When Nadeem Mazen ’06 has trouble balancing his duties as a Cambridge city councilor and CEO of both Danger Awesome, a Central Square maker space, and NimbleBot, a design firm, he reverts to tactics he picked up at MIT.
“Luckily, I love to stay up late,” he says. “So I can pull an MIT-style all-nighter to make sure everything I need to do gets done.”
Mazen has juggled his duties as elected official and entrepreneur since 2013, when he was voted onto Cambridge’s nine-person city council. Born in Illinois and raised in Andover, Massachusetts, he is the first Muslim elected to a government position in the history of Massachusetts.
“I ran because I saw an incredible need for organizing and service in this community,” Mazen says. “In my religion, if a certain level of social good has not been guaranteed by government, it’s actually required for each person to focus on these issues of social benefit.”
Reelected to the city council in 2015, Mazen is working to strengthen bridges between Cambridge’s longtime residents, new entrepreneurs, and educational institutions, including MIT.
“We are on to something special here in Cambridge,” he says. “But we could do more, including more social responsibility from businesses and more civic engagement from places like MIT, because I know the students, alumni, and faculty want to be part of it.”
Mazen has made improving the schools’ educational systems and addressing the city’s economic disparity tenets of his city council activity. “Cambridge has 50 percent of its student body living at or near the poverty level,” he says. “We need to make sure there are opportunities for everyone, and we need to be able to expand and fund these opportunities in the future.”
The city council position is not full time, which allows Mazen to lead both NimbleBot, a Cambridge-based firm that has worked with such companies as PBS and Samsung, and Danger Awesome, which has become a popular gathering place where people can use 3-D printers, laser cutters, and other tools to build items from custom necklaces to product prototypes.
“Danger Awesome is part machine space, part cultural space,” Mazen says. “We welcome all comers with respect to the need for a meeting space close to mass transit. It’s turned into a community project, and we hope to raise funds to ensure it stays in Central Square.”
He credits MIT’s solution-oriented mind-set with helping him manage his hectic professional life.
“My time at MIT was a mixture of believing anything was possible and realizing there is health in making missteps,” Mazen says. “You can always have a ‘never say die’ attitude when you know there is a solution at the end.”
This article originally appeared in November/December 2016 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.