Tag Archives: MIT

Athletes Boost Potential With Humon

Why is it that people know more about their cars than their own bodies? Baffled by this notion, MIT graduates Alessandro Babini and Daniel Wiese founded Humon, a Boston-based tech startup that empowers athletes and civilians with the body information they need to be their better selves.

Babini, Humon’s co-founder, grew up in France and completed his undergraduate studies in the United Kingdom before moving to Boston. Babini graduated from MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 2015 where he met Wiese. The two founded Humon in 2015, while Babini finished business school and Wiese completed his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering.

The company’s name—Humon—comes from an amalgamation of the words “Human Monitor”, and points toward the company’s original direction. Instead of a wearable-tech or fitness startup, Babini and Wiese first bonded over the idea that technology and biology could intersect to help people understand more about their bodies.

“We had no idea where to start, but knew we wanted to create something that could monitor the way the body behaves,” Babini said.

Babini oversees the business side of the startup, and works to keep his team moving forward. Some of his duties include fundraising, marketing, and business development. Wiese handles the technological side, developing innovative software platforms and algorithms for Humon products. Together, the two have created a startup attracting attention and recognition from leaders in the fitness industry.



Boston was the ideal setting for Babini and Wiese to get their startup off the ground. The two leveraged the resources provided by their graduate studies at MIT, and utilized the powerful tech network present in the city. Babini explained that Boston is a great environment for biotech and hardware startups.

“The mentality we have is that we will go wherever to make our company successful,” Babini said. “Today, we think that Boston is where we can make the most progress.”

Last year, Humon began shipping a prototype device to users called the Humon Beta. The device, a small, black hexagonal sensor, was attached to a thin strap securing the device to the user’s leg. Babini and his team then listened to user feedback to build better features that would fit into users’ habits, and help them best train on a daily basis.

Babini explained that he did not just want to sit in a room with his team and decide what athletes needed. It was important to ship devices to customers and get their honest reactions. While the criticisms were harsh at times, Babini was always focused on perfecting the product.

With the prototype, Babini learned that athletes did not have regular access to the high level of information they needed to enhance their training. These athletes only had access to heart rate monitors, which report data that is essentially useless on its own. The data collected and the feedback received from the Humon Beta paved the way for the startup’s flagship device, the Humon Hex.



“We experimented with market research by talking to athletes to understand what their problems were and built a solution for them and with them,” Babini said.

The Humon Hex device measures the way muscles use oxygen. Much like the prototype, the device is comfortably strapped around the quad muscle, and has a battery life of 12 hours. Based on the way the quad muscle uses oxygen during the workout, the user receives a real time insight that allows them to optimize his or her training.

The Humon Hex advises users on how far they can push themselves without exceeding their limits during a workout. The device helps athletes warm up and recover, while giving reliable feedback through a phone or smartwatch. The sensors in the Human Hex seamlessly integrate with the software platform that provides feedback for continuous improvement.

The device gives users information that they can immediately incorporate into their routines. With this insight, Babini suggests that users can make decisions that enable them perform at their best, and be more happy and healthy.

For now, Humon’s main focus is on helping athletes learn faster and train better. This summer, the Humon Hex will begin shipping the device to athletes all around the country.  Babini hopes to help entire teams reach their full potential using the Humon Hex device in the coming months.

“The Humon Hex will give users access to unparalleled information that will help the body work at its best,” Babini said.

Featured Image Courtesy of Humon

MIT Seeks to Drive Innovative Startups With The Engine

Massachusetts Institute of Technology President L. Rafael Reif has announced the launch of The Engine, the university’s new startup accelerator project. The enterprise seeks to provide Boston-area entrepreneurs with the resources to get their startups off the ground. The venture was created specifically to support companies working to improve society through innovative ideas in the fields of science and technology.

The Engine will connect budding companies with investors and advisors, supplying the capital and expertise necessary to take ideas out of the lab and into the market. It has set out to raise $150 million for its initial fund, with $25 million being supplied directly by MIT, and the rest coming from larger venture capital investors. The accelerator hopes to form connections between entrepreneurs and established companies in order to create a network of innovation.

Affordable office and workspace can be hard to come by in Boston. Startups participating in The Engine will have access to 26,000 square feet of space at its headquarters in Cambridge, with plans to add an additional 200,000 or more in Kendall Square and its surrounding neighborhoods currently in the works. Additionally, participants will utilize MIT’s many lab and equipment rooms for research and the development of physical products.

