Tuesday, November 20, 2018

EforAll Summit 2018 -- Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Black Thought
What a privilege it was to attend the 2018 EforAll Summit on Entrepreneurial Ecosystems! This year's lineup of speakers was absolutely amazing. Black Thought (MC of The Roots), Bill Cummings (Cummings Foundation/Cummings Properties), and Brandale Randolph (The 1854 Cycling Company) all delivered inspiration and insight. UTEC did an excellent job hosting. 

As at previous summits, my peak of meeting new people was at breakfast. I always seem to meet people from Holyoke, but this year I also met interesting people from Gardner. Discussing how cities like Gardner have changed through the years over several cups of coffee is a great way to start the day.

The crowd built steadily during breakfast and David Parker's opening remarks outlining the day's program for us. Oh, and he had so much success with his Moana slides last year, that he featured other movie scenes on this year's slides :-)

David Parker -- Opening Remarks
For the first panel session, I chose Leveraging Your Ecosystem to hear how each of  the panelists had benefited from the entrepreneurial ecosystem and what advice they had for other entrepreneurs (and students). Panelists Luis Gonsalves, Dawn Cordeiro, Ray Hamilton, and John Noto had diverse stories about different aspects of their local ecosystem. Luis from Juice'd Cafe mentioned that the SBA is a great place to start.  Dawn from Holyoke Hummus tested out her idea at community events and recommended a strategy of always being out there telling your story. Ray from InvisaWear talked about entering competitions and taking advantage of the UML incubator and the EforAll accelerator program. John of Lowell Makes pointed out that your ecosystem starts with friends and family. The quotes going up on Post-its over my desk are:
"Your ecosystem starts with your friends and family " -- John Noto, Lowell Makes
"You need to be always telling your story" --  Dawn Cordeiro, Holyoke Hummus
"Go for it to start. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice." --  Ray Hamilton, InvisaWear
Leveraging Your Ecosystem Panel Listening to Dawn Talk about Holyoke Hummus
The Pathway to Building Successful Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and Maximizing the Entrepreneurial Experience looked good too, but I was very happy with the one I chose and came home with a bunch of notes.
Andy Vargas Facilitated the Leveraging Your Ecosystem Panel
The main hall really filled up for the first keynote, a fireside chat with Black Thought (aka Tarik Trotter) MC of the hip-hop group The Roots, also the official house band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. If I had to pick one quote that resonated it would be: "Be brave. You have to take the risk to reap the rewards." Christa Brown did an excellent job of interviewing him and at the end she asked him if he would rap about entrepreneurship for us. And he did! His freestyle was the highlight of the summit. You simply have to check out this video. Needless to say, he got a standing ovation. On top of all that, he also hung out with the young adults at Cafe UTEC.

Christa Brown
"Stay focused. Stick to your dream. Be brave." -- Black Thought

Big Crowd for Black Thought
For the Ecosystem Interactive Session in the main hall attendees grouped themselves around 7 topics: Inclusivity, Collaborative Culture, Shared Vision, Connected Networks, Quantify Methods, Universal Support, and Sustainable Work. Participants brainstormed ideas and goals for what to do next in those areas. I chose Inclusivity and found it a valuable discussion though it was a bit hard to hear with all the ambient noise from the other groups in the main hall.

Interactive Panel Session on Inclusivity
As the interactive session was winding down, copies of Bill Cummings' book Starting Small and Making it Big began to appear on the tables. Time for the next fireside chat/keynote. Desh Deshpande interviewed his fellow philanthropist Bill Cummings. Cummings' personal story is inspiring and packed with lessons for entrepreneurs of all kinds. He told so many great anecdotes that I could barely wait to get home and start reading the book.  Being in Lowell, he naturally brought up the thing he has in common with Jack Kerouac: they both sold Vicks VapoRub. The audience also enjoyed his story of his first meeting with members of the Giving Pledge and being asked "What's your tail number?" (Spoiler, he doesn't have a private jet.) It was great to hear that Cummings Properties provides low-cost rent to early stage entrepreneurs -- another bit of the ecosystem. And yes, Desh did ask if Bill would rap for us but he declined :-)
Fireside Chat: Desh Deshpande Interviews Bill Cummings
 "The most important thing in any negotiation is to listen." - Bill Cummings

Can't Wait to Read It!
I loved the Art of Pitching workshop. It was great to see so many entrepreneurs willing to test out their pitches and so much useful feedback emerging from both audience and judges  Anne Estabrook and Todd Fry. Some of the pitches were from folks I've heard at EforAll pitch contests before, like Nate McNiff's Wandering Stage. It was great to see Reem Yared, founder of Help Around Town, whom I met long ago at a Mass Innovation Nights event  (MIN48  -- wow, that was a long time ago). Some of the entrepreneurs didn't have much pitch experience. We all learned lots of good stuff from Anne and Todd's critique of each one. "Lead with the value proposition" was probably the most important advice.
Help Around Town Pitching
The final fireside chat of the day was with Brandale Randolph, founder of The 1854 Cycling Company, interviewed by Shelley Cardoos. Randolph shared his experience growing his business, brand building, Framingham's entrepreneurial ecosystem, and creating careers for the formerly incarcerated. His emphasis was definitely on the social impact of the business: "It’s not about the bicycles, it’s about a brand that means something." Inspiring and thought-provoking don't even begin to cover the impression he made. I highly recommend  his TEDx talk "Stop throwing breakfast sandwiches at the poor."
Brandale Randolph and Shelley Cardoos

