Kendall Square Wants an Entrepreneurial Walk of Fame—and So Should Every Innovation Hub

Xconomy National — 

Local legends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck rose from the bowels of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (the high school’s drama department really is in the basement) to become international movie stars—and Damon was chosen three years ago to get a star along the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. But the business leaders who have arisen from places like Harvard University and especially MIT, creating jobs and changing the world in areas from health to education, energy and the environment, office productivity, and home entertainment, are ultimately far more heroic than movie stars. So why not create an Entrepreneurial Walk of Fame right here in the world’s densest innovation zone, Kendall Square?

That’s the inspired idea from Xconomist Bill Aulet, managing director of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center. Aulet’s concept is now being championed by Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung (who’s also expected to graduate in 2012 with a dual MBA/MPA degree from MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government), who says it’s being considered in committee and that he hopes to bring the proposal to the full Council this fall.

Aulet likes a good celebration (he and I and a contingent of other touring basketball players once paraded through the streets of Donegal Town in Ireland, but that’s another story). The idea behind the Entrepreneurial Walk of Fame, he says, “comes from my belief that successful entrepreneurship is about spirit as much as it is about skills…Our model is Educate-Nurture-Network-Celebrate. The stars on the sidewalk falls right in line with the ‘Celebrate,’ which we should do more of. If you want to keep a culture of risk-taking and entrepreneurship, then we should treat our entrepreneurs as stars, and what better way than this?” Aulet cites two pieces he wrote for Xconomy that explain more of his thinking along these lines: Celebrate Entrepreneurs Like the Red Wings Winning the Stanley Cup, and How to Build a Successful Innovation Ecosystem: Educate, Network, and Celebrate.

For his part, Cheung says that “every community should take the time to celebrate what makes it great. In Hollywood it’s actors; in Cambridge it’s entrepreneurs. That Kendall Square is the most innovative square mile on the planet is something everyone who lives or works in Cambridge can be proud of. Innovations born in Cambridge have changed the world countless times; I’d like to memorialize a few of those to help inspire everyone who might walk by them.”

Cheung says he sees the courtyard around the Marriott Hotel and the Kendall Square T Station as the perfect place to put the first stars, which would celebrate the entrepreneurs, researchers, and visionaries behind “the great innovations or achievements that have started or taken place in Cambridge.” The squares containing the stars would include the name of the entrepreneur or innovator, the core contribution he or she made, and possibly other details such as the date of the innovation and even its outcome. “Handprints would be great as well,” he says.

I love this idea—and I don’t see any reason it couldn’t be adapted in any of Xconomy’s cities of Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, and Detroit, or any other tech cluster around the world. Imagine going to Tokyo or Singapore or Basel or Cambridge, England, and finding tributes to innovators you might never have heard of, but who changed your life or cured your disease. Since learning of the Kendall Square idea last week, I’ve been thinking about the top entrepreneurs and innovators to come out of Cambridge over the last century or so, trying to identify the best 25 to 30 to start things off. Here are some names I came up with, in order of their appearance in my mind. But I’d love to hear your thoughts about this list, or who I missed—just drop them in the comments section below.

Edwin Land — prolific inventor and Polaroid co-founder

Harold “Doc” Edgerton — inventor of the strobe and co-founder of EG&G (originally known as Edgerton, Germeshausen, and Grier)

Phil Sharp — Nobel Laureate biologist at MIT and co-founder of Biogen (and several other biotech companies)

Wally Gilbert — Harvard Nobel Laureate and co-founder of Biogen; also a venture capitalist

Bob Langer — prolific MIT inventor and founder of more than a dozen companies

Rod Brooks — longtime MIT professor and robotics visionary, co-founder of iRobot

Helen Greiner — co-founder of iRobot

Colin Angle — another iRobot co-founder, now its CEO

Leo Beranek and Richard Bolt — former MIT professors, founders of Bolt, Beranek and Newman

Desh Deshpande — co-founder of Sycamore Networks; prolific entrepreneur and angel investor

George Whitesides — legendary Harvard chemist; co-founder of Genzyme and other companies

Tom Leighton — MIT Professor of Applied Mathematics, co-founder of Akamai

Danny Lewin — co-founder of Akamai, killed in 9/11 attacks

Ed Roberts — MIT Sloan School professor, angel investor and co-founder of many companies

Alex D’Arbeloff — co-founder Teradyne, former Chairman of MIT Corporation

Robin Chase — co-founder of Zipcar

Nicholas Negroponte — founder of MIT Media Lab and One Laptop Per Child Fundation

