Push ‘little pebbles’ aside to accelerate growth

The Shift is a series of interviews by FoundersWire and its partners that explore the issues, challenges and possible solutions that accelerate scale. Our first Q&A features Steve Snyder, partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at Gesmer Updegrove LLP. He meets, above right, with fellow Gesmer colleague Chrissie Lee and Boston design entrepreneur Katie Burkhart. (FoundersWire photo)

FW: You started out not only as a lawyer, but as a tech entrepreneur yourself. What appeals to you now about working with entrepreneurs?

A: Practicing law was never my passion. Building businesses always has been. So the opportunity to meet with two, three or four entrepreneurs every day and help them with their business challenges is extraordinary.

What value do you add that’s unique, beyond the necessary/obvious legal support?

The focus of our firm is working with entrepreneurs to ensure the success of their companies. We focus on the business, not just the law. We provide valuable business advice and guidance as well as legal advice and guidance. In my role, I focus only on business. For me, it’s about finding ways to drive revenue, increase profitability and help entrepreneurs succeed, all at no charge.

You’ve worked with many hundreds of founders and CEOs while they’re scaling. What do you see that they all have in common? What’s one marker that says, yes, this one is going to make it?

That’s a fabulous question. Most of our clients are tech companies so the CEOs with whom I have worked are really smart. That’s a given. The most successful CEOs are thoughtful and considerate; open to advice and guidance; good listeners; truly aware of their areas of strength and want to supplement or complement those areas by building a team around them; and able to process information and make decisions.

What pitfall do you often see that you wish founders were more aware of?

I wish I had been more aware of this early in my career but, as the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Scaling a company is really hard. There are hundreds and hundreds of little details that we think about every day. It often feels like we’re being bombarded by little pebbles. It’s those little pebbles that divert our attention from the “big boulders,” the big stuff that we need to focus on to achieve our goals. Push those little pebbles aside, prioritize, delegate, but most importantly, focus on the big boulders.

Building a startup is stressful. Scaling one is even more challenging. What advice can you offer founders to find peace of mind, even after they realize they don’t have all the answers?

Wow, I wish I could offer that kind of advice. The best I can suggest is to surround ourselves with really smart, experienced, thoughtful advisors. That way, we don’t need to have all the answers.

Do you have a lesson you’ve learned while helping entrepreneurs scale that might help others? Let us know. Have a question that Steve might be able to help with? You can reach him directly at steve.snyder@gesmer.com

Sleepers or No-sleepers? Entrepreneurs weigh in on habitzzzzzz


BOSTON—When we set the clocks back this weekend (or thank Apple for doing it for us, actually, but don’t forget your microwaves and coffee pots), we’ll gain an extra hour of sleep. But as the Sleep Revolution continues to dismantle the all-powerful founder myth that sleep shows weakness, we wondered: Are entrepreneurs still driven by Red Bull and marathon sessions, or are we finally seeing a better quality of life emerge in our emerging market leaders?

Are you a sleeper or no-sleeper? Tell us on social media: Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and be entered to win a FoundersWire prize pack.

Here’s what some Fort Point WeWorkers recently had to say about their sleep habits:


John Lahr, director of strategic partnerships, Daisy Labs: REFORMED NO-SLEEPER

So I started as a no-sleeper, then our CEO jumped down my throat a few times about taking care of myself. So I’ve been trying to do better about sleeping more. I feel better, I can get into the office at 9 a.m. now and not be sad.


Keziah Robinson, Freedom Trail Capital: DISCIPLINED SLEEPER

So there are three of us, one in Los Angeles, we all three work in different locations. The one in LA weirdly is the one who sleeps more in shifts, so he’s like, ‘I wake up in the middle of the night, so I’ll work for a few hours then, which means I have a constant stream of emails that go around and around and around. So I have to turn my phone off. And I won’t check it, I used to say, ‘Oh, I’ll check it before I go to bed,’ now I don’t check before I go to bed, because otherwise, I’m going to have to deal with it. I tend to sleep pretty well, because I meditate so I don’t let things stress me out. But there will be times when something is coming up and I’ll start working on it and it might be hours and hours and hours. It’s really nice, though, when you work at a startup, unless you have something to do in the morning. I can get up and have my coffee, and then work. I used to work market hours, so I’d have to be at the office by 5 or 6. I’m a sleeper. It’s just quality of life, all you do is come into the office and you don’t do very well. It’s all numbers all day long for us. Yes, you want to be on, but if you miss a closing because you’re tired or you don’t get the wire transfer to the right place because you’re tired, the whole project implodes.


Jumai Yusuf, editor & motion graphics artist, Galileo Media Arts: SLEEPER

I usually go to bed around midnight, between midnight and 1. I am usually able to keep everything at work and not take stuff home with me.


Miguel de Braganca, director of marketing, Daisy Labs: CONDITIONAL NO-SLEEPER

So I fluctuate back and forth between sleeping and not sleeping, depending on what I’m working on, and depending on what’s happening with our company. Sometimes we have critical deadlines where we have contingencies that we have to hit and for me, sometimes when I wait till the last minute, I can get into a really nice flow and get a lot done quickly but unlike college, when that was my typical rhythm, I really try to save that type of behavior for critical situations. But no question, my quality of life is better when I’m a sleeper.


Michelle Fournier, founder and alpha dog, Slobbr: NOCTURNAL PROBLEM-SOLVER

It’s cyclical. When something good is happening, I sleep better. When it’s not so good, I have witching hours from around 1:15 to 4:15 a.m., where I just stare at the ceiling. When the situation gets resolved, then you find yourself back in a normal sleep pattern. But if I’m awake, I’m working. Sleep is so emotional for me. My mantra is: It will be there when you wake. I try, but it’s easier to tell people what to do than do it myself sometimes.

MassChallenge celebrates winners at 7th annual awards


BOSTON—The incubator known around the world for “helping entrepreneurs win” handed out more than $1.5 million in equity-free prizes to 16 of them tonight. The seventh annual MassChallenge Boston Awards recognized the best of Boston’s innovation community at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center—the culmination of another year of catalyzing growth.

“I’m so proud to announce this year’s winning startups, which have leveraged our global network of resources, mentors, partners, and more to truly change the world,” said Scott Bailey, managing director of MassChallenge Boston, who has been with the program since its inception in 2010. “Tonight is not only a celebration of them, but of all our startups and key players across the ecosystem who have made a commitment to work together in order to create enormous impact.”

Speaker Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of Chobani yogurt, spoke to the growing companies like members of the same club, founder-to-founder, offering lessons in leadership and compassion: “Reset the tone,” he said. “As entrepreneurs, our behavior every day determines how our companies will be.”

Big Diamond winners of $100,000 each included Adhesys Medical, EYL and Telluslabs, handed out by the Deshpande Foundation.

Prizes of $75,000 went to Analytic Space and TapLink, while MassChallenge alumni Sensulin, Localytics and FreshPaper awarded $50,000 prizes to 3D Fortify, BeautyLynk, BrainRobotics, Cool Composites, Joulez, RateGravity, Tranquilo, Sea Machines Robotics, Signature Orthodontics, Tembo Education and Whole Heart Provisions.

In-kind silver winners were AR Spirit, Battery Resourcers, Coeo Labs, Electra Vehicles, Farmer Willie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer, Luminopia, Neuromotion, Polis, QSM Diagnostics and Solstice.

An extra category was added this year—the CASIS-Boeing Prize for Technology in Space, which awarded $500,000 total to three startups working on research projects on the International Space Station. Those winners were Angiex, Inc., Dover Life Sciences and LambdaVision.

“We have come a long way since 2010 when we ran our first accelerator in Boston,” said John Harthorne, founder and CEO of MassChallenge. “We now have accelerators in five countries and growing, and have helped accelerate over 1,200 startups. They are truly making an impact on the world, addressing some of the world’s biggest problems through innovation and creating jobs of the future.

“This is only the beginning, and I’m excited to watch what our alumni continue to accomplish in the years to come,” he said.

Charlotte Emslie contributed to this report.

Former Marine helps vets with exit planning

It’s Veteran Small Business Week, so FoundersWire is going to spotlight some of the innovations our military are creating. If you are a veteran working on a small business or you know of one, please be sure to let us know RIGHT HERE


CHICAGO—“Getting out was the most terrifying part of my whole military career,” says Gregory Jumes. “I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that.”

This former Marine Corps infantryman is doing more than just talk about his difficult transition from military service, he’s actually building a technology platform that he says will help veterans before they’re even set for discharge.

Victor is a mobile application for active duty and retired service men and women and their families, “to do the reconnaissance and their intelligence gathering before they even get out,” says Jumes. “We don’t want them to go back to their hometown if there aren’t that many opportunities there, or a community that will support them after their time in the service.”

For millions of members of the armed forces, getting out is complicated, without enough training for what Jumes calls another career—civilian life. “When I got out, I didn’t know where I should move to, where I could find the opportunities I would need. The military spends billions on training us going in. (But at the end of your service): ‘Here’s your two-day class on how to be a civilian again, and I hope you’re paying attention.’ ”

He says he felt like he didn’t have any skills that qualified him for civilian jobs. “I was lucky to get a position as a high-threat security contractor in the Middle East, so I spent four years between Iraq and Afghanistan.” But he says, every civilian job he applied for fell short until he found a veteran hiring manager who gave him a second interview. “Every position I’ve been in outside of the Marine Corps, it’s been because I did my intelligence gathering and found key people to reach out to, to talk with, so they can see I’m not just another number—I’m the person they want on their books.

“You have to find someone who says, ‘I know what you’ve done, you’d be a perfect fit,’ ” Jumes says.

But it’s more than just work support that veterans need, he points out—because a happy and fulfilling life requires balance and structure. “After I came back, I was a completely different person. Everything looked different. Life just seemed a little dull. It was the complete opposite of being desensitized. When I didn’t have structure or guidance or mentorship, everything kind of went to hell. I was not prepared.”

That’s where the Victor community will come in. “We want to give you the tools so you’re not stressed, you don’t fall into depression, and you find the community that’s going to support you. Victor is here to bridge that gap, so you find the community, the career services and opportunities in that city, and then the health and wellness opportunities, whether it’s a workout group down at a local Crossfit gym, or a therapist that wants to just hear you out and listen to what you have to say and guide you down that right path. “

This first-time entrepreneur likens building a company to the work he did, and the results he was expected to produce, while in the service. “From my training as an infantryman, I take everything I do now as an entrepreneur as an operation. I need to do the digging and patrolling and questioning, and get to my target, which is either a customer or a partner,” he says. “My job is to put my product in front of people when I think they need it.”

“I want them to come out feeling excited that they’re going to find their new home, their new jobs, that they’re going somewhere that will support them. People need that coming out—to be able to focus on what will make them happy,” Jumes says.

Which beats the alternative: “Some stay in because it’s too scary to get out. That’s when you get these guys who have done two, three, four pumps in Afghanistan. I want to give active-duty service members the ability to see that pre-planning phase. You can look at Victor and see where you should go. Why is Chicago featured? They need direction and waypoints—there’s a bunch of green on this map. OK, we have a plan, let’s go forth and do great things,” he says.

Jumes says Victor, incubated in Bunker Labs, will most likely be ready to launch for the first of the year, then will be beta testing in greater Chicago before spreading out across the country.

“I don’t want them to waste time after they get out of the military, I want that success to keep going.”

Through such programs as Veteran Small Business Week, the U.S. Small Business Association provides veterans, active duty service members, Guard and Reserve members and military spouses the entrepreneurial training and education programs, business technical assistance counseling, special access to capital programs and federal procurement  training and access to opportunities they need to create their own opportunities. Share these stories on Twitter at #MyVetBiz to show support to veterans and their families. Learn more about SBA veteran initiatives here.


Level up at this week’s events

Every week is brimming with events here in Boston that are just as fun as they are beneficial to your career. Its’ November now: There’s no better time to level up and dive into some of the city’s networking, tech, and entrepreneurship events. Here are some options:

Today, Nov. 2: Fall Pitching + Free Capital Raising Workshop, hosted by Convean, 177 Huntington Ave., Boston. 3:30-9 p.m. Tickets range $15-$255 for corporate membership. Register HERE. Tech, health care and digital media entrepreneurs: Startupalooza Boston brings your chance to pitch investors, including Bain Capital and more than a dozen others. You’ll also get the chance to hear from the VCs themselves on trends they’re seeing and what they’re looking for.

Today, Nov. 2: Scaling Social Ventures, hosted by Archimedes Project at CIC Boston, 50 Milk Street, Boston. 6:30 PM-8:30 PM. Tickets $20. Register HERE. For those with social impact aspirations, this is a great chance to learn about scaling strategies and overcoming obstacles. The speakers will include fellow entrepreneurs, investors and researchers.

Thursday, Nov. 3: Ideation 2016: Biotech & Healthcare by MIT Biotechnology Group & Harvard Biotech Club at the Ray and Maria Stata Center, Room 32-123, 32 Vassar Street, Cambridge. 6–9 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. If you have an awesome idea for solving healthcare issues, or just a passion for biotech, come to Ideation2016, put on by the MIT Biotechnology Group and the Harvard Biotech Club. You’ll get the opportunity to pitch your idea to groups of your peers, as well as hear other pitches and network.

Friday, Nov. 4: Your Terrible POLITICS! at The Riot Theater, 146A South St, Boston. 10–11:30 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. Come blow off some election anxiety at the Riot Theater, no matter your politics.

Friday, Nov. 4: Eat.Drink.Disrupt! MDP Hackathon Kickoff Party, hosted by AthenaHealth at Meadhall, 4 Cambridge Center, Cambridge. 5-7 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. If you’re a hacker of any kind, this one’s for you.  As part of their “More Disruption Please” initiative, AthenaHealth is hosting its seventh annual hackathon. The initiative aims to reach disruptive healthcare solutions through increased connectivity. The hackathon will facilitate dialogue about the current state of healthcare needs and how to reach these disruptive solutions.

Friday,, Nov. 4: Relax and Renew Yoga, hosted by Harvard Ed Portal at 224 Western Ave., Allston. 6–7 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. Nothing’s more important than self care, and all you innovators are working yourselves hard. End the week with some stretching and meditation at Relax & Renew Yoga. Rebalance and reset. Your creative juices will thank you for it.

