May 2015

Citizinvestor funds PB projects in the community


As civic innovation grows throughout the Boston area, participatory budgeting is an excellent example of how technology can improve government transparency and quite literally engage citizens in an online process to determine how a city’s budget is spent.  As defined by Wikipedia, participatory budgeting (PB) is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, and a type of participatory democracy, in which ordinary people decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. Participatory budgeting allows citizens to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending projects, and gives them the power to make real decisions about how money is spent. When PB is taken seriously and is based on mutual trust local governments and citizen can benefit equally. In some cases PB even raised people’s willingness to pay taxes.

I’ve observed successful participatory budgeting processes in Chicago, Boston, Somerville and recently Central Falls in Rhode Island.  The entire process was powered by a Microsoft partner: Citizenvestor.  (Great name too, right?).  I recently sat down with Tony DeSisto, Co-founder of Citizinvestor to learn more about the company and their work in participatory budgeting.  Our conversation is summarized below.

  1.       What is Participatory budgeting?

We funded this project in Boston in 2012, it was our first successfully funded project on the site. We also built the participatory budgeting site for last year’s Youth Lead the Change program in the City. We funded two projects in San Mateo County in 2013: 3 Months of Bicycle Sunday and Restore the Thornmint . We did a number of projects around Chicago, including our largest to date, Spirit of the American Navy, but nothing with the City of Chicago.  I would categorize what we do, civic crowdfunding, as one of the new and innovative funding methods, like participatory budgeting, that democratizes the budget process and allows people to invest in their community.

  1.       Tell us about a successful (local) project?

One local project that we love to highlight is Central Falls, Rhode Island. This is a small one-square mile city that went bankrupt in 2010 and elected a 26 year old Mayor in 2012 to help bring the City back. We were one of their first partners and helped them fund permanent trash cans and recycle bins for their main park. The project had arisen after the Mayor met with middle school students who equated the trash in the park with a lower sense of self worth and lack of pride in the City. Not only were the funds raised, but during the project, a cleanup was organized through the site and over 100 people showed up. Central Falls is now a customer for our new product, Citizinvestor Connect, a custom white label site for civic engagement and crowdfunding. Here are two stories about the project, Boston Globe and CNBC.

  1.       How does Citizinvestor help?

Citizinvestor helps by providing a platform and the tools necessary for our local government partners to successfully raise the funds they need. We also provide a best practices guide and some templates to help them with the marketing of their project. Our Connect product not only helps our partners raise funds, but also emphasizes input from the community and increases engagement.

  1.       How can technology help drive civic engagement?

Technology is a key component in driving engagement. Today more than ever people have the tools and forums to let their voice be heard and participate in the decision-making and governing process.

For more information about Citizinvestor, visit their website or on Twitter at @citizinvestor.

Join the ever-growing community of Kendall Square!

Join the ever-growing community of Kendall Square!

What’s next for Kendall Square after its amazing 5-year run? Scott Kirsner, BostonGlobe columnist, BetaBoston blogger, and editor of InnoLead asks this question in his most recent piece for BetaBoston. In the article, he discusses the exponential growth of the Kendall Square area in the past 5 years, from tech moguls to internet commerce, social media firms and startups dominating the area.

We established our presence here in Kendall Square here in 2007.  We now have nearly 800 employees in two, separate offices, and nearly 900 employees in Massachusetts, including our store locations.

We are proud to be part of this ever-growing community and are always looking for more innovators to join our team. Think you can make a difference in the next five years? We invite you to take a look at our job openings and help us make an impact in Kendall Square and beyond.

Read Scott’s piece in the Boston Globe here.

