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Microsoft Store and B~STEM Host One-Day Only Events

Girls learn STEM atAccording to BestColleges.com, only 6.7 percent of women are graduating with STEM degrees. With this we have a responsibility today to educate and inspire females of all ages to advance our world by pursuing careers in traditionally male dominated industries.

B~STEM Project and Microsoft Store understand this responsibility. B~STEM Project is an organization focused on helping young girls and women to engage, learn and grow within business and STEM-related disciplines across industries. From June 23 – 30, B~STEM will host We Hack Too, an eight-day virtual hackathon. Select Microsoft Store locations are excited to host kick-off events on Friday, June 23, and set everyone up for a week of fun with a Business Development and Design Incubator.

The events will give high school and college women opportunities to collaborate with professional mentors to design products and develop business strategies, while 8 to 12-year-olds will be invited to attend coding and gaming workshops.

These free events will take place in the following store near you:

Each store event will have its own unique theme spanning STEM-related topics including clean energy, gaming, entertainment and digital media, biotechnology and tech startups. To learn more about the topic of the event at your local Microsoft Store and to register for the event, please visit bstemproject.org.

Not located in a city with an event? Microsoft Store offers a range of free programs, year-round that empower youth by providing direct access to technology and hands-on learning. If you haven’t been to a Microsoft Store program yet, take a look at the video below that captures Microsoft Store YouthSpark camp energy and testimonials from real student and parent participants.

To see a full list of available in-store events and programs at your local Microsoft Store visit, Microsoft.com.

Fellow Profile: Emily Sim

Where are you from? Southern California and Seoul, South Korea

School/grad year/major: Tufts University, 2019, Computer Science

Last thing you searched on Bing: How to make hummus from scratch

Why did you choose Microsoft’s fellowship program? Coming from a technical background, I was fascinated by the Technology & Civic Engagement team’s work at a pivotal juncture of two industries. I wanted to explore how technology is being used for public good.

What’s your favorite civic project in the Greater Boston area? nesterly, which is a startup that matches elderly homeowners with younger subletters to provide affordable housing, companionship, and housekeeping.

What projects are you working on for your position as tech fellow for Microsoft New England? I have helped launch the Starthub Boston’s Civic Innovation page by compiling resources, events, startups, investors, and initiatives. Currently, I am creating a dashboard for District Hall’s usage data. Soon, I will be working on integrating the District Hall form input with a database system, revamping the Venture Cafe Foundation website, and doing user research for a project with the MBTA.

What excites you about civic tech? It’s a relatively new field, yet the amount of community engagement the projects have generated is incredible. There is so much potential to drive more folks into taking action to help their towns and neighbors.

What’s one problem you hope civic tech will solve for cities? I hope that more affordable housing is made available in Boston, especially in the more gentrified areas, with partnership between the city, corporations, and caring citizens.

RECAP: New England Machine Learning Day 2017

Seventy researchers, students and professionals recently participated in the New England Machine Learning Hackathon: Hacking Bias in ML. Students traveled predominantly from nearby universities — Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, Boston University, Boston College — but also from as far as the University of Virginia, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford.  

Team leaders defined five areas of bias and discrimination in machine learning to address during the Hackathon.

  • Accent Discrimination led by Jay Liu, Microsoft
  • Pre-Trial Fairness, led Sam Corbett-Davies, Stanford
  • Word Biases led by Max Leiserson and Elena Jakubiak, Microsoft Research
  • Visual Biases in Border Patrol Stops led by Genevieve Patterson, Microsoft Research
  • Equity in Higher Education and the Future of Work, led by Sergio Marrero, Caila

In six hours, the teams formed, defined a user, aligned on a solution, built storyboards, and in some cases, developed websites. There was buzz, laughter, and hard work, which may have benefitted from the nearby espresso bar. The winning team, Pre-Trial Fairness, took home Xbox FIFA bundles. The team built a “Challenge the Bias” website to “decipher the biases in current algorithms that help decide bail, sentences and parole of a defendant.” The judges appreciated the clear explanation of the types of data used and ways to increase fairness across gender and race in analyzing the data. Congratulations Sam Corbett-Davies (Stanford), Yaovi Ayeh (Dell EMC), Danielle Dean (Microsoft), Frances Ding (Harvard), Yunxin Fan (Harvard), Anshuman Pandey (CMU), Aditthya Ramakrishnan (Next Tech Lab), Harini Suresh (MIT), Marina S. (community) and Lorenzo Vitale (BU)!