“The Engine will support tough-tech firms working on big societal problems, by providing a distinctive package of resources: Patient capital, affordable local space, access to highly-specialized equipment, streamlined legal and business services, and expertise, from prototype to scale-up,” Reif said at the launch announcement. “The Engine will also connect them with a network of MIT alumni, like-minded entrepreneurs, and major corporations in other innovation nodes near and far.”

The Engine is modeled around supporting and accelerating two specific stages of startup development: the transitional outset of an idea becoming a commercial product, and the later phase of introducing developed prototypes to the market.

The enterprise hopes to support up to 60 participants at one time, with each startup remaining in The Engine for a period of up to a year.

The Engine is unique in that its selection process will seek companies looking to transform society in the long term, rather than provide large returns on short-term investments.

“What truly sets The Engine apart is the emphasis on impact: In assessing candidate companies, it will prioritize breakthrough-answers-to-big-problems over early-profit,” Reif said.

The Shea Center for Entrepreneurship at Boston College sponsors its own startup accelerator program called [email protected], which provides students from all four schools at BC with the resources to develop their ideas and connects aspiring student entrepreneurs with accomplished alumni. In addition, the Shea Center sponsors weekly workshops and a Lunch with an Entrepreneur series, both of which give students access to experienced professionals.

“The idea is to help students go from an idea to something that is closer to a commercializable entity by providing a systematic set of steps and helping them with everything from understanding customers better, to what types of experimentation make the most sense,” Mary Tripsas, the director of the Shea Center, said. “The second thing is to have experienced entrepreneurs help students through mentoring, of which part of the mentoring is getting access to a network of people who can help you as you continue your endeavor.”

One of the final goals of accelerators like The Engine and [email protected] is to produce companies that can succeed locally, contributing and attracting investment to the Boston economy.

“If you look more generally at what role entrepreneurship plays in promoting both local and broader regional economies, it contributes a ton,” Tripsas said. “There are so many universities around Boston, and what Massachusetts would love to see is those students who have entrepreneurial ideas coming out of all those local universities stay in Boston.”

In the past, the disparity of available assets like startup capital in Boston has caused many innovators to seek to grow their companies elsewhere. As the city’s startup and technological scene looks to expand, MIT believes that institutions like The Engine can help retain local talent by providing an alternative to the abundant resources available in rival tech-oriented regions such as Silicon Valley.

Reif believes that many entrepreneurs can never find sufficient support, which discourages both them and others from trying, a phenomenon that leaves them stranded in the lab. This was one of the things they identified when creating a new environment for entrepreneurs at the university.

“In effect, we keep seeing that, in fields like energy, manufacturing, robotics, biotech, and medical devices, innovators are finding it extremely difficult to secure the stable funding, space, equipment, expertise and networks to fully develop their technologies,” he said.

MIT Startup Alfie Aims to Ease Student Debt Burden

Student debt has been a hot-button topic recently, ranging from the recent presidential primaries to the legislation proposed by the Obama administration. While governmental processes are vital, the private sector also has a growing interest in helping students. One financial tech startup, Alfie, is working to popularize a financial product called an Income Share Agreement (ISA) via its model, which involves strong analytics and huge brainpower.

Alfie is the brainchild of Dutch entrepreneur Pepijn van Kesteren. The company’s name stands for Alternative Finance in Education, and it works to help make university loans more manageable for a wide array of students.

ISA is essentially a program through which a student receives money up front to pay for school and commits to a fixed period post-graduation during which they pay a fixed percentage of their income back to whoever loaned them the money. This starkly opposes the traditional model, in which a student receives a principal amount of money and pays interest on it indefinitely until it is paid off. ISAs offer flexibility to graduates. These ISAs are then put into diversified holdings that allow investors to mitigate risk.

Van Kesteren studied at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, while also spending time at the University of Florida.

“I didn’t have to pay for my college in Florida, but I did see the receipts,” Van Kesteren said.

Since education is subsidized in the Netherlands, these high prices seemed unreasonable for van Kesteren. This is how  he first got the inspiration to figure out a way for American students to be able to pay for their education in a reasonable way.

“Well, isn’t education supposed to be an investment in yourself and also an investment for the country?” he said.

