The Power of Ideas
We shine a light on Boston’s new power class: the visionaries, idealists, and thinkers among us whose insights are transforming the way we live, work, learn, and play.
Edited by Janelle Nanos
Ideas have long been Boston’s most powerful export—our thought leaders are driving new developments in everything from technology to energy, culture to politics, education to healthcare. Most recently, a new generation of leaders has begun to collaborate with these innovators to address challenges in the public arena as well. To celebrate this unprecedented convergence of minds, we shine a light on Boston’s new power class: the visionaries, idealists, and thinkers among us whose insights are transforming the way we live, work, learn, and play—not only here in Boston, but around the world.
Icons & Visionaries
Mayor, City of Boston
Leading a city requires more than just power, and winning elections requires more than merely growing one’s base. That’s especially true here in Boston, where the traditional bases of political power are rapidly shifting, and change is a given. Voters are smarter. Ideas matter to them. And even in the first 100 days, there are signs that ideas matter to the Walsh administration. That Boston is stronger when it looks outside its borders. That a modern city should stay open late and public transit should keep up. That a police force, and a government, should reflect the city it serves.
To say that the mayor of Boston belongs on Boston magazine’s power list is self-evident. The more interesting question—the fascinating idea at the heart of this issue—is how he got here in the first place.
Even in the first 100 days of the Walsh administration, there are signs that ideas matter.
The idea was simple: To help yourself, help everyone else. Walsh began by helping his union brothers and sisters—as a member, an advocate, and then a leader. As a state rep, he helped his constituents within the enormous neighborhood of Dorchester, where about 20 percent of the city’s residents reside. As someone who’s been sober since 1995, he helped countless others in recovery, something he quietly continues to this day. Not surprisingly, these people became his groundswell—his army.
When it was time for his own race for mayor, Walsh’s army fought for their own. By that time, they realized it was their fight. Because power need not be hoarded by one; it can be harvested to empower many. —Mike Ross, former city councilor and mayoral candidate
DEFENDING THE MIDDLE CLASS
“Today the game is rigged,” Warren writes in her new memoir, A Fighting Chance, “rigged to work for those who have money and power.” The game of which she speaks, of course, is America. And in a few short years, Warren’s ideas—that Wall Street banks and big corporations are screwing the middle class, and that Washington is little more than a lobbyist watering hole—have transformed progressive politics, not just in New England but around the country. “Whether or not Elizabeth Warren ever runs for the presidency,” The Nation opined recently, “she is teaching her party a great deal about how to take the events of a moment and weave them into a narrative.”
GOING TO BAT FOR JOURNALISM’S FUTURE
Owner, the Boston Globe
When Henry struck a deal to buy the Boston Globe last fall, it was a home run for the long-suffering news business. With his checkbook, Henry made the point that great journalism is worth investing in. And from his newfound pulpit, he declared not only that journalism could be saved—but also that the Globe would become the laboratory driving its resurrection. How? Well, absent a silver-bullet solution, he’s overhauled management to bring in big-thinking talent from both the advertising and media worlds, and embarked on a string of innovative products: a new, standalone Catholic news site, a rebooted Boston.com, and the possibility of a Globe TV station. Who knows if those particular ideas will work, but one thing is certain: There will be more of them.
BOSTON’S GLOBAL FUTURE
Chairman and CEO, Suffolk Construction
Fish has had a perennial place on our list. Let’s face it: During the Menino mayoralty, he was the man to know. Now he’s heading up Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid, and rethinking the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce as its new chairman. We asked Boston’s biggest builder why he’s throwing his energy at these two projects.
On Bringing the Olympics to Boston: “I start with the question: What is the city of Boston going to look like in 30 or 40 years? It involves thinking big—not just thinking about where we’ve been and where we’re going, but thinking a little abnormally. We may never realize the Olympics in 2024, but the opportunity to bring the community together to talk about the future is a powerful thing.”
On Rethinking the Chamber of Commerce: “We need to think about how we have a conversation about regionalization—I don’t think it’s helpful to take a Boston-centric point of view. If we help out other communities in Massachusetts, and if those areas do well, Boston will be the beneficiary of their success. And that will enhance opportunities for all.”
SEEING ISN’T BELIEVING
As an author, Morris has been obsessed with the notion that photographs often lie. His documentaries are obsessed with lies, too, like the Oscar-winning The Fog of War (2003), about Vietnam War architect Robert McNamara, and The Thin Blue Line (1988), which garnered the release of a Texas inmate on death row. His latest, The Unknown Known, focuses on another icon of infallible self-truths: Donald Rumsfeld. Morris has an uncanny ability to probe and wait out his interviewees until they reveal surprising insights… or hang themselves.
The Cambridge-based classical-music superstar is one of the country’s most eloquent voices on the idea that culture is essential for a healthy democracy. “The arts,” Ma told an audience at the Kennedy Center last April, “foster the four critical skills necessary for our children to succeed in the 21st-century workforce: collaboration, flexibility, imagination, innovation.”
When edX launched in 2012, it floated a big, bold, revolutionary concept: Give away Harvard and MIT’s prestigious courses online, for free, to anyone in the world. Two years later, the concept of MOOCs—“massive open online courses”—is transforming higher education, both inside and outside the classroom. Today, edX has more than 130 “blended” courses, in which teachers supplement in-class exercises with videos, virtual labs, and gamification. Agarwal sees future classrooms as interactive environments. And that future is not far off.
