from the hive

Site’s avatars let buyers ‘try on’ outfits

Dressformer is among 128 finalists in annual MassChallenge contest for start-ups

Highlights from, Boston’s source for innovation news

Shopping for clothing online is convenient, but it comes with one major drawback: You can’t try anything on.


A start-up called Dressformer is out to solve that problem by enabling shoppers to create avatars that match their every measurement — neck, bust, waist, inseam, and so forth — and try on garments in a sort of virtual fitting room.

“We’re revolutionizing the way people shop online, providing an accurate, 3-D virtual fitting solution for online garment retailers, helping them to reduce the number of returns and increase sales,” said Vagan Martirosyan, Dressformer’s managing director. “At the same time, we help the user to find the right size of their clothing.”

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Dressformer is one of 128 finalists in this year’s MassChallenge, an annual accelerator program and competition for young companies. In total, the MassChallenge finalists will receive more than $1 million in cash awards and $15 million of in-kind support during the next four months.

Dressformer has been testing its technology on what Martirosyan described as the Russian version of Facebook and plans to introduce the service to Facebook in America this fall.

A shopper need only create her avatar once. The avatar can then model clothes on the websites of participating retailers, helping the shopper assess the fit and look.


It will be a useful tool, Martirosyan said, because as many-a-shopper has discovered, “large at Tommy Hilfiger might be extra large some place else.”


Hacking law revisited

Two Democratic members of Congress have filed legislation that would modify the federal anti-hacking law that was used to prosecute Aaron Swartz, a prominent Internet activist.

Swartz, who faced up to 35 years in prison for allegedly gaining unauthorized access to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer network, committed suicide in January.

“Aaron’s Law,” proposed by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Representative Zoe Lofgren of California, would alter the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) to reduce or limit the penalties for violating the law.

“The CFAA’s broad scope and vague standards all but invite prosecutorial abuse,” said Wyden in a statement.

“The important reforms we propose today would bring the law in line with the reality of the digital landscape of 2013 while making sure the changes do not undermine the ability to fully prosecute malicious hacks.”

Aaron’s Law would clarify the CFAA to ensure that a person could not be prosecuted merely for violating the terms of service of an Internet site.

The legislation would also eliminate a redundant provision of the CFAA that was used to to charge Swartz with multiple felonies for the same act.

Aaron’s Law would also reduce penalties for nonfelony violations of the law.


Dan Bricklin joins Alpha

Dan Bricklin, the co-creator of the original spreadsheet program, VisiCalc, has joined Alpha Software Corp. as chief technology officer.

Another software industry pioneer, Cullinet Software Inc. founder John Cullinane, has also become an investor in Alpha and will serve as an adviser to the Burlington company, which makes development tools for building business software applications.

Bricklin, along with Bob Frankston, developed VisiCalc in 1979 for the Apple II computer by Apple Inc.

VisiCalc’s popularity helped establish the personal computer as a standard tool in thousands of businesses and government agencies.

Bricklin’s most recent product, Note Taker HD, lets users take handwritten notes on an Apple iPad tablet.

Cullinane founded Cullinet in 1968 and built it into a major vendor of business software applications.

The son of Irish immigrants, Cullinane has also been active in efforts to develop the Irish software industry and to encourage peace in Northern Ireland.


Why feel inferior?

They came for business advice and the opportunity to network, but Boston-area innovators also got a pep talk Wednesday at the Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship at Babson College.

“I don’t understand Boston’s inferiority complex — it’s one of the great cities of the world,” said Bob Brennan, chief executive of the Burlington software security company Veracode.

Brennan and other panelists at the conference made the case for Boston as a technology hub, encouraging entrepreneurs to stay here as they launch and expand their companies.

“I can’t think of any good argument to leave the city if you’re fortunate enough to be here,” said Scott Savitz, the managing partner of Data Point Capital in Boston.

Dave Balter, founder of the Boston social-marketing firm BzzAgent, added his belief that Boston is gaining credibility in the tech world because of a string of recent acquisitions.

“I think there was a thinking that maybe Boston doesn’t create big wins in the market, but we’ve had tons and tons of exits of late,” Balter said, citing Priceline’s $1.8 billion purchase of the Concord-based travel website Kayak last year as an example.

“What that signals to me is that there are great businesses being created here. Something happens when you start a company here that makes it worthwhile.”

The key to the city’s rising status is retaining students trained at local colleges, such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Jean Hammond, cofounder of Boston-based LearnLaunch, a company that advises education-oriented technology start-ups.

“Right now in Boston we’ve got amazing amounts of talented young people coming out who are looking for jobs in companies with high growth potential, and that’s the raw material that’s most important,” Hammond said.

“We’re sitting on a gold mine.”


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