Thursday, January 19, 2017

MassTLC/MassDevelopment Advanced Manufacturing Futures Program Grant Status and a Visit to WPI

MassTLCs Advanced Manufacturing Futures Fund Program grant work is well underway.  Our goal:  to help robotics, IoT and hardware start-ups and scale-ups grow and commercialize their products by connecting them with the local manufacturers and supply chain.  These grant funds enable us to help our community by providing the knowledge and resources they need to bring great ideas to great products - Made in Massachusetts. 

We held our first in a series of seminars with rocket pitches from startups - receiving instant advice from a diverse manufacturing panel of experts.  Our second event will be held at MassRobotics in Boston on 25 January from 4:00 – 6:00 pm – register <here>. We are working to host additional events in February and March throughout the state – Springfield on March 2nd and WPI on March 16th.  If you are interested in participating – please contact Joyce at

Thanks to Professor Michael Gennert for a terrific visit to the WPI robotics lab at Gateway Park, Worcester:



Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Primer on Civic Tech Context and Trends

By Annmarie Levins, General Manager, Technology & Civic Engagement, Microsoft

What is Civic Tech? 

“Civic Tech” is the use of technology for the public good, with applications designed to address shared problems and opportunities.  The term encompasses the ecosystem of people and organizations working toward this goal, the collaborative and agile development approaches they embrace, and the tech solutions they produce. 

Civic tech responds to and has been shaped by a variety of other movements and trends:
       ·        Release of open data for transparency, collaboration, and economic impact

·        Increasing demand for citizen engagement and involvement (often mediated by IT)

·        Governments and communities being expected to accomplish more with fewer resources

·        Integration of data and data analytics into society, including smart cities efforts

·        Technology workers and companies’ increasing interest in skills-based volunteering and societal impact

·        Open source tools, approaches, communities, and polices

·        Cities’ aspirations to nurture tech-enabled economic development across sectors

The ecosystem of civic tech is broad, encompassing dedicated new groups but also evolving missions and responsibilities within governments at all levels, civic service organizations, innovation incubators, philanthropies, universities, social entrepreneurs, companies of all sizes, and policy makers.  It is also highly-networked, with people moving often, following projects and into newly created jobs and organizations.  For example, within government, the past 5-10 years have seen an explosion of new positions[1]  e.g., Chief Innovation Officers, Chief Data Officers, Chief Digital Officers, Chief Technology Officers – whose mission often include figuring out and interacting with the local civic tech ecosystem.  

These trends and movements are not limited to the U.S.  Many countries are hungry for these new engagement models.  A key attribute of civic tech, however, is the focus on local priorities and communities.  Thus, how civic tech becomes real in different geographies, including the balance between government and community leadership, will depend greatly on local needs and culture. 

Civic Tech’s Importance to the Tech Industry

Civic tech is a new way of developing and deploying solutions that will infiltrate and shape how customers, partners, and stakeholders expect to interact with and use technology.  It is characterized by:
·        User-centric and agile design and development processes, with an emphasis on inclusivity, and

·        Non-hierarchical models – different groups inspire, develop, validate, operate, maintain/improve, use, and pay for civic tech solutions.

Thus, established tech companies need to think not only about how they can engage with civic tech projects within the civic tech ecosystem, but they also need to consider the broader markets in which civic tech-inspired or enabled products and processes are becoming the established norm.  A 2014 IDC study estimated the annual market for government spending on transformation of citizen services and data sharing and analysis within government at $6.4 billion.[2]   

Many services offered by established tech companies are, or can be, particularly relevant to the civic tech community.  Data analytics and visualization technologies are certainly central, and tools that enable collaboration and connections also resonate with the core inclusive engagement principles of civic tech.  But it is not enough for private companies to have products and services that can further the civic tech mission.  Being relevant to this community requires sustained involvement with civic customers in real time as they are considering how to address real challenges and at the incubation stage as new models of partnership and services are being developed.  Authentic, sustained engagement is critical to participate in the ecosystem over the long term.  There are significant parallels here to open source and its technical, legal, and cultural consequences.  Like open source, products and experiences from civic tech will influence government and business customers, and ultimately inform their tech-related processes and choices. 

