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Entrepreneurs join in celebrating MIT

Two generations of MIT's high-tech entrepreneurs celebrated traditions of innovation and achievement with Institute officials, BankBoston researchers and the mayor of Cambridge at a news briefing to release a BankBoston report, MIT: The Impact of Innovation.

The elder statesmen of high-tech business, including Ray Stata, chairman and CEO of Analog Devices (SB '57, SM, and a member of the MIT Corporation), and Kenneth Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corp. (SB '50, SM), participated in light-hearted dialogue with five members of a new wave of recent MIT graduates, also high-tech entrepreneurs. The panel and discussion were moderated by MIT President Charles M. Vest. The briefing and panel were held March 5 at the Tang Center.

MIT: The Impact of Innovation is the first national study of the economic impact of a research university. MIT graduates have started 4,000 companies generating 1.1 million jobs and $232 billion in sales in 1994, the report states.

The report, also known as "The Founders' Study," tells a "national story about the immense productivity of the economic roles played by our research universities; about the tangible, substantial ways in which higher education improves America," President Vest said in his opening remarks.

The two generations of business people at the briefing "have contributed and are continuing to contribute to MIT's tradition as a launching pad for innovation and entrepreneurship," President Vest said.

"Analog Devices is, I think, the prototypical MIT-born and bred company in every respect. I can say unequivocally that we owe our existence to this institute," Mr. Stata said. One way Analog Devices has maintained its growth over the past 30 years is by "tapping the stream of graduates coming out of not only MIT but many other campuses around the world," he said before introducing the young entrepreneurs on the panel.

"This is what we do at MIT--we create technology and try to foster its introduction into the world," declared Dr. Jay A. Stein (PhD '68), senior vice president, technical director and director of both Hologic Inc. and Vivid Technologies, Inc., speaking from the audience.

He said he appreciated the recent graduates' "novel ideas, enthusiasm and creativity," adding, "Let's hope their stuff sells!"

Hologic makes X-ray systems to measure bone density, and Vivid Technologies develops automated inspection systems to detect explosives in airline baggage.

Dr. Pierre J. Brosens (SB '55, SM, ScD), co-founder, vice chairman, treasurer and director of General Scanning, Inc., a developer of laser systems, was struck by the common thread joining the two generations' experience with starting up new companies.

"Whether MIT works as a magnet, attracting people with an entrepreneurial bent, or it inspires people, once they get here, to become entrepreneurs, you can't take away credit for its astounding record," Dr. Brosens said.

Other luminaries among the "elder founders" included Howard Salwen (SB '58, SM), chairman of Proteon Associates, Inc., known as the father of token ring technology; L. Dennis Shapiro (SB '55, SM), chairman, Lifeline Systems Inc., a manufacturer of personal emergency response systems for the health care industry, and Dr. John W. Poduska (SB '59, SM, ScD), chairman of Advanced Visual Systems, Inc., a developer of software that allows engineers and scientists to see and manipulate three-dimensional objects.

Dr. Poduska co-founded Prime Computer, the landmark Route 128 technology company, in 1972. He founded Apollo Computer in 1979 and Stellar Computer in 1985.


Sharing their elders' enthusiasm for the synergy between MIT's research facilities and their own business goals, the five recent MIT graduates have chosen to locate their businesses in or near Cambridge.

Marina Hatsopoulos, president of Z Corporation (SM '93), delights in her company's competitiveness. "We can build a three-dimensional part 20 times faster than any other commercially available prototyping system," she said. Ms. Hatsopoulos, the mother of twins who "come to the office every day," noted that most Z Corp. employes have PhDs.

Jennifer Glos (SB '95), founder of RoseBud Toys, demonstrated her storytelling stuffed platypus and elephant, explaining how she hopes to change the way girls interact with technology. Glos's MIT experience continues; she's now a research assistant at the Media Lab.

"We could not have accomplished the work we've done so far without access to a shared experimental facility at MIT," said Mark Miles (SB '85), CTO and co-founder of Iridigm Display Corp., which develops new technology for fabricating reflective flat-panel displays. (LEDs are an earlier generation of flat-panel displays.) Iridigm co-founder Erik J. Larson (SB '87) is the company's president.

"Our goal is to take this technology out of the laboratory and put it firmly on the road to commercialization," Mr. Miles said.

Jeet Singh's Art Technology Group provides consumer-focused Internet applications, with clients including the Media Laboratory. ATG is now hiring at the "rate of two or three people a week," he said. A recent hire, a high school student, presented a new challenge. "His code was great. We just had to remind him to do his homework," said Mr. Singh (SB '86), president and CEO of ATG.

Thomas Massie (SB '93, SM), chairman and chief technical officer of SensAble Technologies, illustrated the balance of challenge and confidence between the generations. Appearing in a black leather jacket with "SensAble" on the back, Mr. Massie eagerly demonstrated his PHANToM, a device like a thimble on a joystick that creates the sensation of "touching" objects in space--when they're just on a screen.

Asked to advise an entrepreneur younger than himself, Mr. Massie surveyed the audience and smiled. "Look for somebody with gray hair to manage your employees," he said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 12, 1997.

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