He did not act immediately. He got his master’s and eventually wound up at McKinsey & Company, where he stayed for two and a half years. Once he landed at MIT’s Sloan School of Management for his MBA, van Kesteren got Alfie off the ground. He got a team together of his peers and worked with his contacts from both McKinsey and MIT to figure out a way to solve this new problem.

The current core team has changed quite a bit since the company’s inception, as van Kesteren realized he had to diversify the skill set within the group to generate the most value possible. David Kafafian, van Kesteren’s co-founder, has a strong legal background, which was vital in navigating Securities and Exchange Commission regulations and laws around student loans.

As it has matured, Alfie has focused on its strong analytics to figure out how to bundle students in the most risk-mitigating way possible.

“Through analytics we can know someone’s income profile better than they know themselves,” Van Kesteren said.

It may seem that Alfie is incredibly particular in its selection of students eligible for its ISAs, but it it turns out that students who have better financing opportunities or are expecting to make enough to quickly pay off loans are generally not interested in ISAs, as they can wind up paying more than their principal back.

“We don’t just look at students from top-tier business schools. … we believe that creating a more diverse portfolio will allow us to hedge against individual risk,” he said. “A product that gives you this freedom and flexibility and risk protection is extremely interesting, and it is for a population that is completely underserved by the student debt market.”

As for the future of Alfie, it is currently mostly funded by seed funding and entrepreneurial competitions. The company is working with interested angel investors but wants to wait until it has more traction to accept significant investments. Van Kesteren has given some thought to the future as far as capital structure, and he notes that the ideal situation would be for Alfie to grow enough to have an IPO. He is not opposed to working with other companies in the sector and developing a stronger and larger model. However, just this semester, Purdue University began work collaborating with a company called Vemo Education to make ISAs available to students.

Van Kesteren feels that this model has a future in being offered by universities to their students as a funding option for their educations and could become a large scale implementation. He points to the possibility of unlocking the human potential in students, a potential that is often shackled by loan debt, as the reason for his and his team’s work.

Over the last 25 years, the median student debt per student has more than tripled, but the median income from graduates grew by less than 2 percent Van Kesteren said. To him, this is creating enormous pressure on graduates, as they are forced into careers that allow them to pay their debt, and no longer have the freedom and flexibility to pursue a career of passion and impact.

He wants the Alfie ISA to give students that flexibility again, and to unlock the innovative potential that’s available in them.

MIT Professor Talks M-Pesa Mobile Money Service in Africa

As smartphones become more prevalent in the United States, countries in Africa may finally be catching up with the use of mobile technology, according to Tavneet Suri, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

Suri, who was named one of the world’s 40 best professors under 40, gave a talk titled “Technology and Poverty Alleviation” on Thursday evening in Fulton 511. The event was sponsored by the Shea Center for Entrepreneurship and the Tech Trek Ghana program.

Suri discussed the rising popularity of mobile devices that support the money-transfer service M-Pesa, which she studied in 2009. M-Pesa primarily functions on old, secondhand Nokia phones, she said.

“You know, the ones where you have to press a number three times to type the letter ‘C,’” Suri said.

M-Pesa has become quite popular in Kenya in the last few years, she said. Suri herself is a fourth-generation Kenyan and studies the impact of technology in developing countries in Africa.

She stressed the importance of finance in poor countries when it comes to credit, saving, and insurance. M-Pesa has created an easier system by which poorer Kenyans can manage their money.

Through the Nokia phones, M-Pesa allows people to transfer e-money between each other via text message. The virtual money is backed up by real money in a bank account not owned by the user. This is a great service for people who do not want to manage a personal bank account because the bank is too great a distance from their home, Suri said.

Users withdraw cash by selling the e-money, or deposit cash and receive e-money through M-Pesa agents. The agents are usually small-business owners or microfinance institutions, and they receive small commissions when managing transactions.

According to Suri, 96 percent of households where M-Pesa was available had an M-Pesa account by 2014 in Kenya.

“I decided to study how this affected people’s’ lives,” she said.

Mobile money has created a safer and cheaper financial intermediation process, Suri said. Before M-Pesa was popular, many people would have to travel for miles to reach a bank. To avoid this journey, people would give their cash to someone in a van who would drive it to the bank and deposit it for them. This was a risky process, however, as drivers could steal money for themselves or be robbed at gunpoint. For years, she said, people did not feel safe with their finances.

“M-Pesa lowered transaction costs dramatically,” she said.