For government, the experimentation with civic tech is occurring now.  Examples include government-led offices like US Digital Service and 18F and UK Government Digital Services at the national level, and collaborative efforts like the work of New Urban Mechanics, UI LABS, and mySociety at the regional and local levels.[3]  These experiences will drive the formal integration of civic tech models into regulation and practices for procurement, delivery, and partnerships. 

The civic tech community is also now tackling its challenges around scalability and sustainability.  Civic tech leaders have begun to appreciate that established companies can bring the know-how, networks, and technical resources to help address these challenges, and are open to learning and services from them that help develop and extend solutions that operate reliably and securely at scale.

Governments, Civic Tech, and Tech Companies Should Work Together

By participating in the civic tech ecosystem, tech companies will have front row seats to the digital transformation of government and civic services.  They will benefit by learning firsthand the interests and needs of this innovative sector, and can apply this learning to the development of their products and services.  Likewise, civic technologists will benefit from deep engagement by established tech companies, which have experience in developing products and services that are sustainable, scalable, and compliant with regulatory requirements.   Finally, for governments, partnership with the civic tech ecosystem offers a path to deliver 21st century services and to build deeper connections to constituents.

Further Reading

The seminal study on the field of civic tech is The Knight Foundation’s report,  The Emergence of Civic Tech: Investments in a Growing Field (December 2013). The report was the first serious research on the field of civic tech.  It maps the field, identifies trends, studies investment activity and sources of funding, and highlights the strategic implications for potential investors and government.   More current is the excellent work by Micah Sifry, Matt Stempeck, and Erin Simpson, What Is Civic Tech: Toward Finalizing A Basic Framework So That We Can Move On With It Already  (Spring 2016), which provides a comprehensive catalog of “the common functions” of civic tech.

The more recent short articles provide additional background:

·        Towards a Taxonomy of Civic Technology (Microsoft on the Issues, April 2016) This blog describes the results of collaborative research by Microsoft’s Tech & Civic Engagement team and Civic Hall in New York.  The taxonomy consists of four parts: a clear definition of civic tech, a categorical index of civic tech’s technical functions, a study of the social processes in which civic tech engages, and cross-cutting analytical questions.

·        How Civic Interests Are Helping Shape Government Innovation  (Government Technology, July 2016) This article describes how civic tech emerged from passion of individual hackers to more organized movement with government buy-in.  Examples from the City of Seattle, a discussion of the market opportunity, and a review of venture investments.

·        Obama and His Geeks (Fast Company, June 2015) This article provides an in-depth look at how President Obama staffed the US Digital Services and 18f as tech innovation offices within government by drawing employees from major tech companies in Silicon Valley.  It makes clear how a civic tech approach to delivering government services can profoundly change government procurement.

·        Why Civic Tech Is the Next Big Thing (Forbes, June 2015) This piece traces the development of civic tech and discusses the growing investments by venture capital in the area and the opportunities, especially for entrepreneurs, to serve the government market.

·        The CIO Problem Part 1 and The CIO Problem Part 2: Innovation (Code for America blog, May 2016) by Jennifer Pahlka, Founder and Executive Director of Code for America.  Blogs describe the various tech roles that governments need to fill and how they have evolved.  She distinguishes the role of Chief Information Officers (modernizing government tools and services, transforming them to work as seamlessly consumer digital services) from that of Chief Innovation Officers (cultivating ecosystems to enable new and unanticipated use cases using government data and transactions). 

[1] See blogs by Jen Pahlka in the Additional Information section below. 
[2] Another area where civic tech’s influence can be seen is the evolving effort to assess and implement “smart cities” in more flexible, more inclusive ways than earlier system integrator-driven vison of command and control. 
[3] How governments and civic tech community work together, and who leads at various phases, is still evolving.  Challenges include how external organizations can work collaboratively on development without being precluded from later procurements, how governments can receive services and benefits without providing funding, and how to ensure continuity of services.  There are also internal tensions within governments on the roles and authorities of new governmental offices and these new external organizations. 

New Year, New Leadership: Apperian Welcomes Mark Lorion

After recent acquisition of Boston mobile app management platform, Apperian, by San Franciso based mobile application attack prevention and IoT security company Arxan technologies, Mark Lorion has been named the new leader to the Boston business.

Lorion rang in the New Year next in line to lead, after Apperian’s former CEO, Brian Day, stepped down to pursue new career opportunities at Fuze. . Though parting ways from Apperian, Day has no doubts about the future success of the company. “Apperian is in great Hand’s with Mark,” he said. After all, it was Day himself who recommended Lorion to Arxan CEO Joe Sander.

