There was a lot to see at the MassChallenge Class of 2012 coming out party Tuesday night when the Boston-based accelerator’s 125 finalist startups strutted their stuff for media and investors. Here are my four favorites. (So far.)
1: Drones for Peace. We all know the impact unmanned aerial drones have had in war. Rotary Robotics co-founders James Peverill and Adam Woodworth saw that up close working with the military, but wanted to find a better way to put that technology to use. Their plan is to create inexpensive 1-lb drones that could help reporters crowd-source stories (a la the Arab Spring) or give farmers a bird’s eye view of their land. The planes themselves are made mostly of off-the-shelf Radio Shack type gear. Their secret sauce is the software and integration that will take a GPS location from Google Maps, send it to the WiFi-enabled drone, which then flies off to film the subject from a few hundred feet in the air.
2: Little Bonsai. This two-man shop, founded by Olin College graduates Jake Felser, a mechanical engineer, and Oliver Haas, a designer, wants to offer well-crafted, locally-made and sustainable gear for everyday use. Toward that end, they’re crafting a reusable toothbrush with replaceable head. Estimating that most people go through four toothbrushes per year, cast-off brushes account for 50 million tons of trash annually, the company says. Shocking, no? Electric toothbrushes sport replaceable heads, but many people don’t like them and, Felser said, there is no evidence to support claims that they are more effective than manual brushes. Little Bonsai plans to put the idea on Kickstarter this fall.
3: Bio-Fiend. The growing use of biofuels is leading to an increase in the hard-to-recycle byproduct glycerine. The mining and transportation of iron ore and other materials creates “fragdust” blow-off from iron ore that causes health problems, as well as the loss of up to 5 percent of the ore itself as it is transported. Bio-Fiend, a Brazilian startup, says it can tackle two problems with one idea. Its glycerine polymerization process takes the waste glycerine and creates a dust suppressor which is applied to ore before it is transported. That keeps the ore dust with the ore and out of the surrounding environment, said Fernanda Vidal, industrial engineer on the project.
4: SoundFest. Nearly 700 million people will need help hearing by 2016, according to the World Health Organization. SoundFest is building a smartphone app it says can replace expensive, ungainly hearing aids. CEO David Duehren was co-founder and CTO of Brooktrout Technology and knows a little something about audio processing. SoundFest embeds signal processing software into phones or tablets to turn them into “personal sound amplification devices.” The Real Clarity app, due this fall, runs on iPhones and Android devices. The company is also working on an optional bluetooth ear piece to work with the app to provide wireless hearing assistance. The earpiece also enables the phone to act as a remote microphone.
This is just a small sample of the 125 finalists — culled from 1,237 entrants. They will take part in a three-month accelerator program, vying for up to $1 million in funding divvied out in $10,000-plus increments to 10 to 20 winners.