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15 ways to support the Massachusetts economy with your holiday shopping

Posted by Scott Kirsner  November 23, 2011 10:00 AM

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As we barrel toward the two most capitalistic holidays of the year — Black Friday and Cyber Monday — I've been thinking about gifts you could give, or sites you could patronize, to support the Massachusetts innovation economy. Here's a list of 15 ideas.

boseqc.jpg1. I'm listening to my Bose QuietComfort 15 noise-cancelling headphones ($299) as I write this blog post; they're great for tuning out noise from the next cubicle, or the loud conversation taking place across the aisle of your commuter train. A single AAA battery powers them for 35 hours. They're comfortable enough that I've slept with them on, on red-eye flights. Framingham-based Bose has stores in the Burlington Mall, Wrentham Village Premium Outlets, and the Natick Mall. (I wrote about how the headphones work, and how the company markets them, last December.)

2. I love my Tivoli iPal radio ($219). It sounds great, and it can either be plugged into a wall outlet or run for up to 16 hours using its internal rechargeable battery. You can easily plug an iPod or iPhone into the input jack in the back. The exterior is covered with a grippy rubber. Mine even survived a rainstorm, when I accidentally left it outside. Tivoli is based in Boston, and they have retail kiosks at the Prudential Center and Natick malls.

3. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters may be headquartered in Vermont, but the Keurig division that designs single-cup brewing systems for homes and offices is in Reading. Their lowest-priced brewer, marketed under the Mr. Coffee name, is $79.95. The plastic K-Cup containers that hold the coffee grounds cost about 70 cents apiece. (Last year, I wrote a piece headlined, "An environmental quandary percolates at Green Mountain Coffee Roaster," and in August, the Globe Sunday Magazine ran a great piece that told the Keurig story, from start-up to the coffee industry's force to be reckoned with.)

dancecentral.png4. Released in October, Dance Central 2 ($49) is a videogame from Cambridge's Harmonix Music Systems that encourages players to get off the couch and shake their respective groove thangs. You can compete against, or dance collaboratively with a friend, and the game features songs from Lady Gaga, Donna Summer, Daft Punk, Nicki Minaj, and the inevitable Justin Bieber. Playing Dance Central 2 requires the Kinect motion-sensing accessory for Microsoft's Xbox.

5. If you've got any budding Eadweard Muybridges or John Lasseters on your list, they might enjoy the Strobotop Lightphase Animator ($19.95) from Eye Think in Waltham. They get a stroboscopic flashlight that brings pictures to life on spinning tops. My favorite is the set of tops that let you make your own animations.

6. BabbaCo mails out boxes of activities that parents can do with their children, geared to kids between the ages of three and six. You can gift three months worth of boxes for $90, or a year for $299. Each box contains books, art projects, and prepaid digital downloads. (I wrote about the company in September, when founder Jessica Kim moved it from Chicago to Boston.)

vers.jpg7. Wayland-based Vers makes all kinds of nifty iPhone and iPad cases from sustainably-grown walnut and bamboo, as well as earphones and an iPod/iPhone docking system. Their wood case for the iPad 2, pictured at right, is $79.99.

8. Schylling Toys, located in Rowley, mainly makes low-tech and retro toys, but their product line does include Erector sets, a make-your-own volcano project, and a kit to build several solar-powered vehicles. (I wrote about Schylling last December, looking at the development of one of the toys in their catalog.)

9. Newton-based Zeo, one of the pioneers of helping consumers monitor and improve the quality of their sleep, introduced a $99 headband back in September that can communicate with your iPhone or Android phone. It serves up data about how much deep sleep and REM sleep you're getting, and can also gently wake you up at the ideal moment in your sleep cycle. The Zeo system is available at Best Buy stores, and also online.

wicket.png10. A 16 gigabyte USB flash drive shaped like Wicket the Ewok is pretty much the ideal stocking stuffer. Boston-based Mimoco makes them, along with flash drives in the shape of dozens of other fun characters.

11. Among the online retailers based in Massachusetts: bGreen (eco-friendly products), Wayfair (home goods), Karmaloop (hipster apparel), and Daily Grommet (unique and useful products.)

12. If you know someone who likes to cook, consider some of the kitchen goodies from Waltham-based Preserve Products, all made from recycled plastics. They include cutting boards, colanders, measuring cups, and food storage containers. (I wrote about the development of Preserve's cute little single-serve yogurt container earlier this year.)

gemvara.png13. Gemvara sells customized jewelry: you pick the gemstone, the metal, and specify things like what kind of backing you'd like on an earring or what you'd like engraved inside of a ring. The company is based in Boston, across from South Station. (I first wrote about Gemvara, founded by two Babson College alums, in 2008.)

14. Isabella Products of Concord makes the Vizit, a $229 digital photo frame. It has a 10.4 inch color screen, and any of your family members can send photos to it via e-mail or text message. (Or you can use the built-in SD Card or USB ports.) The frame can store up to 300 photos at a time, and you can use it to forward favorite photos to another family member's e-mail account — or to their digital photo frame. (Unfortunately, since the frame relies on a cellular network rather than WiFi for its connectivity, you'll pay a monthly subscription fee to cover that.)

looj.png15. Burlington-based iRobot makes an array of robots to handle unpleasant household tasks like scrubbing the floor. One of their least-expensive products is the iRobot Looj ($169), a tank-like bot that roars through your gutters, knocking out leaves, pine needles, and other debris. You control it with a handheld remote. The company says that it can clean 60 feet of gutter in 10 minutes. My idea of fun: race your next door neighbor, who's still using the primitive hose-and-ladder approach.

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Innovation and technology news that matters, on a new website from the Boston Globe, featuring Scott Kirsner and other original reporting.

About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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March 3: Web Innovators Group
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April 3-4: Mass Biotech Annual Meeting
Issues facing the region's life sciences community.