Lorion’s resume proved him a clearly qualified candidate for the position having been a member of Apperian’s team for over four years. "It’s exciting. I've been in the trenches with these guys for a long time. We have the battle scars and trophies to show it," Mark spoke of Apperian. "I'm happy to be in the trenches with them."

Mark Lorion is a MassTLC Board Member as well as a co-fouder of MassTLC’s signature event: Boston TechJam. 

Given Lorion’s previous experience, Arxan’s consumer focus, and Apperian’s enterprise outlook, both with strong ties to the city, the two companies foresee a strong future with business opportunity to combine selling efforts across diverse markets. "Apperian does a great job at securing apps in the enterprise — apps used by employees, contractors” said Day. "What Arxan does a great job is securing apps that are publicly available.  No one wants their banking app hacked. If you think about it, it’s a pretty good fit."

The possibilities for this new acquisition seem limitless right now. Congratulations and best of luck to Mark Lorion as he takes on this new venture!

Photo and quotes from BostInno

Monday, December 12, 2016

Developing the Next Wave of Marketing Leadership

The need for strong marketing talent and leaders in Boston continues to rise.  There are many ambitious marketers in Boston who are striving to be the top marketer. But not everyone can be the number one. We all know it takes the right experiences, skills, focus, grit, and a little bit of luck. The MassTLC marketing community came together yesterday at CIC in Boston to discuss what it takes and how to get there.  The panel was terrific in sharing strategies and tips and I think everyone walked away feeling energized by the discussion. 

Jonathan Burg, Group Vice President of Marketing from Reward Gateway moderated the discussion.  Our panelists, Ellie Mirman, VP of Marketing at Toast, Jeff Boehm, CMO at NuoDB and Zak Pines, VP of Marketing at  Bedrock Data easily navigated the questions and conversation with the active audience. 

A few key takeaways:

1.      For Jeff, he came from the product marketing world. He believes a technical background is critical to success, especially if you are pursuing a position at a company with a complex B2B sale.  It was agreed upon that the VC community looks for the technical background as well.  In the end, be honest with yourself, and understand if the position matches your sweet spot.

2.      Make sure your CEO has the same leadership style as you.  If you believe in hiring great people and then getting out of the way to let them do their jobs, make sure the CEO agrees.  By the way, this approach is critical to scale.

3.      Strong leadership skills are obviously important to the success of the role. However, beyond the nuts and bolts of marketing leadership, alignment with sales and product are critical to success.  We started a conversation following the program to host a discussion on this topic in the near future.  Stay tuned.

4.      Organization and team design around marketing operations was discussed in detail.  Zak published a follow-on post to the discussion which can be found here. 

Thanks to everyone that joined us, to our speakers and a special thanks to DemandBase
for their community support. If you’re in the hunt for an ABM solution or looking to sharpen your skills in the area, Demandbase’s Marketing Innovation Summit takes place April 5th and 6th in San Francisco.  Details are here. 
Please feel free to reach out and share your ideas for programs and content.  It’s you, our members, that drive our initiatives forward. 

Happy Holidays!


Friday, December 9, 2016

CS Ed Week Success

Thank you to all the volunteers who made Computer Science Week a Success!


Over 800 schools did an Hour of Code this week, the global initiative started by to inspire all students to participate in at least one hour of coding, and the Technovation Challenge Kicked-off with over 100 students, teachers and mentors meeting at Microsoft NERD.

Thank you to the many tech professionals who offered to volunteer in classrooms, from companies: Adobe, Aerva, Akamai, Amazon, Ascent Venture Partners, CA Technologies, Collabots, Cognii,  Facebook, Fidelity, Flywire, Google, Hubspot, ikaSystems,J.P. Morgan, Lexington Solutions, Microsoft, Monotype, Municipal Parking Services, Nara Logics, Pegasystems, Qvidian, Spotify, Symantec, Symbotic Trip Advisor, UbiCare, Veracode, Visible Measures, Winter Wyman.