M-Pesa has also helped Kenyans create local businesses and take other financial risks by allowing for the creation of comprehensible insurance plans, Suri said. Users can make insurance plans that allow family members or friends to assume liability for the user. Often, family and friends will insure each other through their M-Pesa accounts.

The process of linking insurance plans with trusted family and friends, Suri said, has created a more entrepreneurial spirit. People are now more likely to use their money to create their own businesses and help grow GDP, as failure has become less risky. Suri has noticed a shift of a population of poor farmers to local businessmen driven by the economic incentive of profit.

She was surprised when she discovered that unfortunate events lead M-Pesa users to increase consumption. For example, if a disease is spreading around a village, M-Pesa users will spend their money to purchase medicine, thus increasing consumption.

People who do not use M-Pesa tend to save money for future food purchases to combat an expected decline in health. Users, however, are willing to take the financial risk and purchase medication, stopping the contraction of the disease early on.

Looking toward the future, Suri believes that e-payments will reduce corruption between the government and private businesses.

“Mobile money has really improved financial resilience,” Suri said.

Featured Image by Jordan Pentaleri / Heights Senior Staff

Cambridge Startup ‘ChefCharger’ Develops Charging Coaster For Your Phone

In an increasingly mobile society, having a dead battery can put your day on hold.

Lana Ibragimova wanted to change this and help people maintain their productivity on the go. Ibragimova is the CEO of the startup ChefCharger, which makes it possible for people to maintain their mobile phone access while they are away from home. Most bars do not offer plugs for customers, and ChefCharger allows bar-goers to create their own.

“People were asking about charging their phones 20 times per day at minimum,” Ibragimova said, referring to the complaints she constantly heard while working in the restaurant industry. “I started thinking that this would be a great opportunity.”

The main function of the products offered by ChefCharger is to provide a battery source at the table in bars and restaurants without inconveniencing other patrons or putting a person’s phone at risk charging at an unguarded outlet. The startup makes products that appear nearly identical to tabletop items in restaurants and bars, but include built-in USB ports and charging cables.

Ibragimova got the idea just prior to coming to the United States from Russia to attend the MIT Sloan School of Management, and was immediately ready to put her plan into action. At MIT, she found Alec Smetannikov who would become her partner. He quickly became a huge asset to ChefCharger, as Smetannikov focused more on the prototyping side of the business.

Smetannikov’s affinity for programming is essential to ChefCharger’s success, especially since a startup can have a hard time finding the capital to invest in good prototypes without contracting out the majority of the process.

“We used a few developers, of course it was just a span of two weeks, three weeks participation—something like that because it is a startup and if you know the nature of startups, it’s all about keeping costs low,” Ibragimova said.

ChefCharger has been working hard to avoid the cold feel of the technology in its products.

“No one wants to see blinking electronics on the table, but everyone likes to see our designs,” Ibragimova said.

She has worked with some professional designers to perfect the products offered. Currently the company’s website has three main product types: the candle holder, the salt & pepper holder, and the drink coaster, all of which allow patrons to surreptitiously charge their phones at the table. ChefCharger is also willing to customize products for different venues which fits with the company’s philosophy of truly integrating technological features rather than creating an intrusive influence.

Ibragimova believes in the depth of her products. “I would say that ChefCharger is something like art meets technology,” she said. Ibragimova wants to focus on the aesthetic beauty, which she tries to instill in each new design, working to create a product that is not merely focused on functionality but also contributes to the atmosphere of the dining establishment.

“I would definitely say that ChefCharger is unique because of all the designs and all the design solutions which are totally integrated in a restaurant environment,” Ibragimova said. “I think that’s our biggest thing and the biggest achievement is that all the devices are really indistinguishable from conventional tableware.”

Ibragimova feels that when people duck into a restaurant or a bar for a quick rest after a long day, they should not be burdened with worrying about their phone batteries. She recognizes that people rely on their phones to such a high degree, that this is just the next step for facilitating a mobile lifestyle.

ChefCharger is currently piloting its devices in various restaurants and bars in New York. For Bostonians, the company is currently working out terms in a confidential deal with a popular chain restaurant and hopes to be implementing its products in December. The service is intended to be totally free for patrons with costs for restaurants just being the initial purchasing price for the product.

“It’s like a glass of water—it’s your right to have your phone charged so it should be expected in every venue,” Ibragimova said.