Microsoft New England Picks: 4 Not-To-Miss Events This Week

Microsoft New England Picks: 4 Not-To-Miss Events This WeekIt’s (un)officially summer! Join us for these cool events as the weather heats up!

bvMotion Tracking for Medical VR with Polhemus
Wednesday, May 27: 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm
@ Venture Cafe | 1 Broadway | Cambridge, MA
Twitter: @BostonVRMeetup

Motion tracking technology allows the position of real world objects, including you, to be represented in virtual worlds. Precisely registering the position and orientation of your head, body, limbs and even fingers gives you a sense of self called proprioception that is key to making your mind believe that your body is present in another place. Motion tracking is also key for VR because it allows one to naturally move through and interact with virtual worlds in the same manner that you do in the real world. This month, Boston VR Meetup focuses on healthcare applications for precise tracking technology for training surgeons.

unnamed (1)KSA Lunch & Learn: Good News on Transportation
Thursday, May 28: 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
@ KSA Office | 510 Kendall Street | Cambridge, MA 
Twitter: @kendallnow

Kendall Square continues to be the epicenter of innovation and success, as evidenced in the highlights below to be discussed by City of Cambridge and Cambridge Redevelopment Authority staff.

  • The paradox of good development: more people and less traffic: 20 years of the Kendall Square Annual Traffic Report
  • It’s obvious that more and more people are choosing to get around by pedaling – but how many more?  The new Eco Totem will provide real-time data, 24/7
  • Bike to the Future: what’s envisioned for making our streets available to all: The Cambridge Bicycle Network Plan & some highlights for Kendall Square
  • Kendall Square Eco District and Transportation
  • Update on Kendall Square Mobility Task Force

The format will include a brief presentation with a question and answer period to follow.

onein3GA + ONEin3 Present: Creating a Culture of Innovation – How Boston’s Biggest Brands Are Staying Entrepreneurial
Thursday, May 28: 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

@ GA Boston | 51 Melcher Street | Boston, MA 
Twitter:  @GA_boston | @ONEin3

Some of Boston’s biggest companies are playing in the innovation space and making some big waves. Working for an entrepreneurial and creative organization doesn’t have to mean working for a startup – many large institutions value new ideas and are doing cool things right here in Boston.

Learn from the people inside these institutions who are leading the charge and pick up some tips on cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset in your career.

Join in for an interactive panel discussion with plenty of time for networking over drinks with fellow young leaders in Boston.

unnamedOpen Data Sci Con
Saturday, May 30 – Sunday, May 31st
@ Boston Convention Center | 415 Summer Street | Boston, MA
Twitter: @OpenDataSci

The Open Data Science Conference brings together the most influential practitioners, innovators, and thought leaders in the open source and data science fields in an effort to encourage the development and use of open source in data science.

Girls from New England head to Technovation Finals

technovation-logo-300x137On the first Friday in May, Microsoft was packed with girls. Yes, GIRLS! The 10th floor was filled to capacity with young women interested in technology and proud to show off the amazing apps they developed for a national competition called Technovation. I was honored serve among a truly stellar panel of judges:  Julia Austin (formerly Akamai), Kara Shurmantine (MassChallenge), Tracy Rosenthal-Newsom, (formerly Harmonix) and Pamela Aldsworth (Silicon Valley Bank).

Rachel Nicoll of Mass Tech Leadership Council’s Education Foundation shared that some of our finalists will be heading to California to pitch in the Technovation Finals for the chance to win $10,000!  She sat down to answer a few questions about Technovation and the interview is included below.

Share Technovation with a young woman you know today!

  1. What is Technovation?

Technovation is an international program that teaches mobile app development, entrepreneurship, and community engagement. High school and middle school female students work in teams of up to 5 to develop mobile apps to solve a problem in their local community. Teams work with a classroom teacher or coach at their school and a female mentor/role model as project manager from the technology or related industry. The program is free and open to all girls age 10-18 with any level of experience (“beginners welcome”).

  1. What kind of participation did we see from Massachusetts?

There were 40 teams from 18 schools signed up at the start of the season; 28 teams finished. A bit of attrition is normal, but the numerous blizzards and school closings really hit the teams hard. We are looking at ways to address the Technovation schedule and get the students in “Technovation-mode” earlier so this is less of an issue in the future. Let’s get 40 to finish next year!

