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.

About Microsoft’s Civic Technology Engagement Group

Who We Are

The Microsoft Civic Technology Engagement Group works with local and national partners to help communities and governments leverage technology to tackle key societal challenges and make a sustainable and scalable impact on the lives of individuals.

Across the country and around the world, cities and counties are thinking about the intersection of technology, programs and policy in ways that are creative, solution-oriented and highly impactful. The results have been exciting and encouraging. At Microsoft, we believe that through cross-sector partnerships, many more breakthroughs are right around the corner – and we want to be an active partner in making these things happen.

Our goals include:

  • Facilitate technology for civic priorities
  • Foster civic innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth
  • Create opportunity and access for all
  • Enable collaboration and discussion within communities
  • Build smart and sustainable cities

Who We Work With

We work with civic leaders and the communities they serve to convene discussions, inform design, and build approaches that embrace the use of technology both for and by the people to improve our lives and our government. Projects touch on issues in transportation, economic development and innovation, sustainability and resiliency, public safety and justice, education, opportunity and equity, and accessibility.

Where We Work

We have teams based in seven cities: Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle, and we work with organizations across the U.S. on projects of local, regional, and national impact.

Follow Us

More information about our work is available via our locally focused blogs and social media channels:

Our Partners

Success as Surface Pros Take Over the Classroom

Back in September we featured a piece here on the blog that highlighted the use of the Surface Pro tablet in schools. All 700 students and faculty at Williston Northampton School in Easthampton, MA were all going to receive a Surface Pro as part of the school’s 1:1 computing initiative. Microsoft caught up with the school (and with St. Patrick’s College in London – another school who implemented the use of the Surface Pro) to see just how the transition is going. Check out a recap here and watch the videos below. With these success stories, it looks like this trend will continue on in many more schools.

Pat’s Old-school Art with Microsoft Paint

Let’s throw it back to 1995 when Microsoft 95 was the newest technology in the market, and new computer users were fascinated with Microsoft Paint. Though far less complicated than today’s high-tech art programs, Paint provided many with hours of entertainment.

Artist, Pat Hines

Artist, Pat Hines

Pat Hines, a Boston-based artist, has stayed true to Microsoft’s roots, creating custom works of art with only Microsoft Paint. Until recently, his artwork has consisted of cityscapes and portraits, but he’s currently working on pieces that have more of a narrative. Stay tuned and you’ll see his most recent project, a horror-themed comic book.

Boston Cityscape - One of Hines' first pieces

Boston Cityscape – One of Hines’ first pieces

So how does one get started in something like this? For Pat, a bit of boredom while working as an overnight security guard coupled with a lack of interest in Solitaire and Free Cell led to his fascination. He began using Paint about 10 years ago during his off-time as a security guard. After much experimentation, he developed his own style and technique and learned the ins and outs of the program. He also learned that a single pixel can make a notable difference in his artwork. Averaging about 3 hours a day per piece, it takes him around 3 weeks to create a realistic piece and about a week to create a more cartoony-looking piece.

Hines' Paint rendition of Bill Gates

Hines’ Paint rendition of Bill Gates

Though the art world has become quite advanced, it’s the simplicity of Paint that continues to draw him to it. “Paint’s simplicity and limitations are what I enjoy the most about it. I like the idea that you don’t need an expensive program or materials to create something that’s nice to look at,” explained Pat. In fact, Pat has tried his hand at other programs like Photoshop and Illustrator; he’s even used Fresh Paint on the Surface tablet and bought a stylus. However, he always gravitates back to the old-school mouse and Paint.

The cover for Hines' upcoming comic book

The cover for Hines’ upcoming comic book

So what does this 31-year-old local artist hope to do with his unique talent? While he’d love to turn his hobby into a paying side job, he dreams of teaching art in an elementary setting. He also continues to put his Emerson College film degree to use by writing screenplays and creating storyboards for commercials and short films in his spare time. If you would like to learn more or receive a quote for a custom painting, contact Pat at pat@patspaintings.com. You can also show your support by liking Pat’s new Facebook page and viewing more of his art on his website.