Saturday, Nov. 5: 32nd Annual Minority Business Conference (AMBC), hosted by NABA, INC. (National Association of Black Accountants), at John B. Hynes Veterans, Memorial Convention Center, 900 Boylston St., Boston. FREE. Register HERE.  This conference, put on every year by the NABA, INC., not only includes valuable networking but a career fair, a student business showcase and cash prize awards ceremony.

Sunday, Nov. 6: Marketing Innovation Conference 2016 at HBS, hosted by HBS Marketing Club at Harvard Business School, Boston. 8 a.m. –5 p.m. Tickets range from $35-$75. Register HERE. For business, marketing or entrepreneurship students of any kind out there: Harvard Business School is putting on its annual Marketing Innovation Conference, aimed at expanding student accessibility to the marketing world. There’s an entrance fee (starting at $35) but you’ll get access to leading marketing professionals and industry knowledge.



What’s your Higher Calling?

Founders: This is a call for guest commentary in your own words. What are you building, what’s the bigger mission you envision for your company? What calls you to solve the problem you’re tackling? And what matters about whether you solve it–for your company and for society?

FoundersWire welcomes this diversity of opinions and voices.

So tell us: What’s your Higher Calling?

1. Be personal. So often, we get caught up in growth mode, we disconnect from the inspiration that got us here. Find the heart of your Why again. Why you and why this problem or opportunity? Connect with it.

2. Be brief. In 500-600 words, you should be able to explain the core values that drive you to stay in business every day. This is your value prop: Nail it.

3. Be clear. What impact do you foresee your success having? Who are you helping with your innovation? Why do they deserve it? Crystallize it.

4. Be brave. You’re up against some big challenges out there. What have you learned? How can others benefit from your mistakes? What have you done right? Declare it.

5. Be positive. There is only one company like yours–even if you have serious competitors, they are still not driven by the same views, nor will they solve the problem exactly as you will. Celebrate your impact. Let this city know why you matter–so the people and resources you need to succeed can find you, recognize alignment –they care about your mission, too!– and show up to support you. This is your cause: Elevate it.

Avoid editorializing, criticizing other people or businesses, and statements about others’ religious or political beliefs.

All submissions must be original, and exclusive to FoundersWire. We won’t consider articles that have already been published, either in print or online. Submissions that meet these criteria may be sent to shelagh@founderswire.com

Your submission will be edited for space and content–typos, grammar, and syntax. All opinions expressed within Higher Calling columns are solely the creation and responsibility of each author. FoundersWire in no way condones or endorses these opinions.

How do you decide: Agency or freelance developer?

Companies in growth mode have knowledge gapsand FoundersWire 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 & Tell.


 Q: What’s the difference between working with a lone developer and hiring a whole development team through an agency? Are there benefits to both? Which one suits what kind of situation?

A: There are definitely merits to both—hiring an agency or hiring a lone developer. The decision relies on the type and scope of project.

Before you even begin to consider the two options, I would assess the following:

What is the end goal of my project?
Freelancers may be experts in development, but agencies are experts in product. So if you can look at your project and see a clearly defined road map to completion, you may not need the product help, so a freelancer might be able to get the job done. If you are unsure of your idea and any sort of validation that goes with it, an agency will be able to provide not only the technical skills but also the product management experience to ensure efficiency.

What is my budget?
Agencies very often are more expensive than hiring a lone freelancer in the short run, but also they will be able to get the project done quicker and more efficiently. Agencies specialize in learning and starting new projects with new tech on a whim, so if you need to get something done quickly and have the appropriate budget to do so, agencies are the way to go. If you have time for the freelancer to ramp up and don’t have the necessary capital up front to hire an agency, then a freelancer might be for you.

What is my timeline?
Timeline is what it really all boils down to. When does this project need to be done by? If you have an extended amount of time, it might be easier to have one person work on it over a longer period of time. If you’re in a crunch and on deadline, an agency might be the route to go. Agencies have access to more developers, more designers and more partners to make sure things are completed on time. We hear countless stories of lone developers that stretch out projects beyond their deadline dates. Timelines are important because they set real expectations for the time it will take complete a given development project.

These are the questions you really need to ask yourself before you choose a path for development. By preparing these answers now, this information can guide you in a direction that saves you tons of time and moneyregardless of which option you choose.

Chris Swenor is 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 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.



What’s on your calendar for events this week?

Get involved in the Boston entrepreneurship community this week, and find some new people to connect with. You never know who will show up to help you, or who you can help. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Today, Oct. 24: Greater Boston Women’s Networking at The Hard Rock Café, 22-24 Clinton St., Boston. 6-9 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. Network with fellow Boston women entrepreneurs and professionals amid the fun, laid-back atmosphere of the Hard Rock Café while making key connections.

Today, Oct. 24: Mentor Mixer, hosted by Entrepreneurship for All at Clique Bar & Lounge, 1082 Davol St., Fall River. 6-8 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. Entrepreneurs of all ages can benefit from having a seasoned pro in your corner. And passing on accumulated wisdom is important for boosting the next generation of talent as well as personally fulfilling. EforAll helps to connect potential mentees and mentors, and fosters those relationships through fun cocktail events.

Tuesday, Oct. 25: Boston Startup Happy Hour, hosted by Startup Stir at MAST, 45 Province St., Boston. 6-8 p.m. $7. Register HERE. Boston thinkers and doers: If you’re looking to pick these influencers’ brains, come have drinks with the founders and funders that make this city thrive.

Wednesday, Oct. 26: The #uNSBN Free Small Business Buffet or “Slay, Small Business, Slay,” hosted by Urban NYCHE at Tavern in the Square, 730 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. 6-8 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. If you’re launching or in the middle of growing your small business, you know how nerve-racking it can be. Come to Urban NYCHE’s monthly buffet, “Slay, Small Business, Slay” and get advice on navigating and kicking butt in the small business world.

Wednesday, Oct. 26: Wine Trumps Hate, a Wine Tasting for Positive Action, hosted by the Wine Bottega, 341 Hanover St., Boston. 6-9 p.m. $20, proceeds go to the Elizabeth House in Jamaica Plain, helping homeless and at-risk survivors of domestic violence for more than 40 years. Register HERE.

Wednesday, Oct. 26: VC & Entrepreneur Networking Event, sponsored by Wolf & Company, Silicon Valley Bank, Hyperlane Venture Capital and Converge Venture Partners at Papagayo, 283 Summer St., Boston. 6:30-9 p.m. FREE. Register HERE.

Thursday, Oct. 27: UpStart Food Night, hosted by The Capital Network, with Adam Salomone of the Food Loft, Bob Stringer of Crimson Seed Capital and Edible Ventures and Pete McDonald of Silicon Valley Bank, at Venture Café, Cambridge Innovation Center, 1 Broadway, Cambridge. 6:30-7:30 p.m. FREE. Register HERE.

Friday, Oct. 28: 5th Boston App Expo & Festival, hosted by Kinglet Productions LLC, at BCEC, 415 Summer St., Boston. 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. FREE. Register HERE.

The powerful media message you should be using right now 

Media Tip Monday:

How can you get the media coverage you want right now? I’ll tell you what we care about here at FoundersWire. 

Entrepreneurs are encouraged in their business-planning stage to “blue sky” their plans: What is the biggest vision you can dream up and then execute? 

A comparable strategy works when talking with journalists. What’s the biggest problem you, your team and your innovation can solve? Maybe you’re not there yet, but you’re working on it. You know your technology can be applied globally, or the market need you’re addressing is enormous. Talk about how, at scale, this changes actual lives

A word of caution: Transparency is crucial in the interviews you do, so the journalist you’re dealing with doesn’t mistake your confidence for actual customers and deals. Make sure you clarify the vision vs. the reality, otherwise the story will inevitably be killed when it reaches the fact-checking stage. But helping the reporter to understand who your company can affect at the end of the rainbow will make a big difference in how your story is written today. 

And hopefully there’s gold at the end, too.

Voatz tests limits of election by smartphone


BOSTON—Startup founders often pitch about democratizing “X industry” with their innovations. Brothers Nimit and Simer Sawhney are literally democratizing democracy with mobile voting platform, Voatz.

Voatz expands voting inclusivity and participation, they say, operating exclusively on smartphones, allowing users to cast their votes from anywhere. It provides a real-time count record and maintains total anonymity.

The Voatz team, which now includes Isaac Carney, tested the platform at an event on Kingston Street Wednesday night, where attendees could watch the final presidential debate and cast their votes live from their own devices.


Beyond just vote casting, Simer says the platform supplies voters with information on the ballots’ candidates, which boosts both efficiency and inclusivity.

“So many voters go into the booths uninformed about the issues or the people they’re voting on. If we can give them bullet-point descriptions of the candidates and their positions—that they can access the day of—they can cast their vote much more confidently,” he says.

Voatz, winning awards since its founding in 2014, including “cult favorite” at the 2016 MIT Startup Spotlight and 2015 SXSW winner, was created not only for government elections but private ones as well. And it was launched with one specific demographic in mind: Millennials.

“Young people are disconnected from politics,” says Nimit. “If you look at the last couple of elections, you can see how low the participation rates were for everyone. But it’s particularly bad with millennials. Even in both Obama elections, millennial turnout was never higher than 25 percent—and he was really popular among that late-teen to mid-20-year-old group.”

Nimit breaks down this millennial political disinterest into three distinct causes. “First, they feel like their vote doesn’t count that much. Second, they don’t feel that politicians are that attentive to their needs and the issues relevant to them, like student debt. Third, the inconvenience of physical voting discourages everyone—not just millennials.

What makes millennials the ideal niche? “Not only do they all have smartphones, but they’re on them for several hours a day,” Nimit says. “So, if we can get them interested in spending a few minutes doing something this meaningful, it would definitely make an impact. Our early usability testing confirms that, too.”

Tech professional Holly Collins says she sees this platform as crucial for giving voice to a powerful demographic. “What makes this election so substantial is that certain groups are often louder than others, and consequently their voices get heard more. Millennials make up a hugely influential part of the electorate. If we can expand the vote to include as much of their vote as possible, that will ensure as inclusive of a result as possible.”

Drawing from his own experience growing up in India, Nimit says he understands the challenges firsthand, because he wasn’t allowed to vote in his own country. “I was very young when I left, so I was never able to vote, and there were few elections where I actually wanted to.”

Realizing that the process of voting wasn’t safe ultimately evolved into a mission to create Voatz, with multiple ways to indicate voter coercion.

“Growing up in the mid-‘80s, there were religious riots and upheaval around elections. I have this image in my head of someone being forced to vote at gunpoint. I was so young, I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation, but you never forget that picture,” he says.

He pinpoints the central problem with today’s voting problems: Mistrust in government. People either feel that their vote doesn’t matter or that it’s not being used by a legitimate election system, Nimit says, “whether it’s for good reason, or just based on people’s perception. Having a technology that can address a lot of those worries independently—that’s the unique power of Voatz.”

The brothers have faced their share of digital voting skeptics. “We had to research whether governments and corporate shareholders would actually let us get this platform out there,” Nimit says.

The biggest initial concern was that a digital vote record could be hacked—that any election structure connected to the Internet is by definition “unsafe.” This is a valid concern, Nimit admits, particularly in light of the foreign hacking into the current presidential campaign. “There’s a strong tendency that if it’s working, why mess with it. However, what you have to keep in mind is that a lot of the infrastructure currently used by states and organizations is 15, 20 years old. They’ve hardly been upgraded. It’s no wonder people are able to get in.”

The key, he says, is pushing back against the kneejerk refusal of any kind of Internet-based system with “bulletproof security technology.”

“There’s a fear that cycles around anything around tech-based voting. It has some merit, because there’s always a small chance of someone breaking in. You create that fear and then people don’t want to touch it. It has prevented anything new from coming in,” Nimit says. But Voatz has taken a smartphone-based approach, which he says is more impervious to tampering.


Through interviews with government representatives, academics and security experts, Nimit and Simer were able to enhance their secure code. Using biometrics, real-time verification and a blockchain infrastructure, Nimit says Voatz makes the vote record tamper-proof and thus irrefutable.

“It reduces the possibility of any third-party fraud,” he says. “Everybody’s authenticity is mathematically proven by multi-source verification, thus eliminating that instinctive doubt.”

Used in the 2016 Massachusetts Democratic Primary State Convention in June, their confidence in the enhanced code has been validated: They easily passed their first independent security audit, which affirmed satisfaction with their iOS system and protection from hacker threat.

Cost is another key voting issue Voatz is tackling. “A lot of the traditional and current voting infrastructure uses paper ballots or voting machines, which are expensive and require a lot of manpower,” Nimit says. “Accounting, tallying, certification. The Philippines just spent hundreds of millions of dollars in their election to ensure the voting was safe. We can alleviate those costs with technology.”

What exactly is Voatz’s voting capacity? “We’ve engineered our minimum benchmark to be a million votes per second, which is way beyond what anyone’s built out in the past,” Nimit says. “The closest comparison would be Dancing With the Stars or American Idol, where everyone texts or calls in their choice. This would be that, but exponentially larger—and with a more serious impact, of course.”

Looking ahead, Nimit says he hopes Voatz will first and foremost help to rebuild popular trust in elections and government. This vision includes not only American elections but also foreign ones, and aims at reducing not just voter fraud but voter coercion.

“There’s plenty to criticize about the political system in the United States. At the end of the day, though, we have a 200-year-old functioning democracy. That’s not the case in a lot of countries around the world. In some of those places, there’s coercion. You can be targeted for your political beliefs, or, since your vote isn’t always anonymous, your vote can be traced back to you and things can happen to you if you don’t vote a certain way. A lot of people are afraid to lend their voice and participate.”

Ugandan political activist Daniel Tulibagenyi says he thinks Voatz could create public and government cohesion, something he sees now is lacking.

“There’s a huge discrepancy between the election outcomes and the public’s faith in those outcomes,” he says. “That’s where a third-party platform could be really valuable.”

Higher Calling: We must innovate out of student debt crisis

What’s your higher calling? Impassioned entrepreneurs always have a huge reason, the driving force behind their work, even if it isn’t immediately apparent to the rest of the market. This column, a first-person essay, drives home why Laurel Taylor, founder of FutureFuel, cares about reducing student debt and how it impacts more than just personal income for recent graduates; debt has resounding effects on the overall economy as well. Here she shares her Higher Calling.

