Media

TechBreakfast

Image via @TechBreakfast

MIT’s alumni directory contains a lot of interesting job titles, but Ron Schmelzer ’97’s stands out as unique: Chief Event Wrangler.

Nope, he’s not a cowboy. Schmelzer wrangles for TechBreakfast, a monthly morning meetup founded by Schmelzer that demos new technologies and has connected thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs in more than a dozen U.S. cities.

Before starting TechBreakfast, Schmelzer was a Course 6 major-turned-serial entrepreneur who started his first company with an MIT classmate, Dan Housman ’95, in their Alpha Epsilon Pi dorm room.

Ron Schmelzer '97

Ron Schmelzer ’97

“Near the beginning of the dot-com boom, Dan and I started an internet software company,” he says. “We said, ‘Let’s try this e-commerce thing.’ So we built VirtuMall (later ChannelWave), one of the first e-commerce sites. We basically had to invent everything from scratch—shopping cart technology, credit card transactions—because none of it existed yet.”

By 1998, the internet’s popularity had exploded and ChannelWave had become a successful venture. After raising nearly $60 million in funding, Schmelzer and Housman sold the company to the larger Quick Commerce.

After ChannelWave’s sale, Schmelzer started the analyst firm ZapThink, among other ventures, which he sold in 2011 after he and his wife moved from Boston to Baltimore.

“When I got to Baltimore, I thought, ‘Well, I guess I need to start another software company,’” he says, “So I organized some small meet-ups in Baltimore to see what kind of startups people were working on. My only rule was no PowerPoint. That’s how TechBreakfast go started.”

The meetups quickly became popular and Schmelzer began expanding TechBreakfast out-of-state. Less than four years later, the monthly breakfasts have more than 12,000 active members in 13 U.S. cities. The meetup’s most recent event, “Ask a V.C.” in Boston on April 13, featured nearly 250 attendees who heard from two panels of more than 20 investors.

“TechBreakfast moved so fast that I actually put another software company I started, Bizelo, on hold,” he says. “I’m still in the startup industry. But instead of running a software company, I’m running TechBreakfast.”

Schmelzer spoke to Slice of MIT at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive, where he was one of more than 100 MIT alumni who presented at the festival. He organized the TechBreakfast Spectacular—“basically TechBreakfast on steroids”—which featured 25 demos and more than 1,400 attendees. He also hosted SXSW’s first-release hardware meetup, a showcase of new internet-related demos that he called a “show-and-tell from grownups.”

“MIT has a great overlap on technology advancement and entrepreneurial innovation,” he says, “It’s a very supportive place for people who are creative and innovative. SXSW attracts the same audience, and people who are successful innovators and creators—like MIT alumni—tend to come here.”

For more about TechBreakfast, visit their website and follow @TechBreakfast on Twitter.

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04.07.15 Matt-Lieber

Gimlet Media co-founder Matt Lieber MBA ’12.

If you have been paying attention to the podcast renaissance sparked by the 2014 hit Serial, you may already know Matt Lieber MBA ’12. As the co-founder of Gimlet Media, Lieber and his podcast company have turned their focus on their own evolution in the innovative podcast series StartUp.

StartUp, which garners an audience averaging around 120,000 listens per episode, is one of the first products of Gimlet Media, the brain child of This American Life contributor Alex Blumberg, who cofounded the company with Lieber.

Missteps, fundraising, and frustrations are all shared in the podcast that aims to give a real look at what it’s like to launch a startup—and not just the successful fairytale version. Following this format, listeners were first introduced to Lieber in Episode 2 of the series as Blumberg worked to woo Lieber into his co-founder role. A few awkward conversations about money later, Lieber was onboard.

Though Lieber burst onto the podcast and startup scene in unique fashion, his path to it was hardly random. Lieber spent years working for public radio, completed his MBA at Sloan in 2012, and was working as a management consultant for Boston Consulting when Blumberg tapped him to help launch his new startup.

Lieber will be joining us for a #MITAlum Twitter chat on Friday April 10 at 11:30 a.m. EDT. He will be talking about startup fundamentals, the podcast renaissance, and what it’s like sharing your startup challenges and successes with an audience each week. Follow along on Twitter starting at 11:30 a.m. EDT and ask questions using the #MITAlum hashtag.

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Social Textiles respond when users share a common interest. GIF: Social Textiles

What if your likes and interests on social media were broadcast to the world offline? Would that make it easier for you to make real world connections with people? That’s the idea behind Social Textiles, a wearable social network created by Media Lab students Viirj Kan, Katsuya Fujii, Judith Amores, and Chang Long Zhu Jin—members of the Fluid Interfaces and Tangible Media groups.

