Who Knew? Part 3: Xconomy Uncovers Even More Strange-But-True Facts About Boston’s Innovation Leaders

Xconomy Boston — 

We’re back! After a long hiatus, Xconomy has returned with more strange-but-true facts from the world of New England innovation. And in this latest installment, our third so far, things are getting seriously offbeat.

Who once acted as press secretary for not one, but two of the four leaders of the Tiananmen Square revolt—and which of those four has founded a tech startup right here in Boston? What former VC put himself through college by working in a Canadian nickel mine? Which biotech CEO is a serious race car driver? Whose daughter is a high-profile New York fashion model?

Read on for the answers to all of those questions, and more. And if you missed the first two installments—after all, the last one was more than two years ago—you can find them here and here.

And one more thing: much like that aforementioned miner-innovator, we did a lot of digging to unearth these facts. But we’re more than happy to accept nuggets from our readers as well; just send them to editors@xconomy.com.

—When he attended Atlantic College (part of United World Colleges) in the United Kingdom, FastIgnite founder Simeon Simeonov worked at a student-run coastal rescue station on the north shore of the Bristol Channel that was part of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). There was plenty of work, he reports, as the Bristol Channel has the second-highest tidal range in the world—around 50 feet.

Christina Lampe-Onnerud, founder and CEO of Boston Power, balanced her undergraduate and doctoral studies (her PhD is in inorganic chemistry) at Uppsala University in her native Sweden with her love of singing—performing both in jazz bands and chorus groups. Here in the States, she founded and directs a Massachusetts-based all-women’s chorus—The Stardust Show Chorus. Her husband Per Onnerud, Boston Power’s CTO, is a concert-caliber jazz trumpet player whose swing band has played gigs at Berklee Performance Center, among other places.

Doug Fambrough, CEO Dicerna Pharmaceuticals

Doug Fambrough, CEO Dicerna Pharmaceuticals

Doug Fambrough, CEO of Dicerna Pharmaceuticals and a venture partner at Oxford Bioscience Partners, is a serious amateur race car driver who has competed at some of America’s most legendary tracks, including Sebring, Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen, and Lime Rock Park. Fambrough takes part in both sprints and endurance races that can last 12 hours or more: he splits the time behind the wheel in longer races with two other drivers. “Part of the thrill is the fear—if you’re not scared, you’re not going fast enough!” says Fambrough, who happily reports he has only totaled one car and has never been injured while racing. He currently maintains three Mazda Miatas in track-ready form.

—In 1989, as a recent Amherst College graduate, Cambridge Innovation Center founder and CEO Tim Rowe acted briefly as press secretary for two of the four leaders ofthe Tiananmen Square revolution, Wuer Kaixi and Shen Tong. According to Wikipedia (which doesn’t include a source for this), Wuer Kaixi is still today the second most wanted man in China. Shen Tong now runs a startup in New York.

—A third leader of the Tiananmen Square revolt, Ling Chai, is the founder, president, and chief operating officer of Boston-based Jenzabar, which offers high-tech education services.

—Inventor Dean Kamen‘s father Jack Kamen was a prolific illustrator for Mad, Weird Science, and other EC Comics publications, drawing everything from crime to humor to the macabre. EC editor Al Feldstein once said: “We gave Kamen those stories where the All-American girl and guy are married, and then chop each other to pieces.”

—Serial entrepreneur and former venture capitalist Vinit Nijhawan, who grew up in Canada, worked underground in a nickel mine in northern Manitoba to finance his undergraduate university degree at the University of Waterloo.

Cameron Russell, eldest daughter of Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase and her husband Roy Russell (previously Zipcar’s CTO), is a well-known New York fashion model even while majoring in math and economics at Columbia University. She’s been on the cover of many magazines, most notably Italian Vogue—and Cameron and younger sister Linnea recently appeared in a Calvin Klein CK One fragrance ad together.

Linnea Russell climbing in Red Rock, Nevada

Linnea Russell climbing in Red Rock, Nevada

—In addition to modeling with her sister, Linnea Russell, a senior in high school, is a nationally ranked rock climber who competed this past weekend in the world youth rock climbing championships in Edinburgh, Scotland.

John Glaser, now CEO of a Siemens health IT division and formerly CIO of Partners HealthCare, was kicked out an all-male Jesuit high school in the San Francisco Bay Area for his role in an underground newspaper whose coverage included beer and girls.

Yuchun Lee, co-founder and CEO of Unica (NASDAQ: UNCA), the Waltham, MA, marketing and analytics software firm bought last month by IBM for $480 million in cold, hard cash, was a key member of the MIT blackjack team in the early 1990s. Part of that time spanned Unica’s founding. As my colleague Greg wrote of Lee in those early Unica days, “He’d leave for Las Vegas on Friday night, work with the team, and take the redeye back on Monday morning—sometimes with large amounts of cash strapped to him. He didn’t say whether he used any of his winnings to help keep Unica going in the early days—but it’s worth noting the company didn’t take any venture money until 1999.”

Colin Angle, co-founder and CEO of iRobot, (in case you missed it in the New York Times weddings page or the Boston Globe was married in Hawaii this August to Erika Ebbel, the first (and perhaps only) MIT alum to become Miss Massachusetts. Ebbel, who also participated in the 2004 Miss America pageant, was a three-time winner of the California State Science Fair and is the founder of Science from Scientists (previously known as the WhizKids Foundation), which works with schools to get kids interested in science. She is currently pursuing her PhD in analytical biochemistry at Boston University.