  1. Tell us about the apps that won the MA regional competition.

Five teams  – 4 high school and 1 middle school – from the Massachusetts Regional Showcase progressed to the Semifinal round. There are 18 teams representing US/Canada at the high school level – our 4 Massachusetts teams represent almost 1/4 of that region!

AMEKA (Winchester High School) addresses the issue of impaired driving via their Safe Guard Driving app. Through a series of tests, users can ascertain whether or not their vision, reaction times, balance & cognitive ability are impaired or not. In the future, the app has the potential to be connected to ignition interlock technologies if partnered with an automobile company.

Seventh (Phillips Academy) created The Pack: Safety in Numbers, a comprehensive safety app intended for teenagers and young adults that addresses the problems of sexual assault, hazing, and substance abuse in unfamiliar situations. The Pack is an expanded, digitized version of the time tested buddy system, including a friend-compass and check-in code among its features.

Techtonic’s (Winchester High School) application, ENKI, is intended to serve as a bridge between members of the school community. Teachers are able to post assignments, students are able to communicate with their peers and advisors, users can interact with teachers and classmates using the messaging capabilities, and all users receive automatic updates. Students are able to interact with their peers as well as interact with their teachers in a scholastic environment. The academic atmosphere of ENKI ensures that these communications will solely be scholarly.

WoCo (Phillips Academy) designed PraisePop as an interactive, social, and positive way to engage with the community. Too often people feel alone, excluded and unacknowledged due to negativity; PraisePop counteracts this by providing a method to spread positivity and inclusivity in communities by anonymously sharing uplifting posts.

Appily Ever After (Blake Middle School) created OpportuniTeens to connect non-profit organizations with teen volunteers. Using this app, teens can fulfill volunteer opportunities within local communities, organizations have a place to spread the word about these opportunities, and high school students can acquire community service hours to graduate.

  1. What’s next for the Technovation competitors?

Two of the MA semifinalists, AMEKA and WoCo, have been selected for the World Pitch Event in San Francisco on June 24th. They will pitch their apps live in front of a panel of judges at Yelp’s headquarters, competing against 4 other teams in the high school division for the top prize of $10,000.

Last year’s regional winning team, SKARA, competed in the Boston TechJam Pitch Contest and came in 2nd. They got a lot of great exposure and Constant Contact’s Small Business Innoloft hosted them over the summer to continue to work on their app. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Technovation team or two pop up on the roster for this year’s TechJam Pitch.

Civic Cocktail: What Role Can Technology Play in Our Cities?

Last week while in Seattle, our team had the opportunity to speak on a panel on a show that airs on the Seattle Channel called Civic Cocktail. Hosted by Joni Balter, the show features a panel of professionals to discuss diverse topics, with a set of three journalists and the audience posing questions. The topic of this segment was Civic Technology, with the perspectives from the City of Seattle (Rebecca Lovell), the civic tech space of Boston (Cathy Wissink), and Chicago (Adam Hecktman).

We covered a lot of ground in this panel, with one overarching theme emerging: while the specific applications of civic technology vary from city to city, there is consistently a desire to apply technology (and technology-related processes like agile) in metros to provide better citizen services, foster interaction between governments and citizens, and promote accountability and transparency with open government data.

Rebecca represented the city government of Seattle. She has the very cool title of Startup Advocate for the City of Seattle.  During the course of the conversation, Rebecca’s comments and examples highlighted the importance of government participation in the civic technology equation.  Rebecca also outlined the diverse roles that government plays in using technology to solve city challenges.

What roles does government play in civic tech? According to Rebecca, the city government can, first and foremost, play the role of convener. In Seattle, Rebecca has access to all the city departments. The points of view of multiple departments are needed to ensure that civic projects are useful to a range of scenarios, citizens and stakeholders.

Government can convene players outside of the city as well.  For example, Rebecca has a reach that extends into the private sector. City governments serve and partner with for-profit industry players. Given Rebecca’s role, she can bring those players, large and small, into the process to leverage their skills, experience, and resources.

