Innovation Economy

A few start-ups worth keeping on the radar

Highlights from the Innovation Economy blog.

Can a bus trip to Cambridge help start-ups from the Providence-based Betaspring accelerator program raise money?

That was the hope last Monday, when 15 start-up teams headed north to make pitches to a roomful of Massachusetts angel investors at the Cambridge Innovation Center. The presenters were each hoping to raise from $175,000 to $2 million. It will be a few weeks, at least, before we see whether the Greyhound strategy has an impact.

Here are a few new services worth checking out and start-ups worth putting on your radar screen. Companies in that second category, I’m betting, have decent odds of collecting some cash — even if they are not working on consumer-facing ideas.


 RaftOut, a site that makes it easy to coordinate concert ticket purchases. Want to see a show, but don’t know who in your social circle will join you? Just click the “Bring People” button before you make a purchase. You can try it out with some upcoming shows in Boston at The company is in the process of integrating its service with those of ticket sellers such as Brown Paper Tickets and TicketFly.

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 ShutterCal, which prompts you to pick the best picture you’ve taken each day. The company places these images in an online calendar for sharing with family and friends. You can try the service for free; an ad-free digital subscription is $3 per month; for $14.99 monthly the service sends printed photos each month. You also get a nicely designed shoebox that holds a year’s worth of photos.

 Spogo, an iPhone app that invites you to guess what will happen next while you’re watching a sporting event. As you make more correct guesses, you earn rewards that you can cash in at local sports bars. Cofounder Andrew­ Vassallo says the company tested it during the NFL season, and a new version covering other sports is due out in June.

 SurpriseRide, a box-of-the-month club that delivers hands-on activities for kids 7 to 12 years old. The $30-a-month service focuses on science and creativity. Cofounders Donna and Rosy Khalife are sisters; Donna earned an MBA at Harvard in 2011, and Rosy is wrapping up her program at Providence College. The company will be based in Washington.

And put these on the radar screen:


 Designer Material, which helps clothing and product designers research, price, and buy materials. Founder Matt Grigsby was a sourcing consultant who helped Schick and Hasbro identify ecofriendly materials. The company will take 20 percent of every sale, less than what wholesalers typically charge manufacturers.

 LocusPlay, which helps lotteries in emerging markets sell tickets using mobile devices. It also collects sales data. The team initially got together in Bangalore, India, before relocating to Providence — home to GTECH, a major vendor to the lottery industry.

 Skillhound, which is developing a service to help recruiters better communicate with software developers. Founder Pablo Fernandez says Skillhound analyzes a company’s code to find better matches with potential hires.

 Bare Tree Media helps entertainment brands such as Garfield, Hello Kitty, and Kiss develop mobile apps and sell virtual goods to fans. Chief executive Robert Ferrari previously worked at Turbine and Sanrio Digital, which owns Hello Kitty.

Bot takes data, seeks friends

Last month in Manhattan, I ran into MIT Media Lab alum Alexander Reben and his little cardboard buddy, BlabDroid.


Reben was in town for the Tribeca Film Festival, at which he deployed 20 BlabDroids as robotic documentarians, questioning people and recording their answers.

The bot, designed to look cute and homemade, speaks in the voice of a 7-year old boy — all strategies to induce interviewees to talk freely. Among the questions: “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done to someone?”

BlabDroid garnered a lot of publicity in New York. But Reben’s Kickstarter campaign to raise $75,000 for production of the bot has not caught fire.

For $299, you get a fully assembled BlabDroid that moves on its own and connects via Bluetooth with a smartphone; a less-expensive Starter BlabDroid is also available.

With about a month left, Reben is $70,000 short of his target.

BlabDroid’s predecessor was a Media Lab project called Boxie, The Story Gathering Robot.

Visit for the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily.