Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mass Innovation Nights Southern Exposure #MIN57

The MIN Crowd at Quincy Center for Innovation
Quincy Center for Innovation welcomed Mass Innovation Nights number 57 to their recently opened space. It's a great space and they did a great job of hosting.The crowd was lively and engaged, always a good thing at a MIN event.

The variety of products really showed how huge and interesting the entrepreneurship scene is around these parts -- not all techie by any means -- everything from toothbrushes to tourism and beyond. The four chosen presenters were:

Boingnet  has a different take on marketing automation with a great way to create campaigns across web, email, mobile, and all that jazz, with custom landing pages and micro sites. I loved that their presentation involved a live audience participation demo registering participants to win free candy. Disappointed that I didn't win the peppermint bark, but way impressed with the Boingnet platform.
Team Boingnet
I enjoyed talking with the guys from Canary about local online selling. They do all the grunt work  for the sellers, from researching the value of an item to writing and managing the online listings. They help the buyers find answers to their questions, coordinate sales, and provide a discounted delivery service. On top of that, they donate 12% of each sale to charity. Happy sellers, happy buyers, and happy charities - what more could you ask for? Oh, and they had cool gold-colored brains on their table. I think I have to give them Best Prop of MIN57.
PlowMe connects customers in need of snow removal with contractors. Their network makes it easy to book a plow for your own property on the North Shore or your Mom's on the South Shore and makes it easy for the contractors to optimize their routes.  They had a raffle for snowplow service, which could come in handy this weekend with a northeast storm approaching. Oh, and they do have Merrimack Valley contractors in their network.
The folks from Equali Tees impressed me with their philosophy: We are all equal, but we are also different and both aspects should be celebrated. Their designs are simple enough to work with your personal style and they encourage you to make them your own. Some of their designs are connected to various charities that connect with their mission. The team looked great in their tees and hoodies. Best Costume of MIN57 definitely goes to Equali Tees. Check out their Etsy shop.

Equali Tees

Team Equali Tees

Speaking of T-shirts, remember Project Repat from MIN36 and from the MIN500 panel? They surprised Bobbie C with a special MIN blanket featuring T-shirts of MIN alumni companies.  It's cozy and warm and full of memories. There's a story with every one of those logos. What an awesome surprise.
Look at all those MIN companies!
The Blanket
OK,  so Eric Braun (@SouthShoreEric) doesn't really have 30 hands, but the 30hands mobile app can make teachers feel like they've got lots of extra help. It's a fun storytelling app that allows students, teachers and just about anyone to create presentations or narrated stories  based on photos, images or slides using a smartphone or tablet. Eric walked us through a demo in less than 5 minutes.

South Shore Eric
I love how One Hen approaches teaching entrepreneurship to kids in grades 3 to 6. Inspired by a children's book about a young boy in Ghana that grows his one chicken into the largest poultry farm in the country, they teach kids the skills to be social entrepreneurs. Kids learn to make a difference for themselves and the world.  It is awesome to teach kids financial responsibility and personal initiative,  and even more awesome to teach them  global awareness and giving back. 
One Hen
I got a toothbrush and two free cookies from Brush in Time, checked out Cara Group Travel's travel planning services for my ancestral homeland (well, the Irish half, not the Nova Scotia half), and took a look at Lallitara's latest creations since I last saw them at the Merrimack Valley Sandbox Social Impact Pitch Contest back in September. So many great products, so little time.

The Experts Corner was buzzing as usual. Andrew Oatway, a business lawyer, did an excellent job of fielding questions from attendees and posing for me looking very expert for the traditional "Expert Looking Expert" shot.
Expert Looking Expert