ChefCharger is currently pursuing a few patents for new designs and ideas that will expand the functionality of its products beyond just battery life. Looking forward, Ibragimova has big plans for her chargers to be on tabletops everywhere.

“It’s not just a power bank,” she said. “It’s not just a battery. It’s integrated solutions for restaurants.”

Featured Image Courtesy of ChefCharger

 

 

Not Easy Being Green: MIT Student Sets Out To Track Green Line With App

With 87,420 average weekday entries to the Green Line alone, hundreds of thousands of Boston’s commuters, residents, and students rely on timely MBTA service every day. As the T has seen an incredible number of delays and cancellations in the wake of Boston’s winter storms, MIT senior Alex Grinman hopes his new app will help Bostonians navigate the seemingly unreliable system.

Grinman’s app, Greenline, provides real-time tracking of all MBTA Green Line trains. The app utilizes GPS tracking features to tell users exactly how far a train is from his or her current location, which will allow passengers to manage their schedules with delays.

Grinman, a computer science and math major at MIT, created his first build for Greenline in early January. Greenline is Grinman’s latest creation, but it is not the only software he has worked on, as he interned at tech giants Microsoft and KAYAK over the past five years. In addition to his professional experience, Grinman credits time with Blade LLC., a startup incubator in Boston’s Fort Point section, and his high school curriculum for his expertise in computer science. Currently, Grinman has constructed three functioning apps—all of which are featured on the MBTA’s Rider Tools website—that he developed during his time at nearby Brookline High School.

Greenline pulls location data from the MBTA website and determines the train’s longitude and latitude to figure out the train’s exact location. Each MBTA train has a GPS device implemented within its cars, and broadcasts the data to the MBTA’s servers. Greenline features a polished and easy user-interface in which passengers can see both inbound and outbound green line trains as well as the stations on the route. Grinman hopes to add an estimated time of arrival feature to the app in the future, but does cite its difficulties. “Currently the MBTA provides ETAs, however it’s pretty unreliable due to stoplights and weather factors,” he said.

Similar to location features on other apps and social media, like Snapchat and Facebook, Greenline features the ability to share a train with other users. The software utilizes Twitter or a link to share location among users, allowing others to see the time, location, and specific train that is being ridden on.

This GPS tracking is extremely reliable above ground. Once the trains enters into the Green Line’s below-ground stations, the MBTA no longer provides its location. Although much of the outbound stations are above ground, the majority of Green Line passengers get on at the inner city’s below ground stations, making this information disparity especially problematic, according to the MBTA. Grinman is confident that this information gap will be overcome and the MBTA will release this information in the future when it installs Automatic Vehicle Identifiers (AVIs) in tunnels, to benefit riders who use the app. These AVIs are expected to be installed by the end of the winter.

Through Greenline, users are provided real-time locations for all train stations and cars on the Green Line. In addition, users can view the entire route path with all the stops on the map as well as have the ability to save stops that they desire as favorites. The app also has an option for users to receive official MBTA service alerts.

With the Green Line averaging over 230,000 riders a day, Grinman believes that his new app will be extremely beneficial to college students as well as those that work in the city who frequent the Green Line.

“If you just look out your window in the city you see people standing waiting for the train, my hope is to have people wait inside and track using the app and can walk outside and hop on the train,” he said.

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This past week, due to record snowfall, the Green Line experienced a slew of cancellations and delays that left riders stranded in the cold and waiting for shuttle buses. Grinman created Greenline because of problems similar to this—he felt that there was a specific need to provide MBTA information to riders and felt that the Green Line schedule was unreliable compared to others.

“Schedules are kind of useless because the trains don’t follow them,” Grinman said. “The red, orange, and blue lines don’t have as much uncertainty, but with the Green Line it’s another story.”

Previously Green Line tracking data was not available to developers, but the MBTA decided to release the real-time information this past October. Greenline uses this information to feature service alerts for the MBTA green line through Twitter.

“Currently Greenline is passing updates through Twitter, as I feel it’s the quickest way to get information that users depend on,” Grinman said.

Although there still remain a few minor quirks to resolve, Grinman hopes to launch Greenline on the iOS app store in the near future.

Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Graphic

Sales And Business Development Club Emphasizes Real-world Experience

Among the list of careers that Boston College students pursue after graduation, sales and business fall at number two. Sales, however, is emphasized so little, and even given a negative connotation in the BC community.

