At Metcalfe’s Party for MIT $100K Finalists, a Preview of Startups Presenting at Tonight’s Finale

It was high society meets tech entrepreneurship last night. The setting: Bob Metcalfe’s townhouse in the Back Bay. The occasion: an annual reception and dinner before the finale of the MIT $100K Business Plan Contest, which takes place tonight at Kresge Auditorium. The players: all the finalists and event organizers, plus a few venture capitalists from Polaris Venture Partners, and other guests.

This year’s gathering marked the end of an era. That’s because, as you probably know, Metcalfe the VC and inventor—that’s Professor Metcalfe now—has moved to Texas as a faculty member at UT Austin and will probably sell his Beacon Street home. Which raises the question of where this stellar event will take place in future years. But let’s not worry about that just yet.

Metcalfe, dressed fashionably in a jacket, tie, and sneakers, greeted each guest at the door, and posed for pictures with $100K finalists and organizers (including Kourosh Kaghazian) throughout the evening. As an aside, one finalist said to me, “How do you ‘invent’ the Ethernet? Do you just decide one day you’re going to do it?” (I had to admit it was a good question.)

Each of the six teams gave a quick pitch from the staircase above the first-floor landing. As usual, it was an impressive array of businesses spanning high-tech, social tech, life sciences, cleantech, and energy.

William Sanchez from CoolChip Technologies (which won the $200K MIT Clean Energy Prize earlier this week) talked about developing more efficient heat sinks to save energy in data centers. David Jia from Upkast described his company’s virtual file system for managing your data from Facebook, Flickr, Google Docs, work drives, laptop, and personal devices, all on a unified Web interface. Lindsay Stradley and David Auerbach told the story of Sanergy, which is building low-cost toilets and sanitation systems, starting in Kenya, to collect waste and convert it to fertilizer and electricity.

Auerbach had the sound bite of the night: “Join us as we turn shit into gold.”

Next up, Anand Dass talked about Green Logistics (winner of the MIT Elevator Pitch Contest last fall), which plans to make special air-shipping containers that are lighter than conventional containers and collapsible, so as to save a bundle on jet fuel. Matt Hirsch and Vikram Anreddy introduced Sensactive, which is designing a 3-D gesture interface for mobile devices. (Best application: pulling the slingshot out of the screen in Angry Birds.) And Heather Kline from Zinaura Pharmaceuticals talked about her company’s drug candidate for epilepsy and pain treatment, which she says targets new seizure pathways without causing toxicity, addiction, sedation, or cognitive impairment.

Whew, that’s a very wide-ranging set of ideas. But over drinks and dinner, I got to know … Next Page »

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