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Posts Tagged ‘startup’

Photo: L’Artisan Café and Bakery
This Providence eatery, founded by immigrants, has created jobs in two Rhode Island cities. I especially love the tea at l’Artisan and the takeout food.

The idea that most immigrants take jobs away from other people in this country makes no sense to me. Some immigrants may take some jobs, but when you consider all the immigrant-founded companies, large and small, that create jobs for Americans, there is no comparison.

Here is an op-ed from an immigrant who, as an economist, has studied the issue in depth.

Dany Bahar writes at The Hill that calling the thousands of immigrants who, like him, have come here via the diversity visa lottery “the worst of the worst” shows a lack of understanding of the facts.

“I’ve been privileged enough to have accomplished many things since winning a green card, such as having completed doctoral studies at Harvard and joining a highly respected think tank. I did all of this while paying my fair share of taxes.

“My story is not unique, and, as a researcher on the economics benefits of migration, I can say that most other migrants actually are good people, work hard, pay taxes and often create jobs even at a higher rate than natives.

“Take David Tran, who in 1978 arrived in California as a refugee from Vietnam. Two years later, he founded Huy Fong, a company that produces and exports a highly popular version of Sriracha sauce.

“Huy Fong, named after the refugee vessel on which Tran came to the U.S., earns millions in sales year and employs hundreds. Tran’s tale is just one of many that illustrate how first- or second-generation migrants have shaped the U.S. economy. …

“For the most part, migrants (low- and high-skilled) compete with other incumbent migrants, not with natives. In fact, [one] study shows that, between 1990 and 2006, immigration had a small positive effect on the wages of American-born workers, as the presence of migrants encourage natives to specialize in better jobs. …

“Migrants are highly entrepreneurial and create jobs. While immigrants represent about 15 percent of the general U.S. workforce, they account for around a quarter of this country’s entrepreneurs and a quarter of inventors. …

“Immigration and diversity foster economic growth. More diverse countries perform better economically and migrants create business networks with their home countries that foster trade and investment. …

“Subsequent generations of migrants contribute considerably to the economy, thus offsetting the cost of absorbing first-time migrants. While the average fiscal burden of each immigrant is about $1,600, second- and third-generation migrants create a net positive fiscal contribution of $1,700 and $1,300, respectively.

“In addition, migrants and their families also eat, wear clothes, consume housing and all sorts of other goods and services, which contributes to economic growth.”

I know I’m biased. My daughter-in-law’s parents were immigrants from Egypt years ago, and my son-in-law is an immigrant who now holds citizenship in both the United States and his home country, Sweden. My husband and I feel lucky.

More at The Hill.

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Sometimes I get blog ideas from Facebook, which is one reason I can’t see myself pulling out despite all the irrelevant, unwanted clutter there.

Former colleague Scott G. recently posted a curious item on Facebook about turning pineapple waste into leather — real leather, not “fruit leather.” It’s much better for the environment than animal-based leathers and more appealing to sustainability-conscious consumers than petroleum-based ones.

Adele Peters at FastCoexist says that Carmen Hijosa got the idea for a new, sustainable industry on a visit to the Philippines years ago. But first she needed a PhD.

“When leather expert Carmen Hijosa visited the Philippines to consult with the leather industry there, she discovered two big problems: The leather was poor quality, and producing it was bad both for the local environment and the people involved.

“But as she traveled around the country, she had an epiphany. The Philippines grows a lot of pineapples — and ends up with a lot of wasted pineapple leaves. The leaves, she realized, had certain features that might make it possible to turn them into a plant-based leather alternative. …

“She also looked at other local plants, such as banana fibers and sisal. But only pineapple fibers were strong and flexible enough to handle the manufacturing process she had in mind.

“Hijosa left her work in the traditional leather industry and spent the next seven years at the Royal College of Art in London, developing the material into a patented product while she earned a PhD. Now running a startup — at age 63 — she’s ramping up manufacturing of her pineapple-based leather, called Piñatex. …

“Her startup, Ananas Anam, has built its production from 500 meters to 2,000 meters, and [by August], she expects the next batch to be around 8,000 meters. But as the company’s capacity grows, demand is already outpacing supply. Companies like Puma and Camper have made prototypes with the material, and others are already using it.”

What an impressive woman! More here.

