Mass Innovation Nights 44 post mortem; guest post by Janet Egan

November 25, 2012

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fun, fortunes, and big news at #MIN 44

View of Boston from 10th Floor

With everything from hailing a taxi cab to telling your fortune on the agenda, a Big News announcement, and a cool venue high above Kendall Square, #MIN44 set the bar high. Once again an innovative good time was had by all. Diversity of products and people, great views of Boston across the river, and fun hosts established a great vibe from the start.

Darth Potato Head

VMWare proved gracious hosts with free food, beverages, and Star Wars themed Mr. Potato Head toys decorating the lobby. The Experts were set up in conference rooms along the outer wall — more of an Experts Row than an Experts Corner. The demo tables occupied hallways surrounding the main presentation area.


This month’s presenters were:

  • Prospective Plus — a Common Job Application for recruiting entry level employees. Developed by a Northeastern student entrepreneur, it’s similar to the Common App used for college admissions.
  • SmartBooks — your Virtual Finance Department. Bookkeeping and finance services in the cloud for startups and small businesses.
  • Hailo — a free smartphone app that lets you  hail a safe and reliable Boston cab from wherever you are.
  • Justellus — replaces all those customer surveys with a cool way to submit feedback to companies in seconds, earn rewards, and support great causes.
  • USpin — a way to find, plan, and reserve awesome activities for your diverse group of friends.
Yes, you counted right, there were five. All of them were good. Hailo had an impressive video. Prospective Plus represented well for Northeastern (alma mater of one of my girl scientist nieces :-)) and had great energy

I had even more fun that usual checking out the demo tables because the placement of Jibununext to Tell a Fortune tickled my geeky sense of humor. Jibunu answers questions using custom data collection and analysis. Tell a Fortune answers questions using a card reading/astrological app. Both invited me to ask questions. I figured “what is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything” was too easy so I tried to formulate a question about the future of technical communication. I got a good laugh from the Jibunu representative and a prediction about my strength and determination from the fortune telling app.


Both enjoyed posing for photos. Oh by the way, 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything for the 2 or 3 readers unfamiliar with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  And while we’re on big data and predicting the future, how is it that not one big data startup has named themselves Seldon Foundation? OK, enough geekery for now. 🙂

Fortune Telling

Justellus has the answer for getting feedback from “fans to brands”. No navigating company web sites to find out how to give feedback, no endless surveys (if certain brands survey me one more time, they’re going to lose me), no sitting on hold to talk to an offshore call center, just enter your feedback and it goes to the brand’s employee who is encouraged to listen or to take action. It’s that easy.


Living out here off the edge of the universe, I don’t often have to hail cabs in Boston. If I did, I would definitely want Hailo on my smartphone. No flailing around in the rain trying to catch the driver’s attention, no futzing around with payment, no worries. Just; two taps on your smartphone and pay by card, with no charges above the meter. That’s it. Team Hailo had the best matching T-shirts so I awarded them Best Costume of MIN44.

Best Costume

SmartBooks had the greatest number of clouds on their slides. Their virtual bookkeeping and accounting services leverage cloud technology and integration with QuickBooks to make it easy for startups and small businesses to access their information and reports from any computer anytime and submit expenses and pay bills from their mobile phones. It’s like having a finance department in your pocket.


Best Hat of MIN44 goes to Osmium Apparel. They were there to launch the Mobius Belt, which is very cool — the buckle is separate from the belt, very customizable. As cool as the belt was, I found I had to try on a hat. Mark from Osmium assured me I looked very Left Bank– just like in my high school fantasy of hanging out at Les Deux Magots with Simone deBeauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Best Hat

BRIGHTdriver, creator of  interactive audio games, had the best table location right next to the door of the presentation area. They describe the intent of their product as a way for drivers to be able use their smartphone to have all the fun of social gaming without the dangers of texting. Personally, I think I would find audio gaming distracting too.


Yes, there was indeed big news.