Chris Alto, president of the Sales and Business Development Club, and John Ippolito, vice president—both A&S ’15—recognized this discrepancy and have set out to debunk what they call the “used car salesman” stereotype.

By providing hands-on opportunities and educating students on the importance of sales in everyday life, the Sales and Business Development Club hopes to make a lasting impact on the landscape of BC’s community.

Alto and Ippolito agree that the club’s first goal is to shatter the negative implications that university students harbor when it comes to sales.
“Sales needs to stop being associated with used car salesmen—we want BC students to see that those involved in sales are the revenue drivers, the people that bring in business,” Ippolito said. “In any field, sales is the glue that keeps everything together. It is an integral part of any career choice. The moment you walk into a job interview, you are selling yourself.”

The second goal of the club is to provide real-life opportunities for students to perfect their business techniques. After speaking with John Falvey, a professor in the marketing department—the only professor to teach a sales course—Alto and Ippolito realized that sales is not something that students can learn in a classroom.

They have catered club events and activities to support this notion. Experience that simulates that of the real world is the only way to help students succeed in the realm of sales.

The Sales and Business Development Club has already partnered with GE Healthcare and IBM to assist in educating students on the importance of sales in the general economy. The club hopes to host events in which distinguished speakers from these companies as well as BC alumni converse with students about current issues in sales.

Throughout November and December, the Sales and Business Development Club will be hosting various panels in which students are encouraged to ask questions and interact with speakers.

“One of the most important aspects of sales is learning how to ask the right questions,” Ippolito said. “We really want our members to dictate how these conversations will go. The panel-structured events are meant to be really interactive.”

In addition, the club has recently been invited to participate in a worldwide sales competition hosted by MIT Sloan. For the first time in the history of BC, the Sales and Development Club has been invited to work with Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan to bring panelists into the competition.

The first MIT Sloan’s Worldwide Sales Competition conference for the competition that BC students are invited to is Nov. 15 from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the MIT Sloan School of Management. The two panels that will be featured are: “Sales, Marketing, and Business Development: How are they different and how do they work together?” and “Sales and Biz Dev in Start-Ups.”

After having a successful kick-off meeting on Oct. 29 and an abundance of interest on the listserv, the club is now trying to weed out disinterested members and form a strong leadership team and core of general members. Because it is a newly founded club, Alto and Ippolito are eager to fill leadership roles right away.

“With sales, you get what you put into it,” Ippolito said. “Your salary depends on how hard you work, and likewise our most active members will benefit the most from their participation in the club’s various events.”

The Sales and Business Development Club has a mission to bring respect to and bolster interest in the sales and business fields at BC. Even for those not interested in careers in sales, the club encourages involvement for all undergraduates.

“Sales is a really professional career where you can make money, but even for those who don’t want to be in sales, it is a fundamental skill that anyone can use,” Alto said. “Whether you’re pitching somebody an idea within an organization or trying to get a good candidate on your team, sales is the underlying factor.”

Featured Image by freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/1720

With New Fund Supporting BC, Startups Aren’t Just MIT’s Game

Less than 100 years ago, the Valley of Heart’s Delight was home to over eight million fruit trees, 18 fruit factories, and 13 dried-fruit packing houses, according to The Boston Globe. The area was nationally famous for its high supply of orchards, flowering trees, and plants. Until the 1960s, it was the largest fruit production and packaging region in the world.

On the other side of the country in Cambridge, a place once dubbed “Nowhere Square” was a former salt marsh that had become known for its production of fire hoses and bicycle tires.

Today, the scene of the two areas is a little bit different.

The Valley of Heart’s Delight has been renamed Silicon Valley, and now boasts the largest population of technology companies in the world. Nowhere Square is now Kendall Square, one of the most sought-after tech centers in the world—a global mecca for science and technology.

In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy headed a movement to bring NASA headquarters to Kendall Square, and used his leverage to obtain 29 acres of land for NASA’s Electronics Research Center. Although Nixon put a stop to the project, the technology boom began and more and more companies moved into Boston for the fist time. Today, over 500 startups call Kendall Square home.

Why should we care about the history of Kendall Square or Silicon Valley?

These locations are two of the largest startup breeding hubs in the world—with companies like Facebook, Dropbox, and ZipCar tracing their roots back to Boston.