KNOW YOUR ROOTS
Henry Louis Gates
A pioneer in the field of African-American studies, Gates has long been one of the nation’s preeminent thinkers about the nexus of ancestry and culture. His influence spans mediums—he was a consultant on 12 Years a Slave, is a cofounder of the online magazine the Root, and hosts a PBS series on genealogy. A donor’s recent $15 million gift to consolidate Harvard’s African and African-American studies programs only expands his reach. If there’s a central tenet to all of Gates’s work, it’s this: To understand yourself, you need to know where you came from.
Doris Kearns Goodwin and Jill Lepore
If anyone in Boston is making the case that academic ideas matter in the real world, it’s historians Kearns Goodwin (pictured) and Lepore, who are to historical scholarship what Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis were to jazz: two very different kinds of genius whose shared art form has become crucial to the culture at large. Back in 2008, Senator Barack Obama devoured Kearns Goodwin’s presidential biographies—especially her book on Lincoln, Team of Rivals—which many say influenced his choice to appoint Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Meanwhile, Lepore writes on a wider variety of subjects, from King Philip’s War to the modern Tea Party movement, but it’s clear she takes her role just as seriously. “To be a public historian,” she wrote recently, “is to be a keeper of our memory as a people.” Between the two of them, it seems like we’re in good hands.
ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE
American Repertory Theater
Fresh off her 2013 Tony win with Pippin for best director of a musical, Paulus has once again asserted herself as a theatrical force. Under her leadership, the A.R.T. has become a springboard to Broadway (three shows now playing on the Great White Way were first staged in Cambridge), and her sensational new productions, like this year’s Witness Uganda, have brought audiences back to the theater at a time when just getting people to show up is half the battle. Paulus’s unique pedigree as both a Broadway vet and Harvard academic has helped her stage musicals with mass appeal, a point of contention among her avant-garde critics. Yet her vision is clear: The show must go on, and be spectacular in the process.
THE WEB’S NEXT 25 YEARS
Tim Berners-Lee, Larry Lessig, and Nicholas Negroponte
It’s easy to forget that the Web, as we know it, was born here. This past March, MIT professor Tim Berners-Lee marked the 25th anniversary of his groundbreaking invention—and he continues to be a vocal, thoughtful arbiter of its future, having recently proposed an online Magna Carta to encode values to the Web. Harvard Law professor Larry Lessig’s career is grounded in his role as an Internet crusader. He revolutionized intellectual property and copyright law, advocated for net neutrality, and has now set his sights on the corrosive influence of money in politics. Nicholas Negroponte is looking forward: The MIT Media Lab and One Laptop Per Child founder has plans to use stationary satellites to expand Web access to “the last billion” people without the Internet.
MAKING HEALTHCARE ACCESSIBLE TO ALL
Director, the Disparities Solutions Center at Mass General
Betancourt realized early in his career that all the medical advances in the world mean nothing when racial and ethnic inequality plagues our healthcare system. So in 2004, Betancourt petitioned Massachusetts General Hospital to create the Disparities Solutions Center, which then launched the following year to address the barriers that were keeping his patients from getting adequate care.
Since then, he’s persuaded MGH to install a “disparities dashboard,” which tracks how the hospital treats patients of varied cultural backgrounds. Betancourt also teaches cross-cultural medicine at Harvard Medical School, heads the department of multicultural education at MGH, and cofounded Quality Interactions, an e-learning company that, so far, has trained more than 130,000 physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other stakeholders. He’s leading the healthcare industry in creating cross-cultural competence. —Marcela Garcia
CURING THE RARE DISEASES THAT BIG PHARMA WON’T
Mark Levin, Kevin Starr, and Bob Tepper
Third Rock Ventures
This Boston-based venture firm doesn’t just fund biotech and medical innovation, it creates it—finding the world’s top scientific talent and building companies around their ideas. Since launching in 2007, it has raised $1.3 billion and helped create 31 companies that are now working on life-changing cures for ALS, cancer, and various orphan diseases. In the process, it’s energizing the city’s biotech pipeline.
BUILDING A BETTER PRINCIPAL
Carolyn and Peter Lynch
The Lynch Foundation
Fixing Boston’s public school system has become a fixation for the Lynches, who donated $2.5 million last year to help create a new leadership model. The Aspiring Principal Program is a residency that will partner outstanding classroom teachers with successful principals for intense on-site training. Together they’re building a new educational infrastructure.
DETERMINING THE FUTURE OF AMERICAN ENERGY
U.S. Secretary of Energy
I first met Ernie 10 years ago when we were on a National Academy of Sciences panel discussing the transportation of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, and I last saw him at Cardullo’s, in Harvard Square, where he tried to convince me that fracking was a “proven” technology that mitigates climate change. He’s a Fall River native, MIT professor, and nuclear physicist with an unfaltering faith that technology will deliver a clean-energy future. Serving as the U.S. secretary of energy since May 2013, he’s been a keen proponent of both fracking and nuclear power, but critics point out his close ties with the oil and gas industries, particularly in relation to their funding of the MIT Energy Initiative. As such, he’s been dubbed “the man in the middle,” having to balance the Obama administration’s increasingly strong stance on climate change with the needs of a strident energy industry. In truth, Ernie’s positions on the environment matter to us all. —Julian Agyeman, professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts
CROWD-SOURCING DISASTER RELIEF
Caitria and Morgan O’Neill
In 2011, armed with little more than liberal arts degrees and empathy, the O’Neill sisters responded to a tornado in their hometown of Monson, Massachusetts, by spearheading donation and volunteer coordination out of a local church. The experience inspired them to create Recovers, a website where people can find instant updates, track local volunteer hours, and manage spontaneous donations. Since its 2012 launch, the “Twister Sisters” have helped 28 disaster-relief efforts and proved critical during Hurricane Sandy, enabling four New York City neighborhoods to coordinate 20,000 volunteers and donors.
