September 2015

Extra Life Gaming Marathon for Boston Children’s Hospital

As part of our mission in civic tech, we love to seek out ventures that combine technology with social good. So when we heard about Extra Life Gaming’s upcoming video game marathon to support Boston Children’s Hospital, we knew we had to talk to them. Below, see our interview with Rick Heaton, community manager for Extra Life. We hope you’ll join us in supporting this exciting event!

Can you talk a bit about the Extra Life Gaming Marathon?

Extra Life is a way for gamers to give back to their community and support kids at their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital by doing what they love. It functions much like a traditional marathon in that you sign up, get your donor page, and ask friends and family to support you in reaching your fund raising goal. On November 7th this year Extra Lifers come together to celebrate gaming, help kids, and have a lot of fun.

Who can participate and how can they sign up?

Anyone can sign up and participate. Sometimes people get the wrong idea that Extra Life is just about video games or something only streamers can do. In reality, we have people who play a wide variety of games. Everything from old school pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons to family board games and of course video games.  Usually they do it at home or maybe at a friend’s house. It’s just people getting together to have fun for a fantastic cause. Oh and you don’t have to stream. While a lot of people do stream their marathons, the majority of Extra Lifers do not.

I’m not a gamer, how can I still be involved?

If you’re not a gamer, and I think people might be surprised to find they probably are gamers without realizing it, you probably know a gamer.  If they haven’t heard about Extra Life you can share it with them and help them get involved. Or if you do know a gamer who is participating, step up and contribute to their efforts and help them reach their fundraising goal.

What are your fundraising goals for this year?

Every year we set a high bar and ever year our incredible community rallies and tops it. Last year we exceeded our goal by about a million dollars and ended the year with more than $6.1 million raised for the kids. This year we’ve set a goal of $9 Million. It’s a big jump, but there’s a big need and it keeps growing every year.

What is your favorite part about the Gaming Marathon?

I think if I had to pick just one thing it would be that moment, sometime around 3 A.M, when you’re really struggling to get through the last few hours and you realize that there are tens of thousands of people just like you all over North America hitting that same wall and powering through it. All of you doing what you love to do, playing games you love to play and it matters. It’s important.  You’re part of something that’s making a difference in the lives of real people right there in your community. Maybe even right down the street. It’s a powerful feeling.

Microsoft New England Picks: 6 Not-To-Miss Events This Week

Events 9-28

Where did September go? As we creep into October and dive head-first into fall, we’re kicking off the new month with 6 Not-To-Miss Events This Week:

Learn-Launch1) Teachers, Data, and Your Edtech Product
Monday, September 28, 6pm — 8pm
LearnLaunch Institute | 31 St. James Ave/ Suite 920 | Boston
Twitter: @learnlaunch

To support the product development efforts of K-12 edtech entrepreneurs, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation surveyed more than 4,600 teachers about how they use digital tools and student data to tailor student instruction. The findings from this research are essential to helping entrepreneurs develop tools that are appropriate to the districts and schools that they are looking to serve. More than 93% of teachers in the study reported using some sort of digital tool to guide instruction, but more than two-thirds of them are not satisfied with the effectiveness of the data and tools they have access to on a regular basis.

During this session, you will:

  • Absorb the key findings of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s latest research studyTeachers Know Best: Making Data Work for Teachers and Students
  • Hear local teachers reflect on these findings
  • Reflect on how the recommendations, including for interoperability and integration, might affect your product or idea
  • Engage with educators and other entrepreneurs on the challenges this presents for entrepreneurs, and what potential paths forward might be

African-Women2) African Women: Changing the World!
Tuesday, September 29, 4:30pm — 9pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge
Twitter: @WARA_WARC

On Tuesday September 29, 2015, the West African Research Association and The YWCA Cambridge will host a panel discussion that should be of interest to both the general public and more specifically the Kendall Square community. This will be the kick-off event for our annual Giving Common Campaign.