This initiative was funded by Microsoft and MassCAN, as part of MassCAN’s mandate from the Governor’s STEM Advisory Board to bring K-12 Computer Science to the Commonwealth.
Teachers said:

“The volunteers had a great lesson planned, and it was a great way for our students to engage with people in the computer science industry.”
“The kids were really able to make connections between the coding they were doing and applying that skill in the job world. “

White House Recognition for “I Coded” CampaignThe MassTLC Ed Foundation, in partnership with the Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education (CAITE was recognized by the White House for the CS EdWeek Teacher Kits sent to 181classrooms kits serving an estimated 30,000 students. Read more on The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Fact Sheet.  


Monday, December 5, 2016

Future of Robotics Summit: December 1, 2016 at Microsoft NERD

The MassTLC Future of Robotics Summit brought together nearly 200 attendees to hear firsthand about the latest research coming out of our world class research institutions and explore opportunities for commercialization, partnerships, go to market strategies and the impact robotics has on the future of how we work, live, and play.

 Tom Hopcroft kicks off the summit to nearly 200 attendees

Research Topics ranged from Surgical Robotics and Next Generation Soft Wearable Robots to TeleRobots and Automated Vehicles

Specific Researcher and topics were:
·         Chris Amato, Northeastern University - Multi-Robot Coordination with Uncertainty and Limited Communication
·         Harry Asada, MIT MechE - You can possess extra arms, legs, and fingers
·         Andrew Bennet, Olin College - Robot Applications and Activities in the Field
·         Whitney Crooks, Tufts University – Tufts Robotic Research
·         Gregory Fischer, Worcester Polytech Institute – Medical Robotics Research
·         Rod Grupen, University of Massachusetts Amherst - Robots that Believe
·         Robert Howe, Harvard University - Robotic hands and tactical sensing
·         Tomas Lozano-Perez, MIT/CSAIL -  Autonomous mobile manipulation in the presence of uncertainty
·         Roberto Tron, Boston University - Vision-based control and localization in multi-agent systems
·         Conor Walsh, Harvard University - Next Generation Soft Wearable Robots
·         Peter Whitney, Northeastern University - TeleRobot
·         Holly Yanco, University of Massachusetts Lowell - Human-robot interaction for assistive technology, disaster response, bystanders, and humanoids
·         Shlomo Zilberstein, University of Massachusetts Amherst - Transfer of Control in Semi-Autonomous Vehicles

Chris Amato, Northeastern University, discusses his Cooperative Beer Delivery System
Networking breaks included student demonstration tables from Northeasthern University, the University of MA/Lowell, Tufts University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
A Path to Commercialization and Parntering Opportunities panel was moderated by Mark Smithers from Boston Engineering and panelists included:
  • Vinit Nijhawan, Boston University
  • Vicki Barbur, The MITRE Corporation
  • Andy Levine, Harvard Licensing IP
  • Steve Paschall, MassRobotics Innovation Hub

Path to Commercialization and Partnering Opportunities Panel

Veda Ferlazzo Clark, Manufacturing Initiatives, and Business Development SVP for MassDevelopment, describes the Advanced Manufacturing Futures Program & Grant

And final panel discussing Finding Your Perfect Match: Startups and Established Manufacturers, kept the attention of many as Peter Russo from MassMEP spoke about how to create a network of local supply chain vendors/manufacturers and the pros of keeping it local.  He then moderated a fireside chat between David Askey, Entrepreneur and Founder and CEO of Ascend Robotics and Bill Laursen, Vice President of Sales and Strategy at Coglin Companies.
David Akskey discusses what startups need
Special thanks to our sponsors of the event, Amazon Robotics, Brandeis University and Symbotic!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Measuring the Customer Journey : A CMO Peer Group Discussion - November 1st, 2016

Customers go through a journey from understanding your brand to researching problems, solutions, purchasing, retention and ultimately advocacy.  Marketing has a role to play in almost all of these stages. With a finite amount of people, money and time, how do you know how much to invest in each stage?  What measurements can you use to determine the right amount of investment?  While simple funnel metrics are interesting, they really only focus on the middle part of the journey. In this CMO roundtable,  Bryan Semple, CMO at SmartBear Software led the group in a discussion of how to measure each stage of the journey.  Although we didn’t get to every stage, the discussion around 3 different stages resulted in key takeaways for the group:

1. Engagement and awareness.  Although it was admitted that measuring awareness is nearly impossible the key takeaways are: referrals are the most important metric, keep your PR analytics tool and add GA measurements to length of visit, brand terms, etc.  Also, read this article from Avinash Kaushik, “Brand Measurement: Analytics & Metrics for Branding Campaigns.” It’s a few years old but still very relevant.  

