2010′s Innovative Dozen: The XSITE Xpo Showcase Companies
[Updated, 6/16/10] We’re excited about our full-day Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology, & Entrepreneurship coming up this Thursday, June 17, which will be packed with presenters from all slices of the tech and startup space in the Boston area. And we’ll be capping off the day by bringing you a dozen young companies that we believe are poised to transform the life sciences, IT, and energy/cleantech sectors. They’ll each give a three-minute rundown on what they’re out to do, after which the audience will vote on the most transformative in each category. Talk about high pressure!
So here I am to introduce you to the 12 companies who will take the stage for the rapid-fire Xpo. They’re a diverse bunch, even within each individual category. For example, our life sciences track features a company out to bring open-sourcing to drug discovery, a stealthy startup making a device for better skin grafts, an award-winning maker of medicine packaging technology aimed to intercept counterfeit drugs, and a maker of a sleep-tracking device that’s captured the heart of Regis Philbin. Read on to learn a bit about all the companies in each of the track, and sign up for XSITE 2010 so you can hear more about each of these fascinating ventures straight from the folks who are bringing them to life.
The Difra team made it into the energy track of our Xpo because they’re out to democratize the building and customization of homes, and make construction more environmentally friendly in the process. Co-founded by MIT graduates, the company is using computer-aided design and manufacturing software to model homes in 3D and translate those models into 2-D pieces that can be cut out of engineered wood with a laser device and assembled using only a rubber mallet and (optionally) glue.
The company’s co-founders see its technology, which they say results in less waste than traditional construction methods, translating into personalized homes for people who wouldn’t normally be able to afford them. The system could also enable the construction of basic housing in the wake of floods or earthquakes. “Building a home is like laying out a giant 3D-puzzle,” co-founder Morris Cox told Xconomy. “It is the perfect community project. Most of it can be done by ordinary people. We see it as a rewarding and socially enriching project for neighbors, relatives or other groups.”
This Boston-based startup is combining more efficient LED lighting with networking and energy monitoring software to enable commercial facilities to light up their operations for a tenth of what it used to cost. The company makes devices that contain strips of LED lights and a mini computer processor designed to network with other devices in the same vicinity. Facilities managers can program the devices to work in zones, and collaboratively turn on and off depending on the functions of the building. Digital Lumens’ system also includes a software interface that tracks energy usage, to inform managers on how to more efficiently program the lighting in the future. A typical 250,000 square-foot commercial facility using traditional incandescent lighting (think warehouses or big-box retailers) costs about $1 per foot to light annually. Digital Lumens aims to bring that cost down to a dime per foot.
Goby’s website, which was recently unveiled after more than a year in stealth mode, is out to help users find fun things to do. You plug in what kinds of activities you like, where you’d like to do them, and when you have the time to do them, and Boston-based Goby’s search engine scans data from a slew of Internet travel sources. It arranges the options in order of distance from a central point, offers information on driving directions and photos, and displays the results on an interactive map. The company has designed its site to give users much of the information they need to make travel plans without actually having to leave the site.
It’s no shock that engineers and the auto industry are looking to all sorts of sources as avenues for going green, but shock absorbers are one I just hadn’t heard of yet. Until I read about Levant Power, an MIT spinoff that is out to harvest energy from the bouncing of vehicles as they drive down bumpy roads. Levant is testing its shock absorbers on buses, trucks, and military vehicles and aiming to get the technology to production in 12 to 18 months, Chief Operating Officer and co-founder Zackary Anderson told Xconomy earlier this spring. The plan is to first retrofit heavier vehicles, then take the technology to smaller passenger cars after one to two years. Levant’s product is more expensive than traditional shock absorbers, but is designed to pay for itself in less than two years.
Cambridge-based Ligon Discovery has its roots in the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and is out to fast-track drug discovery. Its technology takes a hint from open-source software development, where common code is shared among developers. Ligon centers around a single form of chemistry that can make myriad drug-screening assays. It plans to form partnerships with bigger drug companies that would pay to use its technology, and later kick in some more cash contingent on the success of the drugs they discover with Ligon’s methods.
