CareAcademy raises $1.7M to accelerate eldercare training

CARING ABOUT GROWTH: Dr. Madhuri Reddy, left, and Helen Adeosun, co-founders of CareAcademy, have closed nearly $1.7 million in funding. FOUNDERSWIRE PHOTO


BOSTON—CareAcademy is $1.675 million closer to educating the world’s elder caregivers.

The company, at the nexus of ed tech and health tech, last week locked down and announced the funding. ReThink Education led the seed round, with participation from the Techstars Venture Capital Fund and the Lumina Foundation.

CareAcademy, co-founded by Helen Adeosun and Dr. Madhuri Reddy, provides online classes for those who work in home health care—a largely unregulated but increasingly necessary component of aging in America. The field is also evolving, out of necessity, with more than 60 million Americans turning 65 before 2020, according to AARP research.

“I feel energized because we’re getting so much capacity,” says Adeosun. “We’re excited to prepare for our next phase. Now we’re focused on leading an organization that can scale. We know what the need is; it’s too great an opportunity.”

New York-based Rethink Education—who took the lead investor position quickly, according to Adeosun—recognized that opportunity as well.

“It was really encouraging, that within three weeks of opening up the round, we had our lead,” she says. “ReThink has been phenomenal and has a great reputation.”

“We see a tremendous need for efficient training in the home care market,” says Matt Greenfield, managing partner for Rethink Education, in a release. “The rapidly aging U.S. population, the increased acceptance of home care by physicians, and the desire of most seniors to age in place are among the many factors contributing to significant year-over-year growth in the home care market, and an ongoing need for skilled professionals,” he continues. “And yet currently, there are very few educational resources available to develop critical job skills.”

Lumina and Techstars Ventures are based in Indianapolis and Boulder, Colo., respectively.

With nearly 10,000 caregivers already taking CareAcademy courses about infection control, nutrition and meal preparation, dementia, fall prevention and more, Adeosun says she and Reddy are clear on the mission. “And we’re building into a really large industry that can bring a nice result for investors.

“But there’s no mission without margin,” she says, quoting one of her self-professed favorite B Corporation phrases. “So our focus now will be hiring: a strategic marketer, then a sales manager to reach out directly and build business development, with key players who can then become customers. The first step is to make the business sustainable. No one sells better than founders, but now we’re in a place to let sales drive itself.”

How did they decide how much money to raise, when the addressable market is so large—worth more than $300 billion by 2020?

“We had to plan backward for what we would need, so we backtracked to the amount of money,” she says. “We ended up with the dollar figure of a million and a half (in our heads),” she says. “And we wanted to build on the momentum (of the Techstars accelerator), so by Demo Day, we wanted a term sheet signed.”

They reached their funding goal, after Adeosun says she made the raise her full-time focus, connecting with a plethora of potential investors. “There was a bit of, we thought we could do it sooner. I finally said, ‘I’m going to put everything aside for now and raise this money.’ You do have to (keep pitching),” she says. “I think I reached out to 80 investors to make this go.”

Now that they’ve reached this milestone, Adeosun says she’s committed to making her experience available for others to learn from.

“We’re all well aware of it now—that in August, well into Q3—only 4 percent of venture-backed companies are women-run, and it was 7 percent last year. We’re still in this place where there seems to be very little movement. What can we attribute that to? I want to help as much as I can; I have purposely reached out to others who are raising, to help.

“I feel like it’s my responsibility to be that resource, to make it possible for other founders,” Adeosun says.

Adeosun, a 2013 MassChallenge finalist and participant in the most recent Boston cohort of Techstars (among a long list of other prestigious accelerators), has amassed a career worth of lessons in entrepreneurship worth sharing.

“I’m grateful for all those years of learning, and excited to start bringing on the right people. We’ve been working at some version of this for so long, and now we’re going to go work even harder—that’s my real answer,” she says.

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Saving time means saving lives for GEMS team

IN THE BOX THINKING: The GEMS team, after their CAMTech hackathon win, from left: COO/ Chief Medical Officer Ted Liao, CEO Andrew Schwartz, CFO Annie Feldman and CTO Jeffrey Lipton. Courtesy Photo


BOSTON—In the United States, the average emergency medical response takes up to 12 minutes—crucial, life-saving time that GEMS CEO Andrew Schwartz and his team plan to make even shorter.

In Boston, according to EMS, Priority 1 response averages about half this time, at 6.3 minutes as of 2016. But even that brief time delay has caused permanent brain damage for victims of overdose in particular.

With the deadly opioid crisis spreading threefold in just a decade and 15 million Americans now diagnosed with food allergies, Schwartz says empowering bystanders to respond to emergencies can make all the difference.

Their solution: GEMS boxes, full of medical supplies and located around the city like U.S. mail boxes, can be remotely unlocked so bystanders can be guided by 911 to save a life.

“Our boxes aren’t just for opioid users, these are public preparedness boxes,” Schwartz says. “So just as someone who overdoses on oxycontin or heroin would use (the naloxone in) this box, a child stung by a bee could use an Epipen.”

In 2015, 33,091 Americans died from opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control—nearly triple the number claimed in 2002. Now, the North American opioid market, which accounts for 70 percent of global consumption and valued at $12.4 billion in 2015, is expected to hit $18.5 billion by 2024, according to pharmaceutical research firm PharmExec.

GEMS boxes contain naloxone (more commonly known by its brand name, Narcan), epinephrine and hemorrhage-control products. Emergency response dispatchers can unlock these boxes and guide callers through their uses, turning bystanders into first responders, saving valuable time and hopefully, lives, says Schwartz. GEMS, winner of the $10k Opioid Epidemic Post-Hack-a-thon Award from CAMTech, in conjunction with Massachusetts General Hospital, is a current finalist in MassChallenge. Schwartz and his team of doctors and technologists hope to make the next cohort of PULSE, the healthcare-oriented division of the incubator, in December.

