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Where are they now: Catch up with 12 of MIT’s smartest startups

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Reinventing computing power, improving frontline employee training, and becoming a part of Amazon (to the tune of nearly $1 billion). Here’s what 12 startups and MIT-spun companies were doing in the past 12 months.

Accion Systems

Accion Systems started in 2014, but it literally had its launch this November when one of the company’s ion engines rocketed into space as part of a larger payload. The engine will help propel a satellite to Venus.

Accion Systems was founded by two MIT engineers, Natalya Brikner, PhD ’15 (pictured at far right), and Louis Perna, SM ’14. The company recently announced Boeing Horizon X Ventures as an investment partner, and is working on bringing its TILE (Tiled Ionic Liquid Electrospray) propulsion technology to market. 

Ayar Labs

Lacking the money and power of well-established tech companies, Ayar Labs had to be resourceful in its early stages. But the ingenuity of its co-founders led to the creation of a whole new way of powering computers.

Today, Ayar Labs is making chips that use light to transfer data. The result is an up to 95 percent reduction in energy use. The company raised a $2.5 million seed round, and is partnering with GlobalFoundries to bring the chips to market in 2019. 

Ayar’s co-founders include Alex Wright-Gladstein, MBA ’15 (pictured second from left), and PhD graduates Chen Sun, ’15, and Milos Popovic, ’08.

Biobot Analytics

This year Biobot partnered with the city of Cary, North Carolina, on a pilot program that used wastewater data to get a better idea of residents’ opioid use. 

The company’s first product uses wastewater data to measure traces of drugs in sewage. This information can help a city measure its drug consumption, and in turn help government leaders allocate resources and follow the effectiveness of substance abuse programs. 

Mariana Matus, PhD ’18, is a co-founder and chief executive officer.

Cogito

In December the voice analytics software company launched a spinoff called CompanionMx, and an accompanying mental health monitoring app. The Companion app listens to someone speaking into their phone, and analyzes vocal and phone data to measure their mental health. 

Cogito started in 2007 as a customer service tool to measure the effectiveness of company agents. Its co-founders are Ali Azarbayejani, PhD ’97, and Joshua Feast, MBA ’07.

Embr

Embr Labs shipped its first wearables this year thanks to $600,000 in crowdsourced funding.

The Embr Wave sends hot or cold pulses to the wearer’s wrist, depending on whether they feel “too hot” or “too cold.”

Embr Labs was created in 2014 by four MIT students, Matthew Smith, PhD ’12, Sam Shames, SB ’14, David Cohen-Tanugi, PhD ’15, and Michael Gibson, PhD ’16.

Greentown Labs

What started as a wish for affordable work space is now a multi-location campus near Boston. The Greentown campus includes the original 33,000-square-foot home in Somerville, Massachusetts, along with a recently opened 60,000-square-foot headquarters comprised of office space, prototyping laboratory space, and a new 1,800-square-foot wet lab.  

Greentown also maintained its 7,000-square-foot satellite location down the road.

Leadership at Greentown Labs includes MIT Sloan alums Jeremy Pitts, Adam Rein, and Emily Reichert.

PillPack

In 2017 Forbes named PillPack one of the 25 “next Billion-Dollar Startups.”  Less than a year later, co-founders Elliot Cohen, MBA ’13 (pictured at far left), and T.J. Parker, made that a reality. In April, Amazon purchased the online pharmacy and prescription delivery service for nearly $1 billion.

Sigma Ratings

Evaluating a credit rating is important for a company, but what about its non-credit risks? Sigma Ratings analyzes risks such as financial crime compliance and governance.  The company has made a name for itself, so much so that Sigma chief operating officer Gabrielle Haddad, MBA ’17, testified before Congress on de-risking. Co-founder Stuart Jones, Jr., is also a 2017 MBA.  

Spyce

Despite the successful launch of their first restaurant featuring a robotic kitchen, the men behind Spyce are still hungry. 

In September, 2016 graduates Michael Farid, Luke Schlueter, Braden Knight, and Kale Rogers, announced they would be expanding their robotic kitchen in Boston and beyond.

While there is some human interaction in ordering and garnishing an order, the ingredients for each bowl-based menu item are automatically dispensed into cooking woks, which are tilted so customers can watch their food rotate and cook behind the counter. 

TVision Insights

TVision Insights raised more than $11.5 million in new funding. 

The company uses computer vision to track when a viewer’s eyes are actually on the television screen, second by second, providing real feedback on what content garners attention.

Co-founders Yan Liu (pictured second from right) and Dan Schiffman both graduated from MIT Sloan in 2015, a year after founding TVision Insights. 

Waypoint Labs

Waypoint uses augmented reality to train workers. The company started in 2016, and this June, announced it was being acquired by PTC.

Chief executive officer Umar Arshad is a 2017 MBA, while Sara Remsen, SM ’17, is the chief product officer.

Woobo

The smart-toy company raised $360,000 via Kickstarter, and brought its Wi-Fi-enabled stuffed animal to market before the holiday shopping season. 

The toy sings songs, plays games, and interacts with its young owners, while parents can use an app to customize content and messages.

Feng Tan, SM ’12, is CEO of Woobo.

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