Photo: FastCoexist
Because pineapple leaves would normally be wasted, turning them into leather, is an extra source of income for farmers.

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Rupa Shenoy had an interesting story on WGBH radio recently. It was about local startups interested in urban farming. I wrote previously about Higher Ground Farm, situated on top of the Design Center in South Boston, but Grove Labs, with its use of LED lighting for indoor gardening, was new to me.

Shenoy says, “Some of these new entrepreneurs are thinking big. Jamie Byron and Gabe Blanchet graduated from MIT and started Grove Labs two years ago with the idea to make every living room a potential growing space. …

“Their product is a cabinet that allows people to grow fruits and vegetables year-round in the home. It’s connected to the internet, controlled by an app on your phone, and designed to make urban farming easy and engaging.

“There are a few models set up in a space at Greentown Labs in Somerville, which they share with other startups. Each wooden cabinet, with several components, is about the size of an entertainment center.

“At the heart of the cabinet system is a fish swimming in a tank. The waste from that fish is sucked into tubes and converted into nitrate fertilizer. The fertilizer is pumped around the cabinet to trays filled with brown clay pebbles. That’s where the fruits and vegetables grow, with the pebbles serving as soil. Byron says once you get the system up and running, you can harvest enough for about two small salads everyday.” More at WGBH.

For more on using fish to fertilize your produce, see my recent post about an experiment in Duluth, here.

Photo: Rupa Shenoy / WGBH News
Somerville startup Grove Labs plans to sell cabinets for growing produce in your home.

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I got started following @MassChallenge on twitter after Erik won a prize for his startup, and I still see items worth noting. Recently Mass Challenge linked to a Boston magazine article on one of the companies the business incubator helped launch. It unshrinks your ruined sweaters.

Lauren Landry reports, “Two Harvard Business School graduates are determined to unshrink your clothing.

Desiree Stolar and Nate Barbera sold out of their first 200 units of Unshrinkit on the Somerville-based product discovery site The Grommet in one hour. The patent-pending solution interacts with proteins in wool and, with the help of a cold-water rinse, causes them to revert to their original shape. …

“A shrunken cashmere sweater spawned the idea. … Around the same time [it shrank], a team of her Harvard Business School classmates were given $5,000 and told to launch a startup, as part of the school’s FIELD 3 program. … Barbera, with a background in mechanical engineering, set out to try and develop a chemically based solution capable of unshrinking wool clothing. …

“ ‘We tested out at least 20 ideas, one of which happened to work incredibly well—with no side effects and a relatively inexpensive ingredient.’ ”

The startup grew very fast and soon heard from customers that the magic potion didn’t work on very tightly woven wool.

“So, the founders launched into another round of R&D this past February to develop a new solution. Within the next month, the company plans to launch a ‘professional version’ of Unshrinkit, made with the same active ingredients, but with a few additives and a nice, fresh linen scent. …

“Now the team is focused on growing that community of supporters.

‘A lot of people don’t know they can unshrink their clothing,’ Stolar says. ‘We have to disrupt that mental state.’ ”

More here.

For relative beginners, they have a pretty professional ad.

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Here’s a story about venture capital with a do-good focus.

Sacha Pfeiffer writes at the Boston Globe, “Among entrepreneurs, there’s a dreaded place called the Valley of Death. That’s where startup companies go when they run out of funding before making money on their own, and it’s an especially common fate for clean-energy startups, like manufacturers of solar panels and wind turbines. …

“But what if that early-stage, high-risk financing could instead come from philanthropists, who aren’t driven by profit? Later, traditional investors could step in and supply continued funding.

“That’s the concept behind PRIME Coalition, a year-old Cambridge nonprofit that has pooled $1 million from wealthy donors, including Hollywood actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, as seed money for its first investment: an energy storage startup company. …

“PRIME rethinks the traditional definition of charitable work and charitable giving. Its founder, 30-year-old MIT graduate Sarah Kearney, argues that companies whose products or services reduce greenhouse gases are doing a social good, just like soup kitchens and homeless shelters, so they should be able to receive philanthropic funding. In this case, the social benefits include conserving the environment and fighting climate change.

“The group searches for early-stage alternative energy companies … then locates philanthropists or socially minded for-profit investors to fund them. Those could include charitable foundations, investment offices of wealthy families, and donor-advised funds. …

“Peter Rothstein, president of the New England Clean Energy Council, said philanthropic funding ‘can make a significant dent’ in filling the need for early-stage capital for clean-tech companies.” More here.

