Jewelry maker’s earrings a star on ‘Oprah’

“Naked cushion triple earrings” range from $1,109 to $1,688.
gregor halenda
“Naked cushion triple earrings” range from $1,109 to $1,688.

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.

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 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.

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