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A pitch competition with a twist

Rick Fiery, cofounder of Amesbury-based InventiveLabs
Rick Fiery, cofounder of Amesbury-based InventiveLabsChris Morris for The Boston Globe

Pitch competitions for business entrepreneurs are run-of-the-mill in Greater Boston, but here’s one with an unusual twist: It’s a “neuro-diverse” contest in which at least one member of each team must have a “learning difference” such as dyslexia, autism, or ADHD.

Cosponsored by Microsoft and scheduled for the spring, it’s the brainchild of serial entrepreneurs Rick Fiery and Tom Bergeron, cofounders of Amesbury-based InventiveLabs. Their firm helps people with learning difficulties develop business ideas and raise financing to get their ventures started, or simply explore their passions before committing to college.

“It’s a huge issue in society that these brilliant people are being pushed aside just because they can’t complete the normal expected path to success that others tend to follow,” said Fiery, who has worked at Bentley Systems, Envista, and Infrasoft, among other companies.


“They get sidelined because they might not be able to make it through college or find a standard job,” he added, “but the game changers, the people who have really influenced our companies in the past, are often the ones who have thought out-of-the-box and forced us to do the same.”

The eight-team competition — whose sponsors also include Dassault Systemes, Ascentage Law, and the law firm Pierce Atwood — will be held in the Boston area on May 5, 2017, in front of judges, a live audience, and angel investors.

Teams can pitch ideas of any kind, and top winners will travel to Microsoft headquarters for another round. Participants can win free legal, tax, and marketing services, as well as cash prizes.

Applications for “cognitively diverse” teams must be submitted by Dec. 30, and those selected will attend InventiveLabs’ three-month business accelerator, which begins in mid-February.

As the company’s website says: “All ‘brain types’ are welcome to join us.” — SACHA PFEIFFER

WCVB names news director

WCVB-TV Channel 5 announced Monday it has named Paige Harrison as its news director starting Jan. 9. Harrison will be just the seventh news director in the ABC affiliate’s 45-year history, replacing Andrew Vrees, who was promoted to vice president of news for Hearst Television, WCVB’s parent company.


Harrison, a longtime Hearst executive, is the news director at WPBF-TV, the ABC affiliate in West Palm Beach, Fla., a post she has held for four years. She has worked in news management positions at other Hearst TV stations for the past 13 years, including an NBC affiliate in Orlando, and ABC affiliates in Oklahoma City and Pittsburgh.

“I am honored to be leading such a talented team at WCVB,” Harrison said in a statement. “I look forward to being part of NewsCenter 5’s continued success and local news dominance.”

WCVB’s president and general manager Bill Fine called Harrison “a highly regarded journalist with great experience, integrity, and leadership skills.”

“Paige’s dedication to excellence and her work ethic make her the perfect person to head NewsCenter 5’s outstanding team,” he said.

Boston Foundation issues ‘emergency grants’

Wait-and-see is the approach many nonprofits are taking when it comes to Donald Trump’s administration, but some organizations are gearing up for possible battle.

Among them: The Boston Foundation, which is giving $25,000 “emergency grants” to four nonprofits that support minority groups that have been disparaged by Trump and some of his backers.

The foundation explained the funding by saying that “the current negative climate in some quarters against our Muslim, immigrant, and LGBTQ populations warranted additional support to these deserving organizations.”


The recipients are: CAIR-MA, a Muslim civil rights organization; the Irish International Immigrant Center, which provides legal services to low-income immigrants; the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition; and Silver Lining Mentoring, which will put the money toward a support group for LGBTQ teens.

“There’s enough lack of clarity around what a Trump presidency is going to look like that it’s causing real fear and tension in the community,” said Boston Foundation vice president Orlando Watkins. “Our responsibility to the community is to show up when there’s stress and pressure and fear, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

The foundation typically gives grants in five areas: education; health and wellness; jobs and economic development; neighborhoods and housing; and arts and culture. But it sometimes deviates from those areas through its new Open Door Grants program, which is funding the emergency grants.

Internet over the airwaves?

As the head of Aereo, Chet Kanojia lost a high-stakes legal battle with the titans of TV broadcasting. Now, he’s reloading with venture capital for his newest startup, which takes on the cable and telecom companies.

Kanojia is chief executive of Starry Inc., a company developing a wireless high-speed Internet service. Starry has raised another $30 million from investors, bringing its total VC haul to about $63 million so far.

It plans to use powerful radio transmitters to beam Internet service into subscribers’ homes. The company says it’s conducting private tests around Boston, and hopes to roll out the service to a handful of US cities by the end of 2017.


So why are investors so keen to back a company that’s still in research-and-development mode?

Part of the answer is Kanojia. His last startup, Aereo, sold a well-reviewed online streaming service that gave subscribers digital access to network TV.

Aereo raised nearly $100 million from investors, but was forced into bankruptcy after the US Supreme Court said it violated the copyrights of Disney and its ABC subsidiary, NBC, CBS, FOX, and other TV giants.

Since it’s just offering Internet service, Starry won’t face the same kind of life-or-death copyright questions. Investors seem to like that idea — not to mention Kanojia’s penchant for challenging entrenched competitors.

Can’t keep a secret? Tell us. E-mail Bold Types at boldtypes@globe.com.