Governor’s Life Sciences Focus Will Benefit the Bay State

Governor Deval Patrick has had a few solid wins of late. At the risk of sounding partisan, the Governor’s varying initiatives to create new jobs is good news for all Massachusetts residents. Whether he’s rallying the clean/green sector through the Green Communities Act, encouraging the growth of the Bay State robotics industry or pushing big data as the next Massachusetts IT sector, his various initiatives to help the local economy recover are encouraging.

Last week the Governor attended the grand opening of a new Thermo Fisher Scientific Center for Excellence in Tewksbury. The facility promises to add another 100 jobs in research, development and manufacturing over the next five years. The Tewksbury ribbon-cutting ceremony marks another event in a series of announcements preceding this week’s BIO International Convention at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

Back in 2008, the Governor inked a 10-year, $1 billion investment package designed to spur research, investment, innovation and commercialization in the Bay State’s life sciences industry. Apparently it’s working: The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council reports that R&D jobs in Massachusetts increased from 46,380 in 2008 to 48,647 in 2010. The biopharma sector has seen more than 52 percent job growth since 2001, and statewide more than 80,000 employees currently work in life sciences or related industries.

Many experts believe that number will increase as more companies—especially European-based biotechnology and life science players--set up local operations in Massachusetts. In fact, “at least 15 companies from Europe have set up shop or expanded operations in the Bay State over the past four years,” according to a recent article in the Boston Globe.

No matter how you cut it, this is great news for Bay State businesses, consumers and job seekers. Keep up the great work, Governor.

Barbara Call is director of content at Greenough.

A Robot in Every Home

The South Korean government has a lofty goal—it wants to put a robot in every house by 2020. As part of this grand high-tech plan, which is designed, in part, to protect South Korea’s economy for the future, the Government is considering investing hundreds of millions of dollars to build a robotics innovation center in one of three locations: Massachusetts, Georgia or the west coast. If the South Korean Government selects the Bay State (timing TBD), the upside would be huge—an enormous influx of capital would help drive local robotics innovation and product development, two activities that are already happening in at least two universities (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Worcester Polytechnic Institute) as well as at dozens of startups around New England.

Equally important is the impact such a visionary investment would have on creating jobs.

While traditional New England manufacturing operations for such industries as shoes and toys has moved offshore, advanced manufacturing, which the robotics industry requires, creates new, high-paying jobs. In fact, advanced manufacturing is the fourth largest employer in the Bay State, according to Ted Acworth, founder and CEO of Artiac, speaking at a recent Robotics Cluster gathering sponsored by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council.

Earlier this spring executives from several local robotics companies and state legislators hosted a South Korean delegation in order to “pitch” the Bay State as the perfect location for the new center; next month delegates and legislators are expected to dine with executives from local robotics companies in order to continue the conversation.

It goes without saying that all robotics companies in and around Massachusetts, from HydroidiRobot and Harvest Automation to Symbiotic and Heartland Robotics, stand to benefit from this potential development, as does our economy (new high-paying jobs equals stronger local economy).

Naturally I hope the South Korean Government selects the Bay State for its new center. And I encourage everyone—at robotics companies or otherwise—to get involved, if you can, with whatever it takes to win this prize. But at the end of the day, even if the South Koreans decide to build elsewhere, the new attention on the topic of robotics will only help fertilize this budding business. Layer in Amazon.com’s recent purchase of Kiva Systems for $775 million and I believe we’re sitting on a rocket ship that’s about to take off. And yes—I can see robots driving that rocketship to Mars and beyond, can’t you?

Barbara Call is director of content at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter @BarbaraCall1

The Consumerization of Clean Energy

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Have you noticed that really cool (and occasionally humorous) applications for renewable energy—designed with you, the consumer, in mind—are popping up all over?

This is great for the renewable energy industry, and my reasoning is simple.  The greater the number of cool or laugh-out-loud energy-related products being developed and marketed, the better the chance that “renewable energy” (or some other, consumer-friendly version of that catch phrase) will become a common household term. And you know as well as I do that once a concept enters the mainstream conscience, the better the potential for the concept to take off.  When that happens, many companies in the field of renewable energy, from solar to biogas, wind and more, should prosper. But let’s get back to the hip and funny stuff.  You may have already seen these inventions, but I thought all of them were pretty cool:

  • A company called Green Revolution has built a stationary bike that converts the energy produced during spin class into electricity. The bikes are hooked up to generators that are ultimately connected to an electrical panel. Green Revolution estimates a rider can produce 70 to 130 watts of renewable energy during a typical class. Now the only question is when can I buy that bike for my own use?
  • I recently discovered Nate Garvis’ blog, Naked Civics. (No, it’s not that kind of naked. Read on.) Garvis recently wrote about what could be the perfect marriage of fashion and science: Clothes that reduce the gasses in the air that contribute to climate change. Yes, that’s right—this line of clothing is “catalysed, or coated with particles that purify the air,” Garvis writes. And while you might not wear this dress to work anytime soon, you’ve got to admit the style is pretty cool.
  • Garvis also blogged about Power Felt, a cool (or should I say hot?) concept designed by students at Wake Forest University’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials. Power Felt turns the heat generated by human touch into electricity. “…imagine an electric car that is powered by your derrière and Power Felt. Now that puts a whole new meaning to being in the hot seat, doesn’t it?” Garvis writes.
  • Cruising around Coolest Gadgets, I discovered two gems—one with very real life-changing application and one that is kind of trivial, but both pretty interesting in their own ways. The We Care Solar Suitcase, produced by We Care Solar, is a solar-based, portable power unit that delivers lighting and power for cell phones, computers or medical devices to health workers in locations without reliable electricity.  Think remote areas of the world—and here’s an innovation that can help people stay healthy (and probably save lives). It might seem silly to mention innovative medical equipment in the same breath as the Jubilee Solar Queen, but this purple lady demonstrates that solar panels can also power campy dashboard ornaments. The miniature solar panels that power the Queen’s waving hand are tucked, out of sight, in her handbag. I love it!

As I stated earlier, I think the “cool” (or funny) factor can play a role in bringing renewable energy, in whatever form it takes, to the forefront of people’s minds. From there the logic is simple: The more familiar the technology, the sooner it’ll become second nature. The sooner it becomes second nature, the more the renewable energy industry will grow—and take off. What cool gadgets and applications have you seen lately?

Barbara Call is Director of Content for Greenough. Follow her on Twitter @BarbaraCall1

A Case of Consumers Trusting Consumers

Anxiety anyone?  Today's marketers are staring in the face of more than 300 million actively, socially engaged consumers.  They can no longer afford to ignore the voice of the individual or the collective voice of the crowd.  In fact, peer-to-peer reviews and recommendations - now more than ever - play a vital role in how a brand is, well... branded.

The most recent Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey gathered data from 25,000 consumers from 50 countries.  Nielsen reported that 90 percent of respondents said they trust recommendations from people they know; another  70 percent of consumers are said to trust consumer opinions posted online.  Over the years, “this consumers' reliance on word of mouth in the decision-making process, either from people they know or online consumers they don't, has increased significantly."

Consumer reviews are very simply a form of social media.  And yet, everyday we hear that companies are still fearful of opening up their brand to consumer-generated content for fear of negative feedback.  Thus, they're leaving the opportunity to connect on the table.  Is the fear justified?  What impact do negative reviews really have on a brand?

The recent article, "Even bad reviews boost sales,” argues that negative reviews can actually be good for a brand.  The author asserts that allowing good and bad customer reviews to live on a brand's Web site is valuable to marketers.  It allows consumers to interact with one another and provides a venue for collecting honest feedback that can be woven into product development.  Sounds like free market research to me.

Consumer-to-consumer reviews are even said to be more effective than traditional advertising in boosting brand trust.  Think about this for a minute.  Advertisers are clearly biased.  No company would pay for ad space that says, "this product would be great if only..."  When you're on the other side, however, interacting as a consumer vs. a marketer, that's exactly what you want - the honest truth about what you can expect from the brand, the company and the product. 

I'll be watching closely as brands and consumers approach this year's holiday season.  Which companies will embrace my feedback and which will shy aware in fear?  What do you think?  Are you more willing to purchase a brand after reading consumer reviews, or do you trust the marketer's slant?

- Contributed by Chantal LeBoulch.  Follow her @cleboulch