Excerpts from the Innovation Economy blog.
Zeb Kimmel, a former McKinsey & Co. management consultant, had some creative thoughts about how Microsoft’s Kinect video game accessory could be used for things other than following the physical movements of game players. Earlier this year, Kimmel hacked together some software that used the Kinect’s array of sensors to figure out the bra or shirt size of a person positioned in front of the device.
“The idea was that one of the big barriers in apparel e-commerce is that you can’t measure people like you could if they were in a retail store,” he explained.
But it was a different notion that earned Kimmel his entrance into the Kinect Accelerator in Seattle, as the lone Massachusetts entrepreneur to participate in the joint TechStars/Microsoft program this year.
He proposed using the Kinect to keep an electronic eye on senior citizens living alone.
“Forty percent of seniors say they fear losing their home, independence, and privacy more than they fear death,” Kimmel said. “What we’ve created is a kind of smart radar that monitors movement without using video, and can look for deviations from normal activity.”
For an alpha test involving five seniors, Kimmel installed a laptop and a Kinect in either their living room or kitchen and connected the laptop to a Wi-Fi network. The Kinect did not record images or video, but instead tracked people moving in and out of the room in a way that made them look like amorphous blobs on the screen.
Obviously, if Grandma usually comes into the kitchen for breakfast at 7:30 and on a particular day she had not shown up by 9, her children or friends might want to receive an alert.
But Kimmel, who holds a master’s in computer science and an MBA, said he is going a few steps further than simply sounding the alarm when normal comings and goings change.
“The way you move indicates your state of health,” he said. “When your walking speed changes, that is predictive of fall risk, and it could also mean you’re depressed, or that you have pneumonia.”
Participating in the Kinect Accelerator required Kimmel to commit 6 percent of his start-up’s equity in exchange for $20,000. Kimmel said he is in the midst of raising a $300,000 funding round for the Cambridge start-up, which he dubbed ZebCare.
Pinterest validates investor’s vision
Pinterest is the latest social media company to start accumulating scads of users (23 million so far) and a sky-high valuation ($1.5 billion, according to Forbes.) The site, which allows users to “pin” products and images they like onto a digital bulletin board, is growing faster than Facebook did in its early day and has raised almost $140 million in funding.
And there is just one person in Massachusetts who was smart enough to invest in Pinterest’s first round of angel funding, in 2009.
Jit Saxena is an entrepreneur who started database companies like Netezza and Applix and these days mainly makes angel investments. In 2009, Saxena was in Palo Alto, Calif., for a family wedding.
“I had nothing to do in the morning, and Ed [Zander] has suggested I go meet this guy Ben Silbermann,” he explained. Silbermann had worked at Google, and at the time he was working on something called Cold Brew Labs, a “social commerce” incubator that eventually spawned Pinterest.
“I went and had lunch with the guy” at the Four Seasons, Saxena said.
Afterward, Saxena e-mailed and talked with other members of the Pinterest team, but Silbermann remained the only one he had met. “I don’t think you need to make investing very complicated,” he said. “You just get a gut feel that the person is great.”
Saxena decided to invest, and so did Zander. All told, the fledgling company raised $500,000 from investors at that point.
Since then, Pinterest’s user base and valuation have grown like beanstalks. But Saxena said he doesn’t have a Pinterest account. “I’m not a user,” he admitted, “though I’ve looked at the site a lot to see what’s new.”