Big News

Big News: Mass Innovation Nights has a new sponsor, American Airlines. This is an awesome partnership. Paul from American described the awesome MIN perks: All exhibtors can participate, 5000 Business ExtrAA points for the first place winner, and 2000 Business ExtrAA points for the next three. So all four presenters end up with some air travel — very useful for startups.

Paul from American Airlines

I had some great conversations with folks in the Experts Corner — or Experts Row — about what people are looking for when they come to Mass Innovation Nights, how to tap into innovative ideas, and a little about what current innovators might be able to learn from those of us who were working at startups when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Is that a potato masher in his hand?

The crowd was an excellent mix of regulars and newcomers and I saw lots of connections being made. That’s what people come to MIN for — connection.

As is traditional, I’ll close with an Expert looking expert, in this case Mike the Sharepoint expert doing his best “expert look” and kind of reminiscent of NBC’s Chuck Todd on election night.

Expert Looking Expert

(Updated to correct the number of Business ExtrAA points for the 3 runners up)

What kind of plan is going to suit my company? HMO vs. PPO

November 14, 2012

What kind of plan is going to suit my company? HMO vs. PPO

Once the question whether a company needs to implement a health plan, one of the next logical questions winds up being ‘What kind of plan do we need? In Massachusetts, the most common types of scenarios boil down to an HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) versus a PPO (Preferred Provider Organization). The POS (Point of Service) plan is a less common hybrid that is really a discussion for itself, therefore for the purposes of this entry, I will stick to the HMO vs. PPO argument.

First off, let’s cut right to the chase and talk about cost. This is here the rubber meets the road for a company anyway in terms of affordability anyway, so let’s lay it out there. As a general rule, a PPO is more expensive than an HMO plan. The difference in cost between the two can vary, especially as you compare different states. With that said, I will stick to the MA market. In my experience, if you have the same ‘apples to apples’ benefits design where one is an HMO and one is a PPO, you can use a good rule of thumb of 10-15% more expensive on average.

This doesn’t answer the first question though, ‘What’s the best plan for my company?’ So what are the primary differences, aside from cost?

First there is the network issue. With HMO’s you can go to an established network of doctors, that’s it. If you go outside your network, outside of an exceptional circumstance, you are going to pay the bill. PPO’s also have networks, very big nationwide ones in fact, and if you are within that expanded network, you will be subject to the cost associated with your plan. But you can also go outside your PPO network if really want to. You’ll likely wind up paying more, 20% is not uncommon, but it’s there.

Second is the referral issue. With HMO’s you have a Primary Care Physician, or PCP, this is your service gatekeeper. Your PCP is typically the doctor you’ve always gone to, s(he) will be the one to refer you to other services such as specialists or for ongoing testing. The referral is not unlike getting a ‘note’ or a ‘pass’. PPO’s have no referral issues, meaning you can self-refer for services such as specialist visits or testing. Does your PCP want to be a pain about letting you see a specialist? If you have a PPO it’s a non-issue, self-refer. If you have an HMO, maybe you want to find a PCP who isn’t a pain.

One of the primary drivers that determines whether a company implements one or another is where do the employees live. If you have a company where you have employees in different states, you’re going to likely need a PPO. Some vendors have expanded HMO networks, so let’s say that if you have employees outside of New England, you’ll need a PPO. If all of your employees live within a geographic area that is serviced by an HMO network, then you have the choice of either an HMO or PPO on the merits and needs and budgets of your employees moreso than geopgraphy.

A caveat to this is in cases where certain parameters are met, a company can have what is called a split option plan, meaning you can have both a PPO and an HMO to choose from. This is common where perhaps you have 1 or 2 employees outside the network are, but still need to make sure they are taken care of. In some cases, the desire for the freedom on a PPO versus HMO will supercede the cost issue and a company will implement the option even if the geography says you don’t need to. Issues such as company and enrollment size can impact this scenario though.

I hope you found this post helpful, further details and discussion is part of any company sponsored health plan implementation. If I can be of any assistance in that context, answer a question, or run you a quote on a plan, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, more than happy to help.


Nate Therrien

Founder, Business Insurance & Benefits Services of MA

978-400-7014, [email protected]



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