Friday, October 16, 2009

A Night of Firsts and What Did You Just Call Me?

Wednesday night was a red letter day for me, and a fun one for CHEN PR. Chris Carleton and I attended our first Mass Innovation Night at the very cool Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation and had the distinct pleasure of buying everyone a drink at Biagio afterward.

It’s a fun and interesting venue for many people to get a first look at some local innovations – with huge thanks to the event founders Bobbie Carlton, Carlton PR & Marketing, and Dan Englander, High Rock Media. The MassInno site has a great recap with video, which also includes some great links to other recaps of the night.

Another first was that the MassInno folks introduced a new feature, the “Expert’s Corner.” When I first heard of it, I thought what a great idea. They set aside a corner of the venue for one-on-one conversations with a group of volunteer experts on a range of topics of interest to both exhibiting entrepreneurs and hopefully soon-to-be exhibiting entrepreneurs. The experts included Accounting, Law, Entrepreneurism, Funding, and PR/Strategic Comms.

Then I thought, cool, wonder who the generous, brave and hardy soul was who they got on the PR front. Yeeaaaa, THAT’s where the last first of the night emerged…

As you’ll see from the pic (taken and Tweeted by Chris Carleton) someone failed to look behind the curtain and decided that I would be the PR Wizard du jour. Chris got the easier role -- chatting up the presenting companies, checking out their products and hanging out with the other Mass Inno-ites.

All kidding aside, it was a really great night with a lot of energy and active discussion. And while I may not feel worthy to wear an Expert badge, I got an extra opportunity to chat with some very interesting people, making some very interesting things in the areas of enterprise software and social networking, and whom I hope to see rocking the Massachusetts, US and ultimately global innovation scene soon. Until next time…

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Idealists’ Turn

Up until the relatively recent clean tech boom, I’d heard little day-to-day, rank-and-file talk of "doing good" in the 15 years of my professional career in high tech. For sure the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been around for a while, and lots of companies have CSR statements and programs. And of course there were a lot of people and companies in fact doing good.

But among the people and companies where I spent my time that sort of goal or vision just didn’t come up much in day-to-day professional contexts. (One notable exception is my former client Lotus Development (now a division of IBM of course), who in my experience always did an impressive job of making its philanthropic commitments a central and pervasive part of its business).

So it is that I find the sort of talk I heard at the Boston-Area Sustainability Group meeting last night so refreshing and inspiring. Co-founded by a former Bay Networks colleague of mine, Rich Goode, and Glen Grant, the group aims to bring together like-minded individuals across all sorts of professional disciplines and companies for informal presentations and networking.

Last night Tom Permatteo, founder of a very cool company called -- a blog that helps consumers make environmentally motivated purchase decisions -- and Glen Grant, founder of environmental IT consultancy G2 Technology, presented to the group. Their presentations and the informal discussion among all the attendees before and after the presentations were replete with references to doing good, environmental responsibility and global accountability. The general consensus in the room was that entrepreneurial/business success and environmental responsibility, far from being mutually exclusive, are complementary.

It is in my judgment a very positive evolution that this kind of talk is now commonplace in the technology industry. Big props to Rich and Glen for co-founding the group -- it was energizing to be among so many idealists and I’m already looking forward to the next meeting.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

MIT Enterprise Forum and the Art of Positioning

If you're a PR professional, thinking in terms of positioning and messaging is second nature, but you're probably not very comfortable with molecular mayhem. And if you're a PhD chemist, you're likely more at home in the world of stoichiometric equations than with elevator pitches and mission statements.

Our worlds collided last night at a session on "The Art of Positioning," part of the MIT Enterprise Forum's Start Smart series. Start Smart is a nine-week workshop (a mini-MBA program) designed for new and early stage entrepreneurs looking to delve into each phase of getting a new venture going. This particular Fall series is tailored for medical device entrepreneurs. Different experts present the workshops each week, and last night I teamed up with Kara Della Vecchia of KDV Communications to do the positioning workshop. We blended a dash of Guy Kawasaki and a touch of Geoffrey Moore to present our own take on the fastest path to positioning. Kara presented a case study on her client Starion Instruments, whose CEO (Kirt Kirtland) graciously called in from an airport to field some questions. The variety of presenters seemed to keep the students engaged, and we hope we helped them a bit on their path to commercializing their devices.

Whenever I meet with area entrepreneurs, I'm always impressed with the diversity of business concepts that are percolating out there. We had a gentleman with a device to address COPD, a fellow with a biodegradable staple for surgeries and a PhD physicist with a filtering technology with medical applications, to name just a few.

Thanks to Pete McDonald of Silicon Valley Bank for hosting and facilitating last night's session.

You can check out upcoming MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge sessions here.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Saturday in the (Ball)Park

With a nod to that quintessential Chicago tune, the CHEN gang gathered on the last September Saturday at Watertown's Filippello Park. While there wasn't “a man selling ice cream,” there were certainly people “really smiling” and it wasn't solely due to the glorious Fall day we all enjoyed.

Filippello is home to the Association of Blind Citizens Boston Renegades. The Team plays Beep Baseball, an adaptive version of baseball for blind and visually impaired individuals. “Beep Ball,” as it is known, is one of several programs operated by the ABC, a nonprofit organization which enhances the social, political, and economic well-being for all people who are blind or visually impaired.

As you can imagine, affording these athletes opportunities to compete in tournaments sanctioned by the National Beep Baseball Association - the sport’s governing body - requires a great deal of financial support. Additionally, a busy 2009 tournament schedule, which included travel to Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Stockton, California requires tremendous dedication and commitment not only from players, but also from numerous volunteer coaches. And I've been fortunate to be an assistant coach with the Renegades for the better part of seven years.

During this time, CHEN has been incredibly supportive of my involvement - and patient and understanding with respect to my work schedule. Tournaments typically require the Renegades to travel on multiple Summer Fridays, and participate in a full week of competition at the end of July/beginning of August.

Notably, last year CHEN made a generous donation for the opportunity to play against the Renegades. And on September 26, the CHENers once again donned blindfolds in the spirit of charity and competition - OK let’s be honest, mostly charity.

There were “people reaching” to field the ball and “people laughing” at our attempts to hit and run to the (correct) bases. And though CHEN didn't win, suffice it to say, we all had a blast.

So if we've piqued your interest in learning more about beep ball, please read the Wall Street Journal piece by CHEN friend Ben Worthen, who reported from the NBBA World Series. Also, be sure to click on the video, which captures Ben hitting off Renegades’ battery mates Ron Cochran and Rob Weissman.

And on a related note, I’m also involved with the Vision 5K, a run and walk benefiting several local organizations - including the Carroll Center for the Blind, which employs several members of the Renegades - that, like the ABC, offer programs for the blind and visually impaired. In addition to having fun, the Vision 5K is designed to educate participants that with the proper tools and assistance, the blind and visually impaired can be just as successful in all facets of life as their sighted peers.

“Can you dig it?” After an afternoon with the Renegades, yes, we can.

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