Monday, September 18, 2017

Recapping #MIN102 -- Cool #FinTech

District Hall is a Great Spot for MIN Events
Mass Innovation Nights returned to District Hall in the Seaport District on Wednesday night for a fintech themed event. The crowd was huge! I'm told there were over 300 attendees there checking out 13 fintech startups and consulting an unusually large contingent of experts. The Experts Corner was more like an Experts Wing.

A Glimpse of the Crowd
State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg  kicked off the presentations and really got people excited about fintech and about the Office of Economic Empowerment. The standing room only crowd was really into fintech and seemed even more attentive than usual to both Treasurer Goldberg's talk and the four chosen presenters' pitches.
State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg

Beautiful Boston
The four chosen presenters for the night were StackUP, RateGravity, will-it, and FutureFuel.

StackUP is an online platform to analyze and rate the performance of your financial advisers. If you want to know if your advisers are doing a good job managing your financial future or if/when you need to find a new financial advisor, StackUp does the comparisons for you so you can make a smart choice.
will-it got my vote for favorite. It's a great estate planning tool with a collaborative approach to 'who gets what'. All those personal and sentimental items, like my Nana's Belleek swan or that bookcase that's in all the family photos, are usually left for family members to sort and divide.  will-it helps catalogue those items and the stories and history that go with them. You can invite friends and family  to join and request the things they want.  It's a great way to get the dialogue about your stuff  to happen and to pass on your "stuff" in a meaningful way – rather then just leaving it behind.

RateGravity had the most memorable line of the night, presenting after will-it: The only thing worse than death is mortgages. That got a good laugh as many people know the pain of mortgages. RateGravity uses technology to save you tens of thousands of dollars when financing your home. They make it easy to figure out whether you'll be approved for financing and how much you can afford to borrow. RateGravity shows you the range of interest rates available for your particular needs and connects you to a network of fully vetted lenders that offer preferential terms. You save a ton of money when you find exactly the right mortgage for you.
People in the crowd were getting particularly excited about FutureFuel's technology-driven solutions to the student debt crisis. Need to refinance at a lower rate or lower your monthly payments or both? FutureFuel's marketplace offers lots of lenders who compete to refinance your student loans with no impact on your credit score. Does your company want to attract and retain your future work force?  The FutureFuel platform makes it possible for employers and other partners to "turn on" student loan repayment as an employee benefit.  Their tools make it possible to crush student debt instead of student debt crushing you.
It was impossible for me to talk to every one of the startups, let alone the legion of experts, but I did enjoy meeting everyone I did talk to. The buzzing intensity of the event reminded me of a slogan I saw on a building down the street from District Hall: Boston is on the move. You should be too.

LearnLux is on a mission to empower you to take control of your personal finances. The online education hub puts it within your reach to master the whole personal finance thing from basic banking, to retirement planning, to building credit. You can even learn about insurance. Teach yourself with LearnLux and start making financial decisions with confidence.
So many teams had matching T-shirts that it was hard to pick a Best Costume of MIN102. Since will-it and RateGravity both had blue shirts with sans serif fonts and cool logos, I declare them to be co-winners of Best Costume :-)
Venky from Keel Networking with David from Awesome Videomakers
Pyggly is a gamified savings app that makes it way less complicated to achieve financial goals. The team was fun to chat with and the piggy banks on their table were cute. I hereby award them Best Prop of MIN102.
Pyggly -- Best Prop of MIN102


Audience Choice Winners were:
Audience Choice Winners in Pink Backlight

As I mentioned there were a ton of experts, they included:
FactSet had cool sportsballs decorating their table. Habitude Warrior had a table full of books, DCU seemed to be everywhere, and all the experts were getting plenty of traffic to their tables.
Team FactSet
Erik Swanson posed for the traditional Expert Looking Expert shot with his classic Habitude Warrior  flair.

Expert Looking Expert -- Habitude Warrior

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Six Reasons to Visit Lawrence this Labor Day Weekend

Monument to the 1912 Strikers
Is there a better place to celebrate Labor Day than Lawrence, Massachusetts? I doubt it. Why? Because Lawrence actually celebrates labor on Labor Day. The textile workers strike of 1912, often referred to as the Bread and Roses Strike, changed labor history in the USA. That's reason enough to visit Lawrence on Labor Day Weekend, but there's so much more! With the Festival of the Three Saints, the Mahrajan, and the Bread and Roses Festival you can celebrate Italian culture, Lebanese culture, and labor history from Friday evening through Monday.