From Queen Nzingha in the 17th century who bravely fought and defended her people, to  Funmilayo Ransome Kuti well-known Nigerian women’s rights activist and mother of musician activist Fela Kuti in the mid-20th century, African women continue to take leadership roles on the continent and beyond. Today Folorunsho Alakija is one of the richest women in the world and a pioneer in philanthropy.

The goal of this presentation is to highlight the important contributions of African Women—in politics, business, the arts, philanthropy, journalism, and other fields. There will be a panel of three distinguished scholars, each of whom will talk about different aspects of African women’s leadership.

2015_SoapBox_Series_HOMEPAGE3) Re: Making Life —From DNA to Designer Genomes
Wednesday, September 30, 6pm — 7:30pm
MIT Museum | 265 Massachusetts Avenue, Building N51 | Cambridge
Twitter: @MITMuseum | 

Wednesday evenings this September and October, MIT Museum hosts a four-part series about synthetic biology. Explore what “synbio” is, how scientists are using innovative techniques to modify organisms, and for what purposes. Add your voice to the discussions while meeting new people and learning about state-of-the-art science and technology! These events are free, and light refreshments will be served.

Mass-Medic4) Preventing the Unthinkable: Issues in MedTech Cyber Security — Trends and Policies
Thursday, October 1, 8am — 3pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge

FDA’s recent warning that Hospira’s Symbiq infusion system is vulnerable to outside tampering underscores a new danger in health care delivery. The use of wireless medical technologies has increased in recent years, as manufacturers and product developers have sought to reduce costs and offer streamlined patient monitoring and care.

The security of these devices and the security of the patient data collected and stored in them present new challenges to the medical device community.

This half-day conference will gather government, industry and security experts who will share their insight and perspectives.

python-boston-sq_400x4005)Boston Python October Project Night
Thursday, October 1, 6:30pm — 9pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge
Twitter: @bostonpython

Python project nights are unstructured chances for Python developers to work together, mentor each other, connect socially, teach, learn, or do whatever else it is Python developers want to do together. Our project nights are great ways to build the Python community, by allowing them to meet and interact in whatever way they find most beneficial.

BASC6) Boston Application Security Conference (BASC) 2015
Saturday, October 3 – Sunday, October 4, 8:30am — 7pm
Microsoft New England R&D Center | 1 Memorial Drive | Cambridge
Twitter: @owaspboston | @basconf

The Boston Application Security Conference (BASC) 2015 will be a free, one day, informal conference on Saturday, October 3rd of 2015 aimed at increasing awareness and knowledge of application security in the greater Boston area. While many of the presentations will cover state-of-the-art application security concepts, the BASC is intended to appeal to a wide-array of attendees. Application security professionals, professional software developers, software quality engineers, computer science students, and security software vendors should be able to come to the BASC, learn, and hopefully enjoy themselves at the same time.

The I Am The Cavalry (IATC) Boston 2015 Conference will be on Sunday, October 4th of 2015. The Cavalry is a global grassroots organization that is focused on issues where computer security intersects public safety and human life. We strive to ensure that these technologies are worthy of the trust we place in them. We are seeking to organize as a non-profit educational foundation. Our areas of focus are medical devices, automobiles, home electronics and public infrastructure.

EdVestors is Zeroing in on Math – Let’s Solve This Problem Together


While you’ve probably heard by now about the low student literacy rates in Boston and urban districts across the country, did you know that only one in three eighth graders is proficient in math? Little attention has been paid to student numeracy to date, leading to a quiet crisis for our schools, our economy, and our children who are not building the foundational math skills required to access rigorous high school courses, college degrees, and high-demand jobs.


In response, EdVestors recently launched Zeroing in on Math – a multi-year, citywide initiative to dramatically improve student outcomes in math and prepare the next generation for 21st century jobs, innovation, and progress.
I joined Richard Holbrook, Chairman and CEO of Eastern Bank, this spring in the Boston Business Journal to introduce Zeroing in on Math, and pose the critical question that EdVestors and our partners like Microsoft are grappling with:

“How can we possibly compete in a global economy when two-thirds of our eighth graders can’t do math? Where will the companies and institutions that anchor our economy…find highly skilled workers and leaders with math skills? The dimensions of this ‘math gap’ should concern us all.” Read the full op-ed here

Through Zeroing in on Math, EdVestors will partner with schools, teachers, nonprofits and donors and employ many of the same levers that made our work expanding arts education in Boston over the past six years so successful. These include strategic philanthropy, a common citywide agenda, tactical support on the ground in schools, and shared measurement focused on student impact. Through the BPS Arts Expansion, EdVestors and our public and private partners led one of the largest expansion of arts education in an urban district nationally. This has resulted in an unprecedented 17,000 more children accessing arts during the school day, bolstering student engagement and school climate.