ELECTING WOMEN TO HIGHER OFFICE
Barbara Lee Foundation
If America elects a woman to be its next president, she’ll have Lee to thank. Since 1999, Lee has been obsessed with engaging the next generation of female leaders in elective politics. You may have heard of some of her protégées—Elizabeth Warren, Wendy Davis, Martha Coakley. Lee has always been focused on building the long-term ladder to the political peak, and that work has kept growing. Her foundation’s research guidebook, Keys to Elected Office: The Essential Guide for Women, will be released in June.
CHALLENGING OUR THINKING OF DISABILITY AND DESIGN
Artist, the Accessible Icon Project
When Hendren looked at the ubiquitous wheelchair symbol, designed in the late 1960s, she saw a static, passive figure seemingly trapped in its chair. So in 2011, the Cambridge artist and writer, along with collaborator Brian Glenney, started placing translucent stickers that depicted a person in motion—arms back, head and upper body thrust forward—over existing handicap signs. Their guerilla art efforts developed into the Accessible Icon Project, and has since been adopted by the Bronx Zoo, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the University of Arizona, and inducted into the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. Hendren says the graphic sparks conversations: “It’s a provocation—an invitation to think, ‘What are my preconceived notions about people with disabilities?’”
Founder, Utile Architecture + Planning
The president-elect of the Boston Society of Architects has set his sights on revamping the entire design industry. Instead of waiting for commissions, Love is actively imagining what Boston should look like—and developing public-private partnerships to bring innovative urban ideas to fruition. It’s a radical shift away from how development has been done in Boston for the past 20 years…but it’s working. From rethinking Chinatown’s development approach to finding creative ways to save Fort Point’s historical buildings, Love’s architectural ambitions know no bounds. Next on his agenda? Redesigning City Hall Plaza.
President, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
You’ll never find Nabel on an elevator; the cardiologist was a resident at the Brigham long before she became its president, and her heart-healthy habit is to always take the stairs. Today, Nabel’s taking steps to shape how the academic hospital will look and function by overseeing the design of the Brigham Building for the Future. In the planned 11-story, LEED Gold–certified structure, clinical research and patient care will occur side by side, fostering what Nabel calls “collisions of collaborations.” Having researchers, clinicians, and educators in close proximity will not only allow the hospital to better use its resources, she argues, it will also transform healthcare. “The future of medicine starts here,” she says.
THE TEDX EFFECT
TEDxBoston curator Danielle Duplin has been spotting trends in business and technology since the local spinoff of the speaking series first launched in 2009. Here, she recalls five of her favorite ideas from the past five years.
Lab on a Stamp
Harvard chemist George Whitesides’s medical diagnostics lab is the size of a postage stamp and can cheaply and effectively detect common ailments for people in resource-limited settings.
Open-Source Drug Development
Cancer researcher Jay Bradner “gave away” the formula for his JQ1 molecule that reprograms cancer cells in hopes that an open-source drug discovery model will get treatments to market faster than the current pharma methods.
NeoNurture Infant Incubator
Timothy Prestero, the CEO of Design That Matters, repurposed discarded car parts to build an infant incubator for people in the developing world. His award-winning invention has treated more than 1,000 babies in Vietnam, Myanmar, and Ghana.
The brilliantly imagined responsive homes and folding cars from MIT’s Kent Larson will be able to fit more people comfortably into ever-growing urban areas—a wonderful application of technology in the service of humanity.
Organs on Chips
By demonstrating how drug testing on human organs can be simulated on microchips, Harvard scientist Geraldine Hamilton explores the not-too-distant future of personalized medicine and drug research.
Leaders & Idealists
EQUALITY STARTS HERE
City Councilor at Large
“Every morning, I pray, drink coffee, put on red stilettos, and head out to change the world.” That’s Pressley’s unique approach to getting things done. Everyone wanted her to run for something this past year—mayor, statewide office, even federal office. Instead she’s intent on tackling some of Boston’s toughest issues: improving the lives of women in the city; overhauling sex education in schools; and fighting the root causes of economic disparity, from liquor-license reform to discriminatory hiring practices. Pressley also launched the Elevate Boston coalition to encourage mayoral candidates to focus on women’s and LGBT issues. No matter where she goes next, her powerful social-justice agenda will follow.
U.S. Secretary of State
Speaking of the Middle East peace talks, an anonymous Western official told Haaretz last May, “Sometimes there’s a feeling that Kerry thinks the only reason his predecessors in the job didn’t bring about a peace agreement is that they weren’t John Kerry.” Some would argue it’s precisely that idealism that’s been missing from American foreign policy. “I may fail. I don’t care. It’s worth doing,” Kerry has said of the talks. No matter how intractable the situation or belligerent the players, Kerry bounds onto the scene believing he can negotiate a solution. And now, unburdened by the pursuit of higher office, he’s free to set his own course.
