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Xconomy Report: Charging Up

By Gregory T. Huang, Editor, Xconomy Boston   |   Friday, June 15, 2012
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June 15, 2012

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Can anyone make a battery that’s durable and lasts longer than the status quo? A123 Systems thinks it can — and just in time. The Boston-area cleantech company has been struggling with layoffs and lost revenues, but says it has a new lithium-ion battery that is better and cheaper for electric vehicles. The technology could also be used to store energy for the electric grid. A123 plans to hire 400 new workers in Michigan, as it ramps up production in a tough climate for energy companies.
 
In other innovation news…
 
Waltham-based Constant Contact is expanding in Web marketing with its acquisition of New York startup SinglePlatform, which helps restaurants and businesses list their menus and products online. The acquisition could be worth up to $100 million including earn-outs.
 
Our deal of the week goes to Boston-based Rhythm Pharmaceuticals, a developer of drugs for diabetes and obesity. The two-year-old company has raised $25 million in new venture funding.
 
And Ministry of Supply, a startup out of MIT, has launched a campaign on the Kickstarter website to support production of its high-tech, thermal-regulating dress shirts. It joins Blank Label as another local apparel company using crowd-sourced funding to roll out new products. 
 

 


 


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The weekly roundup of business, technology and life science news from our partners at Xconomy.com airs every Friday on 89.7 Boston Public Radio.

Initiative Aims to Get Panhandlers off the Streets

By Anne Mostue   |   Sunday, June 10, 2012
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June 11, 2012


Harvard Square MBTA

Harvard Square, Cambridge. (ArnoldReinhold/Wikimedia)

 
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — As the weather warms up and tourists fill the streets, panhandlers appear in droves, asking for spare change at almost every busy square and intersection. The treatment they receive from pedestrians, storeowners and police varies widely, as does their income. Now there's a new effort in Cambridge to get panhandlers off the streets.
 
Please spare change
 
Justin Newton divides his time between two trendy and rather affluent areas of Greater Boston: Harvard Square and Newbury Street. He's 31, tall with shaggy red hair and a beard. He's also a panhandler. For up to 8 hours a day he sits or stands with a cardboard sign, usually scrawled with a funny message — for instance, one day in May, "Too Ugly to Sell My Body, Already Sold my Soul. Please Spare Change."
 
The shelter where Newton usually stays is closed until the fall, he said, so he and friends sleep on the street. You might see them in front of the Coop or in the Pit in Harvard Square. He said on a good day, after about 8 hours, he makes about $75. He spends his money on what he called homeless "gear."
 
"I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t using some of it to buy, like, pot," he said. "But well, I just bought these two foam mattress pads because my back’s been really bothering me and I needed a better surface to sleep on."
 
When asked if he'd tried to get a full-time job, he shrugged. "I was looking for work for 2 1/2 years before I became homeless. If I couldn’t find a job when I had a roof over my head, think of how much harder it is to get a job when you don’t have a roof over your head, when your address is a drop-in center," he said.
 
The scope of the problem
 
Newton is one of the estimated hundreds of panhandlers in Boston. There's no actual data, and the annual homeless census cannot account for panhandlers. Many of them are just passing through the city. In an informal survey in Harvard Square, those interviewed said they were homeless. On a good day they made about $80, on a bad day about $15. Several said they have caseworkers and collect Supplemental Security Income, the Social Security Adminstration's benefit for people who have disabilities and limited resources. 
 
But even as panhandlers work solo on the streets, they're organized. In Harvard Square, they stagger themselves. John Casey, 59, said he and his friends met each morning to divvy up territory.
 
"We talk in the morning and then we just decide where to go," he said. "I got three other friends who are doing it. We meet at Starbucks. We have our coffee then we head out."
 
What the police think
 
Panhandling is legal. In fact, it's a First Amendment right. But panhandlers can't follow people, touch them or become verbally abusive. It's a fine line, according to Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas. 
 