It is not unheard of for philanthropy to put its investment dollars into companies that provide a social good. Read about the Heron Foundation’s decision to do so some years back in “Expanding Philanthropy’s Reach: Mission-Related Investing,” here.

Photo: Lane Turner/Globe Staff
PRIME Coalition founder Sarah Kearney says that companies whose products or services reduce greenhouse gases are doing a social good and should be able to receive philanthropic funding.

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Now, here’s an idea. You’ve heard of Uber-type services that you contact when you need a ride and that charge on the basis of demand?

Well, according to Patrick Clark at Bloomberg, the time may have arrived for calling a snowplow just when you need a snowplow.

“With a blizzard gathering over the ocean,” he reports, “J and R Lawn and Landscape decided to send part of its snowplow fleet on a 300-mile drive. The landscaping company operates 20 snowplows in and around Cicero, N.Y. A tech startup called Plows and Mowz—sort of an Uber for snowplows—had promised there would be lucrative work in Boston. ‘It only snows where it snows,’ says Ted Hoffman, who handles sales and marketing for J and R. His small company was willing to bet four plows, eight workers, and money for gas and hotel rooms on a faraway post-blizzard boom. …

“Plowz and Mowz caters to homeowners who don’t pay for a regular service but want occasional help clearing a driveway. To meet customer demand, the startup uses software to assign new jobs to drivers who are already planning to be in the area. …

“Plowz isn’t the only entrepreneur with a vision for the future of snow removal. ‘On-demand is cute, but it’s not snowplowing,’ says Yeh Diab, co-founder of Boston-based PlowMe, a second startup trying to using technology to improve an age-old business. The snowplow, as he sees it, is less like a taxi (seeking customers, wherever they might be) and more like a bus (serving customers along a set path). …

“Plow drivers needed to improve their efficiency with regular customers along set routes, he determined, while an on-demand system offered a succession of one-time customers. PlowMe is designed to be a route-management tool and a marketplace in which drivers can trade or sell parts of their routes to others.”

My grandchildren know that in Geopolis, a really big snow calls for bringing out the supremely competent, cool, and collected truck called Katy (see Virginia Lee Burton’s classic Katy and the Big Snow), but if you don’t live in Geopolis, other options do exist.

Lots more snowplowing angles here.

012815-snow-plow-in-mass

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Here’s an interesting start-up by a couple of entrepreneurs who love to eat. The two women decided to build a business around helping travelers find truly authentic cooking.

According to Aashi Vel and Steph Lawrence’s website, “Traveling Spoon believes in creating meaningful travel. We are passionate about food, and believe that by connecting people with authentic food experiences in people’s homes around the world we can help facilitate meaningful travel experiences for travelers and hosts worldwide.

“To help you experience local cuisine while traveling, Traveling Spoon offers in-home meals with our hosts. In addition, we also offer in-home cooking classes as well as market tours as an extra add-on to many of the meal experiences. All of our hosts have been vetted to ensure a safe and delightful culinary experience.

“Traveling Spoon currently offers home dining experiences in over 35 cities throughout Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam, and more countries are coming soon!” More here.

I have no doubt that Traveling Spoon is also boosting international understanding. What a good way to use an MBA! Business school is not all about becoming an investment banker, as Suzanne and Erik would tell you.

Photo: Traveling Spoon
Traveling Spoon founders Aashi Vel and Steph Lawrence met at the Haas School of Business.

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The Mass Challenge Awards Ceremony takes place tomorrow night at the Boston Convention Center. Erik is one of the 26 entrepreneurs who are finalists in the Class of 2012. He first read about Mass Challenge on this very blog the day before the deadline for applying!

The whole family is excited that Erik has done so well. Suzanne and John (both entrepreneurs) will be sitting at his table at the big event. Erik’s mother, lately arrived from Sweden, will be strolling the baby around South Boston with a little help from yours truly.

The Awards Ceremony includes Governor Deval Patrick. Orlando Jones will moderate. And I am a particular fan of speaker Gerald Chertavian.