The Word Bias team created a Hacking Bias in Word Choice website. The Accent Team pitched and is building an open repository for under-represented accents which limits the capabilities of voice recognition everywhere. The Visual Bias team highlighted ways to help border patrol agents decrease unconscious biases against those wearing non-normative, less frequently seen outfits. The Equity in Education team brainstormed ways to advance individuals with less traditional educational degrees and training and connecting to jobs they can do today, tomorrow with a bit of work, and in the future with more serious preparation and study.

One grad student after returning to campus wrote, “Thank you for … such an amazing hackathon on a really interesting topic in ML. It was totally worth coming all the way from Pittsburgh to Boston and attend this hackathon.” (It took him and his colleague 18 hours by bus!)

See our Hacking Bias in Machine Learning recap video (2m)  above with comments from our event mentors and judges. Our team mentors were Dr. Adam Kalai (Microsoft Research); Dr. Lester Mackey (Microsoft Research); and one of the judges, Elaine Harris (Hacking Discrimination MIT Alumni organizer and President, Breakthrough Marketing Technology).  In addition to Elaine Harris, our esteemed judging panel included: Dr. Sasha Constanza-Chock, Associate Professor of Civic Media at MIT; Dr. Stefanie Jegelka, X-Consortium Career Development Assistant Professor at MIT EECS; Jamie MacLennan, Microsoft, Partner Director, Azure Machine Learning; Dr. D. Sculley, Google, Engineering Manager, Machine Learning Team.

The sixth annual New England Machine Learning Day took place on the following day, May 12, 2017.  The event brought together more than 300 local machine learning researchers from over a dozen universities and research institutes. Eight talks were given by notable local academics on a variety of machine learning problems ranging from neural networks to computer vision to social networks.  Thirty-six students presented posters during a lively poster session at lunch.  

The organizing committee comprised:  David Cox (Harvard); Adam Tauman Kalai (Microsoft Research); Ankur Moitra (MIT); and Kate Saenko (Boston University).  The Poster Chairs were Mike Hughes, Harvard University and Genevieve Patterson, Microsoft Research.

One Northeastern graduate student who attended both said, “The hackathon was a great experience for me and I enjoyed every second of it. The New England ML day was also very inspiring. If for any similar event you need a volunteer, please let me know. I’d be more than happy to help and be a part of these great events.”

Stay tuned for next year; planning has begun for our seventh New England Machine Learning Day and second ML Hackathon!

Developers, Designers & Artists — Attend HoloHack Boston 6/21!

Bring holograms to life in your world! Attend HoloHack Boston from June 21 to June 22. Microsoft has partnered with BostonAR to bring you a two-day experience, where you’ll form teams with other experienced AR/VR/MR developers, designers and artists to collaboratively create your next mixed reality experience. Technical resources from the community and engineers from Microsoft and Unity will be on-site along with HoloLens and developer devices.

Attendees should have previous experience developing for AR/VR/MR and/or with Unity. Space and devices are limited. Apply today!

FAQ

Who can attend?
We are looking for developers, designers, sound engineers, directors, story tellers and artists with experience creating on AR/VR/MR platforms.

What skills should I have?
Artists familiar with UX design in VR/AR/MR, 2D and 3D design skills are always an asset. Developers who know any of the following should consider joining: C#, Unity, Universal Windows Platform development.

What if I don’t have a team or an idea?
We highly encourage you to build with a team (max team size of four). Participants are not expected to have a fully formed team or concept prior to the event. We will include time for team forming and networking prior to official hacking start if you need to find a team to join.

Do I need a HoloLens or computer?
No need to bring a HoloLens — in fact if you have one, we recommend leaving it at home to avoid confusion on-site. We will have a HoloLens available for each team. We do, however, recommend if you are going to deploy to the HoloLens that you have a Windows 10 PC. We will have a handful on site, but it helps to have your own setup. We will send out a requirements & setup list ahead of time.

Is there a prize?

One team will be selected to receive a prize. Projects will be reviewed on originality, use of HoloLens features, technical difficulty, use of Microsoft services and APIs and how polished the hack is.