This wearable network is made up of t-shirts that light up when wearers share a common interest. When people wearing Social Textiles are within 12 feet of one another, their shirts will give a quick buzz on the shoulder to alert them that someone with a common interest is near. When the wearers identify each other and make a connection—by physically touching their new connection’s shirt—the shirt will light up, revealing their shared interest.

The idea for Social Textiles came from a class assignment in MAS.834, Tangible Interfaces. “We were told to make something intangible, tangible,” explains Viirj Kan, which got the group thinking about social media. “Online is good at connecting us at a distance, but not connecting us when we’re close,” Kan says. “We wanted to change that.”

These shirts don’t store information from your profiles on established social networks, but instead connect and light up around one or two common interests like a certain brand or community you belong to, like a university. Kan explains, “If you were to buy your shirt through a certain blog, that blog would be your connection and interest. Or if you bought your shirt at the COOP, that’s your connection.”

For now, Social Textiles are still in the development stages and aren’t available for purchase, though Kan does believe the wearable network belongs on store shelves. “People are really excited about it. At some point it should go out into the world, but the next steps are to test it on users more,” she says.

Until then, the combined Media Lab group is getting plenty of attention. As media outlets learn of Social Textiles, the group has to balance interviews and class time—adding to the learning experience. “It’s kind of like another class,” laughs Kan.

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The January 27 article  article. Screenshot via businessinsider.com

Screenshot via businessinsider.com

On February 3, Slice of MIT linked to an article on businessinsider.com that listed the 21 “most successful” MIT alumni. As Slice mentioned at the time, determining success is entirely subjective and determining the most successful MIT alumnus is impossible.

We were not endorsing the website’s arbitrary list, but we did hope it would generate conversation among the MIT community.

And it did.

Since the story was published, nearly 100 alumni have responded on Slice and social media. Some questioned why we would highlight the list and many saw list-making of any kind as futile. But the majority used the comments to disavow the idea of success and advocate for even more alumni who they felt have made a significant positive impact in the world.

We were so impressed with the thoughtfulness of the comments—which mentioned 39 alumni from 37 different class years—that we’ve listed many of them below.

Let’s agree that defining success is not possible but acknowledge the dozens of world-changing alumni mentioned by Slice readers. Read the comments then add your own below on Facebook and Twitter.

Magliozzi

Tom Magliozzi ’58

“What about the 30-plus Nobel Prize winners? The 40 astronauts? It’s silly to name the thousands more…I am so proud to be a small part of the MIT alumni Association.” – Reid S.

“How can you include actor James Woods and exclude Tom ’58 and Ray ’73 Magliozzi from the Car Talk radio show?” – Ed R.

“Where is Ilene Gordon ’75, SM ’76?” – Peter D.

“Bob Metcalfe ’69—the inventor of Ethernet—isn’t in the ranking?” – Ken S.

“I would insert Tom Perkins ’53 (founder of Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield and Byers) ahead of at least half the list.” – Frank S.

“Not listing Ken Olsen ’50, SM ’52 is a major oversight. I would also consider Ray Stata ’57, SM ’58 and Alex d’Arbeloff ’49 as worthy of inclusion.” – Mark C.

“Charles ’57, SM ’58, SM ’60 and David ’62, SM ’63 Koch, co-owners of the largest private company in the US.” – Robert

“Can’t forget Doc Draper ’26, SM ’28, ScD ‘38!” – Robert

“Philip Ragon ‘72, owner of InterSystems, made Forbes 400 list of billionaires last year. I call that pretty successful!” – Gary

Oliver Smoot

Oliver Smoot ’62

“Maybe Oliver Smoot ’62—how many people get a unit of measure named after them? Or his cousin, George Smoot ’66, PhD ’71, who won the Nobel?” – Miles F.

“Vannever Bush ’16—first presidential science advisor, initiator of the Manhattan Project, initiator of the National Science Foundation, and founder of Raytheon.”- Mike D.

“Perhaps Business Insider never heard of Donald Douglas 1914 and the DC 2-10 aircraft, the DC-3, or the Dakota as the first really viable commercial airplane and of immortal fame in WWII!” – Eliot P.

“I would add Jimmy Doolittle SM ’24, ScD ’25 for consideration, based on his contributions to instrument flight and his namesake raid.” – Alberto C.

“Wow! They are missing Charles McMillan ’33, Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory.” – Carolyn Z.