Founder, FutureFuel

Last week, I had the great honor of attending an intimate roundtable at the White House, as a global business leader and technology founder. Truly a privilege. The subject: student debt. Our goal: Strategies, tactics and solutions to what is a very complex issue. Private and public sector global leaders gathered around the table, all invested in contributing to a joint mission — solutions and innovations to reduce student debt, to create reach and access for our diverse nation, to enable students to pay down their debt without sacrificing their financial future, reducing the default rate, cost containment (please!) and affordability … Awesome.

And yet, I woke the morning after the event with a heavy heart, an emotional hangover of sorts. Not an actual hangover — I rarely splurge on a single cocktail, as I feel the effects for days. An emotional hangover — the feeling of sadness that sits right in the pit of your stomach and weighs on your heart. She cannot be ignored. She followed me around the house while I was getting ready, having my coffee, reading my emails, prioritizing my day… She pushed me around a bit. She refused to be neglected or overlooked, as she had an important message to send me. “Listen to me,” she insisted, “or I’ll just weigh you down until you create the time and space to face me.” And so I surrendered, and it took me three hours to pinpoint the source.


We learned from some of the highest ranking officials that education and student debt remain among President Obama’s top issues, and that he consistently drives this agenda forward. President Obama introduced a number of measures, such as “doubling investments in grant and scholarship aid through Pell grants and tax credits, keeping interest rates low on federal student loans, and building options for borrowers to manage their debt through plans like the President’s Pay As You Earn (PAYE) plan” which caps monthly loan payments at 10 percent of income. We also discussed the income driven repayment program (IDP) “to ensure every borrower can repay their student loans successfully.” And we are grateful for his leadership. We learned of a few key initiatives driven by the First Lady, such as mobile, tech-based innovations to reach and educate students via Up Next. (text 44044 to learn more)


We talked about the American Dream. Briefly. We know that education is the bridge to a more prosperous future and we know that students who graduate with an undergraduate degree outpace the earning potential of those with only a high school diploma. Which means that it is absolutely critical that access and affordability are the true north of all of our efforts.

So, why, after spending so much time together, do I feel … disillusioned? Disillusioned is the feeling that I have identified. And for me, this emotion is a rarity.

What was most striking, less than 24 hours later, is that we did not discuss the impact of what 17 to 20 years of student loans mean to the near-70 percent of us who are paying down our loans in a disciplined and consistent manner. I had the opportunity to express my unique point of view at that roundtable, which was centered around:

  • The wealth gap that occurs as a consequence to those who have student loans, as we simply cannot participate in wealth accumulating events like our peers without student loans
  • The ask of the private sector: employer-led debt repayment tax efficiencies
  • Pre-tax implications for dollars allocated toward student debt, similar to 401(k) plans.

I’m not sure my asks were appropriate. I went for it anyway, because I know that’s what you expect of me.


The wealth gap is not academic. It is real. (We’re posting a model for you to experiment with the wealth gap yourself.) It is very difficult to participate at the same level in 401(k) contribution during those first 10 years after graduation, when your monthly student debt repayment comprises such a large percentage of your total take-home pay. Even with roommates and other cost-cutting measures, it’s just really tight when you’re starting out your career. And since most repayment options are flat across the entirety of your loans, you’re hit the hardest when compound interest could work it’s magic. Truly what a tragedy this is! We cannot make up for 10 years of lost compound interest.

Takeaway: 401(k) contribution and participation is key, as early as possible. Takeaway: Employer-led debt repayment can significantly reduce the time it takes for you to retire your debt, which has a material impact on reducing the wealth gap.


We cannot simply accept that our available options translate into 17 to 20 years of payoff. When did this become acceptable? This is a relatively new phenomenon that did not affect the generations before us, at this level. It’s not just about lowering the default rate, although that is obviously critical. It’s also about accelerating the ability to retire your student loans and get on with your life! With your dreams! With your freedom! We must innovate, as the great nation that we are.

FutureFuel.io is all about technology, innovation and community. And this is our solution — harmonizing across interdependent stakeholders, users + employers, where we can solve problems, together. We leverage technology to strip out costs from inefficient systems, which empowers employers to invest in their people, their future, their human capital, not inefficiencies. And this creates a market signal that gives those who would not have aspired to college—hope and a path forward. We cannot pretend that college affordability and student debt is divorced from the less than 4 percent African American and 8 percent Hispanic participation in STEM.

And we know that employers on our platform are committed to diversity, inclusion, and sourcing through mobile-centric technology that meets YOU where you are — whether on campus, at home or in transit. You shouldn’t have to be in a specific geography or location to get that lucky break. We know that employers are looking for intelligent ways to find you that are easy and optimized through tech. And we know you, our user, wants the same — human, real, authentic interaction that helps you engage with employers who want to invest in you. And so you want to invest in them. Loyalty. A lot to be said for loyalty.

So as we go to work for you, here’s our ask of you: We can only serve you if you choose to engage and be the hardworking, inspired and passionate person that you are. We can only serve you if you choose to build your profile and showcase your grit, tenacity and talent, and interact with employers who are eager to meet you. We can only help you pay down your debt in a fraction of the time if you express your preference for employer-led debt repayment by engaging, demonstrating that employer-led debt repayment IS a deciding factor in your job search and for whom you will devote your human potential.

We’re doing our part to support and democratize the American Dream. We know it doesn’t address every problem in the equation of student debt, but we are doing our part to innovate and serve you, our customers — our users and our employers. Join us. Let’s show this world what the American Dream, through the lens of technology and co-creation and smarts and impact, can really look like.

Employers on our platform are leading. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to lead your life. Choose to lead. Choose FutureFuel.io.

Do you have a Higher Calling to share? Why do you solve the problem we’re facing, and what impact do you see it having on our society? Please share HERE.

Do you know no. 1 cause of death for companies?

Scaling a company can be a monstrous task, so with Halloween creeping closer, please plan to join us for the FoundersWire October issue launch party.

Thursday, Oct. 27, 6 p.m. Further details will be sent to confirmed guests only. 

We’ve conjured up an event like no other, where you’ll do more than meet and greet. With haunting spirits and wicked brews, guests will do their best to avoid the startup apocalypse–before it’s too late.

Big prizes await at this Plan Your Own Funeral fete, for guests who offer the best eulogy for companies gone before.

Who would be on the guest list at your company funeral? Famous entrepreneurs, funders, professional mentors and friends? Raise the dead for this evening of fun, food, drinks and founder frights.

Come in costume if you dare. If you miss this event, it will haunt you. Forever.

Want more details or to get on the guest list? Click HERE.


This is how you attract tech talent

Companies in growth mode have knowledge gaps –and FoundersWire 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 & Tell.


Q: What do developers look for in a project or team to decide whether they want to get involved?

 A: It’s a developer’s market, which means a good paying job is easy to come by. For your project or team to stand out and attract the right talent, focus on your company culture, impact and tech.

When I say culture I don’t mean a ping-pong table–who are the people that make up your team? Are they helpful and pleasant to be around? Are they the type of people that point fingers when there’s a problem, or do they jump in and start helping? Culture is your company’s foundation and the reason people come to work every day.

The second thing is impact. Will your product make the world a better place? Is it reaching a wide audience? The greater impact that your product makes in the world, the more exciting it is. It’s not enough to build technically cool things, some developers like to make a difference in the world. For example, building a new productivity tool might be cool, but building a tool that will help disaster victims contact their families feels better.

Then finally there’s the technology stack. Each developer has their preference and their preferences matter. If your product stack is a monolithic PHP application, you may find it difficult to get the best developers excited to work for you. Modern, evolving tech stacks with large communities or emerging tech are the most exciting and engaging to work with.

By focusing on your internal dynamic and creating an exciting place to work, you can snag awesome developers that can not only do the job but help you get to the next level.

Chris Swenor is 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 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.

When does your code become legacy?

Companies in growth mode have 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. This week’s question is a two-parter. Submit yours today, RIGHT HERE, with the subject line: Tech & Tell


 Q: When we start to build our first platform, how long should we stick with outsource?

A: There are many factors that come into play when deciding how long to stick with outsourced developers or whether to even use them at all. Do you have a tech co-founder? Are you working with a quality agency? Have you already proven that your product is a hit? How difficult is it to hire tech talent in your area?

Say you hired an agency to build the first iteration of your product because you don’t have any technical co-founders. You’re happy with the product you receive and you’re starting to gain traction in the market. If this is the case, I would recommend staying with that agency to continue to build out properly tested, validated features. This is also a good time to start hiring your internal team. Ideally, there will be overlap between your new hires and your internal team–it eases onboarding and makes for a more seamless transition. As you transition away from the agency completely, it’s important to keep the relationship warm. Your product will hopefully continue to succeed and you may come to a point where you might need extra horsepower to hit a deadline that doesn’t justify another full-time hire. The agency will be in your corner and since they’re already familiar with your product, they can quickly jump in to help.

Q: When we grow enough to bring on a full-time developer, won’t they just want to tear it all down and do it their own way, anyway? What can we do to make sure that doesn’t happen, that our first iteration has value?

A: Don’t be overly concerned about future developers tearing down what previous developers wrote. The second a dev publishes code, it instantly becomes legacy. Any good developer will look back at what they wrote a year ago and say, “What the heck was I doing?” As the complexity of an application grows and the skills of the developer grow, there will always be new or better ways of doing things. As a developer, it’s common to want to rewrite older code in a more “elegant” way to make sure it’s measuring up to current best practices. The value of your early product is not what you can salvage for future use, but instead, learning how users behave and if they even want to use your product.

You need to really ask yourself if there is actual value in rewriting code. Sometimes code needs a complete rewrite, because the current code is so bad that it is lengthening the time it takes to write new code to unacceptable amounts of time. This was the case when I was the CTO of Vsnap. It would require a week of work to make the simplest changes, and then one of our developers would have to wake up at 5 a.m. during off-peak hours to push the change. So we bit the bullet and did a complete rewrite of the application, and it fixed all of our issues. I have also consulted with clients that were considering a full rewrite, but what they really needed was a bit of code written to abstract the legacy app into its own environment so new code could be written on a clean slate.

In the end, it just takes an expert to take a look at what you have and weigh the pros and cons of each decision.

Chris Swenor is 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. Be sure to check out their newly launched website. 

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 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.

Personal health data gets smart with Lifestone


CAMBRIDGE—Real-time personal health data fits in your palm, with the help of medical device company Lifestone.

Lifestone does the work of multiple devices with a portable, pocket-sized, health-tracking module designed to measure and store your vital signs, and make them sharable. (You can learn more about this Kickstarter HERE.)

Lifestone collects health data including body temperature, blood pressure, oximetry, ECG/EKG, respiration rate, heart rate, and with an add-on stethoscope (called a “stethostone”), can hear and record heart and lung sounds. The pocket-sized portable device syncs with a smartphone app for data storage and sharing.

Co-founders Xin (Sheen) Xie, a Ph.D. candidate at Northeastern University, and Anlyn (Hang) Liu met as fellow members of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association—Xie representing NU as president, and Liu as vice president for University of Massachusetts. “We often ran into each other at events,” Xie says. Xie handles the technology, Liu is in charge of marketing, and two others also joined the team: Bill Xi oversees manufacturing and supply chain, while Alex Lee runs operations and business development.

They talked about digitizing the health monitoring process and the importance of easy data-sharing with doctors. “We all believed we could create a product that accurately recorded multiple vital signs with many functions, including a detachable cuff to make the device small and portable,” Xie says.


Xie says watching his mother track her high blood pressure motivated him to create Lifestone. “She measured it every day using a mercury hematomanometer, writing down her results on a piece of paper.” He says he knew this wasn’t the most efficient or accurate way to track these critical vital signs. So with his electrical engineering background, he worked through solutions to improve the process.

They built their initial prototype in a garage in Worcester, then a few more, before launching their Kickstarter campaign in September. There are currently four working protypes, with more to come, Xie says. The team is based out of IDEA, Northeastern’s student-led venture accelerator.

With $200,000 of private funding from a Chinese tech company already in the coffers, the Lifestone team of four is focusing on customers. “Millennials pay a great deal of attention to being fit and staying healthy,” Xie says. “And of course, as baby boomers age and become seniors, keeping track of their health will become even more important, especially to their families. We believe the launching of the Lifestone device couldn’t be more timely.”

Their strategy, once the Kickstarter is complete, will be to put the Lifestone device on the shelves of such stores as Best Buy, Target and Walgreen’s—with an accessible price tag. “The MSRP will be $169, while our Kickstarter special price ranges from $69 to $119, depending on how early you’re in,” Xie says.

And in the Asian market, where regulatory benchmarks are different, Xie says they will collaborate with insurance companies, clinics, hospitals and government agencies.

“Many medical professionals are excited about our product,” Xie says. “They have expressed interest in sampling it when it becomes available.”

Device and phone

One of the features that makes Lifestone different from competitors, according to the website, is blood pressure measurement. “Unlike other tricorder devices using estimated blood pressure through scanning your skin, Lifestone features an innovative detachable cuff, which is very easy to use, with a micro air pump that enables the real physical measurement of your blood pressure. This provides an accurate reading.”

The Lifestone team has set a lofty goal of $80,000, but saw early traction, raising more than half that from 338 backers, $15,000 of it in just the last two weeks. The First Believer packages at the $69 price point—which include a Lifestone device, a detachable blood pressure cuff, stethostone, the app and silicon protective case—went fast, with all 99 spots taken. Others packages are readily available from $79 and up. Some backers are pledging $169 and receiving two full packages. Lifestone plans to deliver orders in December.

“With the Lifestone wellness device, people can share their personal health data such as daily blood pressure with their loved ones, or they can send in-app messages with ECG and other measurements directly to their doctor without leaving home,” Xie says.

“Knowing your vital signs will be a huge issue … and our easy-to-use device will make it simple to monitor and share (the results) with family and doctors, around the corner or around the world, via our smartphone app,” he says.

This Kickstarter is live until Oct. 14 at 3:05 p.m. Support this project HERE.

Let your customers guide the process

Companies in growth mode have 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 & Tell.


 Q: What common mistake should we look out for as we begin creating our product/app?

A: Forgetting about your customers.

So many founders have an idea and start plowing ahead. They dream up these amazing features that are incredibly complex and take months to implement. They release them, and then … crickets. Nobody actually uses those features, or they use them and hate them, or they use them in unintended ways.

Don’t think for your customers. There’s no reason to create a product blindly. Even if you’re an expert in the space, you should still test every assumption and talk to your users. Make paper prototypes to see how they use the product with little investment. The earlier you bring the user into the process the more time and money you will save.

That being said, never build what a user tells you to build. Find the root cause of their request. Once you understand the cause, you can find the most innovative and efficient way to solve their problem. Also when you break it down to the source, it’s easier to solve multiple issues with one feature.

Chris Swenor is 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 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.

Features and benefits don’t close sales


What’s the secret to success in sales?

Understanding pain and following a proven process, says Greg Nanigian, a Boston-based expert sales trainer who has been sharing his own secrets to success with growing companies since 1987.

“You start with the customer’s pain and why it’s important,” Nanigian says. “Traditionally, salespeople focus on features and benefits, and they end up doing a lot of free consulting—and that only leads to ‘I’ll think it overs’ and ‘we’ll let you knows.’ It’s not really smart.”

Pain is just one part of a larger sales system, and it requires patience to truly tap into a customer’s psyche. “Usually what will happen is if a traditional salesperson starts to uncover pain, (the customer says) ‘We’re really frustrated,’ the salesperson starts to immediately present their wares and talk about how good they are—to which the customer will respond, ‘How much?’ and say, ‘Let me think about it and get back to you.’”

Nanigian says this selling process, though pervasive, is not effective. Features and benefits have a tendency to overwhelm a potential customer, rather than focusing on solving their problem.

“People don’t buy features and benefits, per se,” says Nanigian. “They buy ways to overcome their pain. Pain is a deep-seated emotional need that would compel someone to buy something.”

He gives this example: “For a software development company, a pain of their prospect could be how long it takes to get to market, or perhaps they’ve tried hiring developers who aren’t on their game or proficient. If the salesperson isn’t skilled at having a meaningful conversation with their prospect, where they are freely sharing their doubts, concerns, anxieties, or even anger about that pain, they’re going to fail.”

And just hearing the initial pain is never enough—you really have to dig into the issues and ask the right questions. Otherwise, that first attempt is also going to fall short.

“Although they may have heard the problem, they didn’t frame it around the proper system. The salesperson has to stay in control,” he says.

So how can you keep yourself from blurting out, “Hey, I can solve this one!”

Within the Sandler training system, there’s something called Identity Role Theory (IRT), Nanigian says, and it’s designed to keep the salesperson separate from the sale, so they can focus more on the prospect’s problem.

“There’s on old one-liner that says you are what you do,” Nanigian says, “but IRT says no, that’s not right, there’s a difference. By understanding that, by working to strengthen that, it enables the salesperson to not get emotionally involved in a sales call.”

The key is to step back, play third party to the selling situation, and follow the process.

“The effect of getting emotionally involved is that the salesperson loses control of themselves, and then loses control of the conversation,” Nanigian says.

Greg Nanigian and his team have used the Sandler methodology to help thousands of companies overcome challenges and increase sales and margins, through interactive sales training sessions and events. Nanigian is also author of the book, “Why Features and Benefits Don’t Sell and What Does.” Greg Nanigian and Associates, Inc. is an affiliate of Sandler Training, rated one of the top 20 training organizations in the world. Register for a complimentary session HERE.

Is your pitch a story or an ad?

Media tip Monday:

Is your media pitch a story, or is it an ad?

Do you know the difference?

When talking to a journalist, be quick to talk in terms of the story. If you only focus on the benefits of your product or service, it’s an ad. It may seem the same but there’s an industry of difference in there.

Here’s what I mean:

“My app makes it easier to (fill in your value prop here).”

Hmmm. Maybe it does. But where in the market am I going to find someone to validate a claim like that? Without missing deadline? Almost impossible. For a journalist with limited time to do that footwork, that is not an appealing prospect. If I wrote the story only quoting you and your (naturally biased) view of your product’s value, without any corroboration, how do the readers know it’s true? Without independent external validation, that angle is just an ad.

A story creates characters and a narrative. It’s interesting, and as it evolves, it gets more exciting. Your story includes some challenge you faced, a moment where you as a founder learned something or grew somehow. A moment you realized why you are the only person who can solve the huge problem you’re tackling.

Better yet: Your story highlights actual customers who, when faced with a huge problem, found your innovation was the smartest, most effective solution.

That’s a story. A good one.

Give a journalist that angle—along with intelligent quotes that put your innovation in context. Why does this matter? How will it change lives? How has it changed you? Show your unique expertise by weaving a narrative while shedding light on your market—and watch how fast you become headline news.

For more media tips that show you how to pitch your company’s unique news stories, sign up HERE. If you’re looking to increase your visibility in the market through media coverage, let us know RIGHT HERE.

Increase your coverage chances

Media Tip Monday:

The most important question you can ask yourself before reaching out to the media is “What’s newsworthy right now?”

If you have raised $8M or you just hired Microsoft’s CFO, yes, that’s bound to earn some coverage. But for the most part, your day-to-day existence isn’t going to be that exciting, to reporters or their readers. So you have to see the bigger picture going on inside the newsroom, and figure out an angle that readers will care about right now, today.

Here’s the process:
1. What kind of company are you? When is the most logical time of year your mission or growth would be interesting? You have to be a good fit within any outlet’s editorial calendar.

For example: If you’re in ed-tech or you’re otherwise school related, now is the perfect time to pitch a story. If your platform prepares catering menus, you want to talk to the media in advance of the holiday party season.

2. Come up with a list of 10 unique story angles so each outlet could potentially cover you in a unique way, without repetition.

For more media tips that help you leverage coverage for growth, sign up HERE.
If you’re looking for media coverage, let us know RIGHT HERE

Hub entrepreneurs surge through Dog Days


BOSTON—These long, hot days are nearly over, with plans for fall on the horizon. But that doesn’t mean that Boston entrepreneurs slacked over summer.

A recent Captivate Network study showed that during summer, productivity drops by 20 percent, work attendance drops by 19 percent, projects take 13 percent longer and workers are 45 percent more distracted.

Here in Boston, though, summer was the time for hitting milestones, piloting data and testing products, according to MassChallenge Managing Director Scott Bailey.


Blonde 2.0 mascot, Zoey

MassChallenge, the largest global accelerator, offers entrepreneurs from around the world an opportunity to heat things up in the summer, with chances to mix with mentors, hear from high-profile speakers and learn from alumni.

“Summer is an amazing time to make progress and have fun in the process. Many of our entrepreneurs think about scale and efficiency. They collaborate openly and get feedback in the real world,” Bailey says.

Connect, Communicate and Collaborate

Entrepreneurs who survive the dog days work through a strategy for summer, which includes staying closely connected and continuing to build their network—whether through Boston’s universities, incubators or co-working spaces. Meredith Sandiford, executive director of The Capital Network and Greenhorn Connect, credits this community and supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem as one of Boston’s unique assets.

“People are genuinely interested in helping each other out. If you are working on building something great, the more effort you put into connecting and helping others the more you will get in return,” Sandiford says.

Many networking opportunities are open to entrepreneurs in Boston throughout the summer and year-round, Sandiford said. The Capital Network’s GreenhornConnect features a variety of events hosted by such organizations as MassInnovation Nights and Venture Café to help entrepreneurs connect and “make things happen.”

Good weather and hot spots like the Seaport District have drawn entrepreneurs out to meet people and talk about their work while also having some fun.

“There is always something interesting happening in Boston,” Sandiford said. “Go out and meet people, whether it’s potential customers, investors or just others in the startup community.”


Wellist mascot, Linus

Entrepreneurs don’t have to limit networking solely to business gatherings, Bailey adds.

“You could be talking to someone at a wedding on Cape Cod who can help you,” he says. “When you’re out with friends and loved ones, be open to communicating freely about what you’re doing.”

Beat Fall’s Funding Frenzy

Funding can slow down in the summer but entrepreneurs who plan ahead can still raise money, says Ricky Pelletier, a partner with expansion-stage venture capital firm OpenView.

“Not everybody disappears to Nantucket for six weeks at a time, but a weeklong vacation here and there does create some lag,” he says. He recommends designating a team member who can keep the funding ball rolling while founders are away—valid advice for any time of year.

But deals do close and emails do get answered, which can work in growth companies’ favor—because there is less competition, he adds. But Pelletier cautions against relying too heavily on the calendar to decide when to raise capital.


Teletrip Robotics mascot, CJ

“Everyone comes out of the woodwork to raise funds after Labor Day. That’s great in theory, but then you’re competing with everyone else for the VC’s time. If you’re a good, solid business, you can dictate your fund-raising schedule. Stick to the process and you can make it work,” he says.

Make Room for Fun and Flexibility

Even for entrepreneurs who don’t slow down over summer, it’s not all work, all the time. Fun and flexibility are just as important.

“Our startup founders make their own time—and it is most of their time,” MassChallenge’s Bailey says. And Rica Elysee, founder of MassChallenge finalist BeautyLynk, can confirm that. “You should see how many different companies are (in the office) after 6 p.m.”

Elysee concedes, “The dog days for an entrepreneur, right, it’s not always a fun thing. But summer is the greatest opportunity to knock on doors and get some awesome customer research done. I say, ‘I want to know more about your opinion, I don’t want to sell you anything.’ I was also able to talk to a few angels, and do a few war rooms—you know, where you’re locked up in an office and getting people to ask the hard questions, to the point where I get to crying,” she laughs.

“If you’re not answering the hard questions now, you’re not doing your work,” she says.


FoundersWire mascot, Honeybear

But there has also been plenty of daylight left for lighter challenges. Boston showcased a variety of summer entertainment and events geared toward entrepreneurs, the most popular of which included TechJam, BUILD Entrepreneur Games and the Regatta for Entrepreneurship.

Switch Gears Instead of Slowing Down

In some business circles, the dog days of summer are regarded as the time when decision-makers are unreachable and buyers are not engaged. But for entrepreneurs, it can work quite the opposite. “I thrived this summer,” says Hub native Elysee, 30. “Have you ever watched (TV show) Naked and Afraid? There will be those who survive it by being lazy, and those who thrive. (Entrepreneurs) wake up early to avoid the heat, and chase something with a rock to show how savage we can be—that’s what I’m about.”

Staying in motion means capitalizing on the hottest months of the year, creating opportunities to make direct connections, get noticed and get ahead of anyone who believes summer is a tough time to get things done—just in time for fall execution season.

“We are expanding services into colleges and office spaces for fall. But I have to say, one thing I’m really looking forward to for fall has nothing to do with beauty services but watching the transformation that’s about to happen in this city,” Elysee says. “With Forbes Under 30 summit coming, and HubWeek expanding out to Roxbury for the first time, Boston is rising to the occasion.

“Boston is the city on the hill—which means I have the opportunity to make it exactly what I want it to be. I use that to push forward.”

Make your plans now for HubWeek, the creative festival in September that brings a week of events and experiences that highlight the intersection of art, science and technology within Boston.

Wow the crowd with fewer fonts in your deck

Need help perfecting your pitch? Katharine Burkhart Designs knows what wins. She offers her insight right here every Wednesday, all summer long. Still need more advice? This special deal might help. 


Feature fewer fonts.

Typography is a great element of design and can do a lot for a brand, and by extension, a company’s pitch deck. Selecting fonts that are in line with your company’s branding is a must, as is using those fonts consistently. When pitch decks start to push into four and five fonts, the font generally becomes the feature instead of what the text has to say. This tip goes hand in hand with developing a hierarchy, because it supports that effort directly.

Consider that you can design a great deck with only one font when you leverage different weights, such as bold, regular and light. Then perhaps you do slide titles in bold, your body text in light and special callouts or points of emphasis in regular. Or, you could use one font to do your headers and another to do your body text. Either way, this will allow for a cohesive design and a good hierarchy of information.

Katie Burkhart is founder of Katharine Burkhart Designs, a Boston-based graphic design and brand agency that specializes in helping entrepreneurs launch with quality, affordable branding. KBD has generously partnered with FoundersWire to offer two special deals that will improve your pitch by 10x. Check them out HERE.

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Boston prof turns TV pro with Language of Business

BOSTON—Gregory Stoller, senior lecturer at the Boston University Questrom School of Business, was just trying to find a few businesses that would work with his college students when he launched the Language of Business on the Needham Channel. From that first public access station, the news magazine-style show grew to more than 90 public access stations and recently made the jump to commercial television.

It now airs Sunday mornings at 11 on WBIN-TV.

Show host Stoller said he’s excited to reach a larger audience.

“Our goal has always been to address the challenges and questions that entrepreneurs face and provide insights that can help them grow their businesses,” Stoller said.  “It gives entrepreneurs a stronger voice, globally, nationally and in their local communities.”

The show is a resource for entrepreneurs and others interested in local business growth, said Language of Business Executive Producer Don Kelley.

“There is a lot of innovation in the area and this is an opportunity to highlight the great work that’s being done here,” he said.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to have local, original content,” said WBIN-TV General Manager Gerry McGavick. “The Language of Business team pushes itself on every aspect of production, ensuring that they have comprehensive coverage of business topics, a good mix of high-caliber guests, and high production standards.”

The Language of Business website includes complementary footage, business resources and entrepreneurial advice.

The Language of Business is produced by The Needham Channel.

WBIN-TV is broadcast in Massachusetts and New Hampshire on cable systems including Verizon (channel 6/506), Comcast (channel 18/811 in most areas) and on MetroCast.

Do you speak the same language as your developer?

Companies in growth mode have 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 & Tell.


 Q: What languages should we be looking for developers to know as we hire? If I’m a non-technical founder, how can I tell whether candidates know what they’re doing?

