Q&A with Mayor Joe Curtatone on Somerville’s Call to Green Tech Innovators

Mayor Curtatone announcing another sustainability initiative: the Orange Line T-Stop opening at Assembly Row in September, which is expected to provide sustainable transportation to 5,000 riders daily.

Mayor Curtatone announcing another sustainability initiative: the Orange Line T-Stop opening at Assembly Row in September, which is expected to provide sustainable transportation to 5,000 riders daily.

MSNE: What is the Somerville Green Tech Program?

Curtatone-3Mayor Curtatone: We’re asking green tech innovators to give the City their best product pitch. Entrepreneurs are developing services and products that could help people and organizations reduce their carbon footprint, decrease energy use and generally act kinder to the planet, but at some point they need to pilot their ideas. We want to be first in line to give those ideas a shot, so we released an official request for information asking green tech entrepreneurs to fill us in on what they’re working on.

MSNE: How can green tech companies get involved?

Mayor Curtatone: All they need to do is fill out a simple online survey at just describe the technology you’re working on, send us some links to demo or informational materials, and tell us why the City of Somerville would be a good customer or test case for the technology. Responses are due by the end of the day on Monday, Dec. 1.

MSNE: What will Somerville do with the information submitted through the survey?

Mayor Curtatone: The information we get will be used to shape a new Green Tech Program that we’ll detail early next year as part of our goal to become carbon neutral by 2050. We know our carbon neutral goal is ambitious and that it will take some smart, outside-the-box innovations to help get us there. We hope this program will help us make progress toward that goal, while also supporting emerging green tech companies. We’re interested in doing social good and creating profitable, sustainable economies—those two goals aren’t mutually exclusive, they are interdependent.

MNE: Why shoot for carbon neutrality by 2050?

Mayor Curtatone: Sustainability and environmental stewardship are deeply held values of this community, and anyone paying honest attention to climate change and the state of national politics knows three things: we don’t have time to waste, we must set ambitious goals if we truly aim to slow climate change, and cities must help lead the way if we are to succeed in these goals as a nation. We also are deeply aware of our responsibility to current and future generations in everything we do. These values are all codified in our 20-year comprehensive plan, SomerVision, which was created after two years of intensive community engagement. And in Somerville, we don’t consider community plans documents that should just gather dust. We act on them. We hope the green tech community will act with us on this effort too.


Looking Back: A Year of Civic Engagement in Boston

Cathy_WissinkIt feels like just yesterday that I arrived in Boston, having taken on a new role for the company at Microsoft New England. The loosely-defined role of “civic engagement” was not just new to me—it was a net-new role to the company and I was the first to take on this job. Where would the job go? Where would we focus? What could we accomplish?

A year in, it’s hard to imagine not having a civic engagement team in the city. There’s a thirst in the community to determine the role that technology can play in areas like education, citizen services, as well as government transparency and efficiency. At the same point, it’s been crucial to thoughtfully consider all potential solutions to civic challenges, which may—or may not—include a technology option.

You may recall from our introductory post announcing the MIPC-NE and my role that we had three goals:

  • Connecting the region’s tech/business/academic/government stakeholders in ways that complement and extend the work of others;
  • Catalyzing important technology and public policy discussions about issues that have a direct impact on this region’s economy; and
  • Contributing more directly to the health and vitality of the local technology community and broader regional economic development opportunities.

We’ve kept busy this last year, trying to remain true to the “three C’s”, as the team calls them. To that end, here are some highlights of our work:

CodeAcross 2014 with Code for Boston

(L-R) Ken Chan (Microsoft), Sam Berg, Jared Kirschner, Fatima Sarah Khalid (Microsoft), and Andrew Arace at HubHacks!

  • We were also asked to contribute to a number of events demonstrating Microsoft’s role—and responsibilities—at the intersection of technology, business and policy, including:
  • Participating in District Hall’s Innovation and the City event as an “anchor institution”.

Our own Cathy Wissink (second from the left) spoke on a panel about anchor organizations at Innovation and the City.

TEALS helps CRLS expand CS offerings.

With all this work, we’ve been fortunate to partner with a great number of organizations, government entities and individuals during this year, all of whom share a desire to make this a great place to live, work and connect.

What’s next for the Civic Engagement team in Boston? We’ll continue to stock of what we’ve done, what worked (and didn’t); we’ll keep the conversation going with our constituents and partners to see where Microsoft can best contribute, and we’ll keep you involved as well. Thank you for your engagement and feedback—we look forward to the next year!

A Conversation on Civic Tech: Urban Infrastructures for Public Health


In October, Microsoft was honored to host the second annual Hacking Pediatrics event. The range of innovative ideas that came out of the event was inspiring: from end-to-end childhood vaccine management to accurate, rapid fabrication of custom tracheostomy tubes for children to better ways to manage asthma and monitor use of inhalers. How can we apply the creativity, collaboration and innovation that all come together at a hackathon to public health?