Schedule for Wednesday, June 21
9 a.m. – 10 a.m. — Arrival and breakfast
10 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. — Opening Keynote
10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Group into teams & let the Hacking begin!
12 p.m. –  1 p.m. — Lunch
1 p.m. – 2 p.m. — Workshop 1: Gavin Bauman
2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. — Workshop 2: Adina Shanholtz
3:30 p.m. – Midnight —Hacking Continues!

Schedule for Thursday, June 22
9 a.m. – 5 p.m. — Hacking!
5 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. — Project Presentations & Dinner
6 p.m. — Winners Announced!

Microsoft New England Picks: Not-To-Miss Events, June 2017

We can’t believe it, but it seems summer is finally here in Boston!

Join us through the warm weather at our top picks for events this June:

June 1

Talk Data to Me: Startup Edition

Talk Data to Me is a monthly event series where General Assembly hosts thought-leaders from the Boston data community to discuss the possibilities that data brings to life.

In June we are inviting Boston-based startups that are using data science in new and interesting ways to share what they are working on. From predicting buying patterns and making user recommendations, to optimizing hospital scheduling and space utilization- data is touching every industry.

Hear how these young companies are thinking about data and what they predict the future of data and technology will look like.

June 3

Civic Imagination: Designing and Building a Better Future

Join Boston Civic Media’s third annual conference for a day of inspiring keynotes, presentations and networking with peers and community leaders around igniting civic creativity. Dive into topics including media literacy, youth-led advocacy, DIY activist technologies, and creative storytelling. We’ll also be announcing the first ever inter-campus curriculum addressing climate change.

Code in One Day: HTML & CSS Crash Course

HTML and CSS are the fundamental building blocks of the web. Whether you’re a beginner who wants to get started in web development, a designer looking to hand-code their concepts, or a marketer who wants a little more control over their CMS, you’ll need to know HTML and CSS to get the job done.

This one day workshop is the quickest way to get started building websites. You will dive head first into HTML and CSS, skill up with live coding exercises, and by the end of the day you’ll have a working web page to call your own.

Cambridge Arts River Festival

True to its beginning in 1974, the Cambridge Arts River Festival is an exuberant celebration of the arts in Cambridge! In those early days, a group of artists charged themselves with the development of an annual event that would showcase and celebrate the rich artistic traditions and activity that make Cambridge such a unique and exciting place.

June 6-8

5th Annual Citywide Arts Festival

Take a break and join us for the BPS Citywide Arts Festival! Our 5th anniversary event at features 1100+ students from 30 schools across the district, and is hosted by outstanding performing artists from the Class of 2017. Full schedule coming soon. Presented in collaboration with the Boston Parks Department, the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, ArtsBoston. Come celebrate the arts with us!

June 14

Mass Innovation Nights #99 – African-American & African Tech Founders

Mass Innovation Nights are monthly startup product launch and networking events.

June is an exciting month for Mass Innovation Nights! Our theme for the June event is African & African American Founders of Tech Businesses sponsored by Greater Grove Hall Main Streets. We will have 14 super cool products showcasing.

June 30

City Dance Party

On Friday, June 30, join thousands of Cambridge residents and visitors who will gather on Massachusetts Avenue in front of Cambridge City Hall (795 Massachusetts Ave.) for the City’s annual Dance Party. Mass. Ave., between Prospect and Bigelow streets, will be closed to traffic during the event. The City Dance Party is free and open to the public.

Danielle Dean Honored by UMass with Distinguished Young Alumni Award

Here at NERD we have even more reason to celebrate beyond our 10-year anniversary #NERD10. Part of what we get to celebrate day in and day out is our amazing team. One example is Danielle Dean, a senior data scientist lead in the Algorithms and Data Science Group within the Cloud and Enterprise Division, and the most recent recipient of the Distinguished Young Alumni Award by UMass Amherst.

The Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor bestowed by the UMass Amherst Alumni Association on alumni, faculty and friends. Recipients of this prestigious award have translated their UMass Amherst experience into distinguished achievement in the public, business or professional realms and bring honor to UMass Amherst and to their field of endeavor.

Danielle Dean received the award for her contributions in Data Science and her leadership of an international team of data scientists and engineers working on machine learning solutions. In honoring Dean, the UMass Alumni Association cites many of her accomplishments in the data science field, including her role as lead author of three major publications; co-author of the data science modeling book, Data Science with Microsoft SQL Server 2016; and a speaker at more than 20 conferences in the last three years, including keynotes at SQLbits and SQL Nexus, and a featured talk at Strata & Hadoop World Conference in Singapore in December of 2015.

