The Hippo


Apr 22, 2019








The team behind Awato at Manchester’s Alpha Loft business incubator. Courtesy photo.

State of innovation

New Hampshire High Tech Council Executive Director Matt Cookson said there are a number of factors that make the Granite State a great place to innovate and discover new game-changers. 
One condition that breeds more innovators is that New Hampshire’s economy is made up mostly of small businesses.
“The end result is people need to wear a lot of hats and that creates innovation right there,” Cookson said.
And the startup scene has a lot of serial entrepreneurs who have a lot of experience with taking risks and innovating. They stay here for the quality of life and for how easy it is to network.
“It’s very easy to get to know your political leaders, even the governor, our U.S. senators,” Cookson said.
He recalled a recent situation where a startup working on a prototype that is tangentially related to energy was able to get a meeting with a major energy company CEO just by reaching out on LinkedIn.
Cookson said a relatively unregulated business climate and a tight-knit group of entrepreneurs have led to the creation of tech hubs in the Manchester and Seacoast areas and the tech culture in those hubs is getting stronger.
“I think it is blossoming. There’s a great recognition that tech drives the economy,” Cookson said.
The struggle in the state’s tech sector right now is shared by the economy at large; a workforce shortage and a brain drain to other states like Massachusetts.
“That’s what threatens our growth now. And that means taking a proactive approach and not just waiting for people to come here,” Cookson said.

The Next Big Thing
12 Fascinating innovations created in NH

By Ryan Lessard

There are countless cutting-edge startups and inventions developed in the Granite State. Here are a few that may help the environment, protect the vulnerable and broaden human understanding of the natural universe. 

LinkAlign-60EBP — more mobile data
There’s a wireless frequency that could open up a whole lot more cell data bandwidth and provide incredible speeds. Engineers have known about it for about a decade but haven’t been able to use it on cell towers to transmit over large distances because of the physical limitations involved — until now. The E-band frequency (between 70 and 80 gigahertz) presents opportunities and challenges in equal measure, but Milford-based NextMove Technologies found a way to overcome those challenges to create the opportunities.  
VP of Business Development Ben Brown said the company has specialized in creating microwave transmitters — which look like convex dishes — for cell towers that can pivot and point to a line-of-sight target remotely (and even automatically self-correct when they fall out of alignment) since 2008, but their transmitters were always for traditional lower frequencies. That solved the problem of needing to send a tech climbing up a tower or using a bucket truck to manually adjust where the transmitters are pointed. But a client asked if they could do something that hadn’t been done before: make an E-band transmitter using the same remote alignment technology.  
The reason it was so hard was the narrowness of the beam. An E-band microwave is as narrow as the tip of a pencil, and since microwave beams use line of sight, that pencil-thin beam needs to land on a target miles away that’s the size of a pencil sharpener. Getting it set up like that in the first place isn’t the hard part. It’s been done before.
Keeping it steady is where things get tricky. When a microwave transmitter is installed on a tower, things like wind and the heat of the day expanding the tower’s metal can drift the beam off its target. 
Enter the LinkAlign-60EBP, which was a finalist in this year’s NH High Tech Council Product of the Year competition. EBP stands for E-band positioner.
“It was solving a specific problem, which was thermal expansion on cellular monopoles,” Brown said.
Brown said it’s almost like hiring a guy to sit up at the top of a tower 24/7 and constantly nudge the beam to its target as needed.
What’s so great about microwave beams and cell towers, you ask? Three words: more mobile data. Brown said E-band is the fiber optic cable of radio frequency signals. In fact, Brown said it’s better than fiber optics because it’s a direct path from A to B. And its narrowness provides other benefits as well.
“It’s so narrow that it has less probability of intercept, less probability of detection and less probability of interference,” Brown said. 
Not only would this provide faster speeds (10 gigabits per second!), but it could also help to stave off a looming data apocalypse as the growth of new data is expected to exceed the capacity allowed by modern technology.
“That’s the whole idea for this,” Brown said.
So far, this tech is only being applied in private networks by international financial firms and the like. There are about 100 links in cities like Chicago, London and New York. 
Patriot 5510  — life support gear
Using today’s first-responder gear, police officers, firemen or members of the armed forces might not have enough time to enter a hazardous environment and complete a mission. But the life support gear known as the Scott Hybrid Patriot 5510, developed by Wilcox in Newington, has the versatility to prepare soldiers and rescue personnel for almost any situation and can shift modes easily during the course of a mission.
Specifically, it offers respiratory options for some of the most dangerous environments, referred to as CBRN environments (places with chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear threats).
The system includes four alternate modes; a basic gas mask filter, a powered gas mask with an air pump, a compressed air breathing tank and a system that replaces the tank with air fed through a hose from a remote location.
“There is no other system to compare it to,” said Wilcox project manager Tim West.
The ability to switch between the various modes with ease is no small feat. Now, if a time-sensitive mission requires life support equipment like this, soldiers can add precious minutes to available air pressure from a breathing tank by keeping it off and switching to the gas mask during the walks in and out of a hazardous zone.  
First responders can even attach a modification that replaces one of the two air tanks with pure oxygen to fuel a cutting torch.
“I can be down there cutting and breathing at the same time on the same system,” West said.
This is an evolutionary upgrade from a legacy version of the equipment Wilcox released after the 9/11 attacks. Not only is the ease of switching modes new; the development team partnered with Scott Safety, an industry leader in life support systems for firefighter gear and the like, to streamline the system and added Bluetooth technology that monitors the equipment’s air levels, location and environmental sensors.
Those sensors can read the nature of dangerous gasses in the air and wind speeds. Using that data, authorities can better organize relief and evacuation efforts by avoiding the contaminated areas. 
The Patriot 5510 won the NH High Tech Council’s 2016 Product of the Year award.
LUKE Arm — high-tech prosthetic 
The range of motion and grip power and an innovative array of customizable controls make the LUKE Arm, developed by DEKA Research & Development Corp., a generational shift in how prosthetic arms can change people’s lives. 
According to project manager Tom Doyon, LUKE is officially an acronym that stands for Life Under Kinetic Evolution, but the moniker owes its origin to a less formal nickname the engineers gave the project that references Luke Skywalker’s robotic hand in Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back.
The prosthetic arm comes in three different configurations for right and left arms. They include a radial configuration for people who have elbows, humeral configurations for people who have part of their upper arm and no elbow and a shoulder configuration for people missing an entire arm. For each configuration, prosthetists will be able to customize the size and length for the individual. 
One of the things that makes the arm such a game-changer is its 10 powered degrees of freedom, two of which are in the shoulder.
“It has a powered shoulder that has two degrees of freedom. There’s no powered shoulders currently available for somebody who is losing their entire arm,” Doyon said.