Clay Christensen — Harvard Business School innovation guru

Pattie Maes — computer scientist, entrepreneur

Mitch Kapor — founder of Lotus Development Corporation

Ray Kurzweil — inventor and futurist

Dean Kamen — legendary inventor, founder of FIRST Robotics competition

Ken Olsen and Harlan Anderson — founders of DEC

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32 responses to “Kendall Square Wants an Entrepreneurial Walk of Fame—and So Should Every Innovation Hub”

  1. George McQuilken says:

    And in the order in which they occur to me:

    Jay Wright Forrester, project leader on Whirlwind, inventor of core memory, inventor of Systems Dynamics

    Fernando J. Corbató, timesharing pioneer, developer of CTSS, Turing Award winner

    Robert Creasy, inventor of the virtual machine concept, project manager on the first full virtualization hypervisor, leading to CP/67 and VM/CMS

  2. George McQuilken says:

    “Doc” Edgerton’s greatest gift to humanity and to the development of human knowledge is probably his work developing side scan sonar, used to locate the Titanic, the Bismark, and a veritable shit load of ancient vessels.

  3. George McQuilken says:

    Without Claude Shannon we’d all be adjusting the dials on our analog computers or (later) Fed Exing punch cards to send email.

  4. Great idea.

    I suggest using light bulbs as the iconography, instead of stars. Edison began his entrepreneurial career in Boston, at 109 Court Street (not far from Kendall Square), and one of the inventors on Edison’s team who improved on the bulb, adding a carbon filament, was Lewis Latimer, born in Chelsea, Mass.


  5. George McQuilken says:

    And perhaps we could give out an Edward Bernays award for successful self-promotion in Cambridge. From my blog last year:

    The scramble for credit reminds me of my old friend, Eddie Bernays, who organized a festival commemorating the 50th anniversary of Edison’s invention of the light bulb. Attendees included President Hoover, Henry Ford, Orville Wright, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Madame Curie.

    I fondly anticipate that most of you will participate in the 50th anniversary of Cloud Computing, honoring me as the inventor of the concept. What’s that you say: I didn’t invent Cloud Computing? Well, Edison didn’t invent the light bulb either; you can look it up in your Wikipedia. Then again, Thomas Edison and I both knew Eddie Bernays, the Father of Modern Public Relations; Long life to all.

  6. Excellent idea!

    Also good folks to add:

    Steve Levy–CEO of Bolt Beranak & Newman

    John Cullinane–founder & CEO of Cullinet

    Chuck Stuckey–CEO of Chair of RSA Security

    Gabe Schmergel–CEO of Genetics Institute

    Paul Egerman–founder & CEO of IDX

    Ray Stata–founder & CEO of Analog Devices

    George Hastopoulos–founder & CEO of Thermoelectron

    There are others…this could be a great way to repave Main Street with this project.

  7. Loving these ideas–thanks all. Everyone above deserves to be out there: Jay Forrester, Claude Shannon, and Ray Stata seem especially deserving. Like the light bulb idea, too!

  8. Emil Mamedov says:

    Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet and founder of 3COM

  9. Lisa Suennen says:

    Glad you got Ray Stata in there. Also need Yoel Fink, founder & Chairman (formerly CEO) of OmniGuide and prolific MIT inventor, most recently of “hearing and seeing” fibers

  10. George McQuilken says:

    Lest we forget the internet, my short list would include Larry Roberts, J.C.R. Licklider, Len Kleinrock, Ed Hendricks, and Dave Clark, among others.

  11. Denise Clarke says:

    My comment is totally off topic but as a native of Donegal Town(now in Boston)and an ex-member of the basketball club there I was really amused by your reference to your “parade”!

  12. Tyler Orion says:

    For the San Diego Xconomists – CONNECT launched an Entrepreneur’s Hall of Fame in 2005. It’s not as vast as your Cambridge list, but inductees to date have been major contributors, at the heart of our regional economic growth.

  13. Philip Tan says:

    Steve Russell, Martin Graetz and Wayne Witaenem – inventors of the first graphical multiplayer computer game, SpaceWar!

  14. How about Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin, creators of VisiCalc, the original electronic spreadsheet?