The factors that caused Silicon Valley and Kendall Square to expand into two leading tech centers were in large part due to the success of its world-class educationional facilities—Stanford, MIT, and Harvard, in particular—as well as the high population of venture capital firms. Together, Boston’s research universities bring in $1.5 billion in research grants and contracts each year, and a large portion of that funding is given to technology and ideas that create future startups in the city, according to the BBC.

Although the startup circle has traditionally focused around Harvard and MIT, Boston College is now gaining more attention from the tech community.

Early stage ventures with ties to BC are now receiving a new form of funding that has put the University in competition with the top players.

According to BostInno, Launch Angels launched the Maroon & Gold Fund last Tuesday to support startups born at BC. The firm will utilize the University’s network, along with the fund’s Advisory Investment Committee, which is comprised of BC alumni, in order to source deals.

BC alumnus Kevin Cook, BC ’04, is responsible for heading the Advisory Investment Committee. The Fund will offer mentoring, investment support, and funding of one to two million dollars that will be allocated to about 10 to 15 companies with BC roots.

“There has been a really impressive number of startups coming out of BC in the last year alone,” Cook said in a statement according to BostInno. “As BC’s subculture of entrepreneurship continues to thrive, the Maroon & Gold Fund is a logical next step in helping connect these budding entrepreneurs to funding and advisors.”

Earlier this past year, another group of BC alumni founded the Soaring Startup Circle, a summer program designed to accelerate student-led startups. These BC companies, such as Jebbit and Vsnap, received funding and the ability to work in offices of Boston companies with similar paths from universities.

The Maroon & Gold Fund and the Soaring Startup Circle are not sanctioned by BC; however, both organizations recognize the readiness of the University’s alumni to establish a prominent entrepreneurial community in the city.

As the startup market in Boston hits another peak, the emergence of BC in the mix is something that major players like Harvard and MIT cannot ignore.

Featured Image by Daniel Lee / Heights Senior Staff

MIT Museum Displays Student Inventions

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum is featuring several student inventions in an exhibition called Inventions: 2014 Student Showcase. Among the inventions displayed are a robotic arm and a device that allows one to grow plants in a soil-free environment with the touch of a smart phone. These original inventions and nine others have been on display and open to the public since May 30.

The featured projects and prototypes are the work of both undergraduate and graduate students at MIT, who developed their respective inventions for a variety of reasons—to learn, explore, play, communicate, create a product, and improve the world. Alexander Goldowsky, the director of exhibitions at the MIT Museum, explained how the Museum works with students through a variety of programs and classes, and the exhibit grew out of this relationship.

“We wanted to let our visitors see some of the amazing work that students produce, as part of classes, clubs, or just personal projects,” Goldowsky said.

Preparations for the showcase began with a campus-wide call for submissions, with students submitting their concepts to various MIT departments and labs—including the MIT Media Lab, the School of Architecture and Planning, and the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics—which then chose the submissions that best reflected MIT’s values of creativity, ingenuity, and practical problem solving.

Many of the showcase pieces involve audience interaction, making the process a learning experience not only for the students but also for the museum staff who were involved in the setup. Goldowsky noted that there is a difference between designing and arranging an invention for one user versus for an exhibition with 100,000 museum visitors. “I love the sounds [the exhibition] produces, a mix of several of the musical works and the sounds of visitors,” Goldowsky said.

Susan Timberlake, assistant exhibit developer and project manager at MIT Museum, described her role within the process as interviewing each student whose work was accepted into the exhibit to learn about his or her process of design and invention. These stories are told in the exhibit label text to give visitors a feel for who the students are. “We hope to communicate that MIT students learn not just through their classroom experiences, but also through a variety of creative and real-world projects,” Timberlake said. Goldowsky added that, while there is no way to capture the incredible diversity of what occurs at MIT, he hopes the showcase “gives a flavor of the energy and creativity of the students.”

Some inventions serve practical purposes, while others are aimed at addressing large-scale issues. For example, seniors in the civil and environmental engineering program invented the MIT Air Quality Network, which is a network of sensors that collects data about air quality around MIT’s campus. MIT student Adam Whiton’s The Zipperbot serves a more practical use by opening and closing zippers using motors and gears. Another visitor favorite   is SproutsIO by Jennifer Broutin, a smartphone-controlled appliance that grows plants without soil, which serving as a micro-farm that encourages eating locally grown food.