One of the most important roles government can play (from the perspective of a civic technologist) is that of data stewards. In most cases, the city generates and provides the data itself. In other situations, it can encourage non-governmental organizations to contribute their data so that technologists have a more complete model of some aspect of a city.

Towards the end of the discussion, we learned that another key role of government in this space (that is often overlooked) is simply being present. When government stakeholders, especially city government, are involved in the civic technology process, they become part of the discourse that formulates the solutions to city challenges.  They help frame the thinking by working hand-in-hand with the citizens that are contributing their skills and thinking. Most crucially, by being present throughout the process, government players are in a great position to craft policy that accurately and appropriately meets the needs of the citizens they serve.

We enjoyed the chance to participate in this inspiring series that brought together such a diverse audience to discuss an important topic; we also hope to participate in future Civic Cocktail events the next time we get to Seattle!

The conversation can be seen here, and starts at 29:14.

What Boston needs to know about startup culture

Across the country, cities just like Boston have been asking, how can we help foster the kinds of eye-popping innovation for which Silicon Valley is famous?

Boston Social Graphic (1280x1280)Meanwhile, startups are chomping at the bit to break into highly regulated industries, such as healthcare and energy, that have the power to transform lives. Yet, they don’t know where to break in and how to get started. An entrepreneur’s success relies on making the right connections, but all too often those connections are left to chance.

These are solvable problems. In fact, they have to be, if we’re going to rely on startups to help us transform our cities’ most important industries.

Startup incubator 1776 and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent six months doing research in cities just like this one. They interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs, business leaders and local governments to figure out exactly what’s working — and what’s not.

The results of that research — Innovation That Matters — were released last week, and it offers a powerful framework to help cities think about how to drive civic entrepreneurship.

And while the report — a first-of-its-kind effort from 1776 and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its Foundation — makes clear exactly how important our strong talent base is for our growth, it surfaced a key area of opportunity, too: enhancing support for local startups from serial entrepreneur leaders, local corporations, angel investors and community incubator programs.


Microsoft New England Picks: 3 Not-To-Miss Events This Week

Microsoft New England Picks: 3 Not-To-Miss Events This Week

There’s always something to do in the Boston metro area! Here are our top picks for events this week:

InnerCity Weightlifting Opening in Kendall SquareInnerCity Weightlifting Opening in Kendall Square
Tuesday, May 19
@ Secret Location
Twitter: @ICWeightlifting

InnerCity Weightlifting (ICW) is a Boston-based non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring hope and providing a path to success for the area’s most at-risk youth.

Intro to the Boston Social Impact Community with City AwakeIntro to the Boston Social Impact Community with City Awake
Tuesday, May 19, 6pm – 8pm
@ Impact Hub Boston | 50 Milk Street | Boston
Twitter: @GA_Boston @ImpactHubBOS @CityAwakeBoston @worldwidewolfe

In collaboration with City Awake and Impact Hub, this free class is an orientation to social impact and geared to get you acquainted with the exciting community of impact in Boston.

The event discusses what social impact is (and isn’t), do some hands-on, engaging activities, and provides you with some really great resources and tools that will empower you to have more of an impact in this great city, no matter what career you’re in or want to be in.

Battle of the Biotech BandsBattle of the Biotech Bands
Wednesday, May 20, 6pm – 10pm
@ Royale Nightclub | 279 Tremont Street | Boston
Twitter: @RoyaleBoston #biotechbattle

A fun, community-driven, networking event with fundraising efforts supporting the charitable foundation affiliated with each biotech band. This year, the 3 companies competing are Momenta Pharmaceuticals (Aural Gavage), PerkinElmer (Molecular Groove) and the Zac Mac Band (Ironwood Pharmaceuticals). Join us and support these 3 great charities!

Already in their third year, the BoBB is an amazing opportunity for biotech companies and innovators throughout Boston to rock out and partner with architecture, design, and building professionals. Cash Bar / passed hors d’oeuvres / ages 18+

Welcoming Young Inventors to Microsoft

This month’s Invention Convention was a whirlwind of innovation, inspiration, and excitement in inventing. We are always thrilled by the unique and uplifting stories that come from the convention, but Justin Strandell, a 4th grader from World Academy in Nashua, NH, particularly stuck out this year. We received a letter from Keith Strandell, Justin’s father, on how moved he was by Justin’s drive, confidence, and spirit throughout the Invention Convention. After speaking with Keith and meeting Justin, we are excited to share Justin’s story.

