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Innovation Economy

At call service, it’s humans to the rescue

Mike Iacobucci

Mike Iacobucci

Highlights from the Innovation Economy blog.

Could $40 million help make calling a big company on the phone less frustrating?

A Franklin start-up, Interactions Corp., has that mission, and it banked $40 million in new funding this month, in a round led by the Newton office of Softbank Capital.

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Interactions helps about 22 big customers, including Hyatt and Humana, handle incoming phone calls more efficiently, without requiring callers to press 2 for billing, 3 for sales, or * to go back to the previous menu, for example.

It doesn’t rely entirely on speech recognition, though, which can often cause problems, especially when the system tries to interpret phrases or full sentences. Instead, when necessary Interactions layers human assistance on top of automated speech recognition. If there’s a lot of background noise, or if the caller has a thick accent, a human listens to that part of the conversation and routes the caller to the right place.

The company calls its solution the Virtual Assistant.

Interactions, with about 80 employees at its Franklin headquarters, plans to open an office on Lincoln Street in downtown Boston next month.

“There’s a certain group of employees that we’ll have greater access to in that location,” said chief executive Mike Iacobucci.

With the new funding, Iacobucci says, the company will be hiring across the board.

CoachUp adds Zipcar CEO to its board

CoachUp founder Jordan Fliegel has been on a hot streak when it comes to adding advisers and directors.

Scott Brown, former US senator, and Cam Neely, Boston Bruins president, are involved with the Boston start-up, which helps connect aspiring athletes with private coaches. And now Fliegel has persuaded Scott Griffith, longtime chief executive of Zipcar, to join his board.

“There’s a real mission orientation to this business, which is part of what attracted me,” Griffith says. “Also, I have a 14-year-old son who plays soccer, basketball, and baseball, so I understand the marketplace CoachUp is trying to create.

“Coaching right now is a cottage industry. There are concerns about safety and competence, and who these people are, and that’s what they’re addressing.”

CoachUp offers detailed profiles and reviews of coaches and covers the lesson packages it sells with a $100,000 liability insurance policy.

Fliegel says more than 7,000 coaches offer lessons through the site. CoachUp was launched last May and was part of the TechStars Boston fall class in 2012.

Griffith said his post-Zipcar plan isn’t simply to jump on a bunch of boards and do angel investing. “I’ve got another run with a company in me here,” he said.

But he’s also interested in playing a role in the start-up scene:

“One thing I’m focused on is what can I do to make a more robust ecosystem here in Boston. We’ve come a good distance, but there’s still lots of work that can be done.”

Boston-Power founder joins Bridgewater

One of Boston’s highest-profile energy entrepreneurs, Christina Lampe-Onnerud, is moving to Connecticut to join the hedge fund manager Bridgewater Associates.

Lampe-Onnerud, a former Arthur D. Little scientist, in 2004 founded Boston-Power, a maker of lithium-ion batteries for laptops and electric vehicles. She dialed down her involvement with the company in 2012 after it shifted many of its operations to China.

“The thing I love [about Bridgewater] is it’s a really high-caliber team,” she said. “I have every intention of giving everything I can and learning everything I can.”

Lampe-Onnerud said she and her husband, Per, have formed an energy start-up called Cloteam. The company won a $40,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to work on lower-cost, higher-safety energy storage systems. Per Onnerud had been chief technology officer at Boston-Power.

Christina Lampe-Onnerud said the job with Bridgewater is very much full time.

She has one of the more optimistic personalities you’ll ever encounter, and so it wasn’t a surprise when she said, “I am very sure that the energy space will come back.”

For the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily, visit www.boston.com/innovation.
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