Schwartz, Jeffrey Lipton and Annie Feldman have now been friends for nearly a decade, Schwartz tells FoundersWire. With a diverse set of backgrounds—Lipton, a postdoctoral research associate at MIT, Schwartz with a master’s in government and Feldman, an MBA from Babson—the team complements each other’s strengths. The team collaborated with Dr. Ted Liao, a resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and now COO/chief medical officer, who earned his medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine, and his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford. They group began collaborating over what kinds of supplies to store in the boxes.

“There’s a whole list of things you can put in there, but they have to meet some requirements. One, easy to apply without any medical training, and two, items that would not kill someone if administered incorrectly,” Schwartz says.

Once an individual sees an emergency and dials 911, the operator would receive his or her GPS coordinates and direct them to a box. Because the boxes will have different compartments containing Narcan, tourniquets and Epipens, the caller will be given a pin code to unlock the necessary medical device.

“I’ve been thinking about the idea of assistance in emergency situations for a while,” Schwartz says. “Once I found out about Narcan and how easy it is to implement it and how there are no side effects—you can have no medical training—I thought it would be the perfect application, along with Epipens or tourniquets for hemorrhage control,” he says.

Dr. Gabriel Wishik-Miller, an internist and primary care provider at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, has seen the devastating effects of addiction pass through his clinic for the past seven years. Wishik-Miller works as a backup physician for The Supportive Place for Observation and Treatment (SPOT), a program that engages people in the midst of overdose, provides medical treatment for over-sedation and connects patients to treatment programs. The program is part of the Boston Care for the Homeless Program, one of the 19 original pilot Health Care for the Homeless programs founded in 1985. In 2016, SPOT faced 3,852 overdose encounters.

“What we’ve been seeing since I got here seven years ago is the overdoses happening on the street and in our building. The substance use, the activity—everything has been going up every year,” Wishik-Miller says. “People are injecting and overdosing, sometimes not very far from us, and it’s tragic. These are people we know and who we take care of, and if they’re dying on our watch, it seems wrong.”

Wishik-Miller says he attributes the rise in overdose to the appearance of synthetic drugs on the market, which are faster-acting and higher risk. In order to combat overdose, he insists that Narcan, a nasal spray, is safe and easy to use for the average bystander in cases of emergency. “Narcan is a very safe medicine, it can be used by anybody if it is in the proper formulation. It can start the reversal process immediately. You don’t have to wait for 911 to get there for EMS to arrive. So to have a bystander with Narcan available when someone is dying can be life-saving.

“In our public spaces, that’s where most overdoses happen. Anybody who is on the street in the public space should have Narcan available to use if they have seen somebody that has gone out, and so I think having them in boxes on the street is a fantastic idea. It would be very, very useful,” Wishik-Miller says.

In addition to cutting down EMS response time and saving lives, Schwartz says GEMS may eventually educate the public about health through videos and advertising campaigns. “One of the real beauties of our system is that you don’t even need to know what it is to use it.”

Currently, GEMS is seeking communities to pilot the boxes. Schwartz says he aims to complete this initial study this year, moving one step closer to implementing the boxes in municipalities across the country at an affordable price.

“We hope to get to the point where we can shorten response even five to seven minutes, and it would be a dramatic life saver. Save lives. That’s our No. 1, 2 and 3 goals.”

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Moon Selfie lights up MIN #99 in Roxbury

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Care Academy champions excellent elder care


CAMBRIDGE—The holiday season isn’t merry and bright for everyone, especially for elders without family and friends to look after them.

CareAcademy founders Helen Adeosun and Madhuri Reddy want to ensure those who do care for the elderly are as well trained as possible.

“We’re educating caregivers to provide excellent care,” says Adeosun, whose upbeat, concentrated work pace puts even the speed of aging to shame. “Every day, 10,000 people turn 65 just in the U.S. It’s crazy. And of those, 90 percent of them expect to live in their homes independently. That’s only going to happen with the right resources and support.”

Caring for the elderly isn’t a sexy job. It’s painstaking work that requires empathy and efficacy, with plenty of possible pitfalls, and not many perks. But as the United States population ages exponentially—83.7 million elders in 2016, according to recent senior care industry data—it’s work that CareAcademy is known for passionately championing and professionalizing.

“We are building the teams to go into these homes, and creating this system at scale to support this community of aging adults,” Adeosun says. “We’ve got to make sure these classes are engaging. These are life-saving skills, so we have to make sure they’re taught correctly and the caregivers understand their roles.

“The thing we want to stand on over time,” she says, “is whether you’re new or 20 years into doing this, that class is making a difference in your output and your caring in your own profession.”

A flagging work force

Eldercare workers in the United States in 2012 totaled just more than 58,000, servicing more than 8 million elders. Although home healthcare worker ranks tripled between 1989 and 2004, it was still insufficient to meet exponential demand. Registered nurses, in particular, are retiring faster than they can be replaced, according to national healthcare data. The industry also grapples with high turnover and low retention rates.

“Home care is the fastest growing segment, and non-medical caregivers are the fastest growing job, period, in the U.S,” Adeosun says. “And now we have people going into the field and not getting the support and education they need. It’s not just a nice-to-have; it is about retention.”

CareAcademy is providing those tools to help eldercare workers keep up with a legion of demand—from medication delivery to wound care to protecting elders with memory loss.

Its educational delivery via video channels aims to make learning convenient and accessible while providing a cost-effective, many-to-one learning model, Adeosun says.

The market for CareAcademy’s service is as big as the need, with industry revenue projections aiming at $300 billion by 2020, according to recent Social Security Administration data.

Optimism isn’t enough

CareAcademy, in the 2013 MassChallenge finals, has come a long way since then. Adeosun is a study in persistence: A bright academic, fresh from her Notre Dame undergrad years studying political science and Arabic, she took a brief turn with Teach for America, then went on to complete her MBA at Harvard.

