Techstars Boston Demo Day was in a glitzy new setting (the House of Blues within spitting distance of Fenway) and also drew some surprising (non-tech) star power.
Here are my highly subjective highlights:
1: David Ortiz.
There was a bona fide Big Papi moment on stage as the Red Sox superstar and overall Boston-superhero David Ortiz strode on stage to greet Fancred CEO Kash Razzaghi. This startup is building a “social platform” to connect sports aficionados with like-minded fans. Ortiz demanded that Rassaghi “get the Yankees off my cell phone.” (I dropped my phone but recovered in time to get one sub-par shot at left.)
Is there really room for a sports fan platform? Doubtful. But, hey, I’ve been wrong before. And did I mention DAVID ORTIZ???
2: A platform for sustainable, local food
I love the idea behind Freight Farms, which takes shipping crates and retrofits them with water, electricity, internet access and LED lighting to convert them into compact hydroponic gardens.
The elegant idea is to “take the very structure that makes the global food supply chain possible and make it into a platform for producing local food,” said Brad McNamara, Freight Farms CEO.
They are remotely controlled and stackable which means they take up less real estate. Freight Farms has signed several customers including Katsiroubas Brothers, a 100-year old Boston produce wholesaler, which is looking for ways to cut transport costs and offer more local product.
“There is nothing better than fresh local food, but the reality is food distribution is a long complicated supply chain — most goods travel 1,500 miles on average to get to your table,” said McNamara.
Freight Farm-grown crops require less water, no pesticides or herbicides. My question: Will their tomatoes taste like other hot-house tomatoes (i.e., like cardboard) or like an actual tomato? If it’s the latter, I’m totally sold.
3: DIY clothing design
In a nod to the burgeoning “maker movement” or do-it-yourself crowd, Mary Huang was to hand to talk up Constrvct, her startup that’s building service that lets you design 3-D clothing onscreen, tweak the size and styling with easy slidebar controls, preview your design on an onscreen mannequin and then make your clothes to order.
“Makers are underserved in the do-it-yourself market — they’re stuck at the same starting point as their grandmothers,” Huang said. Interest in home-designed clothes is rising thanks to Pinterest and Project Runway, she said, quoting a surprising stat: 3 million sewing machines sold last year, double the number from ten years ago.
4: Fixing manufacturing
LinkCycle says it can use its own data science — and existing data — to help manufacturing plants drastically cut their energy costs.
These facilities — many of them rust belt relics — are notorious for wasting energy and to remedy that many spend millions installing meters and hiring auditors to help. Most of that spending is also a waste, according to LinkCycle CEO Sahil Sahni.
“Why spend so much time gathering data when companies are already sitting on heaps of it?” he asked.
LinkCycle instead takes two existing data streams from the ERP systems already running these companies — electricity consumption and total production output. “We developed our own algorithms to take that data and use math — not meters — to save money without having to set foot in the plant,” he said.
Wow, that sounds so easy it makes you wonder why someone else hasn’t done it. Well except for that algorithm part anyway.
So, the new venue was fab but it suffered the same woe as past Techstars events — a lack of reliable connectivity. We soldiered through with personal hotspots and (finally) some intermittent Wifi connections but can’t one of these deep-pocketed sponsors finally figure out how to get reliable broadband into these events? (I’m looking at you Microsoft, Rackspace, Verizon and Softlayer.)