Monday, March 20, 2017

EforAll Winter Accelerator Awards 2017 Recap

Lawrence from the Sixth Floor of the Everett Mill
Everett Mills hosted the awards celebration for EforAll Lowell Lawrence's latest accelerator class on Thursday night, March 16. Thank you to Marianne Nadel, owner of Everett Realty, for welcoming us all to this historic space. It's wonderful to see all this entrepreneurial energy gathered in the heart of Lawrence.
The Crowd Checking out the Showcase Tables
There was a good crowd including not just the entrepreneurs and their mentors, but family, friends, supporters, random public officials, and other interested people. Bell Tower Cafe did a great catering job with delicious food and juices. Angel Bella Bakery, one of the accelerator finalists, added to the flavor with jack fruit and also hot and sour soup. There was even a cake featuring a photo of the accelerator finalists.
Tables around the room showcased the diverse products/businesses. This gave everybody an opportunity to meet the entrepreneurs and ask questions. I got to catch up with entrepreneurs I already know from the pitch contests, meet people's families, and do my photographing entrepreneurs thing.
Andreina Viera -- Viera Admin Solutions -- With Her Grandmother
It was great catching up with Andreina Viera of Viera Admin Solutions, as I hadn't had much chance to talk with her at the last event. Plus, I got to meet her grandmother, who is both inspirational and stylish. Viera Admin Solutions is the type of business that plays a really important role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. By taking care of the administrative and event services for the businesses, they free up time for the entrepreneur to concentrate on the actual money-generating activities of the business -- think making pizza or robots instead of paperwork.
Al Machado -- Phoenix Rising Pizza
The Machado family's  Phoenix Rising Pizza serves up traditional wood-fired Neapolitan pizza from a mobile pizza oven. I've encountered them at Winterfest and at Mill No. 5 events, so I can vouch for the fact that they're everywhere and the pizza is good.

Not the Real Wood-Fired Pizza Oven -- Definitely Real Wood Though
The Welcome Immigrant Network is working on creating a place to welcome, include and connect recently arrived immigrants to their local community.  The idea is to give people a jump start on becoming actively engaged in civic and economic life here. Our discussion especially resonated for me on the eve of  Saint Patrick's Day as I was thinking of my grandmother and how if she had not come from Athlone (in central Ireland) to Boston, I wouldn't be here.
Elsabel Rincon and Daughter --The Welcome Immigrant Network
Rajia and Ray showcased their Invisawear smart jewelry that enables the wearer to contact police and/or  family and  friends  in an emergency.  They had the prototype mentioned in my last blog post with them. Great to see them both again and to hear how the accelerator has helped them progress. I'll definitely be keeping up with them as they continue to get their device into production.

Rajia and Ray -- Invisawear
I had another great chat with Olu Ibrahim about Kids in Tech and about learning how to be flexible as an entrepreneur. We could have chatted all evening. As a techie from ancient days, this is a project close to my heart.
Olu Ibrahim -- Kids in Tech
VibraTours offers two types of tours: 1) group tours to two prime destinations, Cuba and Peru, with English and Spanish speaking guides, and 2)  day trips and stay-cations around New England for Spanish-speaking communities. The New England tours in Spanish are a niche that's been waiting to be filled for some time.
Vibra Tours Had the Most Colorful Table

Maryelle Artistry provides professional makeup and hair services for celebrities, commercial photo-shoots, VIPs, and wedding parties. Maryelle's artists have worked with clients ranging from VP Joe Biden to Shonda Rhimes. Just looking at the photos on her table was a treat.
Maryelle Artistry's Table Showcased Beautifully Made-up Clients
Also in the makeup space, but in a totally different business, is Make Me Over a makeup class to empower women with knowledge of the right makeup techniques for them and the confidence to do it on their own.
Make Me Over by Barbara Rodriguez
Desh Deshpande spoke about how these days what the economy needs is a culture of individual initiative. The quote that stuck with me is “We need job makers, not just job seekers." These entrepreneurs and the accelerator classes before them are indeed job makers. According to EforAll CEO David Parker, the program's graduates have generated 271 jobs (full and part time) and  83 percent of the enterprises that have participated in EforAll's programs are still around.

Desh Deshpande  - Reminding us how important it is to be job makers
Keynote speaker Gail Goodman, former CEO of Constant Contact, spoke about persevering  and learning from the difficulties you encounter. She also emphasized community -- the enterprise's role in the community and the importance of building community. My most memorable quote from her speech was  "for every dollar that a small business brings in, 70 cents stays in the community."

Gail Goodman

Class speaker Gabby Davis of Made in Lowell also emphasized community in her speech. Her business focuses on deepening community connections and stimulating economic growth by creating cool events and with marketing, sales, and service programs that promote Lowell.

Gabby Davis
Joey Banh -- EforAll
EforAll's Joey Banh presented the class gift and the completion certificates to the finalists. 