“How about Doc Edgerton SM ’27, ScD ’31? Think of everything high speed photography has done for engineering, art, and instant replays!” – Jay C.

“What about software pioneers, like Mitch Kapor MBA ’81? And what about my school’s namesake, Alfred P. Sloan 1895 himself?” – Larry C.

“Don’t forget Henry Kendall PhD ’55, one of the founders/leaders of the Union of Concerned Scientists.” – Jay C.

“Why not mention Mario Draghi PhD ’76—the current President of the European Central Bank?” – Alberto

“What about Dan Bricklin ’73, who invented the computer spreadsheet?” – Alex L.

“They missed Lamberto Andreotti SM ‘77, CEO of Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Carl Gordon, PhD ’93, co-founder of Orbimed Healthcare Fund Management…Maybe the list should have been at least 100!” – Irene W.

“Just thinking of my own class—Rusty Scheickart ’56, SM ’63, astronaut, and a brilliant career afterwards, Gideon Gartner ’56, SM ’60, founder of the Gartner Group.” – Nelo S.

“I’d nominate Robert Shiller ’68, PhD ’72, the Nobel-prize winning economist at Yale, (and) Robert Swanson ’70, SM ’70, co-founder of Genentech.” – Jan J.

Tom

Tom Scholz ’69, SM ’70

“Let’s not forget Tom Scholz ’69, SM ‘70, musician and co-producer of Boston, the rock album that remains my favorite after 39 years.” – Tim C.

“Missing the likes of Claude Shannon SM ’40, PhD ’40 or Norbert Wiener HM ’63.” – Emre K.

“Hard to imagine Irwin Jacobs SM ’57, ScD ’69, founder and longtime CEO of Qualcomm, not being on this list.” – Eric R.

“How could you omit Amar G. Bose ’51, SM ’52, ScD ’56?” – Chuck H.

“How about George P. Shultz PhD ‘49? MIT PhD, MIT Professor, Dean of the business school at U. Chicago, Secretary of Labor and then the Treasury under Nixon.” – Simon van N.

“I would think that Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman ’39 would make the list. He made great strides in understanding a basic, but unintuitive, property of matter – quantum mechanics.” – Roy W.

“This list needs to add the name of Raghuram Rajan PhD ’91, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India.” – Harshal S.

“Bob Weinberg ’64, PhD ’49. His contributions to cancer research are unrivaled.” – Hanna S.

These comments have been edited for brevity and grammar, and to include MIT class years.

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Collective-genius

Greg Brandeau ’84 SM ’85 spoke to Slice of MIT about his new book.

In the summer of 2008, Greg Brandeau ’84 SM ’85 faced a serious problem in the office.

As senior vice president of systems technology at Pixar Animation Studios, he had a major release coming out: Up. On the schedule for Pixar’s mammoth rendering computers in the next two weeks, Up was projected to be a $1 billion major movie release. Unfortunately, it was scheduled to render, the process by which each single command of an animator’s directions becomes digital film, at the same time as a new complex experiment in short film, Cars Toons.

Brandeau had personalities to manage, and deadlines with Pixar’s owner Disney, but most of all he had a serious logistics problem on his hand: how to find the computing power to get both projects done on time.

Brandeau collected the happy ending to this story, and other lessons in innovative leadership, in a new book Collective Genius: the Art and Practice of Leading Innovation, published in 2014 and co-authored with Linda Hill, Emily Truelove, and Kent Kineback.

Brandeau joined Pixar in 1996 and most recently served as chief technology officer for Disney Animation Studios, which acquired Pixar. After leaving that post to become a full-time consultant, Brandeau found the idea of a book appealing.

“I was puzzling about how was it that Pixar had made five unbelievable movies in a row,” he says, “and no other major studio had done this? And now Pixar has made 14 blockbusters in a row without one miss. What was causing this? I wondered if it was how we were managing the process that makes what we’re doing better.”

The book examines other major companies transformed by innovative leadership, such as HCL, Volkswagon, Pentagram, and Google. These are idea factories, says Brandeau, where leaders access each employee’s “slice of genius” to move the firm ahead.

“We firmly believe that it’s the context in which people work that allows them to be innovated. Instead of thinking of the role of the leader in the traditional sense…the leader’s role in our view is organizers of a place where people can thrive.”

Listen to past books podcasts with novelists, professors, and entrepreneurs by visiting MITAA on Soundcloud.

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Ben Bernanke MIT Business Insider Most Successful?

Ben Bernanke PhD ’79 spoke at MIT’s 2006 Commencement ceremony.