A native of Lowell, Chertavian so appreciated the mentoring he received in high school that he served as a Big Brother in college and for years after. Having sold his own entrepreneurial company, he decided to give back by building an organization to give young low-income but motivated people a paid year to prepare for the workforce through internships and training.

For more on the unique approach of Chertavian’s nonprofit YearUp, now in many U.S. cities, look here.

YearUp photograph of Gerald Chertavian

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Fun time at Mass Challenge!​

Mass Challenge is an incubator “accelerator” for entrepreneurial companies, perhaps the biggest worldwide. I’ve blogged about it before.

Of the 125 finalists in this year’s challenge, 48 gave one-minute pitches last night to an audience of about 200 friends, family, and investors at 1 Marina Park on the Boston waterfront.

Besides being entertaining, it was inspiring. So many people working hard on so many great ideas!

A couple noteworthy presentations were from MIT people. Helmet_Hub tapped the skills of MIT materials science students to create a helmet-vending machine. They have already partnered with the City of Boston’s Hubway, which lends bikes point to point. Another MIT-based organization, Global Research Innovation & Technology (GRIT), uses bicycle parts to make inexpensive wheelchairs for Third World patients. Very impressive. (More on GRIT here.)

I also wrote down that soundfest has a better kind of hearing aid. Prime Student Loan screens students so banks can make a safe loan even if graduates have no FICO score.

Wanderu was one of the few female-run companies. It does for ground travel what kayak and others do for air. Zoomtilt creates ads that are said to be so funny and entertaining, people actually want to watch them. Guided Surgery Solutions helps oral surgeons drill into the right place.

Roameo helps you find out what’s going on near where you are right now. Newartlove helps artists sell their work. Social Made Simple helps small businesses with social networking. (Check it out, Luna & Stella.) CellanyxDiagnostics has a more precise test for prostate cancer than the PSA.

I will likely follow up on a worthy-cause business called Bootstrap Compost. They teach you to compost, give you the bucket, pick it up, deliver it to farms, and give leftover compost to schools. You can have some, too. Bootstrap is very low-tech, doing most travel on bikes. It is proud of keeping tons of food scraps out of landfills.

I was also impressed at the Mass Challenge diversity — men, women (OK, not many women), old, young, scientists, artists, business types, different races, different nationalities, humorous, solemn.

No need to worry about the economy long term. Not with the joy of invention alive and well.

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Meet Matthew Slipper, “just 18, a founding member of the Paly Entrepreneurs Club, an extracurricular group at [a Palo Alto] high school that sprang into existence last September — the brainchild of about a dozen students committed to inventing the future. …

“While budding moguls in high school clubs like the Future Business Leaders of America invest make-believe money in the stock market or study the principles of accounting, the Entrepreneurs Club members have a distinctly Silicon Valley flavor: they want to create start-ups,” writes Quentin Hardy in the NY Times.

“They have met weekly during the school year to discuss their ventures and ideas, explore matters like money-raising strategies and new markets, and host guest speakers. Once, they held a Skype chat with a software engineer in Sweden who described the intricacies of running an online music business.” More here.

The kids sound incredibly intense, glad to have more time for business when they get their gym requirement out of the way.

I envision this generation’s counterculture emerging — probably in California, probably soon. With three entrepreneurs in my family, I know starting a business takes a lot of time and energy. Can’t help wondering if high school is too early. Focus is not bad, but by definition it means shutting other things out.

Photograph of Paly Entrepreneurs Club: Peter DaSilva for the NY Times

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John pointed me to an article on the kinds of work environments that encourage innovation.

Aimee Groth at Business Insider writes, “In his article, Groupthink, the New Yorker‘s Jonah Lehrer says there are two types of brainstorming — a free-for-all exchange of ideas in a structured environment, and a random, unplanned debate. Only the second type really works.

“He says M.I.T.’s famous Building 20 … became one of the most innovative spaces in the country because it fostered the best kind of brainstorming.

“The building was created to provide extra room for scientists during WW II, reports Lehrer, and ‘violated the Cambridge fire code, but it was granted an exemption because of its temporary status. … The walls were thin, the roof leaked, and the building was broiling in the summer and freezing in the winter. Nevertheless Building 20 quickly became a center of groundbreaking research, the Los Alamos of the East Coast.’