Marginize’s website says it brings real conversations to any website. Users can check out what others are tweeting about they website they’re browsing, and tweet themselves in the margins. The company was quick to fill an IT Xpo spot for us at the last minute, so I’m looking forward to hear what they have to say.
This Cambridge-based startup is still pretty quiet about what it’s doing, but we do know that it’s working on a device to improve skin grafting to fight the physical effects of the disease vitiligo, which causes the formation of irregular white spots on skin. The company was co-founded by Harvard dermatologist R. Rox Anderson, who developed the technology at the Massachusetts General Hospital Wellman Center for Photomedicine, where he is a director. MoMelan says its device is designed expand a piece of skin by up to 100 times to cover a much larger area than a traditional skin graft could.
The company, which wrapped up about $1 million in debt financing in March, hasn’t tested its device in human trials yet, but is focused on engineering prototypes of the device. It ultimately aims for the device to be automated and reduce the time and cost of the procedures where the device is being used. “I want this to be quite simple,” Anderson Xconomy in a profile on the company. “Ideally, this is something where you can walk into a doctor’s office and in a short period of time get a treatment that is pretty reliable for re-pigmenting vitiligo.”
Cambridge-based OmniStrat makes software for helping businesses asses their priorities. Its website says users answer strategically relevant questions and its software responds with visualizations to help companies direct their focus. The system also enables users to prioritize and analyze how certain business issues will affect their goals, and share those results with employees and collaborate on how to achieve company goals.
Promethean Power Systems
This startup came to our attention in April when we rounded up the smaller startup financings from the month before, and I’m looking forward to seeing it in action. Promethean Power Systems is applying solar power to food transportation and storage, particularly in developing countries. The Cambridge-based startup was a runner-up in MIT’s $100K Entrepreneurship Competition in 2007 and is out to eliminate the need for expensive diesel-powered generators in keeping perishable food cold while in transit. Its product also has applications on countries with unreliable electricity.
I first heard about Somerville, MA-based Sproxil when it nabbed some area awards earlier this month. First, it got honors at MITX’s Technology Awards. Then, it took the title at IBM’s SmartCamp, a day-long bootcamp for companies in “smart” tech, a field that brings IT to areas of the physical world you might not expect, like parking, water monitoring, and making plans with friends while traveling. For Sproxil, that particular realm of the physical world is medicine packaging in developing nations. The company has developed a “mobile product authentication” service to prevent consumers from purchasing counterfeit drugs, a big problem plaguing countries like Nigeria, Sproxil’s current target market. The system works with medicine that is packaged with scratch-off labels that reveal an item-unique code. Customers then text that code to Sproxil, which confirms whether or not the item is the real thing. The technology could ultimately translate to other consumer products threatened by knockoffs, CEO Ashifi Gogo said at his presentation at IBM earlier this month.
Vgo Communications is out to make working remotely seem not so remote. The Nashua, NH-based startup, originally named North End Technologies, was founded in 2007 by robotics and visual communication industry veterans. In February it raised $2.5 million in new cash and converted $1.8 million of debt to equity, to put towards getting its product to market. “VGO enables you to be present and mobile in and throughout a distant location,” says its website. “You can see, hear, talk, interact, and move around just as if you were there. With VGO, you can go anywhere.” It all sounds a bit futuristic to me, so I’m excited to see the company present at the Xpo to get a better taste of what they’re doing.
Zeo might be the only startup of the Xpo bunch that can boast the acclaim of talk show host Regis Philbin. The Newton, MA-based company, founded in 2003 as Axon Labs by three Brown University students, has been selling a sleep-tracking device for about a year. The company sold more than 1,000 units of the Personal Sleep Coach in three days after Philbin talked it up on his show last June. Users of the Zeo system wear a headband with sensors that send data on users’ sleep patterns to a bedside unit, which produces a graphical display of the data. The device attaches a score to the users’ sleep patterns based on the data, and also has an alarm that can wake them once they have reached an optimal time to wake up. The startup has raised about $14 million and is recently started peddling the $250 device via infomercials.