small local businesses in emerging markets to grow with technology. Hence the initial focus on Africa.

Veripad uses a combination of a mobile app and a paper card that carries several chemical tests to identify counterfeit medications. It's a really clever system to screen for falsified medicines.
It was an amazing night with a packed house. I didn't get much chance to talk to the experts this month, but I'll close with an Expert Looking Expert photo of the one expert I did talk to from MassTLC.
Expert Looking Expert
The next Mass Innovation Nights event is MIN104 at Dassault Systemes in Waltham on November 8. I've heard there will be robots and 3D printers to check out in addition to all the innovative products that will be showcasing.