Friday, November 16, 2018

#MIN116 Recap -- Innovation, Palm Trees, and Some Memories

This month's Mass Innovation Night, MIN 116,  took place at Lincoln North in -- you guessed it -- Lincoln, Massachusetts, sponsored by RW Holmes.  Delicious food was catered by Neillios Gourmet Kitchen -- the Swedish meatballs were particularly popular.
Our Host Venue Lincoln North
It was fun getting there through the woods (I always take the back roads to anyplace along 128) as the drive through the whole Virginia Road/Hanscom Air Force Base area brought back many memories ranging from childhood visits to the MIT Flight Facility to my first post-college job at the Air Force Cambridge Research Lab (writing FORTRAN programs to plot data about the Aurora Borealis). I wasn't exactly sure where the old defunct AFCRL was in relation to the part of Hanscom I was driving past. The hangar I remember from when my Dad worked at what was then called the MIT Instrumentation Lab (now Draper Lab) is gone -- replaced with a bigger more modern hangar -- but I did sort of recognize the general area of where his machine shop was in relation to the runways and it brought back wonderful childhood memories of air shows. Funnily enough, when I was talking with Eric Andersen about the woodsy drive to Lincoln North and the history of Hanscom, he brought up the annual air show. I wonder how many other MIN attendees have memories of the air show? Anyway, enough with the personal associations... on to the event ...

The Lincoln North building featured many indoor trees. I imagine working there would be kind of like working in an arboretum.
The Scene
Products ranged from an electric outboard motor to government transparency software. The presenters chosen by the online voting were:
It's not every day you get to listen to the MIN presentations underneath palm trees, so that added a little extra something to the experience. The microphone was a little touchy so it was kind of hard to hear WAVEPulse, but otherwise it was a good venue.
Palm Tree
Skippit uses real time video and voice interaction to create a more authentic online dating experience. A secure 5-minute call with your match eliminates those weeks of messaging leading to an in-person date where you discover within the first 3 minutes that you're not a match.
ClearGov is government transparency at your fingertips. According to the presentation, 1 out of every 3 towns in Massachusetts already uses ClearGov to share town finances and demographics. That's pretty widespread adoption. I love the idea of simplifying the way tax and budget information are presented and the ease of comparing similar towns statistically. I'd love to see my town embed this in their website.
Flux Marine has designed  a zero emissions electric boat motor.  It's kind of the Tesla of outboard motors. It eliminates the large amount of unburned gas that ends up in lakes and rivers every year too. Not only is it clean and sustainable, but it also offers better performance and reliability than gas engines. 
Flux Marine
WAVEPulse Sterilization technology from ONEightyC fragments proteins, providing a high level of sterilization and disinfection of organisms that frequently cause hospital-acquired infections. Sterilization of many surgical instruments like endoscopes poses challenges. WAVEPulse technology addresses some of these challenges with the ability to tackle prions and super bugs. I had trouble hearing the presentation, so I may have missed some things.
WAVEPulse Sterilization
The product showcase tables were filled with even more interesting stuff.  My personal favorite was Quell wearable pain relief. It's a drug free, non-invasive system that uses nerve stimulation to block chronic pain.  It consists of a device, a wearable band, an electrode that attaches to the device, and an app that lets you customize your therapy. It's small and comfortable to wear.
Emotuit provides analytics that measure college student engagement to help instructors better understand their students’ cognitive and emotional states, so they can improve their course to engage students better.
The Bond Box from Bond and Des Voeux welcomes new residents by introducing them to local small businesses. This goes way beyond Welcome Wagon. The box contains hand-picked items such as bath and body supplies, food and drink items, and gift cards – all from local Boston or Massachusetts businesses. The idea is to make moving less stressful by making you feel at home as soon as you land in your new home. It's just one of the services Bond and Des Voeux offers for move management. Do check out their website.

Bond and Des Voeux

NextWave Hire is software that helps companies hire the right people through inbound recruiting -- think inbound marketing but for HR. The software powers customers' employer brand content, social media presence, and career sites so they can connect with passive job seekers as well as active job seekers.
NextWave Hire

Kinima motion capture uses point cloud technology to track the human body in motion, measuring the body's balance, power rhythm and speed captured through marching, squatting, jumping and lateral bounding. Their table was constantly crowded, so I didn't get a chance to talk with them.
The audience choice award winners were Kinima, ClearGov, and WAVEPulse Sterilization with grand prize going to Quell.

The Experts Corner featured sponsor RW Holmes (of course) and McLane Middleton. McLane Middleton's table featured the best pens, so here's a twist on my usual Expert Looking Export photo:
Expert Looking Expert