As a 4th grader at his school, Justin is encouraged to participate in the Invention Convention, with the help of the Young Inventors Program. Justin, originally terrified by the prospect of such a heavy task, sat down and thought of all the common issues he has to deal with, leading to him inventing PAGE: Personal Automated Gate Examiner.


Justin was inspired to create PAGE to help his grandfather, who sometimes left the gate open at home, letting the dogs escape. Justin had the great idea of sending grandpa a text or e-mail to his phone to let him know about the gate being open. He then used YouTube videos, Lego Mindstorms, and Microsoft technology to build a prototype. When Justin found out he’d be passing through the state level at this year’s Invention Convention, Keith, his father, mentioned, “he beamed from ear to ear.”

We invited Justin to our Technology Center in Cambridge, where he could showcase his invention. He has used products like Excel, Xbox, and Word on a daily basis, as well as to assist building his invention — he just hadn’t made the connection to real-life applications until now. We were pumped to show him that the technology he has been using is the same that full-scale inventors use on a daily basis.

After his visit, Justin wrote us this letter, so proud of his achievement:

Dear Microsoft, 

I am glad I go to do the Invention Convention, because I got to learn that even if you get stressed in the beginning I can still succeed in the end. I am really proud of myself for making it to the Young Inventors Program. Also, it was an honor to win the first Microsoft Technology Award given there. I thought it was wonderful to hear such nice remarks for an invention I just made for my grandpa. I had a really good time trying to solve my grandpa’s problem because it is a serious problem. Thank you for picking me for one of your awards.”

For more information on the MTC, click here.

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

DrivenData — Helping The City of Boston Effectively Inspect Restaurants

DrivenData — Helping The City of Boston Effectively Inspect RestaurantsCities across the country are looking for smart uses of data that help them use taxpayer dollars more effectively. One local start-up is trying to help the City of Boston do just that for restaurant hygiene inspections.

DrivenData–a Harvard-based team that includes a former Microsoft employee–is running an online competition where competitors create algorithms that use Yelp restaurant reviews to predict where inspectors will find health code violations. The challenge: find clues about hygiene in the words, phrases, ratings and patterns that consumers leave online.

You can read more about it here.

DrivenData — Helping The City of Boston Effectively Inspect Restaurants

Civic Conversation: How Data helps Neighborhoods Grow

Civic Conversation: How Data helps Neighborhoods GrowIncreasingly non-profits, community organizations, civic startups and cities are integrating data into their decision making process and this data is setting priorities, increasing transparency and identifying focus areas for innovation. Some recent examples of this include the city’s recent HubHacks event focused on data visualizations that the city will use in its decision-making, as well as the Boston Foundation’s Indicators Project.

As citizens begin to grapple with the information that is being collected, aggregated and used to generate new insights, questions are starting to emerge:

  • How do we decide what data to use?
  • Is this the right data to answer our questions?
  • Is this data set complete?
  • How can we combine diverse data set to reveal new insights?
  • Are the right people involved in the data aggregation or analysis?
  • How do we notify citizens of the use of their data?

Join us and The Venture Café for a conversation on Civic Tech on June 10, 2015, 5:30PM – 7:30PM at Microsoft New England (NERD Center, 1 Memorial Drive, Cambridge). Together, we’ll discuss this emerging set of questions and consider the impact of data on our neighborhoods.



5:30 – 6 PM – Registration and networking

6:00 – 6:45 – Short Intro followed by short presentations by each of our speakers

6:45 – 7:30 – Breakout into small discussion groups

7:30 – 7:45 – Group readouts

7:45 – 9:30 – Post event networking

We encourage all who attend to join the conversation on Twitter using #CivicTechBOS. Register today at this link.