“It wasn’t demolished after the war because there were too many students and too little space on campus. So the building became a hodgepodge of offices, with professors and students from all different departments squeezed in small spaces and long corridors. …

” ‘Walls were torn down without permission; equipment was stored in the courtyards and bolted to the roof. … The space also forced solitary scientists to mix and mingle.’ ”

More.

Makes me think of the layout at Mass Challenge, the accelerator incubator for entrepreneurs that I blogged about here. (Did I mention that a family member read that post, sent in an application under the wire, powered through layers of screening, and is now working away as part of the class of 2012?)

The Mass Challenge space is not dangerous like Building 20, but the founders probably heard about the benefits of Building 20’s layout through their connection to MIT. The Mass Challenge work space is an unfinished floor in an upscale office building on the waterfront, 1 Marina Park. Everything is open and interactive.

The harbor views are a bonus unknown at Building 20.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Here’s another nice lead from the Christian Science Monitor, which highlights a cool story by Rachel Signer of Dowser.org (a media organization that reports on social innovation).

The article is about Ethikus, which “provides vouchers for small businesses whose practices embody principles of sustainability.”

Writes Signer, “From May 3-10, hundreds of New Yorkers will participate in the first Shop Your Values Week, a project of the New York City-based startup Ethikus. The aim of Ethikus is to generate more business for small enterprises whose practices embody certain principles of sustainability in the realms of product-sourcing, employee relations, community engagement, and environmental impact or mitigation efforts. By looking at those four criteria, Ethikus identifies businesses they want to invite into their network, which functions as a sort of ethics-focused Groupon by providing consumers with vouchers to use in those businesses.” Read more.

Even though small businesses have all they can do to keep their heads above water right now, I think this idea has legs. Should be a great way for those already incorporating the Ethikus ideals to get visibility with the customers they want to reach. I’m spreading the word.

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Connecticut seems to be doing quite a lot for entrepreneurs — even rather young ones. So thanks to an annual competition for young inventors in the state, Mallory Kievman is getting her hiccup-suppressing lollipop patented and marketed by experts.

Writing for the NY Times, Jessica Bruder quotes one of Mallory’s benefactors.

“ ‘It’s very rare, when you’re evaluating businesses, that you can envision a company or product being around 100 years from now,’ said Danny Briere, a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Startup Connecticut, which nurtures new companies, including Hiccupops, and is a regional affiliate of the Startup America Partnership. ‘Hiccupops is one of those things. It solves a very simple, basic need.’

“Mallory met Mr. Briere last spring at the Connecticut Invention Convention, an annual competition for kids. ‘I went there, and I knew it would either be a hit or a miss project,’ she said. ‘People would either like it, or they would think I was crazy.’ ” Read more.

I love reading about simple but valuable solutions to everyday challenges. Think paper clip. Think Post-it note. It takes a special kind of imagination. Nowadays, given the valuation of apps, you would think solving everyday challenges was too uncool for the inventive mind. But Hiccupops will likely bring Mallory checks in the mail long after Instagram is forgotten.

Photograph: Andrew Sullivan for the NY Times

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I took a tour of Mass Challenge today, an accelerator incubator program. And what is an accelerator incubator program? you ask. An incubator helps small businesses get launched and grow. An accelerator helps them get launched and grow really fast.

The program I visited may be the biggest anywhere. It has a whole floor of a gorgeous new building overlooking Boston Harbor, which the landlord has provided rent-free at least until 2014. It has zillions of sponsors and supporters, including the mayor and the governor, who don’t always see eye to eye on other matters.

Enter by tomorrow to be in the running for this year’s program and the top prize. Every entrant, whether chosen for the program or not, gets three to five professional reviews. You can enter from anywhere in the world. Caveats: there is an entry fee of $200, and your startup has to have made less than $1 million so far. Click here to enter.

From the website: “MassChallenge is the largest-ever startup accelerator and competition, and the first to support high-impact, early-stage entrepreneurs with no strings attached. Benefits for startups include:

* 3 month accelerator program. World-class mentorship and training, free office space, access to funding, media and more.
* $1M in Cash Awards. $4M+ in-kind support.
* Open to all. Any startup can enter, from anywhere, in any industry.
* No equity taken. No restrictions applied.”

And while we’re on the subject of small business, I also saw a great presentation about a new City of Boston website that walks people through all the things they need to do to get a business started in Boston. A wonderful, user-friendly site.

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