So far, EdVestors has made a first round of math investments for eight Boston schools – district and charter – to explore and implement technology-based interventions to close math knowledge and skills gaps for students in grades 4-8. Up next, we’ll look at the problem from all angles and address what happens in classrooms, how schools are organized and teachers supported to advance math achievement, and how creative tools are implemented on the ground.

My hope is that Boston’s best thinkers and innovators – including you – will join us in this important work and make a difference for Boston’s children.

p.s. EdVestors will be hosting its 10th Anniversary School on the Move Prize event, offering $100,000 to the most improving public school in Boston on Tuesday, October 27th at Boston Harbor Hotel from 8 to 10 am. Please register at

Laura PerilleLaura Perille is the President & CEO of EdVestors, a school improvement nonprofit working to increase the number of schools in Boston delivering dramatically improved educational outcomes for all students. For more info about their work in math, contact EdVestors at, check the website at or follow @EdVestors.

#BackToSchool — The Role of Libraries in Neighborhood Innovation


Teen Central at Boston Public Library opened in February 2015. | Photo via

In August, I was driving home from a beach vacation with my family. We were crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland.  If you haven’t crossed that bridge before, it is very high and the view is spectacular. My kids asked, “Is this the longest bridge in the US?” Before I could answer, my nephew promptly pulled out his phone and began searching for statistics for “longest bridge.”

I couldn’t help but reflect on the amazing power to conduct research from a phone or a computer (For the record, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is 23 miles long and is the second longest bridge in the US after the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Louisiana.). When I was in school, I had to use the library for all of my projects and papers.  Now, most content students need for research is available online.

So where does that leave our libraries?

I recently visited the Boston Public Library.  David Leonard, the Director of Administration and Technology and the recently named Interim President, gave me a tour of the newly renovated Children’s and Teen libraries and shared the vision for phase 2 of the remodel that will include an evolution of the business library to support small businesses and more. The Boston Public Library can play a central role in neighborhood innovation and here are the reasons why:

  1. Branch Libraries are already located in the neighborhoods.  While many innovation resources in Boston are predominantly located in the Innovation/Seaport District and Kendall Square, libraries are evenly distributed across all neighborhoods of Boston, providing equitable access to all residents, all races and ethnicities and all income levels.
  1. Librarians are skilled educators with a passion for information and technology.  As the guides to all of the resources a library may contain, I can think of no one better than a librarian to help students and adults to learn more about technology and innovation.
  1. Reliable internet access through computers at the library and loaner devices.  Some neighborhoods in Boston still exist without consistent internet access and the city is home to many historical buildings that are not WiFi friendly.  While we can’t assume that all Boston residents have internet access, they do have access to a branch library.  Libraries are a reliable, convenient way for residents to gain access to the internet and as a result access to everything from Facebook and Twitter to online training and permits as needed.

All of these reasons in mind, the potential for greater equity of access to training, maker spaces, permits and resources for small businesses and startups is huge.  Some of my favorite demonstrations of innovative neighborhood initiatives through libraries include:

The Mix at the San Francisco Public Library – The Mix is a 4,770 square foot digital literacy lab for youth ages 13-18, housed within San Francisco’s Main Library. It was designed by the San Francisco Public Library’s Board of Advising Youth (BAY), a committee comprised of local high school and college students. Learn more about The Mix here.

