Tuesday, April 22, 2008

John Wood Still Rocks: Room to Read Founder Fires Up MIT Event

I first saw John Wood present in 2006, when he visited Boston on book tour for Leaving Microsoft to Change the World. Two years later, he's still just as impassioned about the nonprofit that he leads, Room to Read.

Wood delivered the education keynote this past Saturday at the Millennium Campus Conference, which was sponsored by MIT's Global Poverty Initiative (GPI). The GPI was formed by a group of 40 MIT students determined to mobilize the world's next generation of leaders to act against global poverty. It gives you hope for Gen Y.

Wood was in outstanding company, with John Edwards opening the conference on Friday, and luminaries like Dr. Paul Farmer (Partners in Health) presenting the health keynote, and Ira Magaziner of the Clinton Global Initiative speaking for the public policy track.

Wood hit a nerve with Sox fans in his opening, speaking reverently of Dr. Farmer but noting that it was a bit like following Alex Rodriguez in the batting order. When the Boston crowd grumbled (with a few "ORTIZ" shout outs) Wood caught on to the faux pas and shifted gears to a music analogy, citing Bono. He later noted that he'd spoken at the recent Public Library Association Conference, where he followed the comedienne Paula Poundstone. "I have a tendency to do keynotes behind people who are smarter or better looking that I am, sometimes both."

Given the serious nature of his topic, John's presentation was consistently funny. He joked that leaving Microsoft to do good has become such a trend that Gates is following in his footsteps. Zack the yak, featured on the cover of Leaving Microsoft loaded with books, sported a design flaw; his rope was shorter than his horns, "evidence that the Microsoft design team had gotten there before me."

On a more serious note, Wood applauded the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, noting that Warren Buffet's follow-on support of the foundation raised the bar for billionaires everywhere. "These guys have stepped up. What are you doing?"

The grand challenges, according to Wood:

  • Every child, everywhere, deserves a chance at education.
  • 110 million kids of primary school age are not enrolled in school. If you lined those kids up side-by-side, they would form a line stretching from the East Coast of the U.S., across the country, across the Pacific, through Asia and on to London -- 21,000 miles long. What an image.
  • 800 million people cannot read or write; two-thirds of these people are women.

Room to Read’s Challenge Grant Model is part of its secret sauce. On top of demonstrating need and dependability, RtR requires the school community to co-invest, which gives communities a greater stake in the outcome. For libraries, for example, communities might provide materials and labor to aid in construction.

The Local Language Publishing Program is another cornerstone RtR program. In 2003, survey work in Nepal revealed that more kids would use their library more often if books were in Nepalese, rather than English. So Room to Read found local authors and illustrators, publishing 10 local language books in 2003. By now, the organization has published 225 localized books.

Girls who are beneficiaries of Room to Read’s Girls’ Scholarship Program have even gotten into the act, writing one of the books in the series, “Baby Fish Goes to School.” It’s the story of a fish who wants to go to school with the other animals, but his mother explains that he can’t because he lives in the water, and the school is on land. So the animals get a fishbowl so that the fish can join them at the school. How great is that?

Wood noted that he told the story when he spoke before the Clinton Global Initiative last September. He looked out in the audience to find that he’d brought Nobel-prize winner Toni Morrison to tears.

He gives one heck of a presentation.

For the backstory, you can read Wood’s recent essay from Newsweek, or better yet, read his book.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Mass High Tech Women to Watch

“Why aren’t engineers studying the physics of high heels?!”

This was just one of many insightful comments during the acceptance speeches for the 2008 Mass High Tech Women to Watch Awards, spoken by Amanda Parks, founder and director of design engineering for Bodega Algae.

Wendy Frey Caswell, president and CEO of Zink Imaging quoted Calvin Coolidge, who wrote: "Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race."

The Mass High Tech Women to Watch awards honor 10 New England-based women as future leaders and innovators each year. They come from fields such as biotech, telecom, software, hardware, electronics, advanced energy, nanotech, medical devices, IT, networks and communications, and robotics.