A: I’m biased, but you should be looking for full-stack JavaScript developers. JavaScript is our mainstay at East Coast Product and here’s why:

  • Since JavaScript is the only language that your browser can run, you’re going to need a developer that knows it anyway, so why not write your backend using JavaScript as well? That way you can find an expert in JavaScript that can handle both the frontend and backend.  As you start scaling up your company, you don’t have to worry about filling specific frontend/backend gaps, you can hire utility players that can do it all.
  • JavaScript popularity is exploding. It is the No. 1 language on Github and NPM is the largest package manager in the world. Package managers are important because they are repositories of open source code, meaning you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you want to do something common. Now there are more JavaScript developers than ever, and it’s only picking up steam. It should be the easiest to hire and grow your team if you choose JavaScript.
  • JavaScript is quick and easy to develop with. There are significantly fewer enforced rules when coding JavaScript, which allows you to code faster. This is, however, a double-edged sword because even if you code poorly, it will still “work.” This is why it’s really important hire the best developers you can and establish best practices as a company to prevent your code from getting out of control.

It’s very hard for a non-technical person to know if a developer they’re hiring is actually any good, but this is a great opportunity to reach out to your network. Ask for help. Find a technical person to help you articulate your needs and with the interview process. Make sure you listen to them. As much as you think the person you found is a perfect culture fit, if they are inexperienced and don’t have the appropriate internal support, and they are one of your first hires, it could be a disaster.

Chris Swenor is 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 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.

Leveraging the media coverage you get

Media Tip Monday’s going to focus on something really important, your media strategy. How do you leverage your media coverage once you’ve earned it?

Don’t waste your media mentions

Media begets media, it works very much the same as investor interest. Once you get it, more will come–but only if earn reporters’ trust and get them talking about you. Then it can become a powerful feeding frenzy–because no one wants to miss out on a good story. When you do get media coverage, you can take steps to increase its value exponentially:

  • Send it across all your social channels (and blast it more than once if it’s a feature that will retain its readability).
  • Link it up on your website so the news organization’s super-strong SEO can do some inbound work for you.
  • Send it out alongside a blog with firsthand behind-the-scenes of what it was like to be interviewed.
  • Embed it in your email signatory so everyone you communicate with can use the article to further vet you and your credibility.
What do you do NEXT?

Now think of three facts you did NOT address in the article that ran, send a story pitch to another outlet, and use the recent coverage as your bait, just like this:

Dear new reporter who hasn’t covered us yet, 
We were just featured in publication X, but I realized I didn’t mention X in that interview. (Link original story here.) X matters because y and z reasons, especially to your readers, who I know are interested in y and z based on these other stories you’ve covered so comprehensively (refer to real stories by their headlines). If you want to get in touch, we’d love to talk with you more exclusively about x, y and z. Thank you for considering.”

Reporters can’t resist an exclusive, and you’ve already been vetted by another editorial team so you must be newsworthy.

Try it and see how much buzz you can generate, then keep it going. This is invaluable to your growth strategy. If you’re wondering who would be interested in writing about your particular innovation, get in touch and we’ll help you figure it out.

Media Tip Monday is part of FoundersWire’s efforts to help Boston growth companies understand and leverage media coverage to accelerate success. Sign up for Media School HERE. Get official tips and insight from working journalists and launch your best media blitz in 15 minutes a week. 

How to make your pitch deck stand out with fonts

Need help perfecting your pitch? Katharine Burkhart Designs knows what wins. She offers her insight right here every Wednesday, all summer long. Still need more advice? This special deal might help.


Want to make the most important information in your pitch deck stand out? Employ a hierarchy of information.

This tip is meant to focus on text and the use of fonts, but applies to all design components. Although you should be working to keep the amount of text per slide low, there will inevitably be text in your pitch deck. To make this text easily digestible, develop a system by which you prioritize information at different levels (This is called a “hierarchy of information“).

For example, slide titles will likely be bigger and bolder than other text, while things like slide numbers may be the smallest. Color can also help to establish hierarchy, perhaps utilizing a bright color for headers so they stand out. Whatever method or methods you choose, make sure to employ them consistently throughout your slides, as your audience will start to expect a pattern if you establish one. Along with helping to communicate which information is most important, the hierarchy also will train your audience to know where to look so they absorb your deck faster. This allows them to get back to listening to your pitch, which is exactly what you want them to do.

Katie Burkhart is founder of Katharine Burkhart Designs, a Boston-based graphic design and brand agency that specializes in helping entrepreneurs launch with quality, affordable branding. KBD has generously partnered with FoundersWire to offer two special deals that will improve your pitch by 10x. Check them out HERE.

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Does your developer understand your Why?

Companies in growth mode have 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 & Tell.


Q: What’s the most crucial question to ask during any build?

A: “Why?”

This is one of the biggest issues of outsourcing. A company gives the development agency a checklist, and says, “Please build this.”  When that is all a developer has to go on, all they can do is follow it as best they can. Most of the time, they don’t understand it the way it was meant, or when they stumble upon a roadblock, they don’t have enough context to propose an appropriate solution that fits into the big picture. So the only thing they can do is keep pounding their head against the wall to push through it.

It’s critical to bring developers into the mix as early as you possibly can. They will prove invaluable in the end, because they will understand the “Why” of a feature request and can make appropriate suggestions and you will understand why things are built how they are – super important for scaling down the line.

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.

Events to build your business this week

Don’t miss this week’s varied and diverse events happening all over greater Boston that will teach you, open doors and get you thinking: 

Monday, Aug 8: Gay Men Business Networking, 7-10 p.m., at the Mooo Bar at XV Hotel, 15 Beacon St., Boston. $20. Register and buy tickets HERE.

Tuesday, Aug. 9: Mass Innovation Nights Foodie #11, 6-8:30 p.m., at ONCE Lounge & Ballroom, 156 Highland Ave., Somerville. FREE. Register HERE.

Wednesday, Aug. 10: SheStarts Networking Breakfast, 8:30-10 a.m., at Wolf & Company, P.C., 99 High St., Boston. FREE. Register HERE.

Bonus event, also Wednesday: Summer Talent Expo, 8:45 a.m.-12:30 p.m., at Paramount Theatre, 559 Washington St., Boston. FREE. Sponsored by Startup Institute. Register HERE.

Thursday, Aug. 11: Twitter for Business, 6:30-8 p.m., at the Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St., Boston. FREE. Led by Lauren Metter and Alyssa Goldberg of Metter Media, sponsored by General Assembly. Register HERE.

Friday, Aug. 12: #BeEngaged, 6-8 p.m., at Harriet’s Corner, 347 Congress St., Boston. Network with local youth and young professionals, plus Q&A with director of MassVote. Register HERE.

Saturday, Aug. 13: Mogul Mixer, 6-9 p.m., at Lust Cosmetics, 129 Newbury St., Boston. $15 general admission, $20 for business logo display. Register and buy tickets HERE.

Do you have an event you want to promote? Let us know here. We choose the best events for our readers and publish every Monday

Maternova makes Zika protection clothing a priority

Female Founder of the Week (FFoW) is a weekly celebration of the Boston-connected women who are building businesses that drive change around the world. Meg Wirth and Allyson Cote, founders of Maternova, take this week’s honors for addressing Zika, the deadly virus putting women, girls and newborns at risk globally.


With news of Zika virus ripping through communities around the world, and landing most recently on U.S. soil in Florida, fear continues to grow exponentially.

Since the World Health Organization declared Zika a health emergency in February, the numbers of pregnant women and newborns affected globally have increased 20 times, according to the WHO report, One year into Zika Outbreak.

Zika has been linked to a significant increase in newborn microcephaly—a terrifying birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected, due to improper brain development, according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine report.

There is no cure, and there is no vaccine, but there is Maternova—working on the front lines to source a solution, in the form of Zika-proof clothing for girls, women, and expecting mothers.

Maternova is well known to the Boston ecosystem as MassChallenge 2011 finalists, and founders Meg Wirth and Allyson Cote remain “deadly serious” about providing medical devices and diagnostics to improve outcomes for pregnant women and newborns around the world.

“How do women walking around in their everyday lives protect themselves (from Zika and other mosquito-borne illness), who are maybe washing clothes in a stream, or walking to market?” asks Wirth in an interview with FoundersWire. “The more we researched and heard from the field, the more the impact of malaria and dengue were very much on our radar. Then Zika came along. It has become very scary, so it just hit right where we were working,” she says.

The Providence-based team partnered with Alessandra Gold, a friend, former co-founder in Cote’s previous company and well-known designer from Brazil—a country more ravaged by Zika than any other—to create a line of protective clothing to stave off potential bites.

Zika attacks pregnant women in their first trimester—far more than the average population—but the virus often isn’t detected until after childbirth, or until nearly the third trimester, Cote says. “(Expecting mothers) are more likely to be bitten, it’s the increase in blood volume and hormones,” she explains, “so it’s that important. We need to get this solution into the field and we can’t wait.”

Maternova, known for sourcing crucial medical technology and distributing it to the neediest mother-and-newborn communities through its 15,000 partnerships, saw Zika as a dire situation. They also recognized that no one else was approaching a solution through apparel, which presented a unique opportunity.

“We actually do think of our Zika protection as a medical device,” says Wirth. “We’re already working on how to protect pregnant women from risks, and we had already been looking at rapid diagnostics in the field, so you could test whether women had Zika.”

Around that time, they discovered CAMTech (Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies), a collaborative platform based out of Massachusetts General Hospital that identifies medical challenges and fast-tracks impactful, commercially viable solutions, was hosting a Zika innovation hackathon in partnership with Grand Challenges Canada.

“None of the other ideas or teams were focused on apparel. We really focused on the idea of having something protective that women will want to wear,” says Wirth. “Just because you’re a poor girl in El Salvador doesn’t mean you don’t want to wear something stylish and attractive.”

The team was one of six that pocketed $19,000 American ($25k Canadian) in May, to set the wheels in motion—and the only one focused on apparel as a possible stopgap. Though fashion may seem a less lofty driver in the face of deadly disease, Wirth and Cote see it as crucial to removing barriers to adherence.

“(The clothing) had to be safe for pregnant women—the standard repellant is not safe for them,” says Cote. “So we had to source the fabric (with safe repellant imbued into the fibers). And now we have clothing that’s being specifically designed and manufactured as gorgeous and affordable, that’s going to save lives.

“We don’t want women to look like they’re being punished by wearing this,” she says.

They focused on Zika-proof clothing as a means of empowerment for those most at risk. “We are very good at taking technologies that are quite far along and proven, and helping them get to market in creative ways,” Wirth continues. “That’s exemplified in the Zika apparel, where we are putting together fashion, nanotechnology and our existing global distribution.”

The virus, carried by a type of mosquito called Aedes, is known informally as the tiger mosquito. This deadly pest has adapted to city life and rapid urban growth, where the population increase has outpaced the city’s ability to maintain infrastructure such as piped water and sanitation. Inside homes, they breed easily in toilet tanks, flower vases, even pet water bowls. Without piped water, the poor are especially vulnerable, forced to store water in containers, creating a deadly multiplier on mosquito proliferation in their own homes, and increasing their risk of infection.

“Pregnancy is a vulnerable time, even under the best of circumstances,” says Cote. “These poor women, it’s like roulette every day you walk outside your house. Unless you are wealthy, you don’t even have window screens.”

Maternova was chosen by Republic to fund its newest initiative on the just-launched crowd-funding platform. “Republic focuses on women entrepreneurs and impact,” says Wirth, “and we are one of eight startups they chose to launch with. We were asked to be part of their launch, which was absolutely amazing.”

Republic, built by AngelList alums and ushering in the new age of post-JOBS crowd-funding regulations, gives mission-focused founders information, community support, and access to high-profile advisors and high net-worth investors, according to its web site.

Maternova’s clothing line is already eagerly anticipated on the front lines, they say.

“We’ve already gotten requests to make community health worker uniforms that protect from mosquito-borne diseases, like for midwives going out into the community,” Wirth says. “The midwives really are the heroes in this whole thing, because they do the work of delivering the next generation in many countries.”

Maternova’s clothing not only repels Zika, but addresses other high-risk mosquito-borne illness, they say. “We heard from the field that they were terrified of Zika, and dengue has proven to be just as malevolent,” says Cote. “So our fabric protects against 40 different insects (including Lyme-carrying ticks). We are looking to be a single source of protection in an attractive way.”

Where Zika has just infiltrated the United States, Lyme has already had deep effects on the U.S. population, with more than 30,000 cases reported to the CDC each year. “Chronic lyme can be physically devastating, which is how we know (our clothing) would appeal to women here,” Cote says.

The company’s current plan is to manufacture in Brazil, introduce the clothing line here in the United States, to generate interest and support, then distribute lower-cost versions around the world. “U.S. women will not only appreciate the design, but also see and support the cause,” Cote says. “Motherhood is a common bond. The threat may not be identical—each population has a unique threat—but this will protect you.”

They are sourcing high-quality, wearable and functional fabric, Cote says, which ultimately will be a smart investment, because pieces can be washed more than 50 times without losing their protective qualities.  “(Microcephaly is) a devastating consequence, because it’s something that cannot be fixed,” Cote says, “so we need to cut it off. We have to get these out into the field because not only do women need them, Meg and I have fought tooth and nail, and bootstrapped this. It’s something we are extremely committed to seeing through.”

With the advent of Zika, the Maternova team sees an opportunity to educate the population. “Maternal health and the wellbeing of pregnant women is what drives what we do,” Wirth says, “because we believe it drives societies. With Zika, because it is new and an immediate threat, it brings attention to maternal health across the foreground.

“For us, it’s a way to help and offer protection, not just for Zika, but for all vulnerabilities that affect women in the United States, Latin America and around the world,” she says.

“We can’t wait for a vaccine to come on the market,” says Cote. “That’s why the Republic campaign is so important—we can’t get it done fast enough at this point.”

Want to support this innovative company? Find out if you’re qualified to invest in Maternova through the Republic campaign HERE.

PowerPoint isn’t your only option for best pitch

Need help perfecting your pitch? Katharine Burkhart Designs knows what wins. She offers her insight right here every week, all summer long. Still need more advice? This special deal might help. 


Choose your file type wisely.

Pitch decks are frequently done in PowerPoint or other similar equivalents such as Keynote. These are great solutions for creating presentations, as that’s what these programs were made to do. They will allow you to add animations, include photos, build charts, and write text all in the same place.

But it is worth considering other alternatives depending on the situation of your specific pitch. I had a group ask me to design a deck for them as a PDF for a few reasons. First, they had well-developed branding and wanted the ability to use the fonts specific to their brand without risking an incompatibility problem with the host’s computer.

