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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