During her time at UMass Amherst, Dean earned two bachelor’s degrees: the first in psychology with a minor in mathematics and statistics, and the second in organizational behavior through statistical analysis. Dean was a student researcher in Professor Linda Isbell’s Psychology lab. Dean’s data analysis work within the lab inspired her eventual study of Quantitative Psychology and Biostatistics.

I am incredibly honored to win the award and feel very fortunate to be surrounded by a supportive community from my undergraduate and graduate schools as well as at Microsoft, which gave me many opportunities to learn and grow along my journey” says Dean.

“I feel fortunate to have had several amazing women mentors in my life who made me believe I could accomplish anything I set myself out to do,” Dean tells us, “from high school mathematics teachers to my undergraduate research professor Linda Isbell to my mother who studied computer science and moved into the big data field. As I have moved throughout my life, I have realized that others are not as fortunate to have so many role models and mentors directly accessible to them, and I want to do my part to fill that role for young women to whom it would benefit.”

Dean has leveraged this experience toward helping other young women through mentorship. She is an active advisor with Girls Who Code, a board member of Microsoft’s Women@NERD (New England Research & Development) resource group, and a career advice contributor through Microsoft’s Professional Data Science Degree Program.   

“My advice to young women who are interested in a career in data science would be to become curious about the world around you – how things work, how things are tracked,” says Dean. “Learn to work with many different types of people who have different interests and passions and come from different backgrounds than you, as they will give you unique perspectives and help you find who you want to become as a person. Never strive to be exactly like someone else but rather find what drives you and seek opportunities to push yourself.”

This isn’t the first time Dean has been recognized for her accomplishments. Previously, she’s received the UMass Amherst 21st Century Leaders Award, Senior Leadership Award, the LeBovidge Research Fellowship, and Psi Chi Regional Research Award.

 Congratulations Danielle and thank you for your contributions in data science and to women and others in this field!

Join Boston Civic Media’s 3rd Annual Conference on June 3

Want to gain insights and approaches for collectively re-imagining public life in Boston?

Join Boston Civic Media’s third annual conference, Civic Imagination: Designing and Building a Better Future, taking place on June 3 from 9 a.m.  to  4 p.m. at District Hall.

Spearheaded by the Engagement Lab at Emerson College, Boston Civic Media is a faculty-led network that aims to advance the transdisciplinary domain of civic media research and pedagogy in the Greater Boston Area. Each year, Boston Civic Media convenes its growing network of faculty, students, activists, journalists, policymakers and nonprofits all invested in “civic media,” or media that creates social change through art, design and technology.

This year’s conference aims to explore the intersection of art, research and activism and is an opportunity to celebrate community-driven public work. From workshops on learning to engage across cultures, borders and divides to DIY biotechnology, expect an exciting lineup of presenters to share strategies, insights and approaches for collectively re-imagining public life in Boston.

The conference includes keynote presentations by Nettrice Gaskins, whose work examines how cultural art and technology made by under-represented groups for creative expression and STEAM learning can ignite our civic imagination, and Mariama White-Hammond, an ecological justice minister who will draw upon her former experiences of social-justice media making with youth to inspire new narratives.

This year, the conference will also tackle the wicked problem of climate adaptation and preparedness throughout the City of Boston with the release of the first ever inter-campus curriculum addressing climate change.

All are welcome to attend! This event is free, but registration is required.

Learn more about Civic Imagination: Designing and Building a Better Future and register here. Can’t attend? Follow along on Twitter using #BostonCivicMedia. 

All I Ever Needed to Know about Civic Engagement I Learned From my Mom

I’ve been listening to a lot of Podcasts lately.  I particularly like the podcasts about successful people where they share details about their lives that led to success or mastery in their field. I like Tim Ferriss, Spartan Up and just found Finding Mastery and am currently listening to a fantastic conversation with Amy Hood. In many of these podcasts, people reflect on the role that his / her Mom / Mom-like figure played in guiding them to success. And there is no question that my Mom’s presence and modeling led me to value civic engagement and the work I do today.

My mom taught me to actively engage with civic organizations. She never just attended a meeting or sat on the sidelines. She engaged and was able to influence outcomes. As a passionate supporter of the Arts, my mom ran the Cultural Arts program at my school to make sure arts programming was a part of our education. And as a professional development / fund raising officer for a non-profit, she supports the Camp where she met my dad, I attended and now my sons go with fund raising advice and guidance. By actively engaging in important organizations, I feel the benefits as much as I contribute, and often even more!