The Class Trying to Fit All in One Photo
Each finalist gave a 1-minute pitch, not really a pitch contest, just a chance for each of them to give the audience a good idea of what they're doing.
One Minute Pitch: Lindsay Joseph -- The Greater Now

One Minute Pitch: Daniela Valdivia -- Vibra Tours
As always, there was much excitement in the room as the prizes were awarded. The Christina Hamilton Award for grit and overcoming obstacles went to Angel Bella Bakery.
Vicky Theng -- Angel Bella Bakery with Lowell Friends and Supporters
The prize money was awarded as follows:
  • Viera Admin Solutions $6,000
  • Invisawear $5,000
  • Phoenix Rising Pizza $4,000
  • Angel Bella Bakery $500 (Christina Hamilton Award)
The Winter Accelerator Class with Giant Cardboard Checks
Congratulations to all who participated in the 2017 Winter Accelerator Class! Such passion and dedication is an amazing thing to see. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Recapping the EforAll Women in Technology Pitch Contest

UML Innovation Center
EforAll's Women in Technology pitch contest was the perfect way to celebrate International Women's Day.  UMass Lowell's Innovation Hub hosted a wonderful evening that truly celebrated the wide variety of tech innovations that women are involved with and the wide variety of women who are involved with tech. There was a good crowd, including a contingent of students from Middlesex Community College's entrepreneurship program.
Some of the Mentors, Supporters of Lowell Women's Week, Judges, and Entrepreneurial Women
The crowd included young and old, academics and industry types, women and men. Many women were wearing red for International Women's Day. I was also impressed with the number of young men proudly rocking their Lowell Women's Week buttons.
Dynamic Team "Manning" the Registration Desk and Wearing their Lowell Women's Week Buttons
 The scheduled presenters were:

Susu Wong

The Judges were:

Seats Starting to Fill Up for the Presentations
The tables were buzzing with energy and I was excited as soon as I walked in the door. One of the fun parts of EforAll pitch contests is that attendees get to vote for a "Table Favorite" to add to the already selected finalists. I eagerly made the rounds of as many tables as possible. Between catching up with people I've met at previous events and taking in all the new products, I was pretty busy. I have to say that I was bowled over by Readocity. So were a lot of other people because Vidya Joshi's Readocity won the Table Favorite. Kudos to her for tackling the question of how to use technology to tackle the issue of literacy. At its most basic, Readocity is an app that helps nurture young readers by tracking what the kids enjoy reading and curating recommendations based on their reading history, but it takes engagement with kids, educators, and parents to a whole 'nother level with physically getting books into the hands of the young readers and facilitating book conversations between home and school.  Big congrats go to Readocity for the incredibly good pitch on short notice (that's why the Table Favorite is exciting) and for taking Third Prize!

I made sure to catch up with the folks I've been following for awhile too. It was great to see Erin and Jonathan of Nonspec again. Since I last saw them 3 weeks ago, they have added three more people in India walking on their prosthetic legs! That is amazing growth! Mass producible, adjustable limb kits will make prosthetics affordable for amputees all over the world. That's real innovation. Erin nailed the pitch and won over the judges to win first prize. Nonspec also won the Fan Favorite voting, so Erin got to pose with 2 big cardboard checks. Congrats!
Erin Keaney - Nonspec

Judges Presenting the First Prize Check to Erin
Next on my list of people to catch up with were Rajia and Ray of Invisiwear. From the very first time I spoke with them, I loved the idea of  smart jewelry that enables the wearer to contact police and/or  family and  friends  in an emergency. Just push the button on your stylish watch, necklace, bracelet, or key chain and your mobile device sends out an alert with your location. Rajia showed me the new, smaller prototype of the emergency notification device. It fits very nicely into the jewelry -- you'd never know it was a communication device. Great to see the progress they've made on this product.
Rajia and Ray --  Invisiwear
It was great catching up with Esther Ndungu as I hadn't seen her in awhile. Helpfie uses technology to make it easier for bystanders to deliver first aid. Imagine if the location of the nearest defibrillator was at your fingertips along with clear instructions on how to use it. That's what Esther is up to with Helpfie. Check the website for information on how to add the location of a defibrillator to the database and to get notified when the app is ready for launch.
Esther Ndungu -- Helpfie is basically a crowd funding platform for school fundraising. It really does simplify fundraising for the things school budgets don't cover but students and teachers need. No more selling candy bars, hosting bake sales, etc. Your classroom needs a color printer? Start a campaign on  I had to mention the famous "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber" poster created by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom back in the ancient mists of history (1965). (BTW, the WILPF still exists.) But I digress... You'd be amazed at how many classroom expenses fall outside of the school budget. makes it easy for you to create a campaign for your specific need, notify your potential donors, and get your money. Linda summed up the concept of social enterprise with the quote of the night: "We're not in it to drive Lamborghinis."
Linda Curtin
Donna Hunnewelle's Clip Bra is a product I'd buy as soon as it's available. Imagine a bra designed around the actual shape of women's breasts and without hooks!
Donna Hunnewelle -- Clip On Bras
The innovation that struck me as most revolutionary was Cellino's use of nanotechnology to deliver gene therapy to cure blood cancer. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around a small desktop device that combines nanostructures, lasers, and gene-editing molecules. Nabiha's pitch was a big hit and earned a well-deserved giant cardboard check for Second Prize.
Nabiha Saklayen Pitching Nanotechnology for Treating Blood Diseases
Nabiha Posing with the Second Prize Check
Another of my favorites was Womentum, a crowd funding platform that allows anyone to donate to women entrepreneurs in developing countries who need just a bit of funding to expand their businesses. Womentum operates on a pay-it-forward model, so rather than having to pay back loans in the short term, the entrepreneurs can then support each other with donations in the long term. I first met Prabha at a Mass Innovation Nights event (MIN91) during last year's WEBOS Week. I was impressed then and I'm still impressed.
Prabha Dublish Describing Womentum to Allison Lamey (with photobomb by David Parker)
The Wildcard pitch slot went to Price & Beyond, a high-end furniture marketplace that brings price negotiation into the online shopping model.
Wildcard Pitch from Price & Beyond
Chatting with folks afterward about how competitive the pitch contest was and who we had predicted would win prizes vs. who actually won prizes was also fun. It was just a terrifically great night all around. Than you so much EforAll and UML for hosting such a wonderful night.

Readocity Posing with Giant Cardboard Check and Judges -- Shout Out to Senator Donoghue for Wearing Red