While data and technology play a key role in tracking the flu and assisting collaboration among researchers and physicians, technology can also be a useful tool in driving wellness and even economic growth in Boston. Hosted by Microsoft’s Innovation & Policy Center – New England and the Venture Café Foundation at District Hall on December 3 (5:30PM – 7:30PM), this conversation on civic technology aims to explore how a city can take an innovative look at public health.

At the fourth in the series of conversations on civic tech, we plan to address the following issues:

  • What role does public health play in the innovation economy in Boston through job creation and industry innovation?
  • How can collection and analysis of data improve services for citizens and patients?
  • What technology exists today to collect, analyze or visualize public health data? And what other technologies do we need?
  • How does city infrastructure – signage and bike paths – enable public health and wellness?

We are bringing together people from various parts of the public and private communities to spark the conversation and then invite the attendees to engage in the discussion. Panelists include:

  • Maia Majumder, Engineering Systems PhD Student – MIT & Computational Epidemiology Research Fellow –
  • Dr. Snehal Shah, Director of Research and Evaluation – Boston Public Health Commission & Pediatrician – Boston Medical Center
  • Ann Polaneczky, Project Engineer & Project Manager, Hopital Universitaire de Mirebalais, Haiti – Partners in Health
  • Dr. Anne Lusk, Research Scientist – Harvard School of Public Health
  • Nicole Fichera, General Manager – District Hall (moderator)

Register today!

Our Takeaways from Innovation and the City

Our own Cathy Wissink (second from the left) spoke at Innovation and the City.

Our own Cathy Wissink (second from the left) spoke on a panel about anchor organizations at Innovation and the City.

There’s a lot of talk today about “innovative cities”. But what exactly are they? What are the qualities of an innovative city? How can those qualities be reproduced in other cities? And how does a city ensure that everyone in the community benefits from that innovation and economic benefit?

These questions drove the Venture Café Foundation to host the Second Innovation and the City Conference last week at District Hall. The event convened scholars, policy makers, and practitioners to discuss the strategies, opportunities and drawbacks associated with innovation-based urban economic development, and included participants from numerous cities, including Boston, Detroit, St. Louis and Milwaukee, among others. I was honored to participate in the event for a second time, and also had the pleasure of participating in the panel on anchor organizations.

Given the diversity of participants and opinions, as well as the common goal of understanding innovative cities, there was energetic discussion during the panels, from the audience, and during the breaks. There’s no definitive path to creating an innovative city, since so much depends on the community make up, history, civic participation and finances of a given city, but there were overarching themes that emerged over the day and a half:

  1. Innovation in a city requires openness. This can be translated a number of ways, but as I noted during my panel, it boils down to ensuring the system—whether that’s a city or another institution—has the ability to take in new ideas and integrate them into their innovation model.
  2. Innovation also requires diversity. This means inclusiveness across the community as well as diversity of approach, organizations, policies and community engagement.
  3. Organizations who want to be part of the innovation conversation need to be an engaged element of the community. It’s not enough to do this work remotely, or halfway.
  4. Education is the foundation to an innovative city. Time and again, panelists and audience members noted that without an educational system equipped to foster critical thinking and skills development necessary for an innovative economy, other tactics would only bring a city so far along the innovation spectrum.
  5. Sharing best practices is key. While each city will vary in how it tackles the innovation question due to its unique makeup, there is much to be learned from the range of civic stakeholders who drive this in their respective cities.

I came away energized by the thoughtful and passionate discussions I had individually, as well as within the panels. Congratulations to the Venture Café Foundation for convening and catalyzing such a crucial discussion.

Kendall Square EatUp Celebrates Eating Local

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The Microsoft New England team can’t wait to attend the Kendall Square Association’s Kendall Square EatUp tonight! Featuring bites from more than 25 of our favorite restaurants and neighbors in Kendall Square, tonight promises to bring together all kinds of good food and good people in celebration of eating local.

And beyond that, ticket sales are going directly to the Kendall Square Association, to help support their mission of improving, protecting, and promoting Kendall Square. Now that’s a cause we will always get behind!

Tickets include:

  • Unlimited food and beverage samplings from Cambridge’s best kitchens.
  • Live cooking demos from Chef William Kovel (Catalyst) and Chef Michael Leviton (Area Four) and the chefs at West Bridge.
  • “The Science of Food” with interactive demos and exhibits, including a cheese making demo from Fiore di Nonno, edible cocktails and a demo on spherification from Gelology, a pepper eating contest with MexiCali Burrito Co., bee culture with Follow the Honey, and app-controlled mini-farm pods with Grove Labs.

