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Innovation Economy

With new lab, Staples pushes on tech front

Highlights from the Innovation Economy blog.

At the beginning of the year, Staples said it would open an “e-commerce innovation center” in Kendall Square this year, to build a technology team separate from its Framingham headquarters. The office supplies giant, which happens to be the number two online merchant, after Amazon.com, dubbed the new Cambridge facility Velocity Lab. It opened in August.

“We decided to get radically more aggressive about strengthening our e-commerce and digital capabilities,” said Staples’ e-commerce senior vice president, Brian Tilzer. “Digital is the glue between our different channels — our call centers, our stores, and our website.” By setting up an outpost in Cambridge, he explained, “we can diversify the talent we were bringing to Staples.”

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Some of Staples’ business partners — Endeca, Akamai, Google — are just a short walk from the new lab. About one-third of the people working at the lab are Staples veterans, and two-thirds are new hires, said lab director Prat Vemana. That’s an intentional mix, to blend fresh thinking with Staples’ existing corporate culture.

“The vision for this center is to create a place where we can test, learn, and iterate as rapidly as possible around new technologies,” Tilzer said.

As examples, he cited “thinking about how to leverage big data to deliver personalized experiences” and “helping consumers understand what services are available related to a particular product, like a laptop.”

There will be blue-sky brainstorming, too, to “produce really cool stuff that’s meaningful to our customers.”

Junk Drawer app keeps track of your stuff

Arriving just in time for this week’s tsunami of junk — I mean, delightful and thoughtful gifts — is a new mobile app from Arlington entrepreneur Mike Cayer.

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Junk Drawer scans bar codes of new products to create a digital inventory of your stuff. The iPhone app automatically affixes an image of the item and allows you to input data about where you bought it or when the warranty expires. This can be useful for service or returns, or perhaps to sell it on eBay down the line.

“Everyone has had that experience where they forgot to get something minor fixed, and then the warranty ran out on them,” Cayer said. “Junk Drawer can give you a notification 60 days before it’s up.”

You can attach information about batteries, bulbs, and ink a device uses, so it’s always with you when you’re shopping. And of course you can brag about what you just bought — or received as a gift — on Facebook.

The first iteration of Junk Drawer “is a good inventory manager,” Cayer said. But he has plans to eventually link products to their online user manuals, let owners register products from their phones, and automatically create an eBay listing when you’re ready to sell.

Cayer said he has raised nearly $200,000 from angel investors.

Gamer cluster emerges in East Cambridge

For a while, it felt like the beating heart of Boston’s videogame cluster was in Central Square: Harmonix Music Systems, Zynga ­Boston, and gamerDNA were all based there.

But Central has emptied out (only Harmonix remains), and it seems like a new gaming community is starting to take root at ­Intrepid Labs, a shared “teamspace” for young companies on the top floor of the American Twine Building in East Cambridge.

Proletariat Inc., a tablet-focused games company founded by five former Zynga Boston employees is there, next to The Tap Lab, a TechStars Boston alumnus that is working on a new location-based game. Owlchemy Labs, which makes iPhone and iPad games Jack Lumber and Snuggle Truck, is steps away.

Proletariat has three iPad games in the works and is talking with prospective distribution partners, cofounder Seth Sivak said. The crew is also doing contract development work to bring in additional revenue.

Mark Kasdorf, who set up Intrepid Labs in late 2011, said six more indie game developers will move in next month. He’s planning to create an area within Intrepid especially for the game companies, called Intrepid Arcade.

Visit www.boston.com/innovation for the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily.

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