Lawrence City Hall
Here six reasons (among many) that you will want to come to Lawrence this weekend:

1. The Bread and Roses Heritage Festival

On Labor Day from 11:30 AM - 6:00PM the festival centered around Campagnone Common features:
  • live music on multiple stages celebrating a variety of traditions -- bachata, jazz, rock n' roll, folk, progressive hip hop, you name it!
  • a live history stage  where you can learn about Lawrence's history and its present from  historians, writers, union representatives, and community activists -- and be sure to check out the community corner and soapbox
  • kids' activities including pony rides, face painting, and arts activities
  • tours -- both trolley tours and historic walking tours take you to sites related to the 1912 strike and other aspects of this historic mill city
  • a variety of tables with vendors and non-profit organizations -- everything from food to labor organizing 
 2. Giant Puppets

Again this year the giant puppets from Vermont's famed Bread and Puppet Theater will bring their unique approach to both puppetry and politics to Lawrence. Their performances always tell a story we need to see and hear.  And the puppets really are huge. Is it my imagination or do the puppets get bigger every year? Come find out.

Circus Ring Awaits the Giant Puppets
Costume Heads for Giant Puppets
3. Extraordinary Rendition Band

This year's Bread and Roses festival is a great chance to experience this popular Providence, Rhode Island activist street band right here in Lawrence.  ERB is a "honk band" of brass, reeds and percussion who play at the annual Honk! festival in Somerville and Cambridge, the Pronk festival in Providence and other events across the country. They harness the power of music to promote peace and civic engagement. They'll be roaming the lawn on Campagnone Common starting at 5:15 PM.
Extraordinary Rendition Band at Honk! (2013)
4. Feast of the Three Saints

From Friday evening at 6:00 thru Sunday evening Common Street becomes Italian heritage central. This is the 94th year that  Lawrence's Italian community has honored the three martyrs: Saints Alfio, Filadelfo, and Cirino.  Free music on multiple stages, great food, a torchlight procession, fireworks, confetti, and people yelling "Viva Sant Alfio" bring people to Lawrence to reunite with old friends and celebrate all that the Italian immigrants brought to the Immigrant City.

The Italian Serenaders Performing on Common Street (2016)
If you're craving cannoli or arancini  or some other kind of Italian treat, you'll find it all here.  Be sure to catch the First Annual Youth Battle of the Bands on Sunday afternoon at 1PM outdoors on the
Tripoli Stage, right across the street from Tripoli Bakery (which, by the way, makes the best scala bread anywhere). Just stroll down Common Street and you're sure to encounter fun.
The Saturday Night Crowd at Three Saints (2016)
5. Lebanese Mahrajan Festival
Get a taste of Lebanese culture at the 43rd Mahrajan at St. Anthony's Maronite Church. Three days of music, dancing and plenty of  Lebanese (and American) food starts Friday evening, Sept. 1. There's plenty of time to enjoy the food, music, dancing, hookah, games, and even cooking classes. Stop by  Friday 6PM-Midnight,  Saturday 5PM- Midnight, and Sunday Noon-Midnight.

Crowds Starting to Build at Saint Anthony's for Mahrajan
This is your chance to sample the wide variety of tasty Lebanese pastries while listening to live music, buy some souvenirs from unique vendors, and maybe even take a belly dancing lesson.
The Pastry Tent is Three Tables Long!
6. Robert Frost Grew Up Here
One of the stages at Bread and Roses is named for famous Lawrencian, Robert Frost. Frost discovered his talent and passion for poetry at Lawrence High and his work was first published in the Lawrence High newspaper. The Robert Frost Foundation aims to connect contemporary poets with Frost's legacy and his connection with Lawrence. Monday's 2017 Bread and Roses festival will remember longtime Robert Frost Foundation executive director and accomplished poet, Mark Schorr,who passed away earlier this year. Stop by the Robert Frost Stage at 1:15PM for a poetry tribute to Schorr.

There are way more than 6 reasons to come to Lawrence. Just come and you'll find out why "the whole world has come to Lawrence."

Sign Commemorating the 1912 Strike in the Everett Mill

Monday, August 14, 2017

MIN101 Recap

Spectacular View from MIT Sloan School
Last Wednesday's Mass Innovation Nights MIN101 event had a tough act to follow after the MIN100 celebration, but they pulled it off with a spectacular setting. Our hosts/sponsors for the night happen to have the best view of Boston and the Charles River. That's right, we were on the MIT campus, hosted by MIT Sloan Executive Education. They provided a ton of experts from MIT Sloan School of Management and other parts of the Institute at the Center of the Universe (my family's pet name for MIT). The theme for the night was process improvement and the products on the agenda were wide-ranging and fascinating.
The four presenters chosen by online voting were:
  • Vinolytics -- Wine collection management software that uses data analytics to simplify the process of trading and enjoying your wine cellar.
  • WatchRx -- A smart watch that manages medication reminders for elders and their caregivers, as well as keeping tabs on users' well-being.
  • Diversity Dashboard -- Project management software that provides the ability to measure the results and analyze the ROI of diversity programs.
  • TwelveJobs -- A system for matching job seekers and employers based on skills and eliminating implicit bias.
Innovation Women Recruiting Speakers
As I visited the tables and listened to the presentations, a kind of a sub-theme of the evening started to emerge.  All four of the presenters were startups with women founders. MIN has had women founders themed events before, but this lineup just happened that way as a result of the pre-event online voting. Diversity issues, especially gender diversity in tech, have been in the news a lot lately, especially with that infamous memo at Google, so it was timely and exciting to hear about how  Diversity Dashboard and TwelveJobs are providing tools that tackle some of those hiring and diversity issues.

Diversity Dashboard Presentation
It was great to see WatchRx again. I remembered them from the IoT-themed MIN98 back in May.

Demoing WatchRx
Ankota is also in that "aging place" space with software for home care businesses and other organizations that manage care that enables elderly people to age in place at home.

I really enjoyed the demo of FlowNote, a to-do list/idea manager, that brings together all the little pieces of project management -- lists, progress charts, slides, photos, emails, schedules, budgets -- and lets you share it all with your team across devices.

Wicked Bandwidth IP provides high speed fiber Internet services to businesses in areas of Boston that have been overlooked by big name Internet companies. Yes, Wicked provides wicked fast Internet. This is wicked good news for a way wicked lot of businesses/buildings in un-served or under-served areas in these parts. Wicked had matching T-shirts and cute little nerf footballs too. This put them in the running for Best Costume and Best Prop.
Wicked Bandwidth
By far, the most popular demo table was Soft Robotics. I couldn't get near it until after the presentations. Everybody wanted to try out the soft robotic gripper. These grippers with their
control systems and software can manipulate items of varying size, shape and weight.  The demo table had a variety of items, such as an apple and a packet of crackers, you could try it out on. One of the big shortcomings of the conventional automation tools for industrial applications has been the inability to handle things that are soft, irregularly shaped, etc. The first thought that leaped to my mind was "can it handle tomatoes?" I asked about tomatoes as soon as I got a chance. Yes, it can. Soft Robotics already has a customer using it to sort and pack tomatoes.  Check out the case study on their website.

Soft Robotics
The Soft Robotics team had matching T-shirts and the demo robot made a great interactive prop, so that put them in the running for Best Costume and Best Prop too. So, I hereby award Best Costume of MIN101 to Wicked Bandwidth IP and Best Prop of MIN101 to Soft Robotics.

Everybody Wanted to Photograph the Audience Choice Winners with the Spectacular View
Now for the real awards, the Audience Choice winners are:
Congratulations to all of them!
MIT System Design and Management Experts Can Handle Anything
There was still plenty of time after the presentations to check out the rest of the demo tables, take photos of the view, and talk to the experts.

Enjoying that View

As is traditional, I'll close with an Expert Looking Expert photo: Belen Zuniga representing the MIT Executive MBA program.  This is what an expert looks like:

Expert Looking Expert

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Six Reasons You Should Come to Lowell this Weekend

Downtown Lowell is the place to be this weekend.  The 31st annual Lowell Folk Festival fills the downtown with some of the best traditional music from all over the world.  This is the longest running and second largest free folk festival in the USA.