We set out to ask some of the phenomenal civic leaders in Boston to share the lessons they learned from their moms and we received an amazing response. We hope these stories inspire and empower you the same way they have affected us:

Teaching and education has always been a passion and priority for my mom. She was a teacher in England when I was born. She was our advocate in school from pre school to college. And when she stopped teaching, she become a volunteer tutor and a mentor at local schools. She took a year to complete a program on teaching children with dyslexia, and volunteered her time to work with children after school that needed that extra help to complete their homework. We all know how important it is to get a good education (and she raised three kids that all got engineering degrees), but what she showed me is that enabling someone to get a good education, is about patience and encouragement, one day at a time, year after year. Thank you mom.

— Elizabeth Bruce, Universities, Technology and Civic Engagement at Microsoft

When my parents divorced, my brother was 8 and I was 6 years old. We watched our my beautiful mother Linda work three jobs: one minimum wage and two waitress jobs. All of her time and energy went into making a living wage for our family. She didn’t have time to get involved in the PTO, town meetings, or weekend hackathons, and any time she had to spend to interact with city hall or school, meant time off and money lost.

It is for single parents like Linda that I think about first when creating or transforming the way we deliver public service to our constituents. Happy Mothers Day to Linda and the busy moms!

Pictured is Sam, Aunt Robyn (another strong female role model), and Linda (right)

— Samantha Hammar, Director of Digital Engagement, Office of the Treasury, Commonwealth of Massachusetts

My mom has always been curious about life and has been a life-long learner. She has always encouraged me to get beneath the surface, to chase those things I found interesting, to understand the “why” behind the world. She truly shaped my thought process, in that I try to understand the systems, the structures, and the “why” in my world. I think this is why I find the civic technology space so interesting—even though we use the lens of technology in the civic space, it’s ultimately about supporting society and the human condition.

— Cathy Wissink, Senior Director, Technology & Civic Engagement at Microsoft

I’m fortunate to come from a family of strong, socially-minded women on both sides of my family, and have always been encouraged to give back to and engage with my community. On my mom’s side, she and my gran have been role models for me my entire life. After raising her children, my gran returned to work — serving as a magistrate for many years and advocating for the rights of her community members. My mom has always been involved in organizations for education, arts, and the community, and even started a company while I was in high school. They’ve both served as constant role models for me, and continue to remind me of the importance of dedicating my time and energy to causes that are important to me on a daily basis.

— Becky Donner, Director, District Hall

My civic tech work is shaped by what my mother showed me about collaboration and picking your projects. Whether as a leader or team member, she believes strongly in asking questions, listening, and learning from everyone in the room, as that’s how you figure out what’s important and can select an effective path forward. She also shows me how valuable it can be to carefully choose what you give your time and resources to (yes, my mother taught me how to say no!). She has shown me how to go all in on the institutions and issues–in her case, from hospice care to reproductive rights–that make a difference to individuals’ lives and across communities. Civic tech and engagement is about thinking beyond what you alone might know or like or need, and I am lucky to have seen from my mother how to think and live that philosophy.

— Elizabeth Grossman, Director of Civic Projects, Technology and Civic Engagement Group at Microsoft

My mother taught me the value of authenticity, honesty, and putting yourself in other people’s shoes. These are core values of civic engagement, and lead to things like user-centric design, transparency, and collaboration being the guiding principles of the civic tech community.

— Annmarie Levins, General Manager,Technology and Civic Engagement Group at Microsoft

My mom is an immigrant woman who was raised in a conservative cultural environment where women are not always encouraged to be outspoken. Once my mom had her own three daughters, she focused on raising us with the opportunities she didn’t have in her life. By bringing us to a mosque that prioritized civic duties, community service, interfaith work and social justice and actively volunteering herself during events like the Walk Against Hunger, protesting the “travel ban”, and cooking for the Mercy Shelter, my mother showed me the importance of showing up and engaging with the community. I was proud of my mom for also supporting my education and focus on Political Science and Human Rights. Most notably, I am proud of my mom for raising her hand to volunteer in her community despite language barriers.