She says she fell into the same trap as many entrepreneurs: She thought the path to success would be simple, “where there was obviously such a huge market.”

“It took a lot to get from there to here,” she says. “Our startup journey post-MassChallenge has been interesting. (MassChallenge) was a great step, and then it was a little hard to catch momentum after. During MassChallenge, I felt like there was a lot of support. But even companies with great buzz, they are still very much in nascence, they need a pipeline.”

CareAcademy did go on to complete a successful seed round, “from December to a little after MassChallenge in 2013,” she remembers. “Dave McLaughlin (founder of VSnap and 2012 MassChallenge alum) was still in residence and he was a great resource.”

Then the vision and the business opportunity really started to crystallize. It was then she realized she needed backup, which arrived in the form of co-founder Reddy.

FounderDating actually worked for me,” she laughs. “I joined on while it was in beta, and in late 2014 into 2015, and I started reaching out to advisors because (angel investor and co-founder of The Impact Seat) Barbara Clarke said look into elder care. I looked, and one woman showed up in Boston. We hit it off, she’s just a go-getter and she just blew my mind. (Reddy) was an advisor to start and then became my co-founder in 2015.”

Reddy, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and an MD with a specialty in geriatrics, came on board because she was impressed with Adeosun, her ability to get things done and especially the traction CareAcademy already had, she says.

“With my background, I realized that CareAcademy was filling a very important void in the healthcare system that was only getting larger … And I knew I had to be a part of it. I as excited to have the opportunity.”

Hustle coast to coast

The team’s commitment to quality care equals their work ethic, evidenced by how they drive the big vision for CareAcademy. “I know how to hustle and find and chase opportunities,” Adeosun says. “My parents are immigrants and they’re entrepreneurs themselves, so they always said, ‘work harder.’ ”

The duo has participated in incubators, competitions and accelerators, on the East Coast, West Coast (where they won Aging 2.0) and deep in the middle, with the top names in business—all in the pursuit of growth. “We knew we had a lot to learn, so we went everywhere to fill the gaps,” Adeosun says by phone, in between bicoastal trips to gather feedback from caregivers.

Just this past October, CareAcademy beat out 160 other startups to spend a week in Durham, N.C., at the Google for Entrepreneurs (GFE) exchange program for black founders, where Adeosun handily won the pitch competition. The victory came with a prize worth $13,000 in cash and computer equipment. But the big payoff was the weeklong mini incubator on how to raise funds that included live feedback and more exposure to VCs.

Durham’s diverse entrepreneurial community also impressed Adeosun, setting an example for what’s possible in other ecosystems, she told the Herald-Sun at the time.

The Iowa Startup Accelerator remains her favorite, she says, because other than being home to the fastest aging population in the country, with an abundance of age innovation, “there were only nine of us there (in the program), talking to (accelerator founder) Eric Englemann on the Sunday night, and he’s such a badass.”

She says the advice he gave her informs her whole experience as a founder. “We only go into intentional situations, and find people who do more than give lip service to innovation, who are willing to get on the phone at midnight and walk you through. That’s how we build momentum with nothing. That’s the ingenuity of building ecosystems that work. You have to get out there,” she says.

“So I challenge myself as a founder to find the avenues to get out there. I believe this is a great business and has a triple bottom line that will help a lot of people.”

Although she travels all over the country to learn from experts and clients, Adeosun is loyal to the Hub. “I am very Bostonian, our startup represents what’s best about the ecosystem: On the face of it, we are based in edtech and healthcare, that undergirds the whole Boston ecosystem.”

Funding and other good fortune

Investment at the right time has kept CareAcademy on track along the way. Angel investor Clarke was first money in.

“I invested in them because training caregivers is critical to health, well-being and safety of the most vulnerable people in our society,” says Clarke. “I trust Helen as CEO to lead this company over whatever terrain she faces. I’ve been impressed with Helen’s ability to surround herself with a top team of people who are as passionate as she is.”

Adeosun says Clarke’s early faith in their vision brought more support: “We were really fortunate, because she was basically our pipeline, driving us to the Pipeline Angels and investing herself.”

The company will raise again to reach scale, Reddy says.

“At this point, we have lots of paying customers, we know what our product-market fit is, and we have month-over-month growth. To get to the next level, what we most need is capital. We need the capital to scale, expand our classes and build our LMS.”

To execute a huge vision takes time and learning, Adeosun says, but with time comes experience and confidence. “Knowing how to raise money and build a team, those are all things we’ve had to learn very slowly. But we are not divergent and we are not a novelty act. We are touched by what we do,” she says. Most importantly: “We are excellent and excellently positioned to solve this huge, fundamental problem.”

Women’s work is never done

Adeosun recognizes some of the challenges she has encountered hinge on caregiving still being a woman’s problem. “On a very meta level, to acknowledge this work is to recognize caregiving is seen as women’s work,” she says. “It is by and large still women’s work the world over.

“It is supporting the work of women, to uplift those people in society who have made the greatest impact. We can either cast that aside or make the choice to bring it to light,” she continues.

“Whenever caregivers need to know something or get support, in order to give care, you have to care for yourself. Liz O’Donnell (founder of Working Daughter, a community for working women who care for their aging loved ones) does an amazing job of calling truth to this,” says Adeosun. “We want to be in the hand of every caregiver when they need to know how to care for a loved one or client. Because when we care for our care providers, they provide better care to our loved ones.”

Ultimately, she says CareAcademy will continue to provide education to as many caregivers as possible—with passion as well as profit—because aging is inevitable and universal.

“Aging is not for a set of demographics, it is who we are. Boomers, the Greatest Generation … How do we make sure they are cared for with dignity? That means having others come in to care and help,” Adeosun says.

“We recognize the value of this work on a societal level, restoring dignity to aging.”

Hope foundation brings happiness to kids in hospitals


BOSTON—Emi Burke is on a mission to guarantee no sick child goes without love and comfort.