2. Adoption/Retention/Cross-sell/Expansion:   The metric on this one is easier – what % of your customers have XX number of products.  And in theory we should be able to figure out cross-selling but the crowd agreed, mining this data is not always easy. 

3. Advocacy:  Everyone agreed there is an allure to advocacy and that having these trusted relationships are gold.  However, they’re not easy and they can’t be manufactured using a tool or software.  It’s an area where teams are adding time, attention and additional resources.  Folks agreed that community is a way to cultivate your advocates and then get them out of there one by one. No tools or tricks will work unless you have a brand where people are willing to put on your t-shirt!

A few other resources for you: Clay Christianson’s HBR article “Jobs to Be Done” (maybe it’s no longer about personas). And to recite Avinash, remember, Engagement is not a metric, its an excuse!

Our next meeting is going to be held December 14th just prior to heading to the MassTLC CXO holiday party.  More to follow but mark your calendars! 

Thanks to Bryan and SmartBear for hosting and to DemandBase for sponsoring MassTLC’s sales and marketing community!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Manufacturing Rocket Pitch for Solutions – October 26

The MassTLC/MassRobotics/MassMEP team under the Advanced Manufacturing Futures Fund Program grant, funded by MassDevelopment, held our first “Manufacturing Rocket Pitch for Solutions” on 26 October 2016 at the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub.

Our goal:  to help robotics, IoT and hardware start-ups and scale-ups grow and commercialize their products by connecting them with the local manufacturers and supply chain – turning great ideas into great products Made in Massachusetts.

Our panel of experts with over 100 years of experience between them included:

·         Bill Sullivan, FLEXcon

·         Mark Smithers, Boston Engineering Corporation

·         Marty Petraitis, Segue Manufacturing

·         Craig Bovaird, Reliance Engineering and LSR Engineering

·         Rich Breault, Lightspeed Manufacturing

Peter Russo from MassMEP moderated the panel – each panelist offered tips to startups about what they should know about manufacturing and discussed critical best practices.  Advice included:  Validate your product, understand what you are good at and find others for support in other areas, listen to the voice of the customer, look for loyal partners, don’t expect to make a profit on the first units sold…
Startup presentations by Phil Caruso (MiniMole), Sam Godin (Riptide) and Rory MacKean (Franklin Robotics) included discussion on manufacturing challenges.

Figure 1  Phil Caruso, Sam Godin, Rory MacKean, Peter Russo
Mini-Mole Robotic Floor Sweeper is a patent pending automatic hard floor cleaner that is smaller than any other automatic floor cleaner on the market. Named Innovative Technology of the Year in Consumer Tech at the 19th Annual MassTLC Leadership Awards, mini mole is 1” tall and 4” wide and gets under virtually all household furniture to remove accumulated dust, fur and other debris that collects under objects in the home.  It’s unique upward-looking object sensor and small size allow it to focus on cleaning areas that are difficult or impossible to reach manually or with any other automatic floor cleaner. 

Figure 3 Rich offers PCB Advice to Phil

Figure 2    Phil offers a MiniMole demonstration for the panel

Riptide Autonomous Solutions focuses on Unmanned Maritime Vehicle (UMV) development and production. This includes Autonomous Undersea Vehicles (AUV), Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUV), and Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASV). Riptide is a small business entity poised for rapid growth and expansion focusing on the US Navy, Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency (DARPA), and research institutions.

Figure 5 Marty takes a closer look at Unmanned Maritime Vehicle

Figure 4 Sam getting advice from Craig


The team at Franklin Robotics is developing a robot that weeds home gardens. We have designed a solar powered, autonomous, self-sufficient robot named Tertill. It lives in the garden, and every day it charges itself in the sunlight, patrols the garden, avoids plants and obstacles, damages pre-emergent weeds before they surface, and cuts down post-emergent weeds. Friendliness and simplicity are designed in: setup requires only a fence around the garden, and small plastic collars around seedlings; no wires or beacons are necessary, there's no programming of any kind, and chemicals are no longer needed for weed control.

Figure 7 Marty Needs a closer look

Figure 6 Rory describes the Tertill's Challenge to the panel
There was lively and informative discussion between all startups and manufacturers.  A special thanks to Peter Russo from MassMEP and our expert panel for their donated time and expertise!
And to our Host: