Obituaries

Vanu Bose, 52, noted figure with MIT and cellular pioneer

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Vanu Bose.

Born into one of Greater Boston’s most prominent technology families, Vanu Bose became an entrepreneur in his own right, founding a company that uses cellular base stations to help provide wireless infrastructure globally, including in sparsely populated areas from Vermont to Rwanda.

“Nobody’s been able to find a way to make rural developing-market coverage economically viable,” he told MIT Technology Review for a profile published three weeks ago.

Dr. Bose was 52 when he died Saturday of a pulmonary embolism, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced. His death comes four years after his father, Bose Corp. founder Amar G. Bose, died at 83.

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Both son and father were prominent members of MIT’s community. Each graduated from the institute with three degrees, and Dr. Bose had served since 2013 on the MIT Corporation, the institute’s board of trustees.

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“We’ve really lost a beautiful human,” Robert B. Millard, chairman of the MIT Corporation, said in a statement, adding that “we are all shocked to lose Vanu Bose, a warm and valuable member of our community.”

As founder and chief executive of Vanu Inc., Dr. Bose wanted to provide coverage to people who live in the blank spots on the world’s cellular provider maps. His company developed cellular antenna systems that only need a small amount of energy to operate and that can run on solar power. That allowed Vanu Inc. to help build out networks in some of the world’s most isolated areas.

Just weeks ago his company’s technology helped restore cellphone connections in ravaged parts of Puerto Rico after it was hit by Hurricane Maria.

“It’s been so motivating for our employees, because everyone watches the news and says, ‘I wish I could do something to help,’ ” Dr. Bose, who sent equipment to Puerto Rico free of charge, told The Boston Globe in early October. “Suddenly we have a way to help.”

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Visits Dr. Bose paid to his extended family in India when he was growing up “may have planted a seed for some of his desire later in life to address the needs of people who don’t have much of a voice in the business or political world,” said Andrew Beard, chief operating officer of Vanu Inc., on Sunday evening.

Beard added that Dr. Bose was adept at “getting people excited to do the impossible,” and motivating them “to bang their heads against the wall and do what other people said couldn’t be done.”

Though he struck out on his own, creating a company separate from the audio equipment empire his father founded, Dr. Bose brought family wisdom to his endeavors, such as when he was negotiating with governments to bring cellular coverage to rural areas in Africa and South Asia.

“One of the things my dad used to say always comes back to me in these discussions: ‘It takes more creativity and innovation to market a new invention than it did to invent it in the first place,’ ” he said for the MIT Technology Review profile, which was posted online Oct. 24.

In a statement, MIT president L. Rafael Reif said Dr. Bose “was deeply proud of his father, Amar, and of Amar’s impact as an engineer, entrepreneur, and executive. And he built an extraordinary legacy of his own that I know made Amar proud.”

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In early October, Dr. Bose told WBUR-FM that Vanu Inc. had provided more than 40 cellular base stations in Puerto Rico for free. The stations, which each cost about $5,000 and have a roughly 3-mile radius, assisted people in locating and reconnecting with missing relatives.

“You know, one of the things you hear about in disaster relief is how long it takes to bring communications up,” Dr. Bose told WBUR. “And what I’ve realized is the technology and the service infrastructure we built for rural coverage is ideally suited to rapidly bring up emergency services.”

Reif noted that “the ‘Bose’ name has long been synonymous with brilliance, humility, leadership, and integrity. Through his work to use cellular technology to connect the unconnected — most recently in Puerto Rico — Vanu embodied the very best of the MIT community, advancing the institute’s vision for a better world.”

Dr. Bose’s father, Amar, was a professor for nearly 50 years in MIT’s electrical engineering and computer science department. After founding Bose Corp. in 1964, Amar became one of MIT’s most significant benefactors, donating most of the stock in his privately held company to the university.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Dr. Bose graduated from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in 1988, in electrical engineering and computer science and mathematics; a master’s in 1994, in electrical engineering and computer science; and a doctorate in 1999. His doctoral thesis, “Virtual Radio Architecture,” formed the basis for Vanu Inc., which he founded a year before completing his final degree.

He told MIT Technology Review that, as an undergraduate, he became interested in wireless technology while helping his father on a research paper for proposed modifications to FM radio broadcasting. Meanwhile, as Dr. Bose spent time with other students who wanted to become entrepreneurs, he began to consider launching a company of his own.

As Dr. Bose neared the end of his graduate school years, he started applying for teaching positions but found himself talking more about, perhaps, a startup.

“It was a moment of clarity,” he said in the MIT Technology Review profile.

When the chairman of one MIT department called to schedule an interview for a faculty opening, Dr. Bose replied: “ ‘Thank you very much, this is a great opportunity, but I’ve decided to go start a company.’ I hung up the phone and said, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ I just pushed myself off the cliff.”

Although he carried the Bose name into his own enterprises, Dr. Bose noted in a 2004 interview with the Globe that his father didn’t invest in Vanu Inc.

“He gives me advice whenever I want or need it,” Dr. Bose recalled. “But he says, ‘It’s your company. You’ve got to make your own decisions.’ ”

Dr. Bose served on the Boston Museum of Science’s board of trustees, from 2007 through 2013, and on the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development, from 2012 through 2015. In addition, he was on the Trustee Succession Committee for Bose Corp., according to MIT, and served on the advisory board of the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program.

In 2007, IEEE Spectrum magazine named Dr. Bose a Wireless Winner. He also received the GSM Association Technology Innovation Award in 2005 for most innovative infrastructure product, and he was named a World Economic Forum technology pioneer.

Vanu Bose with the prototypt of their newest technology in 2007.
Michele McDonald/Globe Staff/file
Vanu Bose with the prototypt of their newest technology in 2007.

Dr. Bose’s wife, Judy, with whom he celebrated their 10th anniversary in September, said he brought a “great enthusiasm and zest” to everything in his life.

“Here was this person who cared so deeply about anyone he connected with . . . and was set upon changing the world,” said Judy, who met Dr. Bose when he was doing graduate work at MIT and she was a graduate student at New England Conservatory. “I just wanted to be part of his extraordinary journey to do that.”

In addition to his wife, Dr. Bose leaves their 8-year-old daughter, Kamala, who is named for his maternal grandmother; his mother, Prema; a sister, Maya; and his father’s wife, Ursula.

In 2014, MIT created a program for research fellows to honor the legacy of Dr. Bose’s father, Amar. Dr. Bose interviewed candidates for grants of up to $500,000 for three years, which allow faculty members to pursue innovative programs.

The recipients “may have nothing else in common, but there’s this common bond of being pioneering, having an insatiable curiosity about the world,” Dr. Bose told the MIT Technology Review. He added that the aspirations of those who apply for the grants echo the spirit of his father’s research explorations.

“That’s part of the motivation — wanting to continue that spirit of exploration,” Dr. Bose said.

Globe correspondent John Hilliard contributed to this report. Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.