Reflecting the musical creativity of MIT students is DrumTop, a creation of doctoral student Akito van Troyer and one of the showcase’s most popular inventions—a visual representation of the intersection of music, science, and technology. Van Troyer works in a group called Opera of the Future in the MIT Media Lab, which focuses on music performance, composition, and expression-related research with the goal of using innovative, cutting-edge technology to engage people in music. Appropriately, van Troyer’s specific research area is “innovating ways to turn anyone into a composer and a performer of music.” By creating musical environments or interfaces that allow people to explore and play with music, van Troyer further experiments with how this act of playing music can then turn the participant into what the talented student deems a “practitioner of music.”

Van Troyer’s dedication to his research goals led him to create DrumTop, what he described as “a tangible musical sequencer that transforms everyday objects into percussive musical instrument.” He explained that the main goals of this invention include creating a simple physical interface that gives voice to everyday objects, affording self-expression for novices, and encouraging these novice musicians to explore the musical potentiality of their surroundings through musical interactions with everyday objects.

In addition to the 11 inventions on display, the showcase also includes seven “kinetic art” sculptures from MIT’s Exhibiting Science class, as well as a talk by MIT Museum Director John Durant. Inventions: 2014 Student Showcase will be on display at the MIT Museum through Dec. 31 at $10 for regular admission.

Goldowsky hopes, above all, that visitors will be inspired by the student work they see. “I hope when you see what can be done by creative students working together or individually, it inspires you to create something of your own,” he said.

Featured Image courtesy of the MIT Museum

A Labor Of Paper Love

Take the square piece of paper, fold it so that one side touches the other, make sure the crease is sharp.

Those were the instructions my elementary school teacher delivered to me as we strove to make paper cranes. Mine turned out looking like a mangled seagull, but I learned the lesson-constructing a paper crane is a small labor of love.

An MIT group, which started an initiative called Cranes for Collier, strives to direct this act of love in the memory of MIT police office Sean Collier, who was 27 when he was shot and killed by the alleged perpetrators of the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Anyone can contribute his or her own paper cranes, and organizers of the initiative hope that the collection of cranes will serve as a large installation in Collier’s memory.

It is difficult for me to think of paper cranes without thinking of Sadako Sasaki, who was 2 years old when the atomic bomb fell upon Hiroshima-radioactive exposure from the bombing caused her to develop a fatal case of leukemia, from which she died in 1955.

But not before leaving behind her legacy. With the help of friends and other patients in the hospital, Sasaki folded over 1,000 paper cranes, wishing for herself to grow healthy as she folded.

Paper cranes-even 1,000 of them-could not keep Sasaki physically alive, but there is a meditative quality to origami that should not be lost on anyone. Sasaki’s victory was not her wish to survive, but it was her insistence upon doing a little, humble, human thing for as long as she could.

Folding was a reminder of what human fingers can do, and the final product was a reminder of human imagination-both the ability to invent a folding pattern to create a paper crane and the ability to picture a creation in flight, though it looks so different from its living namesake.

“What are paper cranes to the dead?” one might ask. Regardless of whether one believes in an afterlife, my answer is the same-paper cranes are not for the dead, but for the living. Continuing to create despite tragedy is our victory over death-it is our reclamation of Sean Collier.

“What honor is there in a paper crane?” one might ask. They are flimsy, small, and the material from which they are made cannot endure forever. But the same is true for people.

Our bones can break, our physical bodies are nothing in comparison to the vastness of the universe, and the flesh that makes up our bodies will one day give way.

A paper crane is an acknowledgment-even a proud announcement-of those inconvenient truths, and there is great strength in that ownership. It is the most fitting of tributes to a man like Sean Collier, as it is a reminder that we are human, but an even firmer reminder that we can create.

In my elementary school classroom, after everyone was done folding his or her paper cranes, I was the only weirdo who decided to unfold mine. To me, the intersecting lines on the small square of paper looked like the crossing paths of flying birds or the interactions of human destinies.

My appreciation of the lines, however, was not my initial reason for unfolding the crane. Instead, I wanted to feel that what was done could be undone, that you could bring something back. This was a comfort to me at the time, but I recognized that this same comfort could not be extended to human life.

When life gives way to death and a human being finally unfolds, there is no way of putting that person back together. There are no instructions for such a thing, because, despite all of our greatest innovations, we have not yet invented a way to craft a soul.

We cannot bring Sean Collier back.

But, in making paper cranes, we can pay homage to his human soul.

Cranes for Collier