Bobbie Carlton

Moon Selfie lights up MIN #99 in Roxbury

BIG WINS AT MIN: The top teams from the MIN #99 showcase celebrate their pitches Wednesday night. FOUNDERSWIRE PHOTO


By JARIANA OLUKOGA

BOSTON—Four companies shone bright Wednesday night as they emerged winners of Mass Innovation Nights #99—but one was especially over the Moon.

Moon Selfie, Donii, Black Girls Nutrition and CEDE won audience votes to take the top four spots over a full slate of African and African-American founded tech startups.

Moon Selfie, “the world’s most advanced selfie light,” won the night as the “top fave,” with a product designed to fit any smartphone or tablet for better illuminated selfies. Moon Selfie products, created by Edward Madongorere and Dishen “Dixon” Yang, retail for around $49.

Founders took the stage at the Thelma D. Burns Building in Roxbury, hosted by MIN in collaboration with the Greater Grove Hall Main Streets, showcasing African and African-American founders of tech companies.

“We are very excited to support diversity in tech and bring visibility to startups looking to be heard in the noisy tech space,” said MIN founder Bobbie Carlton. “I love to see the community come out and support each other. But my favorite part was when someone would say ‘Oh my gosh, this is just down the street from me so I had to come,’ ” she said.

In addition to featured experts, networking and presentations from winners of online voting, companies represented included BeautyLynk, Dolume, Kids in Tech, dot Teach, FABLabs for America, IncluDe, Pulse24/7, Quality Interactions and UZURI Health and Beauty. There was also a student startup from Wentworth Institute of Technology’s Accelerate program, Occ Youth Unleashed, the Roxbury-based, youth-led nonprofit startup that aggregates community program information to keep kids engaged.

Kyle Colon, co-founder of Occ Youth Unleashed, said his team started with initial funding of $1,000 from United Way. After proof of concept, they returned to pitch United Way in June 2016, winning an additional $10,000. Now they are currently competing in the 2017 MassChallenge accelerator program.

“This has been an amazing experience—and we’re young, only 18 years old. Everyone else is double or triple our age,” Colon said. “All we really want to do is keep teens off the street. We don’t get paid for this at all. We do this on our own and with the money in our pockets.”

Final four competitor Black Girls Nutrition launched when the founder felt ready to make a big change in her life.

“It started 12 years ago because I weighed 350 pounds,” said CEO Katia Powell. “I went to the grocery store down the street and got honey buns, hot pockets, cheesecakes and came back home. I was about to watch Love Jones and I caught my reflection in the mirror. I felt like time actually stopped. I needed to make a decision to save my life.”

“We are a company centered on helping women of color connect and find healthy ways to live their lives through nutrition, fitness, mindfulness and stress awareness,” said Tangela Kindell, digital marketing strategist for Black Girls Nutrition. “We are also working on an app that makes all that easier and can fit in the palm of your hand.” BGN, according to Powell, is “the first nutrition company that specifically focused on black women.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spoke to the group, sharing his thoughts on the crucial problem-solving entrepreneurs must do to be successful. “Focus on one issue at a time and try not to let outside influencers bother you,” he said.

He also encouraged the founders to ask for help and to take criticism freely, without fear. “I think people often take criticism as a bad thing, criticism is not a bad thing. Sometimes criticism is a good thing and you can learn from it.”

“I think there are a lot of people who could be great entrepreneurs that are just a little worried about going for it and asking for help,” he said.


The next MIN, a milestone evening at number 100, is scheduled for Wednesday, July 12, at the Museum of Science. The theme will be space technology. Find out more and RSVP HERE.

Got a tip for our team? News you need us to know about? Send it to GetCovered@founderswire.com

Do you need a technical cofounder?

Companies in growth mode have natural knowledge gaps—and FoundersWire’s newest expert, Chris Swenor, CEO of East Coast Product, wants to help fill them. He’ll be taking your tech-related questions and answering them here in this column every week. Submit yours today, RIGHT HERE, with the subject line: Tech and Tell.


 By CHRIS SWENOR
@ECPBoston

Q: We are not funded yet. I’m not a coder. Do I need a technical co-founder?

A: It depends.

This may seem obvious, but you should have a technical co-founder if your product is very technical. For example, if you’re creating a new type of database or a new development platform it would be vital to have a technical member of the founding team. Bottom line, when it comes to the founding team, it’s important that you have an individual who is entrenched in the vision who is also extremely educated on what you are building.

Most startups out there, however, don’t necessarily meet this requirement and don’t need a technical founder to be successful early on. It is entirely possible to get to your first milestone without a technical founder, whatever that first milestone may be. As long as you have a market that is pulling you, a strong business plan to tackle the market, and a prototype to fully articulate your vision, you should be able to get funding. Take local Boston startup Innovation Women and its founder, Bobbie Carlton, for example. Bobbie doesn’t have a tech background but she understands the importance of personal branding and the need for more visibility for women in the startup industry.

Before even considering development and a technical co-founder, you need to fully understand who your customers are and what they need. Focus on testing your assumptions through the “test, break, iterate” method of thinking.  It’s critical to have clear goals and create a user-tested experience. This will mitigate issues and ensure you are building the right product before moving into development.  Course-correcting during development is more time consuming and therefore costly.

The “test, break, iterate” cycle can be daunting, especially with a small or incomplete team. I recommend looking at how Buffer tested their assumptions, and have built the amazing company they’ve built so far.

If you’re not ready to hire full-time team members to fill these gaps, there are agencies out there that specialize in helping you through this process. They work with you to build your product objectively through research and iteration, with your customer needs in mind. A few of the great companies in Boston are Fresh Tilled Soil, Cantina, and our company, East Coast Product.

Once you prove your idea and confirm or deny major assumptions, then you’re ready for development.


Chris Swenor is the CEO and co-founder of East Coast Product, a digital product agency that works to enhance existing teams with the app development cycle—everything from strategy, to design, to user testing, to development. Chris offers CTO and CPO guidance to ECP’s clients and the greater Boston tech community. Previously, Chris was the director of New Product Development at zMags and the CTO at Vsnap, both of which have had successful exits. Outside of East Coast Product, Chris volunteers as the technical advisor for Resilient Coders. Interested in discussing product and learning more about ECP? Connect with Chris at chris@ecp.io.

Photo courtesy: Chris Swenor