Friday, February 17, 2017

#MIN95 at UMass Lowell Innovation Hub

UMass Lowell's Innovation Hub hosted Mass Innovation Nights #95 on Wednesday night. This month's theme was all tech and there were lots of  really cool products. UML and the City of Lowell partnered to provide true hospitality. They provided a shuttle-bus (or, in the best laugh line of the evening, "buttleshus") from the Gallagher terminal to iHub to bring in the Boston/Cambridge crowd. Hosts and sponsors really did a great job showing off  the tech innovation scene in Lowell. All that, and the refreshments were catered by UTEC's catering program -- the social enterprise that truly embodies the concept of social enterprise. It was quite a night!
Wintry Landscape at the Locks
Despite the forecast for that light rain to change to snow, the turnout was excellent. There were well over 200 people, many from our beloved valley and a number from the Metro Boston area. The crowd checking out the tables continued to build steadily as it got closer to time for the presentations. The presenters chosen for the night were:

I was excited to catch up with Erin and Jonathan, the founders of Nonspec. I'd talked with them before at a couple of Merrimack Valley Sandbox (now EforAll) events. Their mission is to develop low-cost, durable prosthetics for the developing world. When I first met them, they were making prosthetic hands. They'd since made the transition to legs and I was eager to find out how it was going. It was great to hear that they have three people walking on those legs in India now. Their approach  is way different from the traditional lengthy and expensive process of fitting prosthetic limbs. Nonspec's limb kits are mass producible and adjustable, making them affordable for amputees all over the world.  It just takes a few simple adjustments to fit the limb to the person. They got my vote for audience favorite.
Other familiar faces were Rajia and Ray from InvisiWear. I met them at an EforAll pitch contest back in November and was eager to hear how they're doing in EforAll's accelerator program.  I just love their idea for smart jewelry that enables the wearer to contact police and/or  family and  friends  in an emergency. Sometimes it can be difficult to get to your phone when you need immediate help. Sometimes you need to be discreet when calling for help. InvisiWear smart jewelry addresses both of those issues. Whether you've been attacked on the street or you've "fallen and can't get up", you don't have to be able to reach your phone and you don't have to wear an ugly device. Just push the button on your stylish watch, necklace, bracelet, or key chain and your mobile device sends out an alert with your location. I continue to be impressed with the product and the dedication of the team. I enjoyed chatting with them about their experience so far in the EforAll winter accelerator class and hearing about how they are working with their mentors.
InvisiWear Presenting
I love the variety of products that fall under the tech theme, especially since so many of these products address real issues in the real world.  This event really showcased how science and technology can make life better.
AquaTerrene is a  handheld device for rapid detection of heavy metals in tap water. Currently, detecting lead in your drinking water usually requires sending a sample off to a lab for testing and then waiting for the results. That can be expensive in addition to being inconvenient. AquaTerrene's device makes this a whole lot easier and more affordable with compact hardware, disposable sensor strips, and a digital display. It can measure heavy metals such as lead and arsenic below the EPA action limit for drinking water. And yes, it can be used on soil too.
AquaTerrene Heavy Metal Detector
Horse lovers know how often sport horses sustain injuries that cause lameness but really aren't otherwise life-threatening and yet the horse has to be euthanized. HorsePower designed FastTrack to solve this problem. FastTrack is an equine rehabilitative brace that enables load-bearing exercise for lame horses. Innovative technology provides an adjustable range of motion stop to limit the maximum allowed angle of the horse’s fetlock joint to reduce strain to the injured tendons, thus preventing re-injury. Considering how much money people have invested in horses, this sounds like a good opportunity. Some of this technology can also be applied to rehabilitative braces for humans too. Sounds good to me.
Wendy Presenting FastTrack
It's somehow gratifying to see so many great ideas that have little or nothing to do with coding and social networking. Chemistry, physics, biology ... maybe more kids would go into STEM fields if they saw people designing products like these.
FishKnip tackles some of the issues in creating sustainable aquaculture. Fish is the primary source of protein for something like 1 in 5 people on the planet. We're already over-harvesting natural fish stocks (I feel a future blog post coming on about Gulf of Maine fisheries). Feeding a growing global population will make us more dependent on fish farming, but farmed fish require food too! With fewer wild feeder fish like anchovies and herring available, aquaculture farms have begun to rely on soy, corn-based protein and chemically derived products to feed their fish. These products can lead to problems resulting in not very good fish. So feeding the world while fish stocks are dwindling is going to require significantly improving fish farming. KnipBio uses microbes to turn low cost feed-stock into FishKnip, a protein-packed replacement food made from a single cell protein. This produces healthier, cleaner fish and helps reduce the need for over-fished feeder species. Fish that are healthier and less costly to farm should help a lot in feeding the world.
The Crowd
The BeeBoard team from General Enchantment gets extra points from me for asking me about my LTAB T-shirt and even using magnetic poetry in their demo. We had great conversation about bees too (another of my favorite subjects lately). They're a Boston-based tech startup and the BeeBoard is a digital bulletin board that bridges the gap with the physical world. It's a physical bulletin board, a wall-mounted tablet holder and an iPhone app, essentially a whole system for creating and sharing digital bulletins from anywhere. Note GladlyDo on the BeeBoard screen in the photo above. The Bee team were demoing their app with photos of folks who visited their table.  They're an engaging team.
It was nice to see the team from Lawrence-based ZwiftPay again. I met them at an EforAll pitch contest in November. ZwiftPay is an electronic payment system that's kind of like E-ZPass for gas stations. It lets drivers pay for fuel wirelessly at gas stations using radio frequency identification technology. No credit card swiping. You don't even have to wave it over a specific spot on the pump like one of those Mobil Speedpass key fobs. They're still in the limited roll-out stage, but this is gonna be a game changer.
GladlyDo -- Best Costume of MIN95
GladlyDo connects people and businesses who need help with odd jobs and event staffing with local college students in Boston. They are looking to connect people outside of Boston too, so check them out. They were fun to talk with. Of all the teams with matching T-shirts, I liked theirs the best so I have awarded them Best Costume of MIN95.
Time to Sit Down and Listen to the Presentations
After the presentations, the audience voting prize winners were announced:
Grand Prize went to Invisawear. The three other audience favorites were ZwiftPay, Nonspec, and Aquaterrene. All well-deserved! The winners got generous amounts of consulting from Choate -- an extremely useful prize to a startup!

And now for the traditional "Experts Looking Expert" photo. There were many worthy experts at this event, but I thought it was about time that I featured Carlton PR and Marketing.
Experts Looking Expert
But wait, that's not all ...

The after party was at Coffee and Cotton, a wonderful coffee shop in the wonderful Mill No. 5 just across the way on Jackson Street. The Mill No. 5 shops were open and I did spot folks shopping, especially at Mill City Cheesemongers. I hope the event resulted in some spending (besides mine :-)) at the shops. I couldn't resist Vinyl Destination (of course) and came away with a delightful fado album (which generated a delightful conversation with Jamie Bradley of Sophwell about fado in the Portuguese culture of southeastern New England). Naturally, I visited the cheesemonger and got a nice wedge of Pinnacle -- one of my favorite cheeses of all time.

Networking by the Fireplace in the Lounge
Coffee and Cotton's Famous Lightbulbs and Antlers
Join us for the next Mass Innovation Nights 96 at Cramer in Norwood on March 15!

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