Startups boldly challenge Internet, mass transit & password status quo

TransitX, TapLink & LBRY among startups making their cases on Mass Innovation Nights in Boston

Startups boldly challenge Internet, mass transit & password status quo

LogMeIn recently opened its Boston offices up to a startup showcase

Credit: Bob Brown/NetworkWorld

One startup pledged to “make passwords impossible to steal.” Another promised technology to "absolutely change the face of the Internet itself!” And an asphalt-hating CEO said his outfit’s zippy overhead pods will be a green replacement for gas guzzling vehicles in big cities within a couple of years.

The 88th edition of Mass Innovation Nights on Tuesday gave the stage – at host LogMeIn’s airy Boston Seaport digs – to an idealistic handful of startups unfettered so far by venture capital and repetitive marketing lingo (I only heard the dreaded word “journey” once!). The founders eagerly answered questions posed by attendees – including precocious teens on summer break -- and collected certificates earned for winning a popular vote among audience members. 

Massinno Bob Brown/NetworkWorld

Starting them young at Mass Innovations Nights startup gathering

These are the upstarts greener even than those at the more common dog-and-pony shows highlighting freshly funded newcomers angling for their next financing round or even an IPO or buyout. Emcee/organizer Bobbie Carlton calls MassInno a "visibility event" that has launched almost 900 companies over the years. 

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TRANSITX: HERE COME THE PODS

Tuesday night's grand winner --  TransitX -- is led by MIT-schooled Mike Stanley, who has a grand plan for building a clean energy-powered personal mass transit system of elevated pods that cruise from 45mph locally to 135mph over rail lines and highways in the name of less expensive, more efficient travel. Stanley says eight cities, towns and universities have come forward with letters of support for the system, which he asserts would be profitably sustained via fares. 

Stanley, who sported a "Car Free" button on his purple polo shirt, is sticking with his story that he was inspired to start the company after Boston’s notorious winter of 2014-15 crippled the local mass transit system and had his wife trudging miles through the snow, though he says the general concept has been around since the early 1950s. He has scored seed money via crowdfunding, and expects to pay for build-outs in Boston-area cities such as Chelsea and Everett using privately-raised monies – unlike the publicly-funded extensions planned for Boston’s MBTA that could cost $500M per mile. TransitX will cost closer to $10M per mile, Stanley claims.

Mike Stanley, TransitX Bob Brown/NetworkWorld

TransitX's Mike Stanley -- and his conceptual travel pods -- drew a crowd at MassInno

TransitX is shooting to have a full-size and portable test system up and running in a year and a half, and to have a full-blown system in production in two years.

LBRY: YOU'RE IN CONTROL

Vowel-challenged startup LBRY is addressing issues with a different sort of highway – the Information Superhighway -- by delivering a "YouTube, but entirely controlled by and run by its users."

Co-founder and CEO Jeremy Kauffman, who tossed T-shirts to audience members during the Q&A following his pitch, says LBRY is a decentralized and open source platform (grab code on GigHub) designed to enable content producers to create and share their stuff online on their terms, without worry of censorship or of middlemen taking a cut. Daringly, he demoed a live-streamed a clip from a film called "It's a Disaster," to show off the network.

Jeremy Kauffman Bob Brown/NetworkWorld

LBRY Co-founder Jeremy Kauffman has an offer those with spare disk space and bandwidth might not want to refuse

LBRY uses the blockchain to solve the problem of maintaining a catalog of what's available on this decentralized system and that also helps manage a system of credits by which LBRY and users can make money. The Nobel Prize-winning Coase Theorem has inspired development of LBRY's naming system (its version of URLs, etc.). Making an obligatory Uber reference, Kauffman says LBRY will exploit "lay resources" -- in this case bandwidth and disk space rather than cars. Those who donate bandwidth/disk space can get paid for running software that makes it accessible (See also: "12 cool ways to donate your PC's spare processing power").

"We think everyone wins in this system except the middleman," says Kauffman, whose outfit will offer value-added services to generate revenue and hopefully, profits.

LBRY started beta tests last week with 1,000 people and has another 30,000 on a waiting list to try out the new protocol, he says.

TAPLINK: KEEP YOUR SIMPLE PASSWORD

TapLink, which emerged from stealth mode a year ago during the annual RSA Conference and hasn’t issued a press release since, is tapping into concerns about security breaches, and more specifically, password theft.

CTO and Founder Jeremy Spilman says he loves passwords (“secrets you can keep in your mind”), but is tired of companies pushing more complex requirements on end users. TapLink purports to protect password databases for organizations large and small via its cloud service, and in doing so, safeguard even those passwords that are simple and memorable.

Buzzing through his 5-minute presentation, Spilman spared us the gory cryptographic details of how TapLink’s security scheme works, but in his high-level overview he said the company obscures hashed passwords in a massive pool of random data (“a common defense fund for passwords”) that will stymie those trying to steal passwords. The company, whose data pool is spread across two data centers currently, has authenticated more than 1 million log-ins to date, Spilman says.

We should all know soon enough whether any of these startups, or others who exhibited at the event, are going to make it big...

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