CREATING THE NEXT GENERATION OF PEACEMAKERS
President and Cofounder, Peace First
It’s tempting to shield children from the world’s harshest realities, but Dawson sees the innocence of youth as an opportunity to foster positive change. Over the past 13 years, Dawson has transformed Peace First into a national institution that teaches and supports peacemaking skills. At last year’s Clinton Global Initiative, it launched the Peace First Prize—a $25,000 annual award given to five to 10 kids, ages eight to 22, for their grassroots initiatives to prevent bullying, stop gun violence, and fight injustice. Through the prize, Peace First aims to create the next generation of thought leaders.
Chief of Economic Development, City of Boston
After showing off his deep policy knowledge in an underdog campaign for mayor, Barros has become a household name in Boston. But his wide-ranging expertise, from housing to education to public safety, is nothing new to City Hall insiders. Now, tapped by Mayor Marty Walsh to head the city’s economic development, Barros will get to apply his progressive but pragmatic approach to every corner of the city. “I would argue he probably has the most powerful economic position in the city of Boston right now to make a difference going forward,” says John Fish.
THE CITY AS URBAN LABORATORY
Mayor of Somerville
Since taking office in 2004, Curtatone has been at the vanguard of municipal governance. He fixed a crippling budget deficit using a homegrown data analytics tool, SomerStat, and overhauled the city’s constituent services center. Somerville’s economy is booming, and Curtatone is campaigning for more growth—from Legoland in Assembly Square to the long-delayed Green Line extension. It seems his penchant for adopting new ideas is paying off: Curtatone was just named an Ash Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School to help teach others how it’s done.
CHAMPIONING BOSTON’S CREATIVE CLASS
Greg Selkoe and Malia Lazu
Selkoe, founder of the online streetwear empire Karmaloop and a former BRA staffer, often tangled with Mayor Menino. Boston, Selkoe argued, just wasn’t fun enough. Frivolous? Not really. Future Boston, the nonprofit he runs with activist Malia Lazu, has been responsible for turning “fun” into a campaign issue and pushing to make the city a place where young professionals can thrive.
MUSEUMS MUST SUPPORT THEMSELVES
Director and CEO, Peabody Essex Museum
Even without Malcolm Rogers’s impending retirement from the MFA, Dan Monroe would be the lead candidate for the region’s most dynamic museum director. Since taking the helm of the Peabody Essex in 1993, Monroe has overhauled the model for museum stewardship—knowing it’s no longer enough to rely on gift-shop sales and annual contributions to keep an institution afloat. He’s increased the museum’s budget from $3.4 million to $24 million and aims to grow its endowment to $630 million—ensuring that the PEM’s funding sources will remain solvent if the whims of the market (or less-engaged young patrons) affect the bottom line. The PEM’s forthcoming $650 million renovation will push the institution into the top 10 museums in the country in terms of gallery space, and Monroe’s dream team of curatorial talent will undoubtably use it, as they continue to bring groundbreaking exhibits to Salem year after year.
EMPOWERED AND ENGAGED MOTHERS ARE THE KEY TO ENDING VIOLENCE
Monalisa Smith and Kim Odom
President, Mothers for Justice and Equity; Pastor and Peace Activist
They are known simply as “The Mothers”—the survivors left standing after their children were taken from them by Boston’s plague of urban violence—and in a few short years they have created a power base out of powerlessness. Together, Smith (left) and Odom have reshaped the way Boston responds to trauma, using strategies that are “grounded,” as they’ve written, “in the principles of restorative justice, an approach promoting the belief that healing through social connectivity and engagement will prevent street violence and lead to healthier, more vibrant communities.” The mothers have built, from their grief, a grassroots movement that seeks to hold the rest of the city accountable when a life is lost—and attempts to make the city whole again.
MAKE BIG PLANS
For proof of Patrick’s impact on American politics, look no further than the White House: Many of the ideas that led to Obama’s election were on display during Patrick’s 2006 campaign. In his eight years in office, he’s governed by championing big plans like expanding healthcare, attacking a decades-long transportation crisis, and pushing for the development of our technology, life-science, and clean-energy sectors, which not only helped generate jobs but also kept us at the forefront of the nation’s economic recovery. Beacon Hill insiders have long whispered that Patrick just doesn’t get their politics, while true believers and cynics alike have speculated that his future was too bright for him to stick around. And yet he has. He’s the only multiterm governor to serve the state without seeking higher office in almost 150 years, and along the way, he has made an impact that will be felt for years to come. But I’d argue that his power isn’t in what he’s done as much as in how he’s done it. He has made us believe once again that service and big ideas have a place in political life, and in so doing inspired a generation of grassroots activists, first-time candidates, and everyday idealists to take a chance on a couple of big ideas of our own. —Liz Morningstar, CEO, Boston Public Market
EDUCATION STARTS WITH PUBLIC SERVICE
Dean, Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service
After a three-year stint as U.S. ambassador to Spain and Andorra, Solomont is tackling his next big challenge: higher education. The new dean of the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts is leading the charge for the university’s Tufts 1+4 program, a game-changing “bridge year” initiative through which accepted students complete one year of full-time service before beginning their undergrad education. A staunch advocate for civic engagement, Solomont cut his teeth as a community organizer in Lowell in the 1970s. Solomont’s mission is “to ensure everyone who gets an education at Tufts is educated to be an active citizen.”