Crowd Grooving to  Spencer Taylor and the Highway QCs at 2016 Lowell Folk Festival
Need a list of reasons to come to the festival? Here are six of them:

1. Music

This year's festival lineup features interplanetary jazz icons the Sun Ra Arkestra visiting from Saturn under the direction of 95 year old Marshall Allen. A chance to see the Arkestra -- for free -- is reason enough to come. Don't miss this chance.

The legendary CJ  Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band are bringing the zydeco. And who doesn't love zydeco? You just can't help dancing when the crown prince of zydeco is playing.

We are especially lucky to have El Septeto Santiaguero, the leading son ensemble in the Cuban music scene. Cuban son is an amazing music and El Septeto Santiaguero keeps this centuries old tradition fresh and delightful.

I'm particularly looking forward to Brooklyn-based Innov Gnawa playing some hypnotic, mystical, fantastic Moroccan music in a centuries old tradition. This music transports you and it's absolutely irresistible.

Interested in America's indigenous cultures? The OngwehoƱwe Singers & Dancers bring Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) social dance traditions to the Lowell Folk Festival for the first time. You don't want to miss this.

Those are only a few of the highlights among the amazing lineup of musicians on the Folk Festival stages. Still need more music? There will be music all over the place. Restaurants, bars, coffee shops and the streets all add to the musical landscape. The Gentleman Songsters will be roaming the streets of downtown Lowell all weekend, so you might just encounter an impromptu barbershop quartet performance where you least expect it.

2. Traditional Khmer Ceramics

Meet Yary Livan, master ceramicist in the Folk Craft Area. Yary is a master of Cambodian ceramics and temple ornamentation. He carries on a tradition dating back to the 11th century, which was nearly extinguished by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. A 2015 NEA Fellow, Yary is the only known Cambodian in the USA carrying on this living tradition. This is a great opportunity to see him demonstrate traditional carving techniques.
Yary Livan Demonstrating Traditional Khmer Carving Technique in Lucy Larcom Park (2013)
According to Folk Festival publicity you will also be able to see a firing of Yary's traditional Khmer kiln. The kiln is located on Aiken Street just across the canal from Father Morissette Boulevard. Check Folk Festival information for details on the timing. Stop by anyway just to see the kiln and read the informational signage to learn more about it.
Cambodian Wood Fire Kiln

3. Food

Tour the world's traditional cuisines without leaving downtown. Local churches and nonprofits showcase their ethnic food traditions to raise money for their community programs. My personal favorite is the loobie and rooz from St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church. They have a way with green beans that I've never experienced anywhere else. Longtime crowd favorites are the lumpia and the turon from Iskwelahang Pilipino and the pierogi from the Lowell Polish Cultural Committee.  There's tons more delicious stuff to check out, especially the variety of African foods like Calla, a traditional Liberian donut from the Emmanuel Temple of Hope or pumpkin/squash stew from the pan-African menu served up by Christ Jubilee International Ministries.
The Food Booths at Boardinghouse Park

4. Baklava Sundaes

I know I already listed food, but the baklava sundaes from the Hellenic American Academy PTA are the most anticipated sweet treat of the entire folk festival. There are people who come to the festival just for the baklava sundaes. You have not experienced Lowell Folk Festival if you have not had a baklava sundae.

Baklava Sundae

5. Meet the Untitled Homies and the Mill City Slam Team

Saturday afternoon, noon to 2PM, is your chance to meet and experience the fabled Untitled Open Mic. There will be street poetry, music, dancing, and a feature by the Mill City Slam Team.  Swing by the street in front of Brew'd Awakening Coffeehaus to check out the action and to help send the Mill City Slam Team to Denver for the National Poetry Slam. There will be a merch table and a raffle.
Members of Mill City Slam

6. Tour B&M Locomotive #410

This weekend is your chance to look inside B&M Locomotive #410 and the Combine, which will be
open for visitors during the Festival at the Dutton Street Trolley Stop. Take a look at some of  Lowell’s railroading history and a model train layout. You'll also learn about the ongoing preservation and restoration efforts for this historic railroad equipment. 410 is one of only 5 remaining B&M steam locomotives and it's the only one in Massachusetts. It's not always open to the public, so be sure to take advantage of this opportunity on Saturday and Sunday during the Lowell Folk Festival. It will be open  from 11AM–5PM.

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