Determining one’s level of success is entirely subjective. And determining the most successful MIT alumni seems impossible.

But, according to the news site Business Insider, 21 MITers stand out in a field of more than 130,000 alumni. The site’s list, which was released last week, includes architects, CEOs, and scientists but gives no defined method for determining success.

While it’s an impressive list, we’ll let you decide if the ranking truly constitutes MIT’s most successful. (“Most well-known” may be a better descriptor.)

The 21-person list, which actually features 22 alumni, list is below. Click on each name to jump to Business Insider for more info.

Let us know your take—and which other alumni merit mention—in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

21. Lorenzo Mendoza SM ’93, CEO, Empresas Polar
20. I.M. Pei ’40, architect
19. Drew Houston ’05 and Arash Ferdowsi ’08, founders, Dropbox
18. William Hewlett SM ’36, co-founder, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Company
17. Jonah Peretti SM ’01, founder, BuzzFeed and Huffington Post
16. Brian Halligan MBA ’05, CEO and co-founder, HubSpot
15. John W. Thompson SM ’83, chair, Microsoft
14. William Porter SM ’67, founder, E-Trade
13. Robin Chase SM ’86, co-founder, Zipcar
12. Ivan Getting ’33, engineer, co-credited with development of GPS
11. Shirley Ann Jackson ’68, PhD ’73, president, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
10. James Woods ’69, actor
9. John Potter SM ’95, former United States Postmaster General
8. Benjamin Netanyahu ’75, SM ‘76, prime minister, Israel
7. Amar Bose ’51, SM ’52, ScD ’56, founder, Bose Corporation
6. Andrea Wong ’88, president of international, Sony Pictures Entertainment
5. John Thain ’77, chair and CEO, CIT Group
4. Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin ScD ’63, astronaut
3. Salman Khan ’98, MEng ’98, founder Khan Academy
2. Kofi Annan SM ’72, former secretary-general, United Nations
1. Ben Bernanke PhD ’79, former chair, Federal Reserve

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How do you transition from being an engineering graduate student at MIT to training individuals  to survive in the wild with very limited gear? That’s a question that Cliff Hodges ’02, MEng ’04, survival expert on gets all the time. “It’s something I’ve always been interested in. I would often wonder how I would survive outdoors if I didn’t have all my gear,” Hodges explains. But that’s not the whole story.

Hodges (in the red jacket) leading a 2003 IAP course on wilderness survival.

Hodges (in the red jacket) leading a 2003 IAP course on wilderness survival.

While at MIT, Hodges used his breaks to attend survival training camps and even taught a survivalist class during IAP 2003. “We built shelters and started fire by friction right in front of the dome,” he remembers. After Hodges graduated from MIT, he took a tech job in California, but quickly changed his mind about his career path. “It was just a bad starter job for me,” he says. And, at that job, Hodges began wondering what it would be like to work in his passion.

After a few months in the tech world, Hodges set out to launch his company, Adventure Out in Santa Cruz, CA, where he offers survivalist classes and training. In the early days of his business, Hodges says it was hard to fill the survival training classes.  But in recent years as survival shows like Man vs. Wild and Naked and Afraid, have become popular, his business started booming. “It’s hard to say which came first. I think the shows are increasing demand, but that demand may be increasing interest in the shows,” he explains.

DeadlyDessert_023_RemoteSurvivor

Hodges is a survival expert for Remote Survival. Photo: NatGeo

Hodges recently joined the fray of survival shows after NatGeo asked him to be a survival expert for their new show Remote Survival. On the show, untrained campers are dropped into the wild with limited gear. Hodges helps these campers survive by offering them instructions through radio communication.  The job is especially difficult , he says, because the campers are constantly on the move, the worst option for survival. “Unless you’re in imminent danger, you stay put,” he explains.

These difficult situations are when Hodges makes use of his MIT background. “A degree in engineering is a degree in problem solving,” he says. “I can take these situations that seem insurmountable and break them down piece by piece.”

Remote Survival’s first mini season is on NatGeo now.  Hodges is hoping to be renewed for a full season.

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On a cold fall day, while waiting for the M2 shuttle back to the MIT campus, Livia Blackburne PhD ’13 passed a window display at the Harvard Coop. It was for a new series of young adult fiction about a girl and her vampire boyfriend.  MidnightThief-cov

“I picked it up, started reading, and got incredibly addicted. I got all four books and read them in three days. That just reminded me how much I loved reading and how I once wanted to be a young adult author,” she recalls.