AN ANONYMOUS INTERNET IS GOOD FOR DEMOCRACY
Despite revelations that the NSA tried to destabilize it, Tor—the world’s best and most popular anonymous Web software and server network—is the tool most often used by dissidents and activists to evade repressive regimes in their home countries. It’s so good at hiding who you are that criminals use it, too: The Silk Road, an online drug market busted by the feds last year, was reachable only by Tor users who had access to the so-called Dark Web that the rest of us can’t even see. Despite that, Tor’s largest funder has been….the federal government, to the tune of millions per year. Why? Because even the government that gave you worldwide surveillance still believes that a world with an open Internet is freer than one in which the Web can be turned off at a dictator’s whim.
Cardinal Séan O’Malley
Archdiocese of Boston
As the head of the Archdiocese of Boston, O’Malley is the spiritual leader for hundreds of thousands living in the region. As a Cardinal, he’s one of the 218 most powerful men in a Church of 1.2 billion. And as the lone American in Pope Francis’s “G8” group working on Church government reform, he’s now trying to solve the Church’s deepest problems. In March, the pontiff named O’Malley one of three priests on the Vatican’s new eight-person anti-abuse commission, largely due to his pattern-breaking, empathetic work with victims in Boston’s sex-abuse scandal. Like Pope Francis, he’s the embodiment of a Church on a fulcrum: refreshingly humble, accessible, and progressive toward other religions, yet still representing its conservative ethos.
CREATIVES DRIVE THE ECONOMY
Chief of Policy, City of Boston
Linehan has one of the most powerful living rooms in all of progressive politics—hosting luminaries like Deval Patrick and Elizabeth Warren—and a great deal of her influence came from her years as a grassroots organizer…of rock ’n’ roll bands. A former punk-rock promoter from Dorchester, Linehan gradually found her power base in the city’s creative class, from musicians to museum directors. In the city’s first open mayoral race in two decades, she convinced her homeboy Marty Walsh that in Boston, the arts can be both a major engine of economic growth and a political constituency. Then she convinced artists that Walsh was on their side. Now that she’s Walsh’s director of policy, she’s not only thinking about the arts in a city that’s traditionally under-funded them—she’s also in a position to unleash a Boston renaissance.
EVERYTHING (MICROFUNDED) IS AWESOME
Have an idea for a public art project? A tech startup? A meat-filled zebra piñata to entertain the lions at the zoo? If you can think of it, the Awesome Foundation will back it…as long as it’s awesome enough. Sturtevant cofounded the organization four years ago with nine “micro-trustees,” and the group is today made up of 90 chapters across 18 countries (some as far flung as Doha, Qatar). How it works: Each chapter meets every month to vote on applicants, each member donates $100, and each winner receives $1,000 in cash. To date, the organization has funded 935 projects, for a grand total of $935,000. Now that’s pretty awesome.
Executive Director, AIDS Action Committee
Carl Sciortino may not have won last year’s Congressional election to succeed Ed Markey, but he made the biggest splash with an ad featuring his Tea Party–conservative dad. It went viral not just because it was clever, but because of Sciortino’s unashamed defense of liberalism. Now, 10 years after entering politics to challenge an opponent of same-sex marriage, Sciortino has been picked to take over the AIDS Action Committee—and taken the moment to publicly disclose his HIV-positive status, again refusing to be ashamed of who he is.
Food for Thought
Six local ideas that are changing how we eat.
Jon Friedman and Brad McNamara
President and CEO, Freight Farms
The Idea: Making new space to grow food—anywhere.
It’s now possible to cultivate a bounty of fresh, local produce miles from the nearest farm—if you have access to a “Leafy Green Machine.” Designed by Friedman and McNamara from “upcycled” shipping containers, Freight Farms come ready-made with high-tech hydroponic equipment suitable for growing leafy veggies and herbs like basil, arugula, and kale in any climate. Freight Farms may have started locally, but its mobile units are now cropping up everywhere from San Antonio, Texas, to Edina, Minnesota.
Courtney Hennessy and John Stoddard
Cofounders, Higher Ground Farm
The Idea: Bringing urban farming to new heights.
The merits of rooftop gardening are obvious: optimal sun exposure for produce, reduced cooling and insulation costs for the building, easy access to quality product. Now imagine those effects on a huge scale—the Boston Design Center’s 55,000-square-foot roof. Since debuting last spring, Higher Ground’s output has landed on the menus of high-profile local restaurants like Neptune Oyster, Tavern Road, and Tres Gatos.
Darnell Adams, Brad Stevens, and Roz Freeman
Managing Director, Executive Chef, and Operations Manager, CropCircle Kitchen
The Idea: Letting small food businesses think big.
Since 2009, CropCircle Kitchen has launched startups by providing shared cooking and storage space in Jamaica Plain. The demand has been so great that this spring the team will open a new 36,000-square-foot facility in Dorchester. To learn more about the enormous undertaking, take a closer look at this “Collaborative Kitchen.”