The arm’s wrist flex motion is also an industry first since most robotic prosthetics can only rotate wrists.
All of this allows a user to do things like reach over their head around their back, lift groceries from the ground to the table or hold a glass of water overhead or at waist level without spilling it.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the arm for commercial use in 2014, saying in a press release that it “may allow some people to perform more complex tasks than they can with current prostheses in a way that more closely resembles the natural motion of the arm.” 
Doyon said it also comes with a grip-force feedback system that uses hand sensors and a vibrating warning system so users know when they might be squeezing something too hard.
The controls are also revolutionary. Doyon said the arm uses a combination of traditional bioelectric inputs and a new control system users can wear at their feet called an Inertial Measurement Unit. That makes the arm the first prosthetic arm to translate signals from a person’s muscles to perform tasks, including complex tasks.
The arm is water- and dust-resistant and comes with a long-lasting lithium ion battery.
The LUKE Arm is set to enter the marketplace fairly soon. It will be sold by DEKA-affiliated company Mobius Bionics and retailed by prosthetic shops like NextStep Bionics in Manchester, which DEKA consulted on the arm’s design.
“We are in the final stages of transitioning it to the commercial market,” Doyon said. 
Plexxi Switch/Control — internet data manager
Nashua-based Plexxi Inc. won the 2015 Product of the Year for the revolutionary way it helps manage data on the internet and private wide area networks. It involves three parts: the first is the hardware component known as the Plexxi Switch 2, the second is the software called Plexxi Control and the third is a software platform that enables it to integrate into any other platform, Plexxi Connect. Think of that last part as a sort of universal translator. 
Mike Welts, Plexxi’s VP of marketing, likes to use an analogy comparing internet traffic to highway traffic. In a sense, what Plexxi does is similar to what the Waze app does for commuters. It identifies traffic jams and helps to redirect traffic or widen lanes when needed so nothing gets slowed down. 
It’s also unique in the way it allows different kinds of data to share the same virtual road space. Every other network and data platform provider essentially segregates each kind of data into its own network. 
Not so with Plexxi’s system. Imagine lanes for different sizes of cars, a bike lane, a pedestrian lane, a motorcycle lane and a 16-wheeler lane all sharing the same highway. It’s way more efficient and way faster.
“It’s very unique. In fact, it’s pretty disruptive, which has been part of the challenge,” Welts said.
A network Plexxi set up in Wall Street takes up a few racks in a conference room and connects five continents. The same amount of data flowing over the same distances at the same speeds would nomally require hundreds of racks in multiple data centers.
Welts said that their product, which received millions in investment capital from GV (formerly Google Ventures) in January, will go a long way toward modernizing an outdated data infrastructure at a time when we need it more than ever.
“Data is growing exponentially. It’s out of control … and there’s no way that the legacy infrastructure can support the amount of data that’s out there now,” Welts said.
He said the future of data storage is in code, algorithms and cloud computing and is less reliant on the physical circuitry. This is another way to help the internet work smart, not hard.
Amazing Curb Climber — a better walker
What do you do when you’re a grade-schooler with cerebral palsy who has trouble getting your walker to traverse a simple curb? Invent a better walker, of course. 
Sadie McCallum, 10, of Weare, did just that when she devised a new and improved walker with her little sister and co-inventor Claire, 6, and some material and construction help from her parents, according to mother Miriam McCallum.
“They work together really well,” McCallum said of her daughters.
The walker works by having three wheels on each of the front legs on a rotating axis, so Sadie and other walker users can push the walker against the edge of a curb and roll to the upper level with ease.
Sadie was encouraged by a teacher to participate in the school’s invention convention, organized by the Concord-based Academy of Applied Science. She was just 7 years old when she came up with the basic idea for what would become the Amazing Curb Climber, but due to serious surgery one year and family travel plans the next, Sadie couldn’t participate in the convention until this year, when she unveiled her masterpiece. 
After placing in the school’s convention as a fourth-grader at the Center Woods Elementary School in Weare, Sadie competed at the regional convention at Merrimack Valley High School on March 26, where 230 inventors from 41 schools across the state showcased their creations.
At the regional convention, Sadie won a number of awards, including the Microsoft Technology Award and the award for a Special Needs Invention. 
Miriam McCallum said when a doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital saw the presentation videos the girls made for the curb climber, he made sure they were highlighted on the hospital’s blog, which gained them enough media attention to make it on major newspapers, radio shows and, most recently, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
People can follow Sadie’s exploits on the public Facebook page Sadie’s Totally Awesome Cerebral Palsy Adventure.
Sadie is currently considering ways to improve the Amazing Curb Climber so it can be used to climb short sets of stairs. As for a future career, Miriam McCallum says Sadie’s chief interest right now is in becoming a writer or a librarian.
ChemiCube — chemical mixer
Matt Spettel was a high schooler in Merrimack when he invented the ChemiCube, a small, unassuming box with tubes sticking out and a few buttons on top. 
Spettel said he combined his interests in engineering and a project assignment for chemistry class to create something that promises to solve a problem that’s been plaguing chemistry classrooms and small laboratories for years: the inability to measure chemicals quickly and efficiently.
After a bit of trial and error, Spettel stumbled upon something that had only been available in expensive lab equipment before: accuracy in measurement and automation.
