BOSTON – In a city marked by technology all over, innovation is a big deal. In recent times, it has permeated the area’s economy even more than a few years earlier, and last month, the Boston Tech Jam was one event that helped show that in a fun, relaxed way. Another event, one that is more frequent, has gone along with the growth in technology in the economy, and celebrated a milestone in a big way on Wednesday night.
Mass Innovation Nights had humble beginnings in April 2009, at a time when the overall economy was not doing well. Although the recession technically ended just a few months later, at the time the event was launched times were not good overall, with unemployment still rising. The Boston area has had plenty of successful high-tech companies over the years, so this was not new. The idea behind the event was to highlight new technology in the area.
Early events were held in relatively small settings, and the event has moved around. The Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham was the site of the first one, and at least a few others after that. But it has continued every month since that time, and Wednesday night marked the 100th edition, with this one held at the iconic Museum of Science.
Given the milestone, the idea was surely to go big, and they did just that. It was a bigger setting, with the idea of accommodating more product launches and more people. More people were certainly there: founder Bobbie Carlton said over 900 people registered, and they had to shut down RSVP a couple of days ahead of the event. This turnout came despite thunderstorms in the area and a flash flood warning, though the weather may have made its presence felt at one point. All along, the big crowd was obvious.
The night started with a special show for attendees in the Theater of Electricity, which features the world’s largest Van de Graaff generator. It was standing room only from several minutes before it started, with plenty of people looking on from higher levels. It was followed by presentations by people from the companies who exhibited and special experts, and the theater for it had to turn a few hundred people away as it overflowed. A monitor incorporating a Facebook Live feed was utilized for those who could not get into the theater, but it had some technical difficulties at times, which may well have been influenced by the weather nearby.
When that was done, everyone headed to the showcase. Space technology was the main theme of the event, sponsored by Draper’s Sembler Office. It was not alone, though, as there were companies whose business had nothing to do with that. In between networking and visiting the participating companies, attendees also cast a vote for their favorite. The results of the vote:
- Third runner-up: Accion Systems
- Second runner-up: TellusLabs
- First runner-up: Analytical Space
- Winner: VALT
Accion Systems showed some of their scalable electric propulsion technology. In short, what they have done is removed many items that weigh down conventional propulsion systems – things like tanks, pumps, valvles, toxic propellants, external cathodes and ionization chambers – and created a lighter engine that can also be manufactured hundreds of units at a time.
TellusLabs showcased their Kernel product, an immersive software product that includes crop forecasting models as part of what they call timely and accurate agricultural intelligence. The company has been on a roll of late, as they were a Diamond award winner in MassChallenge late last year and raised $3.1 million in seed funding at the beginning of this year.
Analytical Space is helping to speed up the arrival of data from satellites to the ground. As it is, an incredible amount of data – a couple of Library of Congress’ worth per day, in fact – is created on orbit by satellite operators. It also takes a lot of time to get this data to the ground, where it is most useful, and the process is hardly trivial.
VALT does not have much of a web site right now, but it had quite a display and got a lot of attention, translating into winning the vote. VALT utilizes the oxygen in the atmosphere to greatly reduce the size and weight of microsatellites and nanosatellites, and by extension, the cost of them.
A few highlights from other companies who exhibited (a few are alumni) and did not place in the voting:
ClearGov, an alumni company, takes the complex financial statements of local governments and turns them into more easily digestible infographics. With many municipalities sure to face challenges in the times ahead, especially are more people retire, a tool like this can come in very handy. It is primarily for local governments, an area with much more growth potential than state governments as there are many more cities and towns (19,354 incorporated places according to the U.S. Census Bureau a few years ago) than states (50).
FamilyID stood out to me because their online registration system is often used in the world of sports. However, their system can be used for much more, such as field trips, driver’s ed and exams. It helps to cut out paper-based systems that are too often used, and will soon have a partnership with a payment processor.
GaggleAmp is aimed at helping employees tap into their network to improve their online marketing campaigns. The online world has a lot of noise nowadays, and cutting through that is a big challenge. The company is especially noteworthy for having never taken a penny from venture capital investors, achieving profitability early and often.
NetBlazr has a simple product: inexpensive broadband Internet access. They are Boston’s highest-rated Internet provider, though many have probably never heard of them.
The Quantly Group has grown out of Harvard Innovation Labs and is dedicated to developing simple and powerful quantitative data analysis strategies that everyone can use regardless of resources. Co-founder Kela Roberts mentioned that one challenge they have is that similar data often comes in many different formats instead of one standard format, meaning a big challenge comes even before the analysis begins. Interestingly, that got me thinking of another technological issue that is sure to become more acute over time, which is with digital retention, file compatibility to open up files is bound to become a bigger issue.
Trilio was also among the alumni, showing their backup and recovery for the SUSE OpenStack Cloud. The cloud is a big place of growth, highlighted among other things by Oracle buying Dyn not long ago, but there are plenty of concerns with it. Security is one, but backing up data is another. In particular, their solution includes the ability to not only backup files at a particular time, which is what most of us probably think of with a backup, but also the current state of processes that are running. The latter could come in handy in some debugging scenarios if a system-level problem is consistently reproducible.