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

All Fun and Games at #MINFun

Landsdowne Street
GameOn hosted Mass Innovation Nights number 56 (wow 56 already!) on Tuesday night 11/12/13. What could be more special? Well, maybe a World Series win at Fenway Park :-) but anyway...   The theme for the event was fun and games and the products on display were indeed fun. The four chosen presenters were:
It was a pretty good crowd for a cold November night.
Innovators Checking In
PackOut Gear set up a tent and sleeping bag just like a campsite -- well, minus the campfire -- and it looked so cozy I was ready to rent gear and camp right there.
Pack Out Had The Best Campsite
Click-a-Waiter enables e-commerce for restaurants.  Their platform allows restaurants to take orders from their Facebook page or website. It makes online ordering easy and practical even for small restaurants.
The crowd got thicker and thicker as the excitement built and the pizza was served. The place really developed a party atmosphere.
Rednote lets you send snippets of popular songs with text messages, email, Twitter and whatever other online social conversations with choices based on emotions, sort of like an audio emoticon. Music definitely makes a message more memorable and texting definitely needs something to give it a little more feeling.
Rednote Team
Oh, and Rednote had matching T-shirts with song lyric snippets and QR code on the back, so they win Best Costume of  #MINFun. All other matching T-shirts paled in comparison.
Best Costume
The two busiest tables were Brass Monkey and Tablelist. Brass Monkey's new Flip iT game was so popular that it was hard to get near the table. People were having a blast playing it.
Brass Monkey
Tablelist's app helps you book a table at amazing nightclubs and lounges. Maybe the reason their table was so busy was that everyone was booking the after-after-party. They did have great swag to promote their great idea, so maybe that was part of their popularity.
Tablelist Swag
Spogo is a mobile app that enables sports fans to make predictions as they watch live games -- adds fun and sociability, not to mention rewards, to spectator sports. They were getting a steady stream of attention too.
AECyles had their nifty Freedom Cycle, a tricycle for grownups. They're aiming it at aging boomers (yikes, that's me) and folks who are not able to ride a traditional bicycle because of disability or injury. This is a big improvement on the traditional adult tricycle.
ComedySportz put on an improv show for us after the presentations. They were a lot of fun. Check them out for your corporate party. They are seriously funny.

Comedy Sportz Entertaining Us with Improv

The MIN staff at the check-in desk looked even more expert than the experts, so I asked them to pose for the "looking expert" shot.
MIN Check-In Staff Looking Expert
And for an extra "expert looking expert" shot, how about Big Papi the expert at October baseball.
Senor Octubre

Thursday, October 10, 2013

#MIN55 Recap

Mass Innovation Nights held yet another wonderful monthly event on Wednesday at WMware in Kendall Square. Thanks, VMware for great hospitality.
Boston Always Looks Great From Cambridge
The crowd took awhile to build, but things were definitely buzzing by the time the presentations started.

The MIN Crowd Checking Out Cool Products
It's about time school field trip planning moved into the 21st century. With EdTrips teachers can plan and manage the whole school travel process from sharing the info with parents to collecting the permission slips and payments. It definitely sounds like it will help get kids out into the real world for some memorable experiences. EdTrips gave an excellent presentation and the audience asked great questions, and they had paper airplanes.
Up until now the only colorful thing on the golf course has been the pants. Now colorful, personalized golf putters from Gift Putter bring golf into the technicolor age.   Jack Pregent and his team produce colorful putters in Massachusetts and can engrave them with your company name, your anniversary date, or some other  message. And yes, they do come in pink.

Pink Putter, the Online Subscription Marketplace,  makes it easy for any merchant to sell products or services by subscription. This is such a brilliant idea for ensuring repeat business and customer engagement. It's a radically different approach from those daily deal sites. As a cool touch, they were giving away a subscription to Biena Snacks, tasty chickpea provider and a Mass Innovation Nights alum.

It was great to see Patrick Houwer and  Joshua Goldberg of BeeInPlay again. Met them last week at the Merrimack Valley Sandbox All Ideas Pitch Contest. is a website that enables users to find and book their favorite sports fields, courts, ice-rinks, turfs and classes in real-time and coordinate pickup games.  They harness the power of the web to get people together to play. What could be better than that? (Well, besides a pink putter :-))
Janji apparel had a room to themselves to showcase their running apparel. Their mission is to extend the charitable aspect of running beyond race day. Each piece of Janji apparel helps provide clean water or proper nutrition to a country in need, and its design is inspired by the country that it supports.
Over in one of the Experts Corners, Barton Fiske of  zSpace , offered his expertise in 3D graphics, virtual reality and computer gaming with a stunning interactive demo that was packing people in. Everybody wanted their chance to assemble and disassemble a skull in 3D.