The irrepressible founder and CEO of the Message of Hope Foundation, known for her bright yellow branding, hope fairy clothing ensembles and sunshine smile, is working at an elf’s pace this holiday season to bring cheer to children undergoing treatment in hospitals.

“We now have an incredible, small working team, and more than 1,000 volunteers,” says Burke. “We’re concentrated mostly in Boston and Baltimore, but we also have some Hope Heroes out in Philly.”

Launched in 2011, the Wareham-based 501(c)(3) charity and MassChallenge 2016 Startup contender creates and distributes therapeutic play activity bags to hospitalized kids—many of whom are chronically ill, spending weeks, months and sometimes years in the hospital.

The motivation behind Message of Hope is personal for Burke, the “chief hope ambassador” who also shares her inspirational messages through corporate speaking engagements. “When I was 6 years old, I would go on hospital rounds with my father, who is a pediatrician in Baltimore,” Burke explains. “That’s where I noticed halls filled with children without activities. There were also strict rules about the kinds of toys that would meet hospital standards.”

Burke’s passion was further fueled by her own son’s struggle with disabilities. “My son, Conor, has profound global development delays,” Burke says. “He is visually impaired and cannot speak. Spending all that time with him in hospitals, I was again seeing kids without activities. That’s when I decided to kick off the bags.”

Developing corporate sponsors has been integral to Burke’s success. The Happy Hope bags, the foundation’s cornerstone, have one simple purpose: to engage and uplift the spirits of children undergoing treatments with fun, comforting activities. The bags, as Burke explains, have three levels. “There’s outpatient, inpatient and long-term patient,” she says. “Hope bags may contain coloring kits, crayons, Play-doh, playing cards, stuffed animals, iTunes cards and so on depending on the level.”

Burke has created essential partnerships with hospitals to ensure the bags’ contents are compatible with regulations. “We partner with major institutions—the Child Life Department at Boston Children’s Hospital, for example—and give them the bags to pass out to their patients they feel most need them. These partnerships are particularly important, Burke adds, in terms of boosting efficiency. “There’s a space issue at the hospitals,” she says. “As we’ve evolved, we’ve learned how to make our packaging smaller, more compact with a greater impact.”

Message of Hope’s revenue model, Burke explains, is built upon partnerships with companies through their corporate social responsibility initiatives.

“We have varying levels of partnerships which directly equate to the number of children the corporate donation is able to serve. That donation then determines their level of participation. For example, corporations can build the Happy Hope boxes, where employees assemble the activity packets onsite at the corporation,” Burke says. She also mentions a Corporate Happy Hope Factory option, where the Happy Hope Team coordinates onsite events that include a presentation by Burke prior to creating happy hope bags.

“Our Hope Hero volunteers make these events possible by working with the employees at the corporate sites,” she says. “We have been so blessed to work with tremendous corporate partners from UPS, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Medtronic and Kohl’s, just to name a few.”

Companies also get to brand their products by printing their names on the coloring kits and other hope package contents depending on donation level.

Message of Hope is nowhere close to slowing down. In fact, “there are two major things to ramp up,” Burke says. The first is a partnership with Boston’s District Hall to pack and distribute the Happy Hope bags on a monthly basis. The second is the development of the Happy Hope boxes—the ingredients for everything a company needs to produce the bags.

“Our goal over the next five years is to secure a permanent Happy Hope Factory with a workplace development program for hope heroes with special needs in the Boston area that would be operational year round, to serve our goal of reaching 1.5 million hospitalized children,” Burke says.

The foundation’s pace is breakneck, but Burke says she wouldn’t have it any other way. “We’re exploding at the seams,” she says. “But we’re going to continue. Until there’s a cure, we’re going to continue to provide care and love to these beautiful, brave and special mini hope heroes.”

For more information or to contact Burke about donations, go to

Start the week by strengthening your brand

Kick off your week with learning, building, and pitching: Check out this week’s opportunities.

Today: Tools for Impact: Building Your Personal Brand, hosted by ImpactHub Boston, 50 Milk St., 20th floor, Boston. 5:30-7:30 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. Communicating, building and profiting from your personal brand goes a long way toward ensuring your venture’s success. In this interactive workshop with MassChallenge Director of Programming Rachel Spekman, you’ll get the tools you need to develop that brand.

Tuesday, Dec 13: Lean In Holiday Celebration, hosted by Lean In Boston Chapter at WeWork Fort Point, 51 Melcher St., Boston. 6-8 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. Join the Lean In community for a end-of-year holiday bash and networking get-together.

Building a Diverse Workforce in Edtech, hosted by LearnLaunch Institute, 281 Summer St., 2nd floor, Boston. 6-8 p.m., FREE. Register HERE. The persistent diversity gap affects companies in countless industries. Recruiting women and minorities is integral to a strong work force, yet successful implementation is challenging. Join LearnLaunch’s workshop on methods to build and sustain a diverse work force.

Wednesday, Dec. 14: Introduction to Spark for Data Engineers, Data Scientists and Developers, hosted by Whit Smith and IBM, 1 Rogers St., Cambridge, 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. Any developers and engineers looking to master a new open source framework: IBM is offering a day of instruction and exercises aimed at perfecting your Apache Spark knowledge. All you bring is your laptop.

Thursday, Dec. 15: Boston: Startup Institute Fall Talent Expo, hosted by Startup Institute at New England Aquarium, IMAX Theater, 1 Central Wharf, Boston. 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. Come to Startup Institute’s annual talent expo, where its 2016 fall graduates will pitch their talents to the panel of founders and tech experts. If you are a founder looking to build up your talent, this expo is recruitment gold: These students are accomplished, motivated and waiting to join your team.

Big Idea Lab, hosted by Awesome Videomakers, at Workbar Cambridge, 45 Prospect St., Suite 308, Cambridge. 6:30-9 p.m. FREE. Register HEREWorkbar Cambridge offers an awesome opportunity to present your business venture and challenges to a panel of coaches and business owners. You’ll get invaluable feedback, advice and networking with potential investors and partners.