Some of the participating Kendall Square restaurants include:

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A big thank you to the Kendall Square Association for organizing such a special event, and for all that you do for our neighborhood. We’ll see you there tonight!

Tickets are available for tonight’s event here:

United Way’s Skype Surprise of a Lifetime


In the offices of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, it was whispered about, hoped for, tantalized—but none of us could ever see a way to do it. How could we capture the moment.

Every year, United Way gives out Marian L. Heard Scholarships to a selection of incoming college students from Boston, through the Merrimack Valley. The scholarship money is pivotal for these kids, most of whom are the first in their family to go to college. It’s a big deal and we always hear after-the-fact that the recipients go crazy when they learn they get the scholarship. (As an added benefit, MLH scholars are matched with e-coaches, community volunteers who offer guidance and encouragement through the students’ new college experience.) That was the moment.

How could we find a way to see these kids’ reactions in real-time? That was the Golden Ticket. Some ideas included conference calls and a Publisher’s Clearinghouse-like door-to-door surprise, but were quickly dismissed because of either lack of emotional heft or logistical impossibility.

Finally the solution presented itself: Skype. And that led us to our pals at Microsoft New England. After a flurry of emails, a plan crystallized: we would tell the scholarship candidates they needed to Skype us for one final round of interviews before a decision could be made. Then, we’d drop the shocker on them, that they had actually already been selected for the scholarship.

Granted, this bit of subterfuge may have been stressful for the scholars, but we were confident the payoff would be worth it. And it was. You couldn’t script this stuff any better. Through the course of the afternoon, United Way staff, set up expertly in one of the NERD Center conference rooms dialed up the students, built up the suspense then hit them with some of the best news of their young lives. Reactions varied from boisterous laughter to stunned disbelief to grateful weeping. But, we won’t spoil it for you. Take a peek at the video and see for yourself.

So big thanks to the NERD Center (and super-tech Kevin McPherson in particular) for setting up the conferences and processing the video footage. What came out of that room that day was an experience no one will forget.

More Than Words: A Look at the Many Accessible Technologies at the UMass Amherst Public Library

UMass copy

You may know that the University of Massachusetts Amherst has a public library. What you probably don’t know is all of the forward-thinking technological gems inside.

“UMass culture is about trying new things and taking risks,” Carol Connare, Director of Library Development & Communication told Microsoft New England. “Academic libraries are really changing.”

Ethnographic studies have been conducted in the Learning Commons to better understand how the library can serve all users. New microclimate test areas with modular mobile seating, and moveable writing surfaces “help us better understand how we can foster innovative thinking.”

Hundreds of public computers are readily available to be used for free by students and visitors alike, 24 hours a day during the semester. The publicly accessible computers are another core focus of UMass for their library, part of their “open access movement.”

The accessibility of technology is a big issue these days. How can we fight for a “level playing field” in an area where some don’t even have the means to participate?

“We want students as well as visitors to have access to as many things as possible,” Connare said. “This is what open, collaborative learning looks like.”

This is why one of Microsoft New England’s software grants this year went to the UMass public library, allowing for more than 200 publicly accessible computers to be outfitted with the latest Microsoft technology. All users can access the university’s vast store of print and digital resources in an integrated information environment, a place where there’s free access to technology and where reference librarians still personally answer questions and guide research.

“How do you embed technology in the space where users can make the most out of it?” Connare said this is the motivating quest behind how the library uses the grants. “They are a generous gift that keeps state-of-the-art things alive for the library.”

Staff Spotlight: Nana Essilfie-Conduah

Nana Essilfie-ConduahNameNana Essilfie-Conduah

Hometown: London, England

Job: Software Development Engineer in Test (SDET) – Enterprise Client (Windows Intune) – IW Portal

Years at Microsoft: 1

Favorite restaurant in the Boston area: Fire & Ice

Last thing you Binged: Cortana vs Siri

Something cool you’ve worked on recently: The Intune IW Portal mobile redesign. The portal serves as the web UI and probably the main face that the average Intune customer will interact with. It’s pretty cool, as through the portal users manage their software and devices regardless of which device they access it from.

What inspires you about technology? The ability to take huge problems and visions and make them more easily comprehendible and visualized by the average person. Take simulations and graphical prototyping used in engineering, they go a long way to moving a thought from concept to ready for design or even implementation. Simulations that employ UI’s blow me away personally; the data visually does the speaking for you.