In the other Experts Corner, Denise Noble, the HR Engineer, was handing out Twizzlers and giving advice on HR subjects for small companies. She also had some toy gears for us to play with -- featuring little tiny toy experts mounted on the gears!
Experts Looking Expert (Or At Least Busy :-))

Saturday, October 5, 2013

All Ideas Pitch Contest Recap

The Bicknell Clock at LHSP Visitor Center
Thursday night's Merrimack Valley Sandbox All Ideas Pitch Contest featured a beautiful setting and inspiring entrepreneurs.  The Lawrence Heritage State Park visitor center is in a great spot near the north canal  and given the current situation in Washington we were very glad to be in a state park and not a national park. BTW, if you are in the Lawrence area, visit the visitor center. You will be surprised at the great stuff they have there. I'm sooooo looking forward to the Fasanella's Lawrence exhibit opening October 12.

All Ideas Pitch Contest This Way!
The event  started with a diverse crowd checking out the display tables showcasing all kinds of business and non-profit ideas from local entrepreneurs. Lots of exchanging of ideas, advice, and offers of help along with the munching of chocolate chip cookies provided by Deb Gurry of Clock Tower Cafe, one of the judges, filled the room with palpable energy.

The Crowd Begins To Assemble -- Nice To See Kids
It was great to see so many kids. The age range of the audiences (and the entrepreneurs) at these Sandbox events always amazes me.  Many of Thursday's attendees were at their first Sandbox event. Organizers had to scramble to find more chairs for all the folks who turned out to support their favorite entrepreneurs.

I chatted with Christina Hamilton of  Delightful Surprise Sweets and sampled some delicious fudge in several flavors. Loved the chocolate pretzel mint flavor. I remembered Christina from a previous event and was happy to see that she was one of the chosen presenters. Christina's sweet treats are delicious and customized and her business provides opportunity for people with disabilities. Christina was inspired to create her business out of her own experience as a disabled person.  Her personal story and the delicious fudge she handed out to the judges made for a great presentation.

Christina with Delightful Surprise Sweets

Orlando Torres pitched his The Best Part of Planet Earth school gardening program. Talking with Orlando about organic raised bed gardening and nutrition for urban kids was a true joy. It has always bothered me that good, healthy vegetables are so expensive and so hard to come by in cities. It's inspiring to talk to a teacher who cares so much about his students, the community they live in, and the beautiful planet we all share.

Orlando with His School-Grown Veggies

Hector Arce and Brian Mohika  presented Drainage Partner,  a concealed and comfortable reusable undergarment for patients who need to use catheters that deposit bodily fluids into a drainage bag. Their design is so clever and thoughtful that patients can even wear shorts, something impossible with current solutions.  They already have patented the technology. They were the runaway fan favorite and the first prize winners.

Drainage Partner
Lianna Presenting Giant Check to Brian and Hector for Drainage Partner

The Crowd Gave Drainage Partner A Huge Ovation
By far the most emotional pitch was from Catie's Closet. Mickey Cockrell described the non-profit, which provides clothing to homeless and poverty-stricken students to help them stay in school.  That's a real need in these times. She teared up as she talked about Catie,w ho inspired the project. Catie was a student at Lowell High School, who always donated whatever she had to those in need. As the saying goes, she would give away the clothes off her back to help others. Catie passed away in 2010. The audience began to tear up too as Mickey spoke.

Lining Up The Catie's Closet Team for the Photo with the Giant Check

The youngest entrepreneur ever to pitch at a Sandbox event, 14 year old Sahil Belgaonkar, impressed the audience with his poise and the app he pitched. Chum helps users find pets in any shelter in the U.S. I met Sahil at the Sandbox Summit this summer and was highly impressed with both his technical skills and his commitment to saving animals from being euthanized at shelters. It was a thrill to see him present and to be part of the loud ovation he got.

Sahil (Right) Networking with another Entrepreneur
Patrick Houwer and  Joshua Goldberg pitched  BeeInPlay, a website that allows you to view availabilities and book sports fields, courts, rinks, classes, and activities in real-time. In these days when a pickup hockey game on the Charles River (like we had in my childhood) is quaint anachronism, it's a good thing to harness the power of the web to get people together to play.
Alexander Ryu pitched Lifeguard Games, virtual pet apps to help kids learn to manage health conditions such as asthma and food allergies. Here's another instance of using technology to make a real difference in real people's lives.