He describes the device as a peristaltic pumping system. With the push of a few buttons it can pump an exact amount of a liquid or mix a few liquids together at just the right ratio and amount.
“So a teacher can set up the three chemicals that you are using that day and then students can come by, press the buttons and get those three chemicals they need really fast, which is much more efficient than the current method,” Spettel said.
For now Spettel is focusing his new business on the classroom market, but he sees applications for small laboratories and even drink-mixing at some forward-looking high-tech watering holes. 
Earlier this summer Spettel won second place in the embedded systems category at the Intel International Science and Engineering Expo, earned $1,500 and got an asteroid named after him by MIT scientists. He also won the BizGen business pitch competition at UNH, a $4,500 award.
Spettel is currently a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Photocatalytic composite — solar water filter
As a high schooler in Nashua, Deepika Kurup was named 2016 TechStudent of the Year by the New Hampshire High Tech Council for developing “A Novel Photocatalytic Pervious Composite for Degrading Organics and Inactivating Bacteria in Wastewater,” as Kurup described it in a paper.
Its formal name is a mouthful, but essentially it’s a new, inexpensive method of cleaning water using solar power. And if it saves poor women in the developing world from spending their days carrying water from a village source to their home, the name deserves every syllable. Such menial tasks often preclude women from access to a basic education.
The central innovation, Kurup said in an email, was a composite she created that cleans water when it’s struck by sunlight. The composite is made of titanium dioxide and a type of cement. When light hits it, it creates highly reactive oxygen species (in the family of peroxide) that clean out bacteria and a variety of organic contaminants.
Some prototypes are built as a long clear tube that zig-zags back and forth on a plane, with tiny balls of the composite inside the tube. Others are simple clear canisters with the composite in the shape of a rod inside it.
Kurup was named to Forbes’ 2015 30 under 30 in Energy and received the $25,000 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Award for an early version of her invention while in high school. She also won the U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize in 2014.
Kurup is currently studying neurobiology as a sophomore at Harvard University.
Awato — career booster
Winner of the 2016 TechOut startup competition, Awato (pronounced ‘a way to’) boasts being the most sophisticated career assessment and matchmaking program around.
CEO and founder Matt Guruge said the online questionnaire can figure out more about a person in less time than other methods. 
“Our big innovation is we actually created a new way to assess people,” Guruge said. “We actually do 500 data points in 30 minutes.”
Users answer about 60 questions that work to figure out a person’s interests, values, emotional intelligence, motivations and personality type based on Myers-Briggs Type Indicators.
He said the learning artificial intelligence that makes the assessment process work behind the scenes is one of the most advanced around.
But they didn’t stop there. In order to ensure the second step, match-making, beats out the competition, they aimed high.
“We actually have the largest job database in the world for … career matching,” Guruge said.
After an assessment, it shows the user his top three career matches and then shows a full ranking with a list of 600 jobs.
Not only does it help people find new jobs; it also seeks to help them become happier in their current job by identifying areas in their personality that might rub up against or get suffocated by certain aspects of their work and suggesting ways to change their environment for the better.
Right now, folks can get a free assessment with the beta version at, but the final version will be going to market in the spring. It will be a business-to-business model, aiming initially for employers and colleges. The employer version of the web-based program includes the suggestions for making your current job happier, and the school version includes resume-building and step-by-step job-hunting guidelines.
Individuals will be able to pay $25 to $30 to use the program. Guruge said he hopes to eventually expand it to high schools to identify skills and interests early, and to unemployed and underemployed folks who need to train up in areas employers need.
Vitals SmartShopper — healthcare services shopper
This Bedford-based company is disrupting the healthcare marketplace by making the prices for procedures like mammograms transparent and paying people cash to get the procedure done at the better-value facilities. 
It takes some of the most basic tenets of capitalism — competition and efficiency — and introduces them into what has been a traditionally opaque and illogical health care industry. From one facility to the next, prices for MRIs, lab tests and surgeries can vary widely, but since insurance companies tend to pick up the tabs, patients have little to no incentive to even glance at the bill. And shopping around is either impossible, very difficult or pointless if your insurance covers it either way.
Now patients, insurers and employers can win by giving business to the most cost-effective medical facilities. Insurers can save thousands on certain procedures, and patients can earn cash incentives from $25 to $500, according to a company spokesperson.
Smartshopper started in New Hampshire as a program under Compass Healthcare Advisers, which was acquired by New Jersey-based Vitals in 2014. Now, the company helps 150 million people annually get access to information for higher-quality affordable healthcare. 
Assuming you have health insurance through a partnering provider like Anthem, through private or employer-provided insurance, you can shop around on the SmartShopper website ( and call up their customer service reps for assistance.
ValChoice — car insurance shopper
Described as a Carfax for insurance, ValChoice aims to achieve transparency in the automobile insurance market by digging through big piles of insurance data from each state to score insurers on price and payout, which vary from state to state. 