  15. Also, it could be a good idea to include venture investors who have transformed the industry such as:

    Peter Brooke, Advent

    Ted Dintersmith, Charles River Ventures

    Henry McCance, Greylock

    Felda Hardymon, Bessemer

  16. Since I covered Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremonies during my years as an Associated Press reporter in Los Angeles, I thought I might mention that those stars aren’t free. Somebody has to pay the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. In some cases, it was the studio promoting the celebrityhood of a particular actor. In some cases, the celebrity buys their own star…

  17. First to answer Denise about Donegal Town. You will be happy to know this event was immortalized in an article I wrote for Sports Illustrated, which came out in the 1990 Swimsuit Issue (which probably makes it my most popular article ever). Here is url:

    The mention of the parade and Donegal is on p. 2. It was an amazing trip, and I will forever love Ireland!

  18. Barb Finer says:

    ..and don’t forget Barry Unger, Jerry Schaufeld, Vince Fulmer and the gang that got the MIT Enterprise Forum started… they’ve influenced a lot of entrepreneurs and successes.

    MOre: Gordon Baty and the VCs and Angels who were in it before it was fashionable.

  19. Tim RoweTim Rowe says:

    GREAT idea, Bill, Bob, and Leland.

    If you walk along many of the pedestrian streets in the old part of Madrid, they inscribe in bronze letters quotes from great poetry and literature by figures who lived there. It really sets the tone of a place to mark a place this way.

    Sure, the stars (or light bulbs) aren’t free, but I bet we could find a way to swing the cost. I would be happy to bring this up with the Kendall Square Association Board.

    I don’t know how Hollywood does it, but we would probably want to come up with some well-conceived criteria for inclusion. Are we talking about people who invented something important? Or people who led businesses that became successful? Both? Some have argued that Bill Gates has “invented” relatively little, but he certainly is an icon of entrepreneurship.

    Finally, I would like to suggest a couple names to the list:

    Thomas Watson and Alexander Graham Bell. They made the first two-way phone call, from Watson’s lab in Kendall Square to Bell’s home on Beacon Hill. The mid-point of that call was approximately at One Broadway.

    Elias Howe, who invented the sewing machine, either at 740 Main St. where his shop was, or nearby on Mass Ave. Singer copied his design. He sued singer, and won, taking the considerable money he made to back the Union Army in the Civil War.

    Charles Stark Draper, who invented intertial navigation, used in ships, airplanes, spacecraft, and some advanced car GPS systems.

    This is fun!

  20. Roy Russell says:

    This is a fantastic idea. I love the idea of turning Kendall Square into a tourist area, at least for geeks! Interesting to see the extremely mature and bureaucratic process followed by the Hollywood walk of fame (at least 60 years old now). I do think it would be good to think about a process for selection of stars, etc.

  21. More great ideas–and appreciate the reality checks as well! I am getting a lot of private emails about this, too. I will try to round up what I have learned soon.

  22. Megan says:

    Tim Yandel- inventor of the leg computer

  23. Robert Norton Noyce co-founder of the silicon chip who received his PhD in Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953.

  24. Alexander says:

    This is an excellent idea! I can’t imagine why anyone would be against it. Here are some additional names to consider:

    Ray Stata, co-founder and chairman of analog devices

    Neil Pappalardo, founder of Meditech, the MUMPS programing language, and member of the MIT corporation

    Cecil Howard Green, co-founder of Texas Instruments, has founded a number of universities including the “Green College” at University of Oxford

    Irwin Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm

    Robert Noyce, co-founded Fairchild Semiconductor in 1957 and Intel in 1968, co-developed the integrated chip.

    …there are plenty more that you have missed, especially those involved in the computer architecture and transistor boom of the 60s.

  25. Matthew Haggerty says:

    Great idea; all for it. Note that Dean Kamen is founder of the non-profit educational foundation FIRST. Woodie Flowers, professor emeritus of MIT, with Dean, are co-founders of the FIRST Robotics Competition – a spinout of MIT course 2.007 (previously course 2.70), an engineering design robotics competition, and FIRST’s first scalable offering, the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC). Dean and Woodie each qualify for so many other contributions in any case. However, FRC was, and is, their joint pursuit.

  26. Matthew Haggerty says:

    As identified on the FIRST website: “Woodie Flowers, FIRST National Advisor and Co-Founder.” Give Woodie credit also for “Gracious Professionalism,” and “We are what we celebrate.”

  27. Matthew Haggerty says:

    And finally, imagine that Boston’s third harbor tunnel, technological marvel that it is, due to the commitment and creativity of so many engineers, is recognized as the Ted Williams Tunnel. We are what we celebrate, indeed. The Walk of Fame is an essential idea that must be realized.