Second, they also wanted to avoid a technical problem between versions of PowerPoint, as they had a newer version and were told the host’s computer was several versions behind. Lastly, they knew that they had the opportunity to share the deck electronically with some of the funders attending the event and wanted to ensure that their file type would be both widely viewable and difficult for the receiver to easily edit, skewing their deck by mistake.

Now, presentation programs often give you the ability to save to a PDF, which may be the right solution. You also can create your pitch deck in an Adobe program and skip PowerPoint altogether. Whichever method you choose, the end goal is to have a file that will preserve your hard work on the deck when you’re standing at the podium.

Katie Burkhart is founder of Katharine Burkhart Designs, a Boston-based graphic design and brand agency that specializes in helping entrepreneurs launch with quality, affordable branding. KBD has generously partnered with FoundersWire to offer two special deals that will improve your pitch by 10x. Check them out HERE. 

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Price your development project for value, not cost

Companies in growth mode have 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 & Tell.


Q: How should we estimate the cost of developing? Is there a preferred per-hour rate or is it better to pay per-project scope?

A: Don’t base your decision on cost, you need to be more concerned with value.

I’ve seen prices as low as $15 per hour and as high as $500 per hour.  I’ve seen project quotes for ridiculously complex projects as low as $10,000, and easy projects in the millions.

Find a company that gets the vision, is easy to work with, and has amazing referrals.  The company should bleed your company’s colors, and want the project to succeed as much as you do. Values alignment is extremely important.

You should have direct communication with the people working on the project, and the company you hire shouldn’t be afraid to give you constructive feedback and suggestions.

Usually, the lower the price, the bigger the gamble. That being said, there are outsource companies out there for $60 per hour that are amazing. The question you should ask yourself is “Is it worth $50,000 to have a 10 percent chance of getting the product I need, or should I invest $150,000 into a company that will give me a 90 percent chance to succeed?”

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.

Immigrant founders: ‘Proven job creators we want to keep’


It’s not an overstatement to say America was built on the backs of founders who brought their ideas and energy across the oceans. From Alexander Graham Bell to Elon Musk and Michal Tsur, history is full of examples of men and women who arrived with a dream and launched an industry.

A study by the National Foundation for American Policy, a non-partisan Arlington, Va., think tank, discovered immigrants found 51 percent (44 out of 87) of U.S. billion-dollar startups and are key members in more than 70 percent (62 out of 87) of these companies.

The research also showed that among the billion-dollar startup companies, foreign-born founders have collectively created more than 65,000 jobs.

Oyvind Reed wasn’t thinking in quite such lofty terms when he set out from Måløy, Norway, to establish a new beachhead for Videonor, a cloud-based video conferencing system founded in 2010.

“We built a big European operation but I saw we couldn’t sustain growth until we expanded in the United States,” says Reed, noting what sets his firm apart is a philosophy that allows its partners to build and brand their own capabilities.

To establish a corporate beachhead in Boston, Reed needed to navigate an immigration system that sets up roadblocks of time and money that American-born founders don’t face.

He arrived on an Electronic System for Travel Authorization, an automated system that determines eligibility to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. In reality, that meant spending two or three weeks in the U.S. before returning to Norway for a month, then repeating the process.

After conducting market studies and research, he eventually applied for an L-1 visa, which allows the temporary, intra-company transfer of managers, executives or individuals with specialized knowledge to continue employment with an office of the same employer, parent, branch, subsidiary or affiliate.

The process “was far more difficult” than anticipated, he notes, requiring 50-100 pages of documentation, much of it beyond what’s required in a business plan. For example, he needed to project the number of employees, wages and potential income for the first three years.

The task was made easier by the fact that his firm immediately hired an attorney to free him to build the business during the six-month process.

So what advice does he offer founders without the backing of a larger organization who need to navigate the system?

“Number One, make sure you talk to people. If you start this on your own, it will be extremely challenging,” he says, explaining there are Internet forums and blogs to help guide you through the maze. Also be sure to quickly identify the type of visa you want. “Otherwise you can go down the wrong path and waste a lot of time and money.”

The vast majority of founders must rely on the popular H1-B visa, whose numbers are capped annually and distributed through a lottery. The US Citizenship and Immigration Service offers a quick recap of options, including non-immigrant visa pathways that allow entrepreneurs to explore or start a new business.

There are also options beyond the lottery. The Massachusetts Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence (GEIR) program allows foreign-born entrepreneurs to stay in the United States under a cap-exempt H-1B visa by acting as a mentor as part of the GEIR and working on their startups at the same time. The program began in 2014 as a pilot between the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and University of Massachusetts.

Funded in part through a state budget appropriation, the program is being run in conjunction with the Venture Development Center at UMass-Boston, which has onboarded 21 participating entrepreneurs. A second center will launch this fall through Babson College.

Candidates must be startup entrepreneurs in a leadership position (CEO or co-founder) within an early-stage venture. They must have a master’s degree or above in STEM or related business fields, must be headquartered in Massachusetts and be able to affiliate with a venture center.

In exchange for access to a non-capped H1-B visa, founders must agree to affiliate with the educational institution, working part-time or serving as a mentor. They must also raise capital for their ventures.

William Brah, assistant vice provost for research and executive director of the UMass center, notes that current immigration law forces many highly recruited students to return home after graduation, despite being “proven job creators. They are the kind of people we want to keep in the country if they want to stay.”

When it comes to lawyers, many firms work specifically on immigration law, with fees often fixed on the basis of the type of visa sought, says Kristen Ness Ayers of the North Carolina-based Ayers Immigration Law Firm who worked with Reed.

For newly founded companies, her fixed fee ranges from $3,000-$4,000, including unlimited communication via email and phone. The need for original documents prevents electronic signatures on all official forms and on certain supporting letters.

Ayers has not found it necessary to speak and read a founder’s native language to prepare a case, “but I believe that it is helpful to be able to communicate in a client’s native language for purposes of developing a better connection.”

For founders without the deeper pockets of a larger organization, there is online legal help, including startups like Clearpath Immigration and Legal Hero and programs focused on championing immigrant founders, including Unshackled, a mission-centric fund for immigrant entrepreneurs that can help their selected foreign entrepreneurs handle issues of sponsoring work visas or green cards.

“America has been and continues to be built by and enhanced by immigrants launching businesses and lives here,” says Ayers. “These days it seems that many Americans have a narrow perspective … Remember that immigrants include founders and business owners and thousands of people who go through the difficult, stressful, expensive process of following the U.S. immigration laws to come to the U.S. to contribute to our great country and to grow our economy, to create jobs, to perform in movies or on stage, to start families, to live the American dream.”

MassChallenge shows off new class at showcase

BOSTON—The 2016 class of MassChallenge can take the heat.

This year’s finalists withstood the tail end of the heat wave Wednesday night, sweating their way through handshakes and quick pitches to share their vision with the community at the Startup Showcase.

A lively crowd made its way through high tech, health care, energy, social impact and consumer product companies at the Innovation & Design Building, asking questions, exchanging cards and sipping on alcoholic ginger beer, branded “Innovator” beer from Harpoon, and other libations. The showcase is an important part of the MassChallenge process, allowing founders to practice their pitch in public en route to the Nov. 2 awards ceremonies.

(Who made the finals? You can read that here.)

Showcase sponsors included #tagboard, Nutter, Mei Mei Street Kitchen, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, Jamestown, Harpoon Brewery, Archer Moose Fine Wines and Whole Heart Provisions (the last two are both MC finalists this year).

MassChallenge, the world’s largest incubator, selects 128 companies to compete for more than $1M in prizes, with no equity taken. This is the seventh class to join the startup renaissance in Boston. Here are some highlights from the event.


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.


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

Don’t ask reporter to compromise credibility

Media tip Monday:

Don’t ask to change quotes after the story comes out. It may seem obvious, but choose your words carefully from the beginning, so you won’t have to worry. To you, it may seem a minor favor to ask, but here’s why it matters: It’s considered highly unethical to change or revise quotes from an interview. It’s a matter of fairness. Your quote change may be small and inconsequential–but another’s request may be material to the story, or worse, it may revise how facts are presented, which then becomes a bigger problem. Whose quotes should we change and whose should we not? That very subjectivity would put our credibility on the line. So better to think and speak slowly, say what you mean and keep that positive relationship so you’ll get coverage again in the future.

Free events this week where you can learn

There are resources all over the region where you can learn what you don’t know to start, run and grow your business. Here’s what’s happening this week in Greater Boston that can help you move the chains.

Tuesday, July 19: July Cafe Night at Roxbury Innovation Center, 2300 Washington St., 2nd floor, Boston. 4-8 p.m. FREE. This gathering will highlight the convergence of education and innovation. Register HERE.

Wednesday, July 20: Open Doors Party at District Hall. 75 Northern Ave., Boston. 7-10 p.m. FREE and hosted by Startup Institute. Register HERE.

Thursday, July 21: Learning from your Competition at Venture Cafe, 1 Broadway, Cambridge. 5-6 p.m. FREE and co-sponsored by Venture Cafe and the Boston Chapter of SCORE and presented by Venture Cafe mentor Mike Sandman. Register HERE.

Saturday, July 23: Women of Color in STEM Career Panel at Lena Park Community Development Corp., Dorchester. 2-4 p.m. FREE and hosted by Black Girls CODE Boston Chapter. Register HERE. 

The clock is ticking so pick up the phone

Media tip Monday:

Be ready to talk to the press. If you send out a press release, or you email a story angle about your company, take the calls, answer the emails, and respond quickly.

Journalists are always on the clock. You may not see the urgency, but a reporter may be on deadline and think your story is worth writing about right now. If you put off talking for a few days or until you think you’ll have more time, the moment may have passed. By the time you feel ready, the story may seem old, or other outlets may have put out stories without waiting for your interview. So to the reporter who was interested, it looks like getting beat.

I will tell you: Literally, to a journalist, there’s nothing worse.

Jump on opportunities to talk to the media whenever you get the chance. Because that chance may have a limited window—and if you miss it, it’s gone.

You can’t build momentum from media buzz that you don’t get.

Media Tip Monday is part of FoundersWire’s efforts to help Boston growth companies understand and leverage media coverage to accelerate success. Sign up for Media School HERE. Get official tips and insight from working journalists and launch your best media blitz in 15 minutes a week. 

Here is ours, now it’s your turn: declare your higher calling

Here is FoundersWire’s #highercalling:

Being known for empathy, integrity and trust in all our stories and relationships, using the power of the press to encourage and educate our community, and as founders ourselves, getting behind growth companies with our words and actions. With our coverage, the world will remember: When it comes to innovation, Boston was first.

What’s your higher calling? We’re looking for impassioned entrepreneurs to share, why have you devoted your career to the problem you’re solving? We’ll publish the best entries every week.

Find out more HERE.

Pitch tip of the week: Make stats relevant

Need help perfecting your pitch? Katharine Burkhart Designs knows what wins. She offers her insight right here every week, all summer long. Still need more advice? This special deal might help


Make your statistics relevant: I reviewed a pitch deck once that contained numerous statistics dealing with the problem the company was trying to solve, as well as their potential value in the market. Sounds good, right?

In and of themselves, the stats were excellent. From a design perspective, however, they became rather muddling. The company had well-chosen stats on their starting slides, and then continued to include them on every subsequent slide, often two or three per slide. Ultimately, the statistics dealing with the problem on the slide about their financials took away from my focus. I was so busy reading the statistics and trying to relate them to the current slide that I missed the point they were actually trying to communicate.

You will without a doubt have more information about the problem your company solves than you can include in your deck (that’s why you’re creating the company, after all). When selecting which stats to include, pick the ones that are the most impactful and think long and hard before putting them on every slide. If you choose to do so, make sure that the statistic on the slide is directly related to the main point that slide covers.

Specifically, if you include a statistic on a slide and it’s a footnote rather than the main message, make sure the design reflects that, with the statistic appearing smaller or otherwise less dominant in comparison to the rest of the slide content. This will help your statistics support your presentation and deck, rather than detract from them.

Katie Burkhart is founder of Katharine Burkhart Designs, a Boston-based graphic design and brand agency that specializes in helping entrepreneurs launch with quality, affordable branding. KBD has generously partnered with FoundersWire to offer two special deals that will improve your pitch by 10x. Check them out HERE. 

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Pitch tip of the week: Break it up

Need help perfecting your pitch? Katharine Burkhart Designs knows what wins. She offers her insight right here every Wednesday, all summer long. Still need more advice? This special deal might help

Consider using more than one slide. Many companies try to cover an entire section of their pitch on one slide, when in fact two or even three slides would allow them to communicate their points more clearly. Breaking up your pitch into the sections you know you need to include (such as financial projections or market analysis) has value and better ensures that you’ve outlined a thorough picture of your company.

From a design perspective, you need to go a little farther in dissecting your presentation. Certain sections will actually contain multiple points that the audience needs to understand. Sometimes these points go hand in hand and can be communicated well on the same slide. In other cases, they’re really individual points that require individual attention, and thus would be more clearly articulated with their own dedicated slide and supporting statistic, graphic or photo.

If you find yourself literally struggling to fit everything from a section onto one slide visually, this may be an opportune time to split that slide into two.

Katie Burkhart is founder of Katharine Burkhart Designs, a Boston-based graphic design and brand agency that specializes in helping entrepreneurs launch with quality, affordable branding. KBD has generously partnered with FoundersWire to offer two special deals that will improve your pitch by 10x. Check them out HERE

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Are you intellectually provocative?

Media tip Monday:

Be intellectually provocative in sharing your perspective. When you sit down with a journalist, you should be prepared to lead the conversation, not get prompted through it. Your goal, and the goal of the story, should be to make smart people question their beliefs. If what you’re building is truly innovative, you shouldn’t expect anyone to understand the whole vision in one story–so choose a few conceptual pillars that are crucial to your cause and weave three or four stories that show how you’re solving the problem from there.

To receive these tips right to your inbox every week, sign up HERE.

Candidates: Just jump at this marketing job

Team Builders shines the spotlight on growth companies maximizing their economic impact by hiring new employees. FoundersWire will feature these Team Builders every Thursday.


CONCORD—Some of the best advice entrepreneurs can take is as simple as “just jump.”

Kirsten Furman and Miriam Christof, partners in JustJump Marketing, couldn’t agree more. The duo, who built the strategic marketing firm serving companies in the United States and Europe, has spent five years coming up with innovative ways to work efficiently while still effectively serving clients’ needs.