— Sumia Hassain, Partnerships Development Coordinator, MassChallenge Boston

For my whole life, I’ve watched my mom work tirelessly to support the communities around her, whether through planning events for our schools, knocking on doors for local politicians, or encouraging us to get involved with nonprofit work.

More recently, I’ve been blessed to watch her transition into what is undoubtedly her dream job as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. She works constantly and tirelessly around the clock to make individuals’ lives better — whether it be through 7am weekend phone calls to constituents, attending events morning and night, or filing bills in the House to benefit underrepresented individuals within the State.

My mom has a ‘can-do’ attitude second-to-none, and the beauty of it all is that she expects nothing in return. If I can embody even 1% of the dedication she has to making the lives of EVERYONE around her better, regardless of it benefiting her, I will be more selfless, caring, and helpful than most who walk the earth. I love you, Mom, and am so proud to be your daughter!

— Kara Cronin, Partnerships Account Manager, MassChallenge Boston

Microsoft New England Picks: Not-To-Miss Events, May 2017

We’ve gotten through our April showers — now it’s time for May flowers… and events!

Here are our top picks for events in the Boston area this month:

May 3

Design in Boston: Creating a More Connected City

In celebration of ArtWeek, General Assembly and the City of Boston are pairing up to bring together designers and policy makers who are helping to define and redesign what makes for a better urban lifestyle in Boston.

May 4

Catalyst Conversations: Charmed Science

Join us for an evening exploring magic and celebrating the community of innovators, artists and scientists that have come together to make Catalyst Conversations a vibrant demonstration of the possibility of ideas. Enjoy drinks, small bites, music, magic and good conversation! Your ticket purchase and donation will help us bring direct, free public access to cutting-edge innovations in art and science in 2017 and beyond. Hosted by MIT List Visual Arts Center.

May 6

City of Boston Analytics Team: Analyze Boston Open Data Challenge Final Showcase

The Analyze Boston Open Data Challenge will culminate in our Showcase Event on May 6th at District Hall (75 Northern Ave, in the Seaport). This is a free event where attendees will learn more about Analyze Boston and then see what challenge participants came up with. There will also be instructional sessions where attendees can learn more about tools and techniques they can use to do even more with open data.

The event will finish with the announcement of awards for Open Data Challenge winners. There will be three sets of awards given out:

  • Challenge Track Awards: Winners and runners-up will be chosen for each of the challenge tracks above by a panel of expert judges.
  • Special Prizes: Judges will also pick winners for best student project, best project from someone new to data, best project built on open source software, and best project using maps or geospatial analysis.
  • Grand Prizes: An overall Grand Prize winner and runner-up will be chosen by audience vote.

May 10

Explore | Create | Code

Ever curious about your tech? Learn how to program a micro:bit and create a circuit-based game with Microsoft Garage staff. Tour the Garage and check out the 3-D printers, laser cutter, and future realities room.

The micro:bit is a tiny, easy-to-program device that can be used for cool creations ranging from robots to musical instruments to games. It’s been featured on the television show Robot Wars, and it has programmable LED lights, buttons, a compass, accelerometer, and Bluetooth connectivity.

Sisters will use the micro:bit as part of their games, and then Little Sisters will be able to take it home and keep creating!

May 11

New England Machine Learning Hackathon: Hacking Bias in ML

Join us for hacking the biases, discrimination, and fairness in machine learning, algorithms, big data analytics! Our goal is to have each team develop websites to address these issues.

Prizes will be awarded at the end of the day. The winning team will receive a Surface Pro 4 for the team leader and Xbox One S FIFA ’17 bundle for each team member.

May 13

Technovation 2017 Showcase & Pitch

Celebrate all the locally-made apps submitted for the Technovation Challenge!

This year Posterboard judges will be reviewing a team’s materials beforehand, and then submitting final scores at the Showcase after meeting the team and hearing their pitch. The Posterboard scores will determine which teams get to pitch for the Presentation Award, as well as which teams will move on to the semifinal round.

May 16

MedTech Boston 40 Under 40 Awards

Please join us for an evening to celebrate the 2017 MedTech Boston 40 Under 40 Healthcare Innovators, hosted by PULSE@Masschallenge. This year we are teaming up with the PULSECHECK community to bring you the best in Boston Healthcare.

Urban Farming: From Microsoft to the Dinner Table

Urban Farming at Microsoft. Photo credits: Scott Eklund.