Another one of Hines' Paint masterpieces

Another one of Hines’ Paint masterpieces

A Closer Look at Root Cause’s Social Innovation Forum

Guest post written by Susan Musinsky

Back in December, Root Cause celebrated 10 years of innovation at their Winter Reception. They also announced the 2014 Social Innovators and Impact Entrepreneurs, both part of the Social Innovation Forum (SIF). Below Susan Musinsky, Executive Director of the SIF, shares a bit more about the program and what they have accomplished. Thanks to Susan and Root Cause for the exemplary work they continue to do to improve our community!

Root Cause logoThe Social Innovation Forum was founded in 2003 as a program of Root Cause to accelerate progress on critical social issues facing Greater Boston. The December event brought together our diverse community of non-profit leaders and funders, and celebrated the unique venture philanthropy model we have built together.

Over the past 10 years we have welcomed 59 non-profit organizations into our portfolio, and more recently, 11 Impact Entrepreneurs whose businesses have a core social purpose. We have truly woven together a unique fabric and created opportunities for promising non-profit organizations, as well as local funders and supporters to find and assist these groups with their next-stage growth.

InnerCity Weightlifting Logo

Take Jon Feinman, Founder and Executive Director of Inner City Weightlifting. Two years ago, Jon and ICW were welcomed into the Social Innovation Forum community. Jon received consulting and coaching, meetings with our in-kind providers, and connections throughout our community, including Aimee Sprung, Microsoft New England Research and Development Center’s Civic Engagement Manager. Aimee invited Jon and the young men in his program to come into Microsoft and conduct personal training sessions with employees. Aimee was intrigued by the potential dual benefits of the program.  Now nearly a year into the training, Aimee states “I’m so impressed by the students in Inner City Weightlifting and what our staff is able to both give and gain from them.  It’s all about the students building relationships and getting exposure to the outside world.  It’s been rewarding to be a part of that process.”

The Social Innovation Forum has collected data and published a report card on our work—each $1 invested in the Social Innovation Forum corresponds to $3 increase in budget in our social innovators within 24 months. What that really means is capacity building for organizations, the creation of a unique community with lots of caring people, and a mechanism to drive social change forward.  Our process really can have an impact. We are looking forward to our next 10 years, and to deepening our partnership with Microsoft as we move along this exciting road.

Dreams for the New Year

New Years is all about resolutions, dreams, and new opportunities. At the Community Art Center (CAC) in Cambridge 128 youth ages 5-19 spent 2013 participating in the School Age Child Care or Teen Media Programs. On all but 14 days last year the CAC extended their network of social and emotional support programs to these kids, offering academic help, mental health counseling, transportation services, and up to three meals a day. And I can’t forget to mention their outstanding Do It Your Damn Self! (DIYDS!) Film Festival that Microsoft New England hosted and featured here on the blog.

But that was last year. The CAC has even bigger dreams for 2014. And to broadcast these the world, the children of CAC crafted a poem entitled “The Perfect World.” In this poem Isis, Jahmayah, Seira, Sergio, MarcKenzy, Gio, Nekoh, Elijah, Erin, Shannon, Jeovany and Catherine shared what their dream world would look like. Listen to the poem as read by Ashley in the video below. They dream for peace, equality, better education, no crime, delicious food, and so much more.

The dedicated staff at the CAC will continue to help these children achieve their dreams and beyond this year. They will continue, as their mission says, “to cultivate an engaged community of youth whose powerful artistic voices transform their lives, their neighborhoods, and their worlds.” Be on the lookout for the public art that 14 CAC youth have been commissioned to create in and around Kendall Square. To learn more about the CAC check out their website and consider donating here.

Teach an Apprenticeship and Change a Student’s Future with Citizen Schools

This week our spotlight is on Citizen Schools, one of our favorite nonprofits that started locally (right in Charlestown) before expanding their programs nationally. Their mission is simple: expand the learning day at middle schools in low-income communities by connecting a team of adults with students. They mobilize a second shift of afternoon educators to provide academic support, leadership development, and “apprenticeships” – hands-on projects taught by volunteers from local businesses and organizations. Volunteers help children connect what they learn in school to the real world and get excited about opportunities for their futures.

And Citizen Schools has a proven track record. Evaluations show better attendance, better grades, new skills, and transformed aspirations of students who participate in their programs. Evaluations also reveal that high school graduation rates increase by 20% and odds of earning a college degree triple. We should also mention that interest in pursuing STEM careers also more than doubles in schools utilizing Citizen Schools programs. That’s what we like to hear!