Chattanooga – Chattanooga Public Library’s 4th floor – The 4th floor is a public laboratory and educational facility with a focus on information, design, technology, and the applied arts. The more than 12,000 sq foot space hosts equipment, expertise, programs, events, and meetings that work within this scope. While traditional library spaces support the consumption of knowledge by offering access to media, the 4th floor is unique because it supports the production, connection, and sharing of knowledge by offering access to tools and instruction.


Maker Day at Chattanooga Library, via

Chicago – YOUmedia Chicago is an innovative, 21st century teen digital learning space at 11 Chicago Public Library locations. With an emphasis on digital media and the maker movement, teens engage in projects across a variety of core content areas including graphic design, photography, video, music, 2D/3D design, STEM and hands-on making.



If you have not visited the BPL Central library in Copley, I highly recommend a visit to the new Teen and Children’s libraries – they are just remarkable.  Share your photos with me via twitter (@asprung) as I see something new every time I’m there. I look forward to watching the Boston Public Library evolve and supporting their programs to reach more residents in all neighborhoods across Boston.

Join Us for the 2015 Code for America Summit!


How can we transform government?

That’s the main question behind Code for America’s mission. Across the country, government workers are banding together to use technology to better their civic practices and keep our communities strong.

That’s why we’re excited to join Code for America (CfA) for their annual summit in Oakland. The 2015 CfA Summit brings together some of the nation’s top leaders in government, civic technology, community organizing, design and more in a chance to share ideas, inspire others, and work together to make great things. And we’re lucky to have one of our own names, Adam Hecktman, leading a panel on data visualization.

We want you to join us in the spirit of CfA summit — as Annmarie Levins mentioned in her call for action to make the most of Open Government Data, we want to collaborate on new ideas with as many people as possible. Let’s use our skills and passion to empower communities.

Local speakers include:

  • Joseph Curtatone, Mayor, City of Somerville
  • Daniel Hadley, Chief of Staff, City of Somerville
  • Denise Taylor, Director of Communications, City of Somerville
  • Skye Stewart, Director of Innovation and Analytics, City of Somerville
  • Jascha Franklin-Hodge, Chief Information Officer, City of Boston
  • Alex Soble, 2015 Somerville Fellow, Code for America
  • Uri Harel, Elementary Curriculum Coordinator, Somerville Public Schools
  • Samantha Hammar, Director of Strategic Partnerships, Massachusetts Office of Information Technology
  • Curt Savoie, Principal Data Scientist, Boston
  • Holly St. Clair, Director of Data Services, Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council
  • Harlan Weber, Captain, Code for Boston

There is still time to register for the summit! Buy your ticket now at this link.

Can’t join us in Oakland? Participate in the conversation online by following @codeforamerica, @MSNewEngland, and #CfASummit on Twitter.

Together, we can transform government for the 21st Century.

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

Events 9-21

As autumn kicks off, we’re getting ready for a productive season to wrap up the last few months of the year. Fall into civic tech and innovation with these not-to-miss events this week:

Sano-Helbling1) Bringing Science to the Art of Wound Healing
Monday, September 21, 6pm — 8pm
Cambridge Innovation Center, 5th Floor, Havana Room | One Broadway | Cambridge
Twitter: @cicnow | @phayre

Join a discussion with Paul Hayre, Founder of Sano. Sano is pioneering a disposable, low cost, point-of-care diagnostic platform focused on chronic wounds, such as diabetic foot ulcers and pressure ulcers. Sano’s device measures wound biochemistry to personalize treatment, promote faster healing, and reduce treatment costs.

Paul launched Sano after watching how his father’s chronic pressure ulcer was treated day in and day out: simple dressing changes, never healing. That protocol is largely the standard of care in the US today. His goal is to give clinicians visibility into wound biochemistry to determine effective treatments.

Refreshments provided by Helbling (6pm-8pm). Afterparty at Firebrand Saints.

Ga-Bos2) #OFFCAMPUS — Order Up: Lessons Learned From A Food Truck Startup
Tuesday, September 22, 6:30pm — 8:30pm
GA Boston | 51 Melcher Street | Boston
Twitter: @GA_Boston

Ever dream of starting your own food truck? Wonder what it’s like behind the wheel? Curious to hear about how they prepare all that delicious food in such a small space? Join Branchfood and General Assembly for an in-depth exploration of the food truck economy.