Boston isn’t known for farming and agriculture, but we are known for our strengths in Technology, Collaboration, Innovation and Education. With organizations like 1776 naming Boston one of the top cities to enable collaboration to capitalize on the shift to a digital economy, it’s no surprise we can even apply these strengths to agricultural sciences. I see examples of our prizewinning advancements in technology along the entire farm to table continuum.

One of the truly special pieces of being a member of the Board of Overseers at the Museum of Science is participating in Davos on the Charles. Davos on the Charles is a unique event created by the Overseers, for the Overseers. Panels are created based on various topics of interest and different Overseers take positions on those panels, study up and present a unique perspective. In coordination with one of the Museum’s focus areas, this year’s event was focused on food.

I was a panelist on one of five panels along with three other overseers. Our panel was focused on The Future of your Food: Farming Engineered Foods and I chose to speak about urban farming – an area Microsoft is investing in at our headquarters in Redmond.

Aimee Sprung on a panel at Davos on the Charles. Photo: Museum of Science, Boston

Why is this an area of interest for Microsoft? Well, as our growing push for sustainability merges with industry, we need to be thinking about where our food in coming from and how it is affecting the environment and our bank accounts. We need to reimagine how we sustainably grow plants that sustain us in turn. And even though technology is just a tool, it is becoming just as important as shovels and soil in how we efficiently grow produce.

As farm-to-table dining gains more widespread adoption, it’s important to note the technology, innovation, and collaboration that support this initiative and make it a more sustainable practice.

Technology

Freight FarmsBuilt entirely inside a 40’ x 8’ x 9.5’ shipping container, freight farms are outfitted with all the tools needed for high-volume, consistent harvests. With innovative climate technology and growing equipment, the perfect environment is achievable 365 days a year, regardless of geographic location.

Of course, technology plays a big role in how we’re advancing agriculture. The number of manually harvested crops is rapidly decreasing, with startups like Harvest Automation bringing automated processes to planting, maintaining, and analyzing commercial growing operations. We’re even seeing AI being adopted into agricultural practices as indoor and vertical farming grow into more regular practices.

Innovation

Microsoft’s main campus in Redmond, for example, is growing produce on campus using hydroponics. This practically eliminates the need to transport as the greens are grown in the same buildings where they are prepared and served to employees. Hydroponics also uses 90% less water than soil based growing and by growing in a contained environment, it also eliminates the need for pesticides.

Microsoft has incorporated a Micro-greens project on its Redmond campus, where its cafeteria hosts an urban farming project to grow highly nutritious greens that are grown and served right on campus. This doubles as a cost-effective program that assists in reducing the company’s carbon footprint and is promoting a stronger investment in on-campus agriculture.

Collaboration

One significant food of the future challenge remains in equity in pricing and accessibility. There are food deserts in this country — and in neighborhoods of Boston. Boston’s Food for Free is partnering with Boston Public Schools to set up school markets — food market / food pantry conglomerates open to the community in local schools. Here, anyone in the community can shop for fresh local produce, learn about its origins, and commit themselves to sustainable practices in shopping and eating.

Boston’s Fresh Truck takes this same approach to celebrating healthy food culture, bringing fresh, affordable food to communities in need while providing community outreach, education and programming to promote equitable access to healthy choices.

Education

It doesn’t just end at the table. There’s strong need for education around food and sustainability in Boston, at Microsoft, and around the world, and this innovation is just a start. In the meantime, I look toward the Museum of Science, which just ran a charette to leverage strategy on how the museum can connect food to technology in the city of Boston. I can’t wait to see how the museum presents this in future exhibits and practices, and to follow the museum’s future explorations in food and agricultural innovation.

From where I sit at Microsoft, I’m curious to see how technology can improve efficiencies for farming, increase local growing / farm to table initiatives and maybe even allow me to be an urban farmer through sensors for irrigation needs or improving how we use space to grow. Could a parking garage become a storage facility for shipping containers that are growing dark leafy greens? Could I be making more sustainable choices in the way I shop and eat? Could growing my own produce provide more sustainable practices for others?

As I reflect on my panel at Davos on the Charles and the Urban Farming work beginning at Microsoft, it’s clear that technology will play a significant role in increasing sustainability in agriculture. I’m excited to watch as new innovations impact the farm to table continuum in Boston. Maybe there will even be some farming startups in this year’s class at MassChallenge – I’ll be looking for them!

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to environmental sustainability, head to the Microsoft Green Blog.