Friday, Dec. 16: Business Writing 2.0, hosted by Harvard Ed Portal at Harvard Ed Portal, 224 Western Avenue, Allston. 9 a.m.-noon. FREE. Register HERE. If you’re looking to fine tune your business writing chops, join Harvard Ed Portal’s business writing workshop. Writing Company experts will be on hand to help you communicate more effectively and professionally.

Saturday, Dec. 17: Black Girls CODE Boston Chapter Presents: Build a Mobile App in a Day hosted by Black Girls Code, General Assembly, 125 Summer St., 13th Floor, Boston. FREE. Register HERE. Aspiring coders: Black Girls CODE is throwing an app development workshop specifically for girls ages 10-17. You’ll learn invaluable coding tools, tips and confidence.

Sunday, Dec. 18: Holiday Lecture Series 2016, hosted by Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University Science Center. 1 Oxford St., Hall B, Cambridge. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. Getting your kids interested in science is a piece of cake at The Science in a Bubble: Illuminating Interfaces holiday lecture at Harvard’s Science Museum. Audience participation and hands-on experiments not only make for a fun weekend family activity, but will leave a lasting impression about how cool earth science is.

Learn and launch with this week’s events

Boston women in business, this is your week for events. Join the panel presentations, hackathons and foodie meetups aimed at promoting women (and girls!) in tech, finance, and more.

Today, Nov. 14: Fall 2016 Husky Startup Challenge Demo Day, hosted by Global Entrepreneurship Week at Northeastern University at the Indoor Quad & Ballroom, Curry Student Center, 360 Huntington Ave., Boston. 6-8:30 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. Northeastern is throwing its annual Fall 2016 Husky Startup Challenge Demo Day, and you get to be a part of it. The event will showcase multiple student startups that have gone through bootcamps and coaching sessions. You get to watch their live pitches, then cast your vote to help decide the venture getting thousands in prize money.

Tuesday, Nov. 15: Power of Constraints, hosted by AIGA Boston and MassChallenge at 21 Drydock Ave., 6th floor, Boston. 6:30-8:30 p.m. Tickets $15. Register HERE. Every entrepreneur, team builder and designer is going to face obstacles. Having the tools to overcome those obstacles is what leads to success. Join AIGA Boston and its panel of in-house designers for a discussion about using constraints to overcome team and growth problems.

Wednesday, Nov. 16: November Boston Sustainability Breakfast, hosted by Net Impact Boston Professional Chapter at Pret A Manger, 101 Arch St., Boston. 7:30-8:30 a.m. FREE. Register HERE. Calling all sustainability professionals: This breakfast meetup, hosted by Net Impact Boston, is an awesome opportunity to connect with your Boston peers. Come by for food and discussion about navigating the intersection of the sustainability and business worlds.

Thursday, Nov. 17: Shoobx Startup Series Solving the Funding Puzzle, hosted by Shoobx, Inc. at WeWork South Station, 745 Atlantic Ave, Boston. 6-8 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. Founders: As you know, funding can be one of your biggest challenges. The path to financial success for your startup can be overwhelming and frustrating. Luckily, Shoobx has you covered with its “Solving the Funding Puzzle” panel of entrepreneur and investor mentors. Come get expert advice on prepping your startup for investment and maximizing your investor meetings and transactions.

Thursday, Nov. 17: 2016 National Conversation on Board Diversity, hosted by 2020 Women on Boards at the Linda K. Paresky Conference Center, Simmons College, 300 The Fenway, Boston. 5:30-7:30 p.m. Student tickets $30, individual tickets $100. Register HERE. Company board members wield significant power. The question is, how do we increase female presence and influence on these boards? Join 2020 Women on Boards and SimmonsLeads for a panel presentation and networking event about ways to implement policies and programs to promote board gender diversity.

Friday, Nov. 18: B-School Mixer, hosted by Babson, Harvard, MIT, Boston University and Northeastern University at Tavern in the Square Allston, 161 Brighton Ave., Boston. 6-9 p.m. FREE. Details HERE. Boston-area business school students: Come mingle and unwind with your b-school compadres at Tavern in the Square Allston. A fun, informal networking setting, it’s the perfect way to end the week.

Saturday, Nov. 19 to Sunday, Nov. 20: Lady Problems Hackathon Boston, hosted by AngelHack at KAYAK Technology HQ, 10 Canal Park, Cambridge. 9 a.m. Saturday-6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $0-$10. Register HERE. We all know there’s a major female deficit in the tech world. Join AngelHack in trying to change that by participating in this countrywide challenge to create technology that empowers women entrepreneurs. All developers, designers and entrepreneurs are welcome to participate. Possible solutions include: helping women access health resources, increasing their access to financial training and support, boosting female founder confidence. P.S.: The Hackathon’s sponsors will be awarding prizes to the winners, including team mentoring and acceleration, press promotion, robotics technology and cash.

Sunday, Nov. 20: Potluck with Science Club for Girls & She Geeks Out! hosted by She Geeks Out at the CIC Venture Cafe, 1 Broadway, Cambridge. Noon-3 p.m. FREE. Register HERE. Come support the Science Club for Girls by participating in the She Geeks Out potluck and culture share. Bring a dish representing your culture’s cuisine and share the dishes from the SCFG. You’ll get to chat with, advise and learn from the inspiring and motivated SCFG girls and volunteers.

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. 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

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.

To the MassChallenge finalists who didn’t make it

Dear 102 teams that didn’t make the top 26,

I know how you’re feeling today. You just crammed more business building into four months than you ever have before, and you barely noticed summer.

You just came out on the other end of the accelerator maze, and despite your best efforts, you didn’t make the list.

What a punch in the head.

