Highlights from the Innovation Economy blog.
Some shopping-related news from Boston’s innovation economy:
■ The custom jewelry maker Gemvara was featured this month on Oprah Winfrey’s “Favorite Things 2012” cable special; Winfrey picked a pair of “naked cushion triple earrings” that range in price from $1,109 to $1,688, depending on the gemstone. Founder Matt Lauzon says it wasn’t a paid placement, exactly: “One of Oprah’s people spotted Gemvara and the earrings at a party our PR team hosted, and brought them to Oprah.” Winfrey wore the earrings on the show and gave a pair to everyone in the audience. “That piece was very cool, because they were all spouses of members of the military,” Lauzon says.
■ Likelii founder Radhika Dutt describes her Cambridge start-up pretty simply: It does for wine what Pandora does for music, suggesting brands you may like, based on what you already enjoy. The company raised $450,000 earlier this year, and Dutt says that Likelii will soon offer a mobile app, in addition to its website. Likelii offers free shipping on orders over $100 — and who doesn’t need $100 worth of wine to get through the holidays?
■ Boston-based Kickscout released a new version of its mobile app. It lets you snap pictures of products you might want to buy in a store — say, a group gift for grandma — and share them with others to get feedback. If your bigger concern is making sure you get what you want, you can use Kickscout to keep a visual “wish list” of gifts you’d like to receive.
■ FashionPlaytes, a Beverly start-up, introduced a holiday line of apparel and accessories for ’tween girls. All items can be customized.
■ A great destination for unusual gifts is Daily Grommet in Lexington. Paper robot kits designed by former Nintendo engineers? Ceramic bowls that look like cantaloupes and grapefruits? A hand-dyed silk scarf whose purchase helps support women’s initiatives in India? This well-curated site is full of stuff you won’t find at the mall.
■ This month, I wrote about the two cable TV ads that the Back Bay home goods merchant Wayfair is running. One was made by an edgy San Francisco ad agency, the other by a pair of Wayfair employees who shoot the company’s in-house video. In my online vote, more than 80 percent of you said you preferred the one shot by the employees.
■ For gadget hounds who like to be the first on their block to get something new, there’s the Equiso smart TV system. For $79, it turns your regular set into a smart TV capable of viewing Web video from Hulu, Netflix, and other sites; playing games; updating your Facebook status; or bidding on eBay. The package comes with a nifty remote control with a few simple buttons on front and a QWERTY keyboard on back. The Cambridge start-up raised $240,000 earlier this year on Kickstarter.
BetterLesson gets a $3.5m grant
When entrepreneurs boast about having raised a couple of million bucks for their company, the flip side is they have usually had to hand over a significant chunk of their equity to investors.
But that wasn’t the case last week with Cambridge-based BetterLesson, which brings lesson plans and classroom materials online for K-12 educators. The company announced a grant of $3.5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That exceeds the $2.7 million raised thus far in equity funding. “When I told our existing investors about the grant, which is totally non-dilutive, they were insanely happy,” said cofounder Alex Grodd.
Grodd said that most of the money will be funneled to teachers to help them “capture their curriculum and their effective practices — things like classroom management and procedures.”
Sigma Prime adds a fourth partner
As Sigma Prime Ventures heads toward the home stretch of raising what could be a $150 million fund, the Boston firm is adding a fourth partner: John Simon, who departed General Catalyst in July. Simon was a cofounder of that firm. Simon’s eclectic track record includes life sciences, mobile, digital marketing, and hardware, with investments m-Qube, DC Devices, CyPhy Works, BzzAgent, and OvaScience. “He complements our styles,” said Sigma partner Bob Davoli.