The Crowd Networking While The Judges Were Out Deliberating
Crowd Listening To The Pitches
It was great to see James Ostis, one of the stalwarts of the Lowell creative economy, at the event and it was even better that he got to do the wildcard pitch, so I'll close with a creative watercolor rendition of James giving his pitch.

James Pitching

Thursday, September 12, 2013

#MIN54 at Workbar

Workbar's New Central Square Digs This Way
Any excuse to go to Central Square is a good one in my book. The tech pundits are finally discovering what many of us have known for decades -- Central Square has always been cooler than those other squares in Cambridge :-) even that one closer to the Institute At The Center Of The Universe :-) So having #MIN54 as a reason to hang out in Central Square and to check out Workbar's new digs on Prospect Street was a great opportunity.

Urban Landscape Viewed From Workbar 5th Floor

The products on display were a nice mix of techie, foodie, and other cool stuff. My absolute favorite was the Bradley tactile timepiece from eone. Not only do you see what time it is, but you also feel what time it is. This is a great example of universal design. Sure it's a watch for blind people, but it is also appealing to sighted people and it doesn't make the blind wearer look clunky and unstylish. When I told my partner, who is blind, about it, she was very excited. Feeling where the ball bearing is works way better than talking watches.

Demoing the Bradley Watch
Hey, anything involving collaboration between engineers from the Institute At The Center Of The Universe and designers from RISD has got to be good, right? Two thumbs up for eone!

Presenting the Bradley Watch
On the decidedly non-techie side, I enjoyed the scents of Amber Blue and Prosperity Candle. Amber Blue makes small batches of  natural, organic, luxury, herb-based skincare products. I ran into MIN regular Eric Andersen at the Amber Blue table checking out the wonderful-smelling products.

Eric Checking Out Amber Blue Skin Care Products
Prosperity Candle had a huge variety of scents to sniff. My fave was magnolia. Using custom candles to promote your brand at corporate events is definitely different from the usual pens, notepads, and tote bags.

Prosperity Candles
Another product that impressed me was AxVault, a community centered around musical instruments, an e-commerce store, and a media outlet all in one -- social instrument shopping. If I were a musician, I'd join.
Presenting AxVault
It was great to see Halley Tucker with the proof copy of Founders Less Than Three hot off the press. I remembered speaking with her at a MIN crowdfunding event about her Kickstarter experience. I've already downloaded the book onto my Kindle and started reading it. Already enjoying founders meeting cute. Congrats to Halley!
The Proof Copy Hot Off The Press!
Speaking of matchmaking for founders, the two Jeremy's presented an exciting mobile app, Prime$take, for connecting startups with investors and mentors who have compatible business needs, locations, and personality traits. Hmm, they might enjoy reading Founders Less Than Three :-)

Guys Named Jeremy

Another hit presentation was the folks from Endorfyn. Endorfyn finds what's new from all your favorite artists: music, movies, TV shows, videos, books, and what have you,  and lets you know when they're available to buy, rent, or stream on whatever platform. No more wondering when Brenda Wineapple's latest book is available on Audible or Rodrigo y Gabriela's latest music is on iTunes. Endorfyn will let me know as soon as it happens. Also, the Endorfyn team had matching T-shirts, so they win Best Costume of #MIN54.

Best Costume!
Absolutely the best thing about #MIN54, though, was dumplings! Guo tie -- one of the few Chinese words I remember. Patty Chen's Dumpling Room is opening soon in Central Square and after tasting these, I can't wait! I'm told Central Square is about to become the center of the dumpling universe.

And They Had Boba Tea Too!
The surprise pitch of the night was from Chef Nookie of Commonwealth, a new restaurant coming to Kendall Square. Gotta love the real-time Twitter feed at MIN!

Chef Nookie's Tweet Got Him Invited To Pitch His Kickstarter Campaign
I'm happy to report that Chef Nookie made his goal with 13 days to go! Farm-to-table meals AND George Howell coffee, how much more could Kendall Square want?!?

For the traditional "Expert Looking Expert" photo, we have MIN regular Nate Therrien looking especially expert as he is wearing a tie.

Expert Looking Expert