I remember sitting at the awards ceremony in 2010, cheering for dear friends who ascended to the stage, collecting checks for $50 and even $100k. I was so proud of them, and so destroyed all at once, it was overwhelming. My co-founder and I took seats in the back of the auditorium, trying so hard to be gracious and carry on the positive, encouraging spirit of collaboration our team was known for. (Here we are pictured above at 1 Marina Park Drive, goofing through a photo shoot in the old MassChallenge office.)

In the end, truth be told: We slunk out early and found a dark bar to sulk in. We got exceedingly drunk that night, no lie.

We felt like the biggest losers, like we’d just been expelled from school, while our more “successful” counterparts were still making connections and building teams and raising funds.

But in the following weeks, other opportunities started to take shape, and because of our MassChallenge experience, we knew how to recognize them and how to capitalize on them.

We met Sam Hammar, who ushered us into the newly named Innovation District’s Welcome Home Challenge. In just a few short months after becoming MC alums, we were holding a $50,000 oversized check of our own, creating strategic partnerships, negotiating terms with investors and driving revenue.


We were so grateful for the insight and support of our MassChallenge advisors, mentors and friends who lead with empathy, like Scott Bailey and Jodi-Tatiana Charles–because we needed what we learned, even if our pitch wasn’t what the judges were looking for. We had to evolve in order to see our path more clearly, and then the whole business came together.

Maybe you were early and the market isn’t ready for your innovation yet. Maybe you need to nail a few more proof points, or explore more financial models before you find yours. (That was our shortcoming.)

But don’t forget, it’s a subjective process. Competition is only one way to build, and far from the only way.

So for today, just keep your head up. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished.

Stay connected to those who have supported you, and keep making the ask. Boston will not disappear on you–this ecosystem is strong and we want you to succeed. It will happen, if you stay smart and keep hustling. Drive to revenue.

Your struggle has not been for nothing. Your story is just at its beginning. Trust me, I’ve been there.

With sympathy,
Shelagh @founderswire

MassChallenge Class of 2010 @mylifelist

P.S.: Congrats to those who did make it. Here’s that list in full.

MassChallenge Boston Top 26:

, a Massachusetts materials  company that uses patented magnetic alignment technology to create the most complex composites to date.

Adhesys Medical
, a Texas Healthcare/Life Sciences
 Company creating next-gen surgical glues based on polyurethane. Fast, strong, flexible, and biodegradable, it can be used in unprecedented surgeries.

Analytical Space
, a Massachusetts in-orbit data relay service that enables satellite operators to increase data throughput at a lower cost per GB with no hardware changes.

AR Spirit
, a Massachusetts high-tech company that brings imagination into real life with a full 3D augmented reality platform via your mobile phone.

Battery Resourcers, LLC
, a Massachusetts clean tech company that recycles spent li-ion batteries to directly synthesize new cathode materials, which can be used in new batteries.

, a software solution company for the beauty industry.

BrainRobotics, a Massachusetts life sciences company that uses brainwave controlled robotic prosthesis to bring control back to you and empower you to live life to the fullest.

Coeo Labs Private Limited
, Medical device company out of India solving unmet clinical needs in emergency and critical care through device interventions.

CoolComposites, Inc., a  Massachusetts clean tech company that uses materials chemistry to make buildings more energy efficient without making them more expensive.

Electra Vehicles, Inc.
, a Massachusetts clean tech company planning to bring the electric vehicle market to the next level with innovative power solutions.

, a high-tech company from Korea, secures the Internet of Things with an affordable micro quantum random number generator using radioisotope to replace less secure software.

Farmer Willie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer, a Massachusetts beverage company making 
all-natural ginger beer.

, a Massachusetts social impact company that fuses arts and crafts with electronics to create fun and educational gadgets that inspire girls to get excited about STEM.

Luminopia, a Massachusetts healthcare company that uses emerging, proprietary virtual reality technology to enhance vision, treat visual disorders, and improve quality of life.

, a Massachusetts healthcare company improving mental health through mobile bioresponsive videogames.

, a Massachusetts high-tech company using door-to-door outreach software for solar companies, home improvement groups, cable companies, non-profits and political organizations.

QSM Diagnostics, Inc., a Massachusetts healthcare company using a proprietary instrument-sensor to identify common infectious bacteria in bodily fluids within one minute at the point-of-care.

, a Massachusetts company that redefines how consumers finance their homes and delivers lower rates to borrowers through its network of local lenders.

Sea Machines Robotics
, a Massachusetts high-tech company designing Autonomous Control and Navigation Systems for marine vessels.

Signature Orthodontics
, a Massachusetts life sciences company still in stealth.

, a Massachusetts clean tech company building the market for clean energy by providing community-shared solar power to Americans that cannot install it on their own roof.

, a Massachusetts high tech company’s technology, called “blind hashing” is a completely new way to secure passwords, and protect customer data.

, a Massachusetts applied science company that turns satellite imagery and other Earth data into the basis for better decisions.

Tembo Education
, a Florida-based company creating a Home Educator network using mobile phones to educate children ages 6 and younger living in slums.

Tranquilo, LLC
, a Massachusetts healthcare company that has developed a portable  soothing mat that calms crying babies in seconds by mimicking the sounds and motions of the womb.

Whole Heart Provisions
, a Massachusetts fast-casual, plant-based culinary startup serving delicious, fast, and environmentally conscious food.

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.

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.

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.


This week’s events for founders and fun

Check out this week’s can’t-miss events in the area. 

Monday, July 25: Business Sustainability Bootcamp, hosted by SkyLab Boston, 6-9 p.m., Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building, 6th floor, 2300 Washington St., Roxbury. FREE. Register here.

Tuesday, July 26: Finance & Accounting for Startups Post-Investment, hosted by The Capital Network at MassChallenge, 21 Drydock Ave., Boston. 11:45 a.m.-2 p.m. Register here.

Wednesday, July 27: Annual Summer Reception, 5:30-7:30 p.m., members $75, non-members $150, hosted by the Boston Chamber of Commerce in the tent behind the New England Aquarium. Register here.