The nomination criteria include: at least five years of managerial or technical experience in technology or science-related businesses, or in academic research leading to commercialization of tech-based products and/or services, engineering or science degree, demonstrated leadership abilities, and the ability to think creatively and develop new opportunities with regard to business or the commercialization of technology.

I was delighted to attend the event this year, to support an honoree from one of our client companies: Deborah Louis, senior vice president, On-Demand Operations for Authoria Inc. Deborah began her speech with a joke, stating that when she told her son that she would be making a speech that night he replied, “Don’t sound like Hillary Clinton.”

I was told the event would be inspiring and it lived up to my expectations. The women honored had wonderfully diverse experiences in their careers but one point was continually brought up during their speeches: the importance of mentors. The women thanked their mentors, both male and female, for taking the time to advise them in their career paths.

Congratulations to all of the 2008 Mass High Tech Women to Watch:

* Afsana Akhter, director of business development, Medullan Inc.

* Wendy Frey Caswell, president and CEO, Zink Imaging Inc.

* Sylvie Grégoire, president, Human Genetic Therapies, Shire Pharmaceuticals

* Sadiye Guler, founder, president and CEO, intuVision Inc.

* Heather Healy, senior director, strategic planning, Office of CTO, EMC Corp.

* Deborah Louis, senior vice president, on-demand operations, Authoria Inc.

* Beth Marcus, founder and CEO, Zeemote Inc.

* Christine Miska, systems engineering functional manager, BAE Systems

* Amanda Parkes, co-founder and director of design engineering, Bodega Algae LLC

* Ellen Piccioli, senior engineering manager, Intel Corp.

And about those high heels? Check out Taryn Rose, orthopedic surgeon turned shoe designer. Dr. Rose will be speaking at this year’s Simmons Leadership Conference, which we happen to be promoting.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

DEMO Comes to Boston

This just in...

Mark your calendars! Chris Shipley and the demo crew are hosting a cocktail soiree on Tuesday May 6 at 6:30. The location is TBD, but you can register to attend at EventBrite. It's your chance to hang out with the DEMOgods and goddesses.


Monday, April 07, 2008

Josh Wolfe: "America's Leading Authority on Nanotech," Coming to Cambridge

If you live in the world of nanotech, you know Josh Wolfe, who authors a nano report co-branded with Forbes. Wolfe sports various catchy monikers. Forbes calls him "America's Leading Authority on Nanotechnology," while Red Herring has dubbed him "Mr. Nano." He's a co-founder and managing partner at Lux Capital.

Wolfe is coming to town this week, and will be keynoting at an MIT Enterprise Forum event on the evening of April 9. You can register here.

The Forum case study presentations (now called the Innovation Series) are always interesting. It's informative to hear a panel of experts dissect a company's strategy.

This year, the program committee added a keynoter in front of the case study session, and they've drawn some heavy hitters, like Dr. George Whitesides, co-founder of Genzyme, who presented at the March event.

This week's case study, following Wolfe's presentation, will be presented by Seth Coe-Sullivan, CTO of QD Vision, an early stage nanotech venture that manufactures quantum-dot products. A panel of experts will provide feedback on QD Vision's plans and strategy, offering suggestions for commercializing the company's technology.

The expert panel includes Jed Dorsheimer, principal and senior equity analyst, Canaccord Adams; Jack Derby, founder of Derby Management LLC; and Jake M. Reder, Ph.D., director of the Office of New Ventures, Dartmouth Medical School. The panel discussion will be moderated by Roger E. Bohn, MIT Sloan School of Management, visiting professor.

When: Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Networking: 5:30 p.m.
Program: 6:15-8:00 p.m.
Reception: 8:00-9:00 p.m.

Where: Stata Center (Bldg. 32), Kirsch Auditorium, 32 Vassar St., Cambridge

Labels: , ,