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Stylefeeder runs a personalized online shopping recommendation service that suggests items users might like based on items they’ve already browsed or items preferred by users with similar profiles. The company also runs a shopping application on Facebook used by over half a million members of the popular social networking site; Facebook members can share the items they browse and buy with their friends.
The company is profitable, and scored a big win recently by arranging with publishing giant Hachette Filipacchi Media to provide a personalized shopping service for the websites of Elle magazine and the company’s other fashion, automotive, design, health, and hobbyist publications. Part of the company’s success lies in its executives’ decisions to outsource its IT infrastructure to the Amazon cloud, keeping its staff small, and focusing on “affordable luxuries” that still attract consumers in the midst of the economic downturn.
Can solar energy be cheaper than coal? 1366 Technologies, a maker of silicon photovoltaic cells, thinks it can—as early as 2013. The company spun out of MIT in 2008 under the leadership of cofounder and CTO Ely Sachs, a professor of mechanical engineering (who has his finger in a number of green-energy pies; he also founded Evergreen Solar). Rather than trying radical new methods of producing solar cells, 1366 is focusing on increasing the efficiency of existing cell designs and assembly techniques.
Earlier this year, 1366 received an award from the Department of Energy worth up to $3 million as part of the Solar America Initiative. The company’s name refers to the solar constant— the 1366 watts per square meter, on average, that reaches Earth in one hour, which, if fully captured, would be enough to satisfy the energy demands of the entire human species for one year.
MIT spinoff WiTricity is developing technologies to deliver electricity to machines wirelessly using magnetic coupling. The technique turns electric current into a magnetic field that resonates with coils in a receptor and converts the energy back into electricity. The invention helped to win its creator, MIT assistant professor of physics Marin Soljačić, a MacArthur genius award.
Currently WiTricity is focusing on power supplies for the home appliances market—devices like cell phones, laptop computers, and televisions. But it’s also preparing for the coming boom in electric vehicles by developing coils large enough to transmit power to a car battery while the vehicle is parked. Depending on the market, these chargers could be built into the floor of a garage or be wall-mounted.
Zafgen’s anti-obesity drugs work according to the same strategy as many tumor-shrinking medications: cut off the blood flow, in this case to adipose tissue, where fat deposits form. It’s a novel approach; most pharmaceutical solutions for obesity focus on appetite control or fat absorption. CEO Tom Hughes, who joined Zafgen after a 20-year stint at Novartis, knows his idea isn’t mainstream, but points to animal studies the company has conducted that showed rats and mice losing weight regardless amount of the amount of food consumed.
Zafgen is a streamlined operation. The company only has 4.5 employees, contracting most of the research to outside firms, sometimes working with labs across the pond, as in its recent partnership with UK-based Argenta Discovery. Hughes knows the company has much to prove, but has big plans for 2009: he’s hoping to get its blood flow-blocking obesity treatment into clinical trials later this year.