On this panel we’ll hear successful food truck entrepreneurs, and the local organizations who support them, talk about the Boston economy, how they got to where they are now, and what you should know before starting your own.


This September, skip the classroom and get #OFFCAMPUS with General Assembly. Through this curated series of events, workshops and panels you’ll learn the hands-on, practical skills you need to pursue work, and passion projects, you love from top, local practitioners.

JLABS3) Out of the Lab and into the Newsroom
Thursday, September 24, 8:30am — 10:30am
Microsoft | 255 Main Street | Cambridge
Twitter: @JNJInnovation

You’ve got your cutting-edge technology, you’ve raised money, and your company is making great headway on the R&D front. You’re ready to bring your company out of stealth mode and into the limelight, but what’s the next step? Media is a critical venue to communicate with investors, new hires, and other important stakeholders. At this event, you’ll connect with a panel of veteran life sciences reporters and communicators to explore how to take your story out of the laboratory and into the headlines.

Boston Startup Rejjee Uses Cloud Services to Recover Stolen Bikes

003Lucy is an MIT Graduate student and member of the school’s bicycle racing team.

One day her shed in Allston, MA was broken into and four of her bikes were stolen. One of the bikes was an expensive Trek mountain bike and another one held significant personal value. In addition to contacting the police and filling out a report, she also posted her bikes on Rejjee, a bike registry service.

Four days later, the thief posted the Trek bike for sale on Craigslist – a $2,000 bike for sale for just $700. She called the police, who set up a sting operation.

More than two million bikes are stolen each year in the U.S. and fewer than two percent are recovered by the rightful owner because so few bikes are registered. Rejjee is a free mobile app that lets users register valuables, including bikes, and report loss/theft from a phone in real-time. Participants upload photos, serial numbers and descriptions of their bikes into the system and report information on loss/thefts. User reports populate a crowd-sourced lost and found service where friends, neighbors and used goods dealers can be on the lookout and share information. Reports are also accessible by local law enforcement.

Rejjee, a member of Microsoft’s BizSpark program for startups, recently launched “Rejjee your Ride,” creating the largest regionally integrated anti-bike theft program in the country. Rejjee teamed up with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) Police, Boston Police Department, Somerville Police Department, Arlington Police Department, Northeastern University, Boston University, and several bicycle associations, including MassBike, MassCommute, Boston Bikes, RI Bike Assocociation, FL Bike Association, and NY Bike Association. 

To manage the high volume of information collected, Rejjee uses Microsoft Azure, the company’s cloud computing service. This allows them to easily scale their business of protecting bikes and other valuables, as the startup grows their service in cities across the country and around the world.

“Rejjee your Ride” is already helping reunite riders with their bikes. Michael had his bike stolen more than seven months ago, but when the MBTA Police posted his bike ‘found’ on Rejjee, he was able to claim his $1,000 road bike and get it back. Police departments plan to use the service as a way to help reunite bikes with their owners through a unified database of serial numbers. 

Boston Police Commissioner William Evans says his department “…continues to work diligently to return stolen and recovered bikes to their rightful owners. We believe this bike program is a great tool that will connect the BPD, other Boston area police departments, and members of the community, so we encourage the public to register their bicycles and use the collaborative program to their advantage.”

Thanks to the great work of the Boston Police, and Lucy’s quick thinking to register her bike and serial number with Rejjee, she got her bike back!



Ken Smith is a career entrepreneur. He has led seven startups, coached at the MIT Enterprise Forum and Lean Startup, and is the author of ‘Selling Innovation’. Ken is currently Co-founder, President, and Head of Product at Rejjee. He also serves as a ride marshal for Boston Bike Party and other local cycling events.

Celebrate the Launch of Office 2016 at the Microsoft Store!