Chef, Lumière, Area Four, and A4 Pizza Bar
The Idea: Sustainability, one dish at a time.
Terms like “local,” “sustainable,” and “seasonal” are a way of life for Leviton (pictured above). As the chair of the board of Chefs Collaborative, a national coalition of sustainability-minded tastemakers, he helps chefs around the country make positive changes in their restaurants, from sourcing antibiotic-free meat to choosing less-heavily-fished seafood selections.
Founder and CEO, Lovin’ Spoonfuls
The Idea: Getting excess food to the hungry.
Stanley started her food-rescue nonprofit Lovin’ Spoonfuls in 2010 with a single insulated truck. Four years later, she’s now up to a fleet of four, and is on track to rescue one million pounds of excess food in 2014. The trucks travel throughout Greater Boston picking up overstock at large-shelf grocers and farms, then redistribute it to organizations like Rosie’s Place and the Pine Street Inn. Now Stanley has plans to expand throughout the state, and eventually across the country.
Founder and CEO, the Daily Table
The Idea: A restaurant serving expired food.
Here’s a dirty little secret: Food that’s past its sell-by date isn’t necessarily spoiled. In fact, with the Daily Table, former Trader Joe’s CEO Doug Rauch has decided to sell wholesome, nutrient-rich, ready-made meals made with food that’s past its prime. This summer he’ll open a 9,000-square-foot takeout restaurant meets grocery store in Dorchester, utilizing past-sell-date food and excess product from farms and large-scale retailers to help keep costs down. A recent Harvard study gave the practice a thumbs-up. Waste not, want not.
Scientists & Thinkers
Ann Marie Lipinski
Curator, Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard
As the first female curator of Harvard’s Nieman Foundation, the Pulitzer Prize–winning writer and editor is drawing the world’s top journalistic talent to Cambridge—recent fellows of the program include David Skok, who now oversees the Globe’s digital properties. Since Lipinski arrived three years ago, fellowship applications have more than doubled, and she’s introduced two new tracks that are bringing together academics, digital journalists, and website coders to ponder the media’s future.
PLAY TO WIN
Professor, Harvard Business School
Porter may be among the most preeminent business professors on the planet—he’s the mastermind behind the concept of competitive advantage—but the power of his ideas reaches way beyond Wall Street. Healthcare reformers are currently using his methods to reframe how they deliver care, and nations use his Social Progress Index to measure the well-being of their citizens. Considering that our own country ranked 16th on his index, Porter, through his U.S. Competitive Project at Harvard, is now bringing together thought leaders to strategize on how to keep America at the front of an increasingly global, industrialized, and, yes, competitive economy.
BE AN ANTI-DISCIPLINARIAN
Director, MIT’s Media Lab
Ito runs MIT’s Media Lab, the city’s foremost R & D think tank and the nexus of business, science, and innovation in Boston. He’s also a rave DJ who swims with sharks. But Ito’s real talent is making connections. As head of the lab, his policy for faculty members is that they be “anti-disciplinary.” “To me,” he told Wired magazine, “there’s a science to community building.” In practice, the community Ito has built is turning out such sci-fi marvels as printable genes, snap-together electronic components, and wristbands that measure emotions. Their work pulls in the city’s best raw materials—capital, brainpower, technology—that drive so many of our best ideas into its orbit.
WE MUST DISRUPT
Professor, Harvard Business School
In 1997 I attended my five-year reunion at HBS and will forever remember listening to Peter Drucker tell the assembled alums, “Don’t take four-year college for granted.” I didn’t really understand what he meant back then, nor did I hear many others talk in a similar manner for many years. That is, until Clay Christensen began writing about the same subject in such powerful ways.
Clay’s work on disruptive innovation has provided deeply important frameworks to help us better understand the future evolution of education. His ideas have powerful repercussions and predict one of the most significant changes that we will witness in our lives—the disruption and dismantling of higher education.
Clay tells us what we may not want to either hear or recognize: The way we educate our citizens is about to change in profound ways. As a social entrepreneur focused on education, his ideas are constantly informing and prodding us as we plan our future strategy. We would be unwise not to listen carefully to what he has to say. —Gerald Chertavian, Founder and CEO, Year Up
ENDING GENDER INEQUALITY
Executive Director, Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government
Every year, a group of women emerge from Budson’s Harvard Square to the Oval Office project ready to take over the American political system. But that’s only a fraction of what Budson is doing at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government: While talking heads debate work-life balance, pay equity, and leaning in, Budson’s research-driven training programs help women navigate the political and economic landscape toward their own definition of success—all while teaching them to improve the lives of others in the process. Budson’s expertise is routinely sought at the State Department, the White House, and by Governor Deval Patrick, and she was just named one of CNN’s 10 Visionary Women. When Budson demands that those in power pay attention to women, they listen.
GOOGLING THE GENOME
Director, the Broad Institute’s Program in Medical and Population Genetics
Altshuler believes we’re living in another Age of Discovery—but instead of surveying new continents, scientists the world over are mapping the genes of individual human beings. All that data becomes meaningful, however, only when it’s shared and analyzed en masse. So Altshuler, a genomicist at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, became one of the prime movers behind the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health. When the alliance met for the first time this March, it was made up of more than 200 experts seeking a practical way to share their data. A new partnership with Google will help them with that endeavor. If it succeeds, the alliance could open a door to individual genetic medicine—personalized cancer treatments, for example—and create a simpler way for scientists to solve humanity’s toughest health problems. As Altshuler says, it’s “a very important moment in history.”