Green Card & Career Advice Q&A Session for Ph.Ds, 6-8 p.m., hosted by Casseus Law and Propel Careers at the Cambridge Innovation Center, 1 Broadway, 5th floor, Cambridge, $15. Register here.

Startup Showcase, 6-9 p.m., hosted by MassChallenge at the Innovation & Design Building, 21-25 Drydock Ave., Boston. FREE. Register here.

Thursday, July 28: SheStarts Networking Breakfast, 8:30-10 a.m., at WeWork Fort Point, 51 Melcher St., Boston. FREE. Register here.

Regatta for Entrepreneurship, noon-6 p.m., sponsored by The CFO Center, Gesmer Updegrove, FoundersWire, Telamon Insurance and Bowen Advisors, to benefit the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. At the Boston Sailing Center, 54 Lewis Wharf, Boston. Network and race for the NFTE Cup. Learn more here.

Hiring in Tech: What companies are really looking for, 6-8 p.m., hosted by ChickTech Boston at WorkBar Cambridge, 45 Prospect St., Cambridge. $10. Free business head shots first come, first served. Register here.

Friday, July 29: The White Party, 6-10 p.m., hosted by Boston Business Women on the patio at Society on High, 99 High St., Boston. $50. Each ticket purchase includes a plus one. Men welcome. Register 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

Who made this year’s MassChallenge

The new class has been announced for the seventh round of the world’s largest startup accelerator, MassChallenge.

Explore the full list of companies HERE.

Boston’s list of finalists include Catalyst for World Water, Ubuntu Capital, Courageous Parents Network and 125 more chosen from more than 1,700 applicants from nine countries and  16 states, according to MassChallenge data.

“We received consistent feedback from our judges about the quality of applicants this year, and I’m confident we’ll have an incredibly high-caliber class of entrepreneurs joining us in Boston,” says Scott Bailey, Boston’s managing director, in a release. “These entrepreneurs will be challenged throughout the program to impact communities and provide disruptive solutions across a wide range of industries.”

This year’s finalists will receive mentorship over the next five months and compete for their share of $1.5 million in prizes at the accelerator’s awards ceremony Nov. 2.

“There’s a universal need and responsibility to help early-stage startups across all industries and backgrounds succeed as they set out to solve some of society’s biggest problems,” says John Harthorne, founder and CEO of MassChallenge, in a release. “Communities that focus on creating an environment that’s open, collaborative, and supportive will drive more value, opportunities, and wealth as a result. We’re proud to continue advocating for this movement and fueling innovation around the world through our global accelerators.”

SUNU wearable for the blind navigates post-accelerator growth


BOSTON—There are few moments where you feel as powerless as seeing your child get hurt.

Unless your child is blind, then it’s exponential. You watch as your son or daughter attempts to play like other children, fearless like other children. Then an accident happens. And another.

If you’re lucky, the injuries are small. But little by little, you see confidence shrink and fear take over.

SUNU founders Marco Trujillo and Cuauhtli Padilla Arias saw this firsthand working at a school for blind children in Guadalajara, Mexico. From this experience grew SUNU, a discrete wearable wristband that uses sonar to help the blind perceive their full environment and avoid potentially dangerous obstacles.

For children, it restores joy and freedom to play.

“You see these children who are blind, especially in other countries, they are not really allowed to play and jump around like other kids,” said Fernando Albertorio, co-founder in charge of development and strategy.

“They usually are fearless, but they harm themselves, “ Arias said. “It’s just a matter of time before they lose pleasure for playing and running around.

“They’re afraid to get hurt.”

It was a semester-long college project for two engineering students that turned into a year and a half of working to understand these children—then trying to solve a problem that could change their lives.

Trujillo and Arias, friends since middle school, had already created a wristband using proximity sensors and electroshock that activated as the wearer approached obstacles. “We both tested it, it was just for fun,” said Trujillo, laughing. “We thought, this could be useful for someone who has visual impairment. We knew there was a little spark there to keep working, to modify it to be useful.”

The SUNU band, wearable tech for the visually impaired, uses sonar to help identify and avoid dangerous obstacles.

The SUNU band, wearable tech for the visually impaired, uses sonar to help identify and avoid dangerous obstacles.

So they adapted their invention to employ sound waves and pain-free, gentle vibration instead. They wanted to lighten up these visually impaired children who could not play, with a game where they could be mobile and navigate their surroundings. So they built a makeshift maze and the kids could solve it by wearing the band.

SUNU locates objects 360 degrees around the wearer, delivering a mild or stronger buzz, depending on the distance and density of the obstacle. The band completes the picture of environmental conditions better than the typical white cane or guide dog alone—and is designed to work with both, not replace them.

“The cool thing about it was we were just having fun, trying to solve the problem. We created a functional prototype, then asked the children to solve the maze,” Trujillo said.

The maze, set up for children between the ages of 8-13, was made of obstacles at shoulder, waist and knee heights. “We made two groups, one with a cane, one with SUNU. The group with SUNU was 23 percent faster, with just one minute of training,” said Arias.

The renewed sense of pride, fun and belonging among the kids caught the attention of the school’s teachers and parents. “It was pretty much the most important thing to them,” Arias said. “It was one little girl in particular (who made an emotional impact on the team), she was telling us she could use it really well, it was awesome for her.”

“I like to teach people about improving their lives, and it really takes me a lot of effort to do that (with visually impaired children). I can see it’s hard to inspire these kids,” Trujillo said. “But this technology is giving me that tool to let them know, you can enjoy going to play, you don’t have to worry about hurting yourself. I can finally tell them they can do great stuff.”

Ramona Walhof, speaking at a seminar for parents hosted by the National Federation of the Blind, said blind children often learn to depend on sighted people more than they need to or should, and less on themselves. Walhof is an advocate, author, board member at the National Federation of the Blind, and blind herself.