“We want to build a super-sophisticated agency that uses all the skills we have and serves the clients at a level we can manage,” Christof says.

This six-person team is looking to expand—and finding the candidate that blends right in is their top priority.

“For us so far, it’s been incredibly important that the person fits into our team, which also leaves us to do interviewing as a team,” Furman says. “Because we’re such a small team and remotely working with each other, we need to be very clear on the kind of person that fits and makes us more interesting as a team.”

Are you an interesting candidate? Here’s more about what they’re looking for:

POSITION: Marketing Coordinator


Furman and Christof both came from a more corporate environment, so they know firsthand the value of building both a profitable operation and a strong sense of why they do what they do. They focus on measurable ROI for clients, and want to provide high-quality mentorship for any new employee.

Freedom: “We both worked in corporate America and corporate Germany for a long time—and the one thing we really value most in JustJump is freedom,” Christof says. “For me … that means deciding what kind of direction we want the company to take, and that means deciding what kind of clients we want to work with.”

JustJump is now at the point where they’ve built the reputation and scale to be able to say, “This project is not interesting to us, this client doesn’t make sense for us, it’s not the best use of our team’s skills,” Christof says. “We are in charge of our own destiny. What we teach our clients, we really do it at JustJump. We’re strategic about where we want to grow.”

Flexibility: Time is a huge quality-of-life issue, so providing remote employees with flexibility gives JustJump an edge in the market. But it took the duo some time to learn how to accurately describe their most effective work style. When employees have full flexibility, it has to come with the recognition that others on the team are relying on them. “If you only work at 2 a.m. –that doesn’t work,” Furman says. “We figured out that we need people who are glued to their phones. That’s literally the sentence in our interviews. If you’re doing something, I am available to say, ‘hey, I didn’t get to that yet,’ or ‘voila,’—now you can continue working. Answering and reacting to each other is crucial. We’ve learned that over the past five years. That’s essential.”

Because JustJump isn’t following the typical standards for hiring, they wanted to tap into the large talent pool for whom flexibility is a necessity. “We look for people like moms and dads … who have spent some time to raise their kids, then for some of them, going back to corporate America is not really an option,” Christof says. “We are not solely focused on that, but I think the flexibility we provide is true flexibility. We are not saying ‘you can work from home but we need you to be at your desk 9-5.’ That’s not helpful.”

“We use Skype as our office so we know who is working when,” Furman says. “But I take care not to touch in with people when they’re not signed in.”

Variety of clients: “When someone applies to the bigger agencies, they might work on one account and that will be their job for a long time,” Christof says. But the team at JustJump works on many different accounts, so they have the chance to learn and gain insight into many different industries. “On any given day, you work on a big commercial real estate account, then you switch in the afternoon to a tech startup. It’s the switching between projects that I really like,” Christof says.

Mentorship: Coming right out of school, it’s not easy to work without the typical company structure. But that’s part of the skill set Christof and Furman look forward to sharing. “We can teach them learning to work responsibly and managing your own time. When you have that much freedom, it can backfire a lot,” Furman says. “We take the opportunity to do it because we had mentors that helped us get to the next level. It’s fun, you learn so much just by explaining.”

Training for specialties: “Young hires interested in SEO, we send them to the seminars to go out and learn. We take that very seriously, to really look for the special interests a person has and help them learn by doing,” Furman says. The value of hiring candidates out of school has a reciprocal value for JustJump, too. “They tend to keep the relationship with the people who have taught them, and they have energy that brings you a new tool, because they’re young. This is the benefit: The young can learn from the old and vice versa,” Furman says.


Personality: The small team looks for ways to add to their company culture through their hires. “We like to have quite a lot of different personalities working with us,” Furman says. “We like people that are not the status quo but rather people who show personality right from the very start.”

Adaptability: While at most job interviews, being 45 minutes late would knock a candidate out of the running, JustJump’s founders looked a little deeper:

“(Being that late) didn’t seem to bother her at all, and she ultimately was someone we hired. We don’t want someone who is all flustered,” Furman says. “We don’t serve a vertical per se, we’re not necessarily serving an industry but rather a type of problem. So we need people who are very adaptable, and that makes my day-to-day work very interesting, when they bring their own self into the company.”

Curiosity: “It’s really important to have someone who is interested in pretty much anything we throw at them,” Furman says.

They say they are looking for a candidate who is willing to learn, especially how they work together as a team. “That curiosity to dig deeper and do strategic marketing, if you are not the person who likes to ask the questions, you’re losing a lot of opportunities to show ROI,” Furman says. “The curiosity in the client and understanding them and sometimes asking uncomfortable questions, that’s not something that is trainable. You can sense it right from the start, and that’s really important.”

Tenacity>experience: “We prefer to have someone right out of college,” Furman says. “We’re not as interested in someone with deep understanding, because we see marketing as something that’s teachable. For the marketing coordinator, we definitely would look for someone with a degree because it shows a tenacity to finish something.”

Ultimately, they want a candidate who will bring value and energy to an already active team of experts and community contributors. “We are part of this community, we are talking to people constantly, we’re always interested in what challenge a company has or had and how did they solve it,” Christof says.

“For JustJump, we have created this tribe,” she continues. “We really believe in this tribe and people who are supporting each other … people who want to support your growth and you want to do the same for them.”

To apply for this position, or learn more, go to JustJump Marketing here. If your company is hiring and you’d like to be featured in Team Builders, APPLY HERE.

Regatta for Entrepreneurship sets sail for good

“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”—Thomas S. Monson

There could not be a better metaphor for entrepreneurship than sailing—uncharted water, unpredictable wind and weather, with only your experience, wits and a certain courage to protect you along your journey.

That’s the inspiration behind the inaugural Regatta for Entrepreneurship, setting sail Thursday, July 28, benefiting the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. The event brings together the founders of Boston’s best growth companies to connect with peers and partners, while testing their sea legs on Boston Harbor.

“What we’ve recognized is that scaleups tend not to have the same support as other companies,” says Bill Starr, managing director at The CFO Center and regatta commodore. “Startups are part of an ecosystem. Venture-backed companies are part of a portfolio. Growth companies … their path isolates them, they are all busy building their businesses. This regatta creates a new opportunity to celebrate with other companies like them.”

Steve Snyder, partner and entrepreneur-in-residence with Gesmer Updegrove, has long been known in the Boston tech growth market as a friend and connector for founders who need trusted advice. “This event is all about just three things: strengthening friendships and building lasting value in the Boston tech community, having fun and doing good,” Snyder, also a regatta commodore, says. “Building and strengthening relationships is invaluable. There’s nothing more important.”

The regatta brings together more than 150 members of Boston’s tech community: a tight group of founders, friends and sponsors who support growth and want to encourage more of it. Founding sponsors include Telamon Insurance, Gesmer Updegrove, Bowen Advisors, FoundersWire and The CFO Center. Goslings Rum, a brand synonymous with world-renowned sailing regattas, will sponsor the event. Other local sponsors include Castle Island Brewing Co., Hint Water and more.

Following the race, there will be an awards ceremony and cocktail reception from 5-6 p.m. sponsored by Harbor One Bank, where the winning team will begin its yearlong stewardship (and bragging rights) to the much-anticipated NFTE Cup.

Friendly competition is already building across the fleet of participating sailors. “I am looking forward to being with friends—and hoisting the NFTE Cup,” Steve Snyder says. The cup itself, an enviable work of art, was designed and donated by Long’s Fine Jewelers. The winner will play host to the perpetual trophy in their home or office for one year, and be on hand to present the cup to next year’s winner.

But no trophy is worth more than the gift of knowledge that experienced entrepreneurs bring to the next generation of business builders through the work of NFTE.

“We’re looking forward to getting out on the water, and meeting new people who want to strengthen this community. We can do a lot of good while having a great time,” says John Snyder, president of the employee benefits and human resource consulting practice at Telamon Insurance. “Being able to share this event with people who want to make a difference makes this regatta really special.”

This one-of-a-kind networking and team-building day is raising funds for the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a international nonprofit organization providing programs that inspire young people from under-resourced communities to stay in school, recognize business opportunities and plan for successful futures.

NFTE will use 100 percent of the donations raised to provide their innovative programs to 1,000 students across Greater Boston and Hartford, Conn., through Summer BizCamp and NFTE classes the next school year. NFTE provides programs to 60,000 middle and high school students from under-resourced communities around the world each year.

“Helping students learn how to use that entrepreneurial mind-set helps them forge a successful path for the future,” says Julie Nations, director of NFTE New England and regatta vice commodore.

“(NFTE) definitely gave me what I needed,” says Jennifer LaSala, founder of Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery and successful graduate of the Chelsea, Mass., NFTE program. “Without (NFTE), I would not have any of this.”

“First of all, they kept me in school. I was going to drop out with a 3.8 GPA, but (NFTE Program Manager) Jennifer Green and the teachers, they kept me in,” she says. “They taught me something I could take away from school: How to start a business and everything I would need. You don’t need a lot of money, you just need the ambition to go out and get it.”

The event will set off at noon, with a shore party including lunch, libations and live music at the Boston Sailing Center on Lewis Wharf, Boston. The competition, in round robin format, pits 26 J24s with crews of five plus a skipper from the BSC against each other. There’s no previous sailing experience required.

“I’m really looking forward to watching people who have never sailed before develop a new spirit of camaraderie, not only with their own crew but with other crews that are racing, that’s true Corinthian racing,” Starr says.

Each team sponsoring a boat receives a keepsake burgee (battle flag) with their company logo to fly during the race, plus dri-fit shirts, swag bags and tickets to the regatta party for their crew.

“There are plenty of events at the big end of town, and plenty for startups. This is the premiere, exclusive event for scaleups as they get to share their success with others like them,” Starr says.

Donations and sponsorships are tax deductible. Sponsorships and boats are limited, but still available. Find more information or sign up for The Regatta for Entrepreneurship HERE

Pitch tip of the week: Do you know your story?

Need help perfecting your pitch? Katharine Burkhart Designs knows what wins. She offers her insight right here every Wednesday, all summer long. Still need more advice? This special deal might help

Understand your narrative. Think of your pitch like a story. A short story, yes, but a story nonetheless. Long before the idea of a pitch deck surfaced, Aristotle wrote that of the six elements he considered to be the building blocks of story, the greatest of these was plot. This is also true of pitch decks.

Your pitch should build from slide to slide, with the first informing the next and so on. Simply put, think about what you’re communicating overall, and then start to break that information out into steps. What does the audience need to know first in order to properly understand your next point? For example, tell me what you consider the problem to be first, then explain the solution.

This approach will allow you to better determine the order of your pitch, and how to break up that narrative into multiple slides.

Katie Burkhart is founder of Katharine Burkhart Designs, a Boston-based graphic design and brand agency that specializes in helping entrepreneurs launch with quality, affordable branding. KBD has generously partnered with FoundersWire to offer two special deals that will improve your pitch by 10x. Check them out HERE

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Make your pitch deck pop with KBD

Katharine Burkhart Designs has generously partnered with FoundersWire to offer two special deals that will improve your pitch by 1ox. To take advantage of either deal, contact KBD and mention deal code FOUNDERSWIRE2016

Pitch Deck Critique

Spend an hour with designer and brand strategist Katie Burkhart to get feedback on your pitch deck. Comments will be geared toward the narrative structure of the presentation, the layout of each slide, the visual cohesion of the presentation and the effectiveness of the design in supporting the verbal pitch of the company. The goal is to provide companies with specific feedback on the design of the deck so they can take their pitch to the next level. Cost: $50 ($150 value)

Pitch Deck Design

Katie will work with you to completely design your pitch deck. Companies will need to provide their logo, whatever branding (if any) that they’ve established, and the content they need included. Katie will design the deck either as a PDF or PowerPoint and provide any necessary revisions. Please note that we need at least 10 days prior to pitch day to help you. Cost: $450 ($1,000 value)

Katharine Burkhart Designs is a Boston-based graphic design and brand agency that specializes in helping entrepreneurs launch with high-quality, affordable branding. Contact the Katherine Burkhart Designs team at hello@kburkhart.com or 484-941-4054.

We’ll help you get the right story out there

FoundersWire has a simple mission: To help worthy companies in Boston find their place in the news cycle, get known, get funded and grow.

But earned media is a mysterious process, and has the potential to distract you from building your business. Telling your story shouldn’t cost you anything.

Let our pro journalists help you figure it out. No charge. Sign up for Media School from Boston’s only mobile-first business news outlet: FoundersWire. And get your PR efforts on track in little as 15 minutes a month.

Or click here to GET COVERED and instantly alert a reporter to what’s going on in your company right now.

SafeHer, driven by women, speeds to market


CHARLTON, Mass.—For women who have been nervous to take an Uber or a Lyft, or hesitant to drive one out of safety concerns: Your Chariot has arrived.

Chariot for Women, the new ride-share app built in Boston and launching nationwide April 19, will serve the millions of women who have been left on the sidewalk, who wouldn’t dare step foot in an Uber for fear of safety, and the millions more who wouldn’t drive for the same reason.

“Uber does $68 billion a year in business,” says co-founder Michael Pelletz, 41, a former Uber driver with more than 850 rides under his belt. “But they’ve forgotten about the women. It’s just too bad.

“Let’s put it this way: Uber is small compared with what we’re going to be.”

But Michael and Kelly Pelletz, the founding team driving Chariot, don’t talk about making billions. In their first in-depth interview, they talk about giving to women—providing safety when taking a ride, and providing the economic muscle to empower them worldwide.

Kelly Pelletz, 43, a nurse, watched Michael making money as an Uber driver. But the thought of driving herself made her nervous. “It was literally just a conversation,” she says. “Michael was ubering and I saw the money he was making. I wanted to do it but I could not imagine myself picking up a strange man.”

Chariot for Women will make that possible, with technology they say will ensure safety for “mothers, children, all passengers, that will make everyone comfortable, safe and secure,” Michael says.

Kelly addressed the underlying sense of fear and vulnerability in the ride-share market for women: “There’s an anxiety. We’re taught to run away and put up our defenses, and think about how we’re going to get out of (a bad) situation,” she says. “It’s mind-boggling what things could occur with that fear being gone, that’s where the empowerment comes in.”