"We have officers that are just dedicated to working with that population," he said. "And our officers are really good at talking to them, setting some boundaries with them, and oddly enough we've been doing this for 2 1/2 years, they follow these rules."
 
The business perspective
 
The real tension in Harvard Square is between panhandlers and business owners. Haas said Cambridge police have just started a "homeless ambassador program" to train business owners to interact positively with panhandlers and distribute information on local social service agencies. 
 
"What's been really successful is we really have struck a fabulous partnership with the business association and social service providers and we're really working closely together," said Haas.
 
There are efforts to empower panhandlers. For example, for 20 years they've had the option of selling a newspaper called Spare Change News. The police don't take a stance on whether the public should give money to panhandlers; the Harvard Square Business Alliance, however, encourages local residents and tourists to give instead to shelters and other homeless support organizations.


Xconomy Report: Mobile Cashes In

By Gregory T. Huang, Editor, Xconomy Boston   |   Thursday, June 7, 2012
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June 8, 2012
 
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Mobile technology is in the air this week, as a trio of Boston-area startups have announced significant deals. Local companies SCVNGR and Cartera Commerce have raised $12 million each to expand their mobile payment and local rewards programs. Their bigger idea is to work with banks and merchants to help create the digital future of money. Meanwhile, Cambridge-based Crashlytics is acquiring FireTower App, another Boston firm, in an effort to own a big slice of software development for smartphones and tablets — in other words, to go after the whole software industry in the post-PC era.
 
In other innovation news…
 
Despite the recent doom and gloom in the U.S. solar industry, a Salem, N.H., startup called AmberWave has spun out of an old semiconductor maker to focus on developing more efficient solar cells.
 
PerkinElmer has announced the creation of a Personalized Health Innovation Center, which will add about 100 new jobs to the life sciences company’s Hopkinton facility.
 
And finally, our quote of the week comes from investor Fred Destin of Atlas Venture. He says the Boston tech ecosystem “suffers from not being open enough and not selling itself well.” Destin will be speaking at Xconomy’s fourth annual XSITEconference at Babson College on June 14, which is our own effort to open some doors in the innovation community.
 


 


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The weekly roundup of business, technology and life science news from our partners at Xconomy.com airs every Friday on 89.7 Boston Public Radio.

Xconomy Report: Counting on 'Big Data'

By Gregory T. Huang, Editor, Xconomy Boston   |   Friday, June 1, 2012
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June 1, 2012

 
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Can Massachusetts own the emerging field of “big data”? That’s a buzz phrase for systems that make sense of huge amounts of information generated in markets like telecom, retail and social media. This week, Gov. Deval Patrick announced a new initiative that includes forming a big-data industry consortium, creating a matching-grant program for universities and supporting a tech-community space called HackReduce in Cambridge. Intel is also committing $12.5 million to support big-data research at MIT. This could all help revitalize the state’s tech economy — as long as big data doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own hype.

In other innovation news …

Vertex Pharmaceuticals revealed it had mistakenly overstated the benefit of an experimental treatment for cystic fibrosis when reporting on a clinical trial in early May. Vertex stock took a 21 percent tumble on the news but has since made up some of that ground.

Our deal of the week goes to GreenBytes, a data storage company in R.I. that raised $12 million in a round led by Al Gore’s venture firm, Generation Investment Management.

And finally, the startup accelerator MassChallenge has named 125 finalists for its third annual program in Boston, choosing from more than 1,200 applicants. It remains to be seen how many of the eventual winners will end up working on … big data.



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The weekly roundup of business, technology and life science news from our partners at Xconomy.com airs every Friday on 89.7 Boston Public Radio.

Xconomy Report: Full 'Metal' Funding

By Gregory T. Huang & Erin Kutz   |   Friday, May 25, 2012
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May 25, 2012

 
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — What’s catching Bill Gates’ attention these days? Liquid Metal Battery, a local startup spun out of MIT. Its technology could help the grid make better use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar and bring electricity to parts of the world that don’t have it, according to CEO Phil Giudice. The startup announced this week that it raised $15 million in new funding from Gates, the energy company Total and Khosla Ventures — a West Coast firm that Giudice says focuses on “clean tech with massive impact.”
 