Physician, Harvard Medical School Professor, and Surgeon General Nominee
As a doctor, Murthy has had a lot of good ideas. He started an AIDS education nonprofit while still in med school, and later launched a community-health program in rural India. More recently he cofounded Trial Networks—think Google Docs for pharmaceutical research—and Doctors for America, an advocacy group for affordable healthcare. But he may go down in history for the tweet that tied up his appointment to surgeon general: “Guns are a health care issue.” It’s hardly an extremist position, yet the ensuing political maelstrom only served to spotlight that idea, and to reframe one of the most polarizing debates in the country today as a public-health issue rather than merely a political one. Strong medicine, indeed.
JUST A NUDGE
Harvard Law School Professor, Author of Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness
When governments impose paternalistic new policies, a squall of opposition typically follows (see: the Affordable Care Act). And while Sunstein’s stint as the White House chief of federal regulation wasn’t a complete home run, his behavioral-science-based approach to policymaking has been embraced across the pond. Since 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s “nudge unit” has been using subtle tools to indoctrinate citizens on the wisdom of paying taxes on time, insulating their attics, and deciding to donate their organs. Small suggestions and smart thinking are cutting costs and having an impact elsewhere: One wonders when we’ll finally get the hint.
BASKETBALL IS A GAME OF NUMBERS
Celtics Stats Guru
Zarren is responsible for the year’s most game-changing proposal in sports: eliminate the NBA draft lottery in favor of a fixed wheel system that evenly distributes top picks to teams over a series of years—therefore removing the incentive for teams at the bottom, like the Celtics, to lose in order to improve their lottery odds. That’s just the latest of Zarren’s ideas. As one of the pioneers of the NBA analytics movement, the Celtics’ hyper-secretive stats guru has had a stealthy influence on the team for a decade. Lately, though, the 38-year-old Harvard Law grad has been much more open in discussing his fixed wheel proposal—it was the talk of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference this year. But don’t worry, Celtics fans: Zarren’s system, however popular, cannot be implemented before this year’s draft.
Harvard Institute of Politics Fellow
“The best way to disrupt the ideology of extremists,” Pandith has said, “is to provide a counter-narrative.” Pandith was born in Kashmir to Muslim parents and raised in Milton and Braintree. Her job—for four years as the State Department’s first-ever special representative to the Muslim community, appointed by Hillary Clinton, and now at Harvard—is to fight for the hearts and minds of the 62 percent of the world’s Muslims who are under the age of 30, and struggling to define their identities in a post-9/11 world.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT YOUR SMARTPHONE
When was the last time you paused to consider your relationship with your smartphone? MIT professor Sherry Turkle, the founder of the school’s Initiative on Technology and Self, is an expert on the interactions between humans and machines. (She loved the film Her: “It really captured our vulnerability to a device that seems to understand us,” she says.) As the author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, Turkle has explored what our devices are doing to human interaction and conversation (hint: it’s not pretty). “We’re so intent on documenting our life, that we sometimes don’t take time to live our life,” she says. So think about this the next time you post a selfie.
DEPT. OF ACQUISITIONS
In the past few months, Google, Twitter, and Spotify snapped up local outfits Boston Dynamics, Bluefin Labs, and Echo Nest, respectively. Here are the brains behind the buyouts.
Marc Raibert, Boston Dynamics
Acquired by Google for an undisclosed sum
The Selling Point: The Waltham-based robotics firm is the juggernaut behind terrifying beast machines that, in YouTube videos, can be seen running at 30 miles per hour over mixed terrain like headless mechanical wolves.
What’s Next: A robot apocalypse would be the obvious scenario, though nobody really knows. Raibert has always demurred on whether he’s creating a league of mechanical overlords. Good thing Google’s motto is “Don’t Be Evil.”
Deb Roy, Bluefin Labs
Acquired by Twitter for $90 million
The Selling Point: Roy drew on his research in child-language acquisition at MIT’s Media Lab to teach computers how to “read” social-media chatter about television, making it possible to measure a mass audience reaction in real time.
What’s Next: Twitter presumably will use the Bluefin technology in a multi-year partnership with Nielsen to create next-generation TV ratings.
Brian Whitman and Tristan Jehan, Echo Nest
Acquired by Spotify for a reported $100 million
The Selling Point: The Somerville music-analysis outfit was quietly powering Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody, and other Internet music companies using its massive processing power to analyze 35 million songs—and what people are saying about those songs.
What’s Next: With all that data, Echo Nest’s algorithms can now help Spotify spit out your perfect mix tape.
Entrepreneurs & Innovators
RETHINKING ARTS EDUCATION
Lee Pelton President
In a town where there’s no shortage of exceptional educational leadership, Pelton makes no small plans. In the past year alone, he unveiled Emerson’s stunning new $85 million dollar campus in L.A. (the first of its kind for any East Coast school), kicked off an accelerator program (a rarity at an arts college), and launched the dynamic new Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement as a hub to engage students in addressing the city’s shortcomings. Perhaps most impressively, he sparked a national discussion on how universities can deal with gun violence and created the College Presidents’ Gun Violence Resource Center. “We want big ideas that inspire people to do good things,” he says.
