Corridor still a wealth of new ideas

By Scott Van Voorhis
Globe Correspondent / February 20, 2011

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Silicon Valley, eat your microchips out.

Granted, Palo Alto, Calif., is now to young entrepreneurs what Hollywood is to aspiring actors.

But while Route 128 is no longer the reigning heavyweight champ of the high-tech world, there are still lots of young entrepreneurs with big dreams along the corridor. Or so I found at a recent Mass Innovation Nights event just off the highway in Waltham.

A group of start-ups got to pitch their ideas to a roomful of lawyers, public relations mavens, and a finance guy or two scouting for promising new ideas and talent.

Maybe the next Mark Zuckerberg made his pitch at the event — you never know. But more impressive was the fact that this was not a semiannual event. These confabs take place every month.

That represents a lot of home-grown creativity and talent here along 128. And the latest batch of aspiring tech gurus was nothing if not creative.

Joining the group was, to show off the 50 hyperlocal websites is running.

There was Web designer Bill Shander from Hopkinton, who clearly hopes to ride the social-media revolution with Basically you pick a trio of personal icons and put it on a T-shirt — a one-stop entry point to all your social-media accounts.

Anyone can jot down your personal symbols, go to, and get “bounced’’ to whatever sites you pick.

Mory Bahar described his website, Personal Remedies, which creates a safe and healthy menu based on your medical conditions.

On your own, it is information that would take thousands of hours to collect, Bahar said.

Karl Kemp talked up Five Spark, which helps companies roll out mobile apps that can be used by all their employees at a time when everyone is talking or texting on different mobile devices.

It’s a solution to what is fast becoming the 21st-century version of the Tower of Babel.

And My Paperless Bills provides online storage for all your pesky bills. Founder Gerd Weishaar said he hopes to get companies to pay him a piece of the estimated $1 they save every time a customer takes the jump and makes a paper statement unnecessary.

Weishaar drove home the point nicely — with a photo of his desk buried beneath the 15 monthly statements he used to get.

Last, but not least, Cloud Jolt hopes to create a new online home for aspiring, socially conscious entrepreneurs, with a pledge to donate 25 percent of its revenues to the charity of their choice.

When it comes to reenergizing the entrepreneurial spirit that helped create the 128 corridor’s reputation in the first place, the problem isn’t necessarily money. Given the mighty array of venture capital companies and angel investors in the Boston area, there is no lack of that.

Rather, Silicon Valley’s biggest advantage right now is its culture of entrepreneurship.

So here’s to events like Mass Innovation Nights and entrepreneurs, young and otherwise, willing to take a chance to put their ideas on the line.

Who knows, maybe the next Mark Zuckerberg will decide to stay here instead of heading west.

Traffic answers Commuting along Route 128 has been a nightmare this winter, with monster snowstorms triggering epic traffic jams.

But getting to work along the corridor could get a little easier and faster if the 128 Business Council gets its way.

A major provider of shuttle bus services, the council is eyeing a big expansion this year.

In particular, the privately backed group, supported by the companies and developers along the highway, is gearing up to boost the number of shuttle bus stops while extending the service’s reach.

The plan calls for adding another 15 to 20 stops to the 40 currently on the schedule while expanding the shuttle service north to Burlington and south to Dedham, according to Monica Tibbits, the council’s executive director.

Shuttles operated by the council provided 470,000 rides last year. With the expansion, the number would jump to 600,000 or 700,000 a year, Tibbits said.

Look out, MBTA — those are big numbers.

10-4 good buddy “What’s your handle, buddy?’’

Say CB radio, and I instantly think of ’70s movies like “Smokey and the Bandit’’ and “Convoy.’’ Or for that matter, the mother of my best friend growing up, who spent hours a day chatting away on her CB, not just in her car, but on another set at home as well.

Seemed really cool when I was 10 years old — not so much now.

But can this very ’70s way of talking to other drivers — it doesn’t have to be just truckers yakking back and forth — provide some relief to those stuck on Route 128 at rush hour?

That anyway is the pitch I got from a company named TrafficTalk.

The Virginia-based company contends it has resurrected the spirit of 1970s CB radio in a mobile phone format, allowing drivers on the same highway to talk back and forth and swap info about the cause of the latest tie-up. And it’s up and running here in Boston and 19 other “worst congestion’’ cities in the country.

Well they found the right market, I will give them that.

Scott Van Voorhis can be reached at

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