Founder and CEO Dan Karr of Bedford recently won $120,000 from the Microsoft BizSpark Plus award for his industry-disrupting startup, based in Manchester. Karr also participated in Alpha Loft’s Accelerator program.
Karr, a Silicon Valley veteran, got into this business after he became personally embroiled in the deep, dark world of the insurance business by getting hit by a car while riding a bike.
Between his health insurance and the other guy’s auto insurance, Karr was still on the hook for about $100,000 in medical expenses. Seeing a serious problem in the insurance market, Karr decided he needed to come up with a fix, so he brought his tech savvy to bear and started ValChoice.
uSafeNH — sexual assault app
One of the biggest research arms of the University of New Hampshire is sexual assault prevention. The Prevention Innovations Research Center is recognized internationally for coming up with some of the most groundbreaking prevention strategies, called “Bringing in the Bystander” strategies, and even received recognition from the White House for its work, according to Director of Research Sharyn Potter.
“We don’t launch satellites or break atoms or anything, but we account for 34 percent of the university’s licenses because of our research-based prevention strategies, which is pretty cool,” Potter said.
The flagship strategies produced by the PIRC, the training program “Bringing in the Bystander” and the social media campaign “Know Your Power” undergird a mobile app designed to help prevent sexual assault on college campuses and provide guidance to victims and their friends and families.
The app launched in 22 colleges in New Hampshire is called uSafeNH. Potter hopes to get the last few colleges in the state on board to reach a total of 26 by the end of the year.
Each of the seven original authors of the Bystander program earned a share of the royalty profits and each reinvested that money to lay the groundwork for building the app. 
The app’s creation was a collaboration with UNH Manchester’s computer science department, the state Attorney General’s office, the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and other organizations. 
The information that the app provides is based on which college the student is enrolled in or where the staff member is employed, as well as GPS data, and it connects the user to their local police department and social services if they are the victim of a sexual assault. There is a robust Frequently Asked Questions section and all the information in the app is specific to each university and part of the state.
“So it’s labor-intensive,” Potter said, referring to the work of collecting all the pertinent information for each college.
There’s also a feature on the app called “Expect Me” that enables users to notify friends of an estimated time of arrival at a certain location if they’re walking alone at night. If the user does not check in, the app automatically calls the friends.
Now, they’re working on expanding to other states like Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and Maine. 
“We’re calling it uSafeUS for now,” Potter said. “We’re hoping by next fall we’ll be helping a significant amount of the Eastern Seaboard. And then, once we get that going, we’ll move west.”
Colleges out of state will pay a nominal fee for the app, while students will not pay anything and it will remain free in New Hampshire.
In separate ventures, PIRC is also piloting a sexual violence prevention video game and a Bystander program for high schoolers. 
Space weather — satellite equipment
The Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space (EOS) at the University of New Hampshire has been visiting new territory as it explores the cutting-edge field of space weather. 
Clifford Lopate, associate research professor in the physics department, helped create a key component in the next generation of weather monitoring satellites to be launched into space, the first of which launched on Nov. 19. The remaining three will be launched about two years apart and the last of them will stay in orbit until 2036.
“Space weather is a fairly new science,” Lopate said.
While UNH has created components for scientific satellites that have a more singular and temporary purpose — to test a theory or scan for specific data — the GOES-R satellite and its sisters will be the first “operational” satellites UNH was involved in.
Beyond terrestrial weather patterns, the new satellites will scan for charged particles (ionizing radiation), which are abundant in various forms in outer space and can be produced in far greater intensities by the sun’s solar flares.
The specific component Lopate and his team developed was the Energetic Heavy Ion Sensor. The EHIS is tasked with finding ionized iron, nickel, carbon, oxygen and the like.
Compared with the more abundant ionized protons or electrons (background radiation), heavy ions are produced by the sun and are more rare. They can cause problems when they interact with human cells, like mutation and cancer, and problems with electronics. 
While charged protons are like a shower of arrows in large quantities, a charged iron particle is like an armor-piercing bullet. Ionized iron, for example, deposits 250 times the energy of an ionized proton.
Studying the patterns of space radiation will not only be instructive for human space travel; it will also help make connections between solar activity and Earth weather.
“We monitor [the space weather] when there’s increases in ... ionizing radiation and try to look at what’s happening on the sun and what’s happening on the Earth and try to make predictions,” Lopate said. 
While EHIS is part of a satellite that belongs to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, other UNH projects have been used in NASA satellites.
Last year, UNH participated in NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, which studied the low Earth magnetosphere to learn about the underlying processes that drive cosmic weather events like geomagnetic storms, solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which can have significant impacts on power grids, communication satellites and GPS navigation.
The MMS mission used four spacecraft that were launched into space with a single rocket and made history when it collected never-before-seen data on the process known as magnetic reconnection. Each craft contained two Electron Drift Instruments developed by a UNH team. 

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