Citizen Schools is closing the opportunity gap – ensuring that low-income students benefit from the same enrichment opportunities as children in upper-income families. However, their work requires the mobilization of an army of volunteer teachers – everyday professionals just like you! Volunteers receive up-front training, weekly lesson-plan assistance, and are paired with a trained Citizen Schools educator for on-going in-class support. Citizen Schools is currently recruiting in Massachusetts for their spring apprenticeships. Serving over 1,400 students in 6 middle schools in Boston and Chelsea, they need your help! Want to help change a child’s life in just 10 afternoons? Click here to learn more about these apprenticeships and help spread the word!

citizen schools logo

The Foundry: Driving Innovation, Design & Opportunity


The Foundry invites college development and design students to Microsoft New England for an internship based on four key principles.

  • Learn: Work with the latest tools and tactics needed to design and develop apps for Windows and Windows Phone.
  • Collaborate: Team up with other engineers and designers to bring an app to life.
  • Build: Sync student ideas and concepts with state-of-the-art development techniques to create an app from the ground up.
  • Launch: Ship an app to the Store by the end of your internship.


In its second year, the Foundry at Microsoft New England hosted 40 college students on its campus this past summer. The students worked in teams of five to build a range of apps for Microsoft’s newest platforms. Each team worked closely with their coaches, two Microsoft engineers paired with each team to help solve programs and connect with others at Microsoft.  Using agile and other current development practices, interns get tons of experience designing the user experience, writing code, costing features, presenting their work, and (occasionally) debugging problems.  By the end of the internship, interns have experienced a complete ship cycle from start to ship.   These Foundry 2013 apps are now available for download to your Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone devices.



Meet Codey! WeeCoder’s main character

In light of the Computer Science Education week, we want to introduce WeeCoder, built at Foundry 2013. Computer science provides a foundation for so many career paths and WeeCoder is a fun way to introduce basic coding concepts to children. WeeCoder is an engaging educational game built to introduce children, ages 3-11, to sequential thought, looping, and conditions in a comfortable environment. Explore the planets of the Solar System with Codey as he travels from planet to planet.  Program his movements through 80+ unique levels to unlock mini puzzle games, a photo op with Codey, and more. WeeCoder is available to download to your Windows 8.1 device now.


Learn to code with WeeCoder!

Learn to code with WeeCoder!

Loved visiting the planets with Codey? Share your picture with Codey on your favorite social networks!


 Start coding with Codey today!



Welcome to the New Microsoft New England

The new and improved Microsoft New England website has arrived! From its animated backgrounds and vibrant colors to its fresh look and integrated content, the new website represents all that is Microsoft New England.

The website now provides one home for both Research and Development and Sales and Marketing while also providing easy access to the Microsoft products, marketplace, and support site. As Microsoft has solidified its presence in New England, it was only fitting to create a unified site indicative of the energetic, innovative, and unique people behind the brand.

It has never been easier to learn about the different teams and the inspiring individuals who comprise them. The new site goes beyond boring descriptions and gives visitors a glimpse into life at Microsoft. On the “teams and people” page you can even follow Matt, Program Manager and gym nut on the Docs team, through a day in his life from biking to work in the morning to building the newest features for Word and other programs during the day.

But fear not! The revamped look does not mean drastic or confusing changes that will complicate your visit to the website. It’s even more user-friendly than ever before. There is a page or section for everything, including events, careers, internships, the Foundry, Women’s Leadership Forum, and community involvement among others.  Looking for information? You will find it! But don’t take my word for it. Go explore the new website for yourself!

MS Logo


Xbox One: It’s Here!

The wait is over…almost! The Xbox One launches this Thursday, November 22, and we’re celebrating with a midnight launch party at the Microsoft Store on November 21.


Come celebrate the Xbox One launch!

Come by the Microsoft Store at the Shops at Prudential starting at 10pm (but you better get there early – you know this is big!) to see the newest system showcased. Our Xbox One pros will be demoing the latest games like Ryse, Forza, Motorsport 5, Dead Rising 3, and Killer Instinct. Even better are the giveaways that you know will be taking place. The first 50 people in line will receive an exclusive prize, so make sure you’re not late!

There will also be entertainment and plenty of gamers to share in the excitement. Worried you’re not going to be in the Boston area for this epic celebration? No need to worry – midnight launch parties are taking place at Microsoft stores across the country. Find the store closest to you and bring all of your friends. We’ll see you at the front of the line!