That experience of empowerment begins before even entering the car: Right away, the app directs customers to choose a charity to benefit from their ride. Chariot for Women has committed 2 percent of every ride, 24 hours a day, to charity—crowdsourced by its own riders. “Before any person can get a ride, they have to first pick a charity, and that starts the whole process of feeling good,” Michael says. “ ‘Not only can I feel safe, I get to give back.’ ”

Kelly says she sees an opportunity to help meet the needs of charities that could benefit from drivers, too. “I think of being able to co-partner with these charities and do something where we can provide rides for them. We can do a lot more than just provide funding,” she says.

The service will fully tailor the experience to women, including free ride incentives, and beauty services en route, offering passengers 15-minute makeovers in the back seat.

If Uber founder Travis Kalanick looks in the rearview mirror, the competition is coming up fast, and she’s driving a Tesla. With more than 4,000 drivers already signed up for work in the last six weeks, the Pelletzes have worked out a competitive strategy in a tight market. Top Chariot earners will be given their own luxury electric cars, much like Mary Kay rewards top makeup sellers with signature pink vehicles.

“We have partnered with Tesla,” Michael says. “So the top 1% earning drivers across the country, we’re going to give them a free Tesla.”

Chariot for Women takes a unique, targeted approach to recruiting, by becoming a sales channel for other brand ambassadors. “Mary Kay has 3.2 million women consultants. They hire 700,000 and lose 500,000 a year, because how many times can women say, ‘Will you buy from me, or come to my party’ to their friends? Our idea is to partner with Mary Kay and companies like that, and recommend that their consultants drive on the side, because most Mary Kay consults have cars and run home parties. Home parties are where we’re going to get most of our drivers,” Michael says.

He describes drivers picking up 20 passengers a day, and meeting new people who could potentially use their services. “We’re not going to let them sell, but they can at least make the connection, maybe give out a business card.”

Trust is their trade, so drivers must earn their spots, Kelly says. To ensure the safest drivers in the fleet, Chariot needed a security company that could prove it. “We have complete trust in the security company that we chose,” Kelly said. “(Safer Places) offers the highest technology and they’re willing to go above and beyond.”

“Let’s say I pass for Uber or Lyft, but then three weeks later, I get a DUI, and there’s no way they could know it,” Michael says. “We’re doing random checks every day—driving record checks, convictions—that’s the big advantage we have with (Safer Places) David Sawyer and Peter Scott.” Scott was with the Brookline Police for 30 years, retiring as captain. Sawyer is founder and CEO of Safer Places of Middleboro, Mass.

Michael says the problem with a lot of startups is that although they have great ideas, the money to fund it is hard to come by. It was right after a personal episode driving for Uber that the couple’s ideas and capital started to come together.

“I had an incident with a gentleman in the back of my car, he was a kid … I’d drive, and he’d pass out then he’d hear the GPS say turn left and he’d wake up. He started shifting around and getting really fidgety, I thought he could be robbing me for money for drugs. He called Kelly and described what was happening.

“I said, ‘Oh, he’s not just drunk, he’s overdosing,’” Kelly recalls.

“She’s a nurse, so she can say that, she’d know,” Michael continues. “Luckily, I was in Kenmore Square, and there were two police officers there. He was passed out again so I pulled over and said to the police, there’s something wrong, maybe you can get him an ambulance.”

Right after that, he says his first partner called. “We had a lot of connections in China, and he wanted me to invent something. I said, ‘Forget that whole invention, listen to this idea.’ He said ‘I’m going to invest 100 percent in you.’ Potential investors have been getting in touch, despite their “trying to give us money. We’re always open to hearing offers,” he says offhand.

He says not worrying about money has allowed their creativity to flow. “I actually started it Feb 16. It’s only been seven weeks and we’ve done all this. We’ve been able to put together a whole team, 15 now, from PR to marketing to design, an amazing attorney, the app builder—she has a lot of experience with ride-share apps. The best part about the team is, when I talk to them every day, and they’re like, I can’t sleep now.

“Everyone we’ve brought on board has been so passionate. It’s been so exciting to see,” Kelly says.

Making chauffeur dads’ and moms’ lives easier is part of the plan, too. “Another market (our competitors) already missed are rural areas. We eventually are going to certify all our drivers as like bus drivers, so you can have a whole business out in Charlton, just carpooling and driving to dance and soccer—we can do that for them,” Michael says.

But to correct a misconception from a TV shot of an early Chariot: “Not all of our cars have booster seats. A lot of mom drivers have them already. But when you request a ride, the app asks if children are riding, and what age they are,” he says. If a driver doesn’t have the required seat, the passenger can use their own or the driver will refer the ride to one who has the equipment on hand.

The couple talks candidly about feminism, and about the role of men in a company that solves a woman’s problem. “I’m very in touch with my feelings, so I can put my feelings aside, to really listen to other people. I was made to love, respect, honor and keep (women) safe. If that’s feminism, then that’s who I am,” Michael says.

“This is why I fell in love with him,” Kelly says. “He really is.”

Their children (ages 15, 11 and 8), have had a front seat to their parents launching a company with global potential, and solving a major problem. “Sometimes they understand it, and sometimes they don’t, you know, because they’ve never taken an Uber,” Kelly says, laughing.

“Our 15 year old knows, because Uber is in rap songs,” Michael says. “She says you’ll know you’ve made it when you’re in a song.”

Overcome these 3 common business struggles


TV shows and movies love to portray entrepreneurs who stay true to their principles, are determined and soldier on, and ultimately succeed in the face of immense struggles. Think you can do the same or are these stories only possible on Hollywood sound stages?

Hire with confidence

Let’s begin with hiring. How secure are you in your company? Conventional wisdom dictates that hiring smarter people beneath you propels an organization forward and improves the perception of your work group. This is vital in all businesses, and especially in startups, where time is of the essence. But can you do this? Can you consistently pull that personnel trigger without fearing you’ll be left behind?

One of my European clients had a problem with this on a companywide level. Given the level of unemployment, everyone was worried about externally protecting their jobs and internally their home turf, so they hired progressively weaker performers down to the front line. Eventually, the volume of customer complaints simply became unbearable. Executives didn’t alter their practices, even when the positions were so far down the food chain that their scope of influence wouldn’t affect the new recruits. Regardless of hiring practices, sometimes employees making the lowest hourly wages and having the least political capital will be the ones servicing customers, but it’s quite another matter to intentionally stack the deck.

Survive and advance

Although your hiring process might be secure, can you go it alone as an executive in your firm, even when your corporate cheerleader, protector or advocate decides to leave? Not only are you losing your mentor, but also one who ardently represented you with the company’s top decision-makers. Do you immediately try to form a new alliance before the dust settles or maintain a low profile, and adopt a wait-and-see approach?

One of my former students (and a Boston executive I mentor) figured she had it made with 15 years of a stellar track record at her firm, a wonderful work ethic and a rock-solid company reputation. “Beloved” didn’t do justice to her impresario. But suddenly, her boss made an unexpected, and shall we say, involuntary departure. Everyone assured her that of all of the people in her group, nothing would change for her, especially given her impressive tenure and rainmaking ability. So, she did nothing … until fewer than four months passed and she, too, was let go. The CEO simply chose to support a different set of lieutenants, even though her group was the most profitable in the entire company.

Stand up for customers

Companies do well when they live by the principle that the customer is always right. Can you abide by that even when it’s not “cool” internally? One of my Asian clients traveling in a large U.S. city was stranded in the middle of the night with engine problems. Despite his organization’s 24-hour auto service contract, the tow company left him marooned due to what they described as a lack of “available evening equipment.” Although the executive finally reached his hotel, the company’s consistent replies the following day still singing the party line made a bad situation even worse. When the secretary to the CEO ultimately fielded the customer’s irate phone call, she used her direct access, cut across the corporate silos and spoke up using plain logic. The customer received a full refund, and more importantly, a proper apology.

Let’s resolve ourselves to consistently making our actions count, checking personality insecurity and fear of retribution at the door. Always do the right thing, even if unpopular or unconventional, as correct actions will ultimately be rewarded … even if not on our timeline, a Hollywood stage or following the exact lessons from an entrepreneurship textbook. Life isn’t fair, and neither is corporate politics, but in the end, crème should continue to rise to the top of the food chain.

Greg Stoller is a Senior Lecturer, and is actively involved in building entrepreneurship, experiential learning and international business programs at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.


Let us know you exist: How to use Get Covered

Emerging growth in Boston is our main focus, and we want to hear from you about all the ways you’re solving a big problem. We believe Boston is the epicenter of depth–where we leverage all the research, universities and hospitals, think-tanks and collectives. Our business ecosystem has been raised under the shelter of that umbrella, which makes our homegrown companies uniquely positioned to solve the major problems our society faces.

We are looking to cover these companies–in all stages of growth–and in particular, we want to reflect the full and current face of entrepreneurship in Boston: women, immigrants, minorities and men alike. Boomer-preneur, solo-preneur, idea stage to $10M in revenue, we want to know what you’re passionate about.

If you have a  story you want to share about your company, whether you’re hiring for your team, looking for office space, about to raise $3M in seed money, or you’ve never taken investment and have been scaling by earning revenue based on customers (as most shrewd Boston firms grow quietly this way)–please participate. Submit something even if it’s just to tell us you exist. We can’t accurately reveal what Boston’s emerging companies look like without hearing from you.

Navigate through the three-bar icon in the upper left corner, tap GET COVERED, and submit your news. Type your company name in the Story Title field, then share your news in the text box below it. Use the Add Media button to insert your photos into the body of the text box. Be sure to include names and any identifying information we’ll need to get to know you. Don’t forget to mention “Why were you inspired to do this?” What pushed you to solve the problem you’re facing? We want to know as much as we can, because we’ve all heard investors say: “We don’t fund companies, we fund people.”

So let’s tell them who you are. 

We’ll feature your stories every week, and together, we will shape what this market is going to look like 100 years from now.

Talk to you us today, tell us #whatsyourstory. We know you can’t grow without getting your word out. We’re here now to help that happen.

FoundersWire is Boston’s only mobile-first business outlet. Follow us today @FoundersWire on Twitter, and subscribe here to keep up with all the emerging market news you need.



Meet the first Female founders of the week: SheStarts

Female Founder of the Week (FFoW) is a weekly celebration of the women who are building business in Boston. With this feature, FoundersWire acknowledges the challenges that are unique to women, hails the successes they achieve, and encourages those coming next, so they may learn from these exceptional, undeterred women founders.

SheStarts co-founders, above from left, Nancy Cremins and Liz O’Donnell, have been chosen for the inaugural feature, because not only are they female founders in their own right, they’ve dedicated their resources to being two of the most inspired and powerful advocates this community of female founders could have.


BOSTON—Meeting the right person at the right time can turn a ripple into a tsunami. Using that logic, SheStarts co-founders Liz O’Donnell and Nancy Cremins are about to turn the tide for women building business in Boston.

“We met over Twitter,” said Cremins in an interview over lunch with FoundersWire. “We were both at an event, and I was live tweeting, and she messaged me, ‘hey, are you here?’ And then we finally met.”

When they did, it was obvious they had big work to accomplish together: the first initiative being SheStarts, a group that “supports the growing pipeline of women founders in Boston,” since its first event in 2014.

It’s definitely an undertaking that has a strong market mandate, with more than 130 people showing what Cremins called “some level of support” on their recently successful Kickstarter campaign, raising more than $15,000 to reach their goal.

What is their goal, exactly?

“We’re here to bust gender bias,” said Cremins simply.

“I think of busting gender bias as the top of a pyramid. And then we say, OK, how do we get there,” continued O’Donnell. She listed events, programming and education, and access to capital as the third piece.

“Then, it’s ‘How can we help sustain and grow? That’s the big issue. We look at the social programming that’s gone on, and we think, until you change the frame of reference, it (bias) doesn’t change,” she said.

The pain they’re addressing has been part of the unspoken startup life for women for more than a decade, with the rise in female founders and women-run startups hitting an all-time high. More than 200 startups with women at the helm have been cataloged in Boston, with countless more building in anonymity. But the fact is that few actually get funded. A 2014 Babson study concluded that fewer than 3 percent of venture-supported companies had a female founder. This same study, however, showed that businesses with women on the executive team were more likely to have higher valuations.

“The idea that it’s a meritocracy, it’s complete and total nonsense,” Cremins said.

“ ‘I’m willing to fund women, but I just don’t find any,’ ” O’Donnell intoned, pretending to be a male investor. “Call it swagger, but there’s a double bind. (As a woman), come in tooting your own horn, and you get knocked down.”

Being different and looking different from the groups you’re pitching, Cremins pointed out: “The very process creates a sense of anxiety,” she said. “The rules of the game weren’t written for you, so you have to navigate a very narrow path.”

“But it relates to: How do we step up to this without alienating men? You invite them in,” O’Donnell said.

The two are perfectly in sync, able to finish each other’s sentences, anecdotes and manifestos. They also share a spectrum of life experience and professional expertise: Cremins is a litigator with tech-focused law firm Gesmer Updegrove, who applies her prowess to solving employment issues and intellectual property disputes, and especially to supporting women-run startups. She is also a longtime board member of the Women’s Bar Association. O’Donnell is an author with a long list of published works, best known for “Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman.” She’s simultaneously developing a social movement addressing the phenomenon of being a “Working Daughter,” balancing life amid the work and challenges of caring for an elderly or failing parent.

“I realized you have to take the lead,” O’Donnell said. “You can’t just talk about why there are no women leaders. You have to stand up. You can’t just write about it and preach about it, when you’re not doing anything about it.”

She gave an example of the female founder’s gambit, illustrating the stereotypical roles women play, and how they create unique challenges for entrepreneurs: “You’re a good daughter, good student, good worker. You take all the notes, clean up the parties, work through all the details. You’re a good wife, a good mother.

“Then you shift to being a founder, and it’s hard to break that mold,” she said.

In Boston, Cremins said, being a female entrepreneur should be an advantage by now.

“Why fit in when you were meant to stand out?”

Shelagh Braley is the editor of FoundersWire. Follow her @FoundersWire on Twitter. FoundersWire is actively seeking submissions for Female Founders of the Week to profile. Please share with any you know, and send inquiries to founderswire@gmail.com