Microsoft New England is celebrating the launch of Office 2016 by inviting small business owners and administrative professionals to breakfast. Join us September 22nd at 8:30am at The Shops at the Prudential Center to learn how Office can help you do your best work. The 90-minute session will feature time to network with other businesses and remarks from Gavin Bauman, Technical Evangelist for Microsoft New England. Gavin will discuss how Microsoft is helping to grow and enhance businesses everywhere and how you can implement Office to do the same with your own business. You’ll also get to see the new Office 2016 features in action and speak with our technical advisors about upgrading.

Register today to reserve your spot as space is limited. If you have any questions feel free to reach out We hope to see you there!

Microsoft announces global expansion of YouthSpark–focusing on computer science

Microsoft TEALS

Today at DreamForce, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced a 3-year, $75 million investment in our YouthSpark initiative to increase access to computer science education for all youth, and especially for those from under-represented backgrounds. Over the next three years, Microsoft will deliver on this commitment through cash grants and nonprofit partnerships, as well as unique program and content offerings, to increase access to computer science and computational thinking for diverse populations of youth.

One of the flagship programs is Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS), which pairs tech professionals from across the industry with classroom educators to team-teach computer science in U.S. high schools.  TEALS aims to grow five-fold in the next three years, with the goal of working with 2,000 tech industry volunteers to reach 30,000 students in nearly 700 schools across 33 states. Recently, we featured Boston area Volunteer Joanie Weaver on our blog—learn more about their experience here.

To learn more about Microsoft’s new commitment, visit the Microsoft News Center.

To hear Satya’s comments, click here.

TEALS Volunteer Spotlight – Joanie Weaver

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced a $75 million investment in the company’s YouthSpark initiative today, focused on computer science education. As part of this announcement, Microsoft will also expand its Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program starting Fall 2015, which enables professionals in the tech industry to volunteer and partner with teachers to start computer science programs in high schools. In celebration, we are featuring local teachers in the TEALS program to learn more about how to bring computer science programs to more schools. 
In Massachusetts, TEALS is running programs in Boston Latin Academy, Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, Medford Vocational Technical High School, Prospect Hill Academy Charter School, Revere High School, Shawsheen Valley Technical High School and Watertown High School, and we are always looking to expand!


When I was little, my dream job was a teacher. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve still placed “teacher” on the list of jobs I want to have, but I’ve also added more professions to that list. When I heard about TEALS, I was really excited because I realized I had an opportunity to do more than one thing I was passionate about: teaching and helping to create awesome software.

I never took Computer Science before college. When I got to MIT and was overwhelmed with all the choices for classes, I decided to try Computer Science since I had an open class slot and it seemed like a course someone technical should take. With no background experience, this class was extremely difficult for me. I remember feeling like everyone else had already taken a Computer Science class before this one. I did poorly on the first exam so I received something called a fifth week flag, which is a notification sent to every adult with whom I had a connection (i.e. my advisor, my RA, my rowing coach, etc.) that I was receiving a C or below in the class at the fifth week of the semester.

I remember my coach and a senior on my floor strongly urging me to drop the class as many others have dropped it before. “Computer Science isn’t for everyone,” and it would be a lot easier for me to take something else. But I didn’t want to drop it. I thought the class and the concepts were cool and I could see the potential to immediately use everything I was learning. I decided to stay in the class, work my hardest, and go to every office hour. At the end of the class, I was invited to be an undergrad TA for the class the next semester.

I think it’s important for Computer Science to be offered in high school to give every student a taste and a background of what it is before college. Trying Computer Science for the first time in college is difficult, especially when you feel the other students in your classes have been coding since they were five and you’re in a class so huge there’s no way the professor will know your name or even see your hand raised in class. In the high school environment, your teacher knows you by name and cares about your success; the class is small enough that if you have a question, your teacher has time to answer; and the pace is adjusted according to the class’s progress and strengths, not just how it is always taught.

Computer Science is not for everybody, but it is for anybody who is interested and willing to put in the work (and not just for the stereotypical old bald men who like sitting at computers all day).

Joanie Weaver is a Program Manager on Office at Microsoft who teaches computer science at Medford Vocational Technical High School as part of the TEALS program. She is a recent graduate from MIT with a degree in Computer Science and a teacher’s certification in high school Mathematics from the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program. She likes to run, eat, play board games, and travel.