Related Reading: How Microsoft’s Cambridge team helped shape Siri-competitor Cortana via Boston Business Journal

KSA Third Thursday: STEAM Expo with Microsoft

STEAMMicrosoft is pleased to be hosting the Kendall Square Association’s Third Thursday event tonight, June 19. In partnership with the Cambridge Expanded Learning (EL) STEAM Network, Microsoft New England and the Kendall Square Association will bring people and providers together to collaborate efforts to increase STEAM opportunities for Cambridge youth.  If you’re curious about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math) and want to explore what Microsoft is doing, this is an event that you don’t want to miss.

Register for this free event today:

We hope you will join us for an evening of hands-on STEAM activities, displays, and experiments. The following local STEAM organizations will all have booths at the event tonight:

MIT Museum
Through interactive exhibitions, public programs, experimental projects and its renown collections, the MIT Museum showcases the fascinating world of MIT, and inspires people of all ages about the possibilities and opportunities offered by science and technology.

Science Club for Girls
Serving girls in grades K-12 in out-of-school time programming, Science Club for Girls  (SCFG) fosters excitement, confidence and literacy in STEM for girls, particularly from underrepresented communities, by providing free, experiential programs. All programs are run by volunteer mentor scientists who are studying/working in STEM fields and are supported by a dedicated team of SCFG employees.

Mass BioEd Foundation
The Massachusetts Biotechnology Education Foundation (MassBioEd Foundation), founded in 2001, is a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to cultivating the scientific leaders of tomorrow by supporting science and biotechnology education in Massachusetts through school programs, workforce training, and lifelong learning. MassBioEd Foundation’s signature BioTeach program brings cutting-edge biotechnology curriculum, student career exploration experiences, grants for school lab equipment, and teacher professional development and mentorship to 201 high schools across the Commonwealth.

Cambridge Creativity Commons
The mission of CCC is to  engage Cambridge Public School students and teachers in developing their imagination and creativity across disciplines to enrich aesthetic understanding and activate joy of learning through innovative arts-based projects. We are currently shifting our focus to more interdisciplinary projects involving art, technology and science.

3 Not-To-Miss Events This Week at Microsoft New England

With great weather comes great responsibility – to get outside and walk to cool events!

Here are three not to miss this week:

13740838001) Communicating Science (ComSciCon) Workshop 2014 
Thursday, June 12 – Saturday, June 14
Twitter: @ComSciCon

The Communicating Science (ComSciCon) workshop is an opportunity for graduate students in STEM fields from around the country to focus on writing, pedagogy, and visualization skills so they can communicate their work to diverse audiences.  The students join with renowned experts from the worlds of journalism, education, theatre, and more for three days of panel sessions, discussion sessions, and writing workshops.  Our goal is to empower all young scientists and engineers to serve as ambassadors for their field.

ComSciCon is supported by Harvard University, MIT, and the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center.

bigdata2) Microsoft Cognitive Computing
Thursday, June 12, 6:30 – 8:30pm
Twitter: @bostonazure @MSNewEngland

Hi Microsoft Cognitive Computers (MCC),

IBM with Watson and BlueMix has taken the lead in Cognitive Computing (CC). Our goal, as Microsoft experts, is to catch up. This is our first meeting. The room is limited to 40 people and sign-ups will be on a first-quality-come basis. You must pre-register. You must be technical talented.

This is a very, very technical meeting. We are looking for a group to develop an open-source alternative to Watson. Some call this Watson Jr. I prefer to call it Gates.

You must be a programmer to attend. You should have a working knowledge of cognition, NLP, Data Analytics, AI, Decision Support, Adaptive Pages, etc. This task will not be easy. The universal cognitive algorithm is elusive.

CC is coming. It is the next step beyond Big Data. Think of it as “applied Big Data.”

If you believe that applications will become more “cognitive” in the future, come join in our collective efforts to create an open source solution. The goal is to make it better than the Watson BlueMix offering.

I hope to see a great deal of technical CC talent show up!

GLEAM_Twitter_Picture3) 2014 Boston Pride Parade
Saturday, June 14, 11:00am
Twitter: @bostonpride

Did you know that Microsoft is one of the first companies in the world to have offered employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners and to include sexual orientation in its corporate nondiscrimination policy? Our Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft (GLEAM) team will be representing at the Boston Pride Parade this weekend!

Via our own Joe Shapiro: “We’re really excited that GLEAM is aligning with the spirit of One Microsoft this year, making Pride a global effort. Our hope is to transition “Pride” from being an event to being an ongoing celebration of diversity & inclusion. For Boston, expect fun and swag with the usual suspects. Also expect a Spartan appearance. Is anyone else thinking #spartanselfie? Yes we did.”

GLEAM launch of Honestly Me – starting now, check out to see a photo reach site with stories and bios of Microsoft GLEAM members.  They will be creating opportunities for you to pariticipate in this site moving forward.  Make sure to keep your eyes pilled for some of the interesting ways the GLEAM team is marketing this around Cambridge!