“Elementary school is not too soon for a blind child to begin traveling independently, keeping track of print papers, looking for things that are lost or dropped, keeping track of clothes that match, etc. As a child matures, he or she needs to develop more self-reliance in all these areas,” she said.

But often, society has other ideas about what the impaired are capable of, and those impressions shape what they do.

“One of the things that surprised us the most after parents saw their kids—they approached us to offer us money, contacts, as much help as they could give us. They said, ‘We will do whatever is in our power, just please put these bands on our children,’ ” Trujillo said.

“At that moment we realized, whatever we were doing wasn’t just a product for a competition, it was actually giving value back to society, pushing us to do more and continue to develop the band.”

The SUNU team, from left, Fabiola Suarez, Marco Trujillo, Cuauhtli Padilla Arias and Fernando Albertorio.

The SUNU team, from left, Fabiola Suarez, Marco Trujillo, Cuauhtli Padilla Arias and Fernando Albertorio.

To do that, the duo needed more help. Around that time in Mexico, they brought on Fabiola Suarez, who wears many hats for the company, including handling CFO and R&D functions. “Basically I make sure we don’t have any gaps, from finance to R&D. I deal with legal issues here in Mexico and in the U.S., and everything that has to be done with other entities: outside money, paying taxes, following up with accelerators,” she said.

Though she deals in technicalities, Suarez, like her other teammates, realizes the importance of building a product with heart. “My mom, she’s a spiritual teacher, she told me I had to look for work to help people and that’s what I’m doing. It feels great to know I am having a big impact on people’s lives,” Suarez said.

Her duties had a big impact on the team as well: She was the one who filed the application to a Mexico accelerator with ties to MassChallenge and destined the company for global exposure. SUNU cleaned up at that competition and headed for the Hub – where they went on in October 2014 to win a $50,000 prize, plus the Perkins Assisted Technology sidecar prize, worth an additional $25,000 from the Perkins School for the Blind.

Albertorio said SUNU has always been bootstrapped, operating on donations, grants and money won in competitions. The MassChallenge winnings went toward developing a new prototype, structuring the IP, and pushing the device closer to market.

Suarez did not make the journey to participate in the Boston accelerator, but rather stayed in Guadalajara to oversee current production with money received from the Mexican government. “I kept working so we didn’t miss that link we have with the government,” she said in an interview from their office in Guadalajara. “They gave us a grant, so I was here keeping production going.”

Boston was home to the fourth team member, Albertorio – who brought his skills and expertise to the group when MassChallenge kicked off that year. Albertorio is visually impaired himself, and was able to recognize immediately the value of the SUNU product.

The first time he wore the SUNU band, he said he was just floored.

“When I wore it for the first time going home, I was able to avoid certain tree branches that I usually hit my head with. Even navigating the T, especially South Station when it’s so busy, sometimes I don’t see well and I hit people by accident. And you know what? You want to avoid that type of situation.

Albertorio qualifies his deficit as being less limiting than for those who are fully blind, but he still benefits from wearing the band.

“I’m a little bit more fortunate than most people with my similar condition, I can move about, I don’t have to use a cane or require a guide dog, thankfully. But every once in a while, at least once a month, I’ll hit a sign post because I just didn’t see it, or I may walk into a glass door or get hit in the head with tree branches.

“So with this device, I’m able to navigate around and find clear openings and just be more confident and empowered when I’m moving about in crowded spaces,” Albertorio said. “I just fell in love with this device and said, ‘This is definitely something I can help and get behind 100 percent.’ ”

Research shows only 2 percent of people with legal blindness use a guide dog, and the white cane is only used 20 percent to 30 percent of the time in daily activities. Albertorio points to those stats as proof of not wanting to stand out in society as impaired. “Since the development of the cane, people don’t want to be labeled or stigmatized,” he said. “So we developed a discreet, beautiful product that makes a difference. We want people to be proud.”

The SUNU wearable wristband allows the visually impaired to navigate their surroundings with sonar.

The SUNU wearable wristband allows the visually impaired to navigate their surroundings with sonar.

“Our principal philosophy in design is not to let people know those who wear it have a disability,” Trujillo said. “We try to make them feel part of the trend, like regular people using the newest iPhone. We want to break that barrier, and make them feel more normal and not excluded.”

Currently, the team (save for Albertorio) is back in Mexico—for now. “We came back because living in Boston was very expensive for us, compared to Mexico. All our manufacturing and development partners are here,” Trujillo said. “But we kept our relationship with Perkins that we built during MassChallenge. We have never stopped working.”

This past December, the team ran a test with Perkins that Trujillo called “very successful.” They deployed 10 units and tested to see if wearers could stop before hitting their heads, get to from point A to point B and find lost items, according to Arias.

After receiving all the feedback, they developed a new version of the software inside the band. “It’s just smarter than it was before,” Trujillo said. Now they plan on raising funds, and conducting their next round of beta tests with the National Federation of the Blind, Project Starfish and other invited partners.

“(Project Starfish) approached us to partner, to help us bring SUNU to market,” Trujillo said. Project Starfish is a group committed to helping the visually impaired or otherwise disabled professionals (as well as veterans and homeless) reenter the work force.

“There’s a 65 percent unemployment rate for people who are totally blind. Worldwide it’s even bigger,” Albertorio said. “And in part, if you can get people who became blind during their professional life out of the house, they could have a chance at a career again, if things align for them.”

With 1 in 50 Americans already legally blind, 20 million Americans with severe visual impairment predicted by 2020, and much larger numbers looming globally, SUNU is focused on raising money, launching a pre-order campaign (go to for more information) and getting to market as quickly as possible.

“We just want to enhance people’s perception of their surroundings,” Albertorio said. “With baby boomers coming up in age, there’s macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, peripheral vision loss and more. They will start to have vision loss but still want to go for their evening walks or jogs.

“We want to give that protection to keep going about your daily life,” he said.