After she finished her doctoral work in brain and cognitive science, Blackburne spent her nights returning to a craft she was first attracted to in high school. After graduating, she workshopped her first novel, found an agent for it, and sold it to Disney Hyperion books last year.

In this Alumni Books Podcast, Blackburne recounts the story behind Midnight Thief, her debut novel that has attracted widespread attention and enough encouragement to pursue writing full-time. Fans of the MIT Assassins Guild will appreciate Blackburne’s heroine’s journey in this tale, recruited at first by a group of assassins in a revolutionary plot before deciding to pursue her own course.

Asked whether any of her MIT education is at work in this novel of medieval mischief, Blackburne says: “What I found really helpful was the social psychology I learned while studying for my quals. I learned a lot about different cultures and world views. It was really useful to use that knowledge to build different societies.”

Having finished a book tour this fall, Blackburne, now living in Los Angeles, is at work on a sequel. For now, her career in academia is on hold.

Visit the MIT Alumni Association on Soundcloud and listen to past podcasts on architecture, gaming, health care, and oceanography.

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Update: Watch the archived broadcast.

Noam Chomsky interview webcast MIT

MIT alumni can ask live questions during the Jan. 20 webcast.

On January 20, 2015, at noon EST, Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky—the longtime political activist and founder the field of modern linguistics—discussed his career and took live questions from the MIT community in a Faculty Forum Online webcast. Chomsky also discussed the Chomsky Archive, an MIT Libraries project to preserve and digitize the lectures, personal papers, and materials he has donated to the Institute Archives and Special Collections.

Known as the “father of modern linguistics,” Chomsky shaped the linguistics field around the profound question, “What does language reveal about the nature of knowledge?” One of the world’s most-cited living scholars, he has authored more than 100 books and his political commentaries have sparked controversy and conversation for more than 50 years.

About Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky interview webcast MIT

Noam Chomsky

Known as the “father of modern linguistics,” Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky shaped the linguistics field around the profound question, “What does language reveal about the nature of knowledge?” Chomsky joined the MIT faculty in 1955 and was appointed Institute Professor in 1976.

Chomsky has authored more than 100 books on language and politics and is one of the world’s most-cited living scholars.

His well-known political beliefs have made him a significant figure in public activism, particularly on issues like capitalism and foreign policy.

Chomsky in the Press

The Chomsky Videos, YouTube
Noam Chomsky Official Website
The Chomsky Archives, MIT Libraries
MIT Libraries receive papers of distinguished linguist, philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky,” MIT News
Unboxing the Chomsky Archive,” MIT News
Chomsky on Russia: ‘The worst-case scenario, of course, would be a nuclear war,’” Salon
Interview with Noam Chomsky on the Crisis in Central America and Mexico,” The Nation
@chomsky_quotes, a collection of Noam Chomsky quotes on Twitter

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Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky, a prolific author, political activist, and philosopher, is one of MIT’s greatest scientists. He created the field of modern linguistics—the scientific study of language—and his political commentaries have sparked controversy and conversation for more than 50 years.

In the January 2015 Faculty Forum Online on Tuesday, January 20, Chomsky will shared insights on his career, took live questions, and discussed the Chomsky Archive, an MIT Libraries project to preserve and digitize the lectures, personal papers, and materials he has donated to MIT.

Watch the interview then share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #MITFaculty.

About Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

Known as the “father of modern linguistics,” Institute Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky shaped the linguistics field around the profound question, “What does language reveal about the nature of knowledge?” Chomsky joined the MIT faculty in 1955 and was appointed Institute Professor in 1976.

Chomsky has authored more than 100 books on language and politics and is one of the world’s most-cited living scholars.

Chomsky in the Press
Noam Chomsky Official Website
The Chomsky Archives, MIT Libraries
MIT Libraries receive papers of distinguished linguist, philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky,” MIT News
Unboxing the Chomsky Archive,” MIT News
Chomsky on Russia: ‘The worst-case scenario, of course, would be a nuclear war,’” Salon
Interview with Noam Chomsky on the Crisis in Central America and Mexico,” The Nation
@chomsky_quotes, a collection of Noam Chomsky quotes on Twitter

About Faculty Forum Online

Up to eight times per academic year, the Faculty Forum Online presents interactive interviews with MIT faculty on timely and relevant topics, including nuclear weapons, neuroscience, digital privacy, climate policy, and climate research. Viewers watch and participate in live 30-minute interviews via interactive chat. Since its inception in 2011, archival editions on YouTube and MIT TechTV have been viewed nearly than 100,000 times.

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