Flybridge Capital Partners
Bussgang’s a data junkie. When the venture capitalist looked at specs of the state’s startup landscape, one stat stood out: Immigrants are powering Boston’s innovation economy. Instead of taking jobs, they’re making them, he argues, and by not enacting immigration reform, we’re doing a disservice to our country. Over the past year, he’s been working to create a public-private partnership to enable foreign entrepreneurs in Boston to get an exemption from restrictive visa caps. This April, Governor Patrick announced a pilot program to test the concept.
AN OTTOMAN EMPIRE
Steve Conine and Niraj Shah
While I am in awe of what cofounders Niraj Shah (CEO) and Steve Conine (co-chairman and CTO) have built in a short time, I believe it is only the tip of the iceberg. In 2002, they had the vision, ambition, and determination to establish Wayfair as a company that creates and acquires and builds, rather than sells out—and I believe that what they created will serve as a magnet for the best and the brightest talent. Since its launch, Wayfair has quietly grown into an almost $1 billion online furniture empire, employing more than 1,500 people in Boston. It will inevitably become one of the most significant Boston-based IPOs of recent times, and will be a leading force in making e-commerce a major economic growth engine for our region. —Joe Grimaldi, chairman, Mullen Advertising
CAREGIVERS ON DEMAND
Sheila Lirio Marcelo
You have an unexpected business dinner and you need a reliable sitter who can wrangle your brood into bed before the clock strikes 8. For the 5.3 million families who use Care.com, which offers 24/7 access to the profiles of 4.5 million caregivers, this is no problem. Harvard alum Sheila Lirio Marcelo founded the Waltham company in 2006, raising $111 million in venture funding. Since then, she’s turned Care.com into such a success that when it released its IPO this past January, shares of the company rose nearly 43 percent in its first day of trading.
START A DIY FITNESS REVOLUTION
Brogan Graham and Bojan Mandaric
The November Project
The November Project’s manic, motivational, and mildly cultish mayhem, led by the charismatic duo Brogan Graham (left) and Bojan Mandaric, is bigger than you realize. The grassroots fitness movement is waging war on gym memberships by offering free early-morning workouts to hordes of fitness junkies three times a week. And now their concept—regular hill workouts, Harvard stadium runs, and random calisthenics challenges—has morphed into a sprawling international fitness community in 15 cities. The November Project’s infectious camaraderie (expressed through a disarming number of hugs) is all rooted in a single, three-point mantra: Fitness should be fun, it’s better with a team, and all you need to do is show up.
Katie Rae and John Harthorne
Techstars and MassChallenge
Few people embody Boston’s startup ecosystem better than Rae and Harthorne. Insanely connected, Rae has ushered dozens of promising businesses through the grueling Techstars program during her tenure as managing director. And Harthorne understands the impact one good idea can have on another: He picked the brains of more than 2,000 Bostonians before launching MassChallenge in 2008, and today the program is booming, with 1,600 pitches from 41 states and 50 countries in its latest application round. Now he’s taking the concept global.
BOSTON BEATS SILICON VALLEY
Rich Miner and Bijan Siabet
Google Ventures and Spark Capital
This pair of entrepreneurs turned VC wunderkinds have proven track records when it comes to investing in the right tech companies at the right times. Since creating the Android platform, Miner’s focus has been snagging up-and-comers like Nextbit and Crittercism for Google’s $1.2 billion venture arm. Siabet spearheaded Spark Capital’s early investments in Twitter, Foursquare, and Tumblr, walking away with $1.6 billion in Twitter shares after its IPO last year. His biggest effort of late was getting the governor to agree to outlaw non-compete clauses in the commonwealth.
RECLAIMING THE ORIGINAL INNOVATION DISTRICT
Founder and CEO, Cambridge Innovation Center
Back in the 19th century, when Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell were toiling over the light bulb and telephone, the two worked out of shared office space in the Financial District. Now, blocks away from where those inventors first brainstormed, Rowe foresees the new branch of the Cambridge Innovation Center reinvigorating downtown Boston, just as the original CIC helped launch the new Kendall Square. Rowe believes proximity among startups and innovators encourages collaboration, and is now bringing the concept to other major cities. First up: St. Louis, Missouri.
BRINGING MANUFACTURING BACK TO LAWRENCE
Brenna Nan Schneider
By capitalizing on the burgeoning “me-commerce” industry, Schneider believes she’s found a way to bring manufacturing back to America. Working out of a building in Lawrence’s historical Everett Mills complex, her team cuts and sews custom-designed retail goods for companies like West Elm, then ships the items directly to the consumer in two to five days. It’s no coincidence that the business’s home base is the site of the 1912 “Bread and Roses” labor strike: With 99Degrees Custom, Schneider hopes to build a revolution of her own—an “up and out” employment model that will teach workers the skills they need to move into higher-paying manufacturing jobs. It’s a concept that’s quite literally paid off: The company won the “diamond” award ($100,000) in 2013 in the MassChallenge competition.
April 29, 2014, 3:50 p.m.: In "The Fixers" section (page 3), the Barbara Lee Family Foundation was misnamed. Additionally, Lee's support for Emerge America was miscategorized. She is a board member who helped bring the organization to Massachusetts.
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/article/2014/04/29/power-of-ideas/