In other innovation news…
 
It’s the end of an era for a Boston wireless-networking firm that started in 2001. Ember is being acquired by Texas-based Silicon Laboratories for $72 million, but will continue working in the energy and security markets.
 
Cambridge-based Recorded Future raised $12 million in venture funding to help organizations make decisions based on the Web. The company’s software tries to predict everything from the stock market to civil unrest.
 
And last week we told you about Thomas Massie, the MIT entrepreneur running for Congress. Well, he won the Republican primary in Kentucky this week, which means he’s a heavy favorite to make it to Capitol Hill. We’ll be watching to see if other techies follow his lead.
 



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The weekly roundup of business, technology and life science news from our partners at Xconomy.com airs every Friday on 89.7 Boston Public Radio.

Exploring the New Fish Counter at Whole Foods

By Toni Waterman   |   Tuesday, May 22, 2012
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May 23, 2012

 
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Line up at a Whole Foods fish counter these days and you might notice something missing …
 
Fish!
 
Whole Foods has become the first national grocer to stop selling “red-rated” fish. The designation means the species is overfished or caught in a way that harms other marine life.
 
Whole Foods seafood coordinator Matt Mello rattled off the list of local losses: “Grey sole, octopus, Atlantic cod and halibut.”
 
> > What's a "red-rated" fish? Check the SeafoodWatch guide.
 
The demand for fish
 
Mello said this is the latest step in Whole Foods' long commitment to ocean conservation.
 
“There’s been a timeline in our seafood departments, such as the lobsters — moving away from the lobsters,” said Mello. “We were the first retailer to come out with a rating system. Now we’re the first retailer to stop selling red rated fish.”
 
The first, but not the only: BJ’s and Target have made similar commitments. And the trend has only picked up steam after the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization reported that 80 percent of fisheries were fully exploited, overfished or recovering from depletion.
 
“I always say: if you enjoy the ocean and you want it here for future generations, and you want the bounty that the ocean provides for future generations, you really should care,” said Mello.
 
It’s something avid fish consumer Terry Drucker cares about. He said he wouldn’tgo to another supermarket if Whole Foods stopped selling certain fish.
 
“I guess if they’re pulling it, I’d guess there’d be a good reason for that and I’d try to avoid it — like I didn’t eat swordfish for a long time when I thought they were endangered,” he said.
 
The supply side
 
But Gloucester fisherman Russell Sherman wasn’t taking the bait.


 
“This is a corporate move out of Texas. And to me, it’s basically pandering to their customers,” he said.
 
Sherman has been fishing the waters off Gloucester for 41 years. And he’s been selling his catch to Whole Foods for the past 6 years.  He thought Whole Foods’ decision to stop selling “unsustainable” fish was nothing more than a marketing scheme.
 
“The government has just issued a statement where five more stocks have become sustainable. And I believe that all of our stocks are on the upward trend,” said Sherman.
 
Sherman said sustainability is at the forefront of every fisher’s mind, because fish are their livelihood. Plus, he said the U.S. already has the most stringent fishing regulations in the world.  
 
“I think Whole Foods should hold our industry up as a model to the world. We believe in sustainability,” said Sherman. “Each one of us are small businessmen, small entrepreneurs, who depend on the ocean. And I believe that we are the real conservationists in the world.”
 
The checkout line
 
Since launching the program on Earth Day, Whole Foods has pulled more than a dozen species fish nationwide. Those fish include sturgeon, turbot, some rockfish and swordfish and tuna from certain fisheries.  
 
Four types are missing from the colorful fish displays locally: trawl-caught Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, octopus and grey sole. But Mello said most can be easily substituted.
 
“Something like grey sole, we’ll get a lot of requests for, so we have a wide variety of fish, different types of sole. One of the types we offer is Pacific Dover sole. Comes from the West Coast and we’ll offer that,” he said.

 

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