This might be the busiest time of the year for Lori van Dam as the social entrepreneurship nonprofit she runs, the Hult Prize Foundation, prepares for its big day.
Every year around this time, a panel of judges picks a winner for the foundation’s namesake $1 million prize, awarded to the emerging startup with the best idea and plans for tackling a major social issue. This time, the judging takes place on Sept. 20 in New York City, the culmination of a year-long process involving some 15,000 startups around the world that have been launched by undergraduate or graduate students. The six 2022 finalists range from a food recycling startup in Singapore to a water filtration startup in Switzerland.
It will be the first time the Hult Prize, a 40-person organization based in Cambridge, holds its annual event under van Dam’s leadership. She was recruited back to the group of organizations affiliated with the family of EF Education First founder Bertil Hult late last year; van Dam spent more than 20 years with EF Education First, a global travel and education company, and other affiliates in Cambridge before leaving in 2009.
Van Dam returned after the Hult Prize Foundation was rocked by numerous sexual assault allegations. The foundation hired law firm Kirkland & Ellis to investigate the claims. As a result, the former chief executive and other senior leaders were ushered out, a new code of conduct and anonymous hotline were created, and a new leadership team was installed.
Before coming back, van Dam worked for the Susan G. Komen breast cancer charity; in 2014, she took a temporary job as chief executive of the One Fund Boston, which distributed donations to victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
Overseeing the prize has been a dream job for her, in part because of all the guidance the foundation gives to competitors along the way.
“We hear from people who are alumni of the program who didn’t win but who have a sense of themselves as changemakers, who see how they can be part of the solution in a way they hadn’t before,” van Dam said. “To know we’re bringing the opportunities of social entrepreneurship to these countries ... is a real privilege.”
From Wellesley to Dublin
Babson College president Steve Spinelli travels to Ireland so often, he jokes that he intentionally misspells his obviously Italian last name as “Spinelley” when he goes there.
Three decades of building professional and personal relationships in that country culminated in Spinelli’s announcement last week in Dublin that Babson would open an International Accelerator for Growth, Innovation, and Entrepreneurial Leadership in that country, to serve as a launchpad for a European expansion. (Babson’s B-AGILE program, as it’s known, already has a client in Bulgaria.) The program aims to take lessons learned from entrepreneurship and apply them to management training. It’s one of the latest examples of how the college is expanding its “lifelong learning” options.
Spinelli was joined at the reception in Dublin by Claire Cronin, the US ambassador to Ireland and a former state rep from Easton who rose to become House majority leader before leaving the state Legislature for her current post. Cronin said she was hopeful that the B-AGILE program would help diversify business leadership in Ireland. Pfizer, a lifelong learning partner of Babson’s in the United States, also participated in the launch.
Spinelli estimates he’s been to Ireland at least 25 times since first visiting in the early 1990s for a conference, and then falling in love with the country and its people.
“My friends in Ireland say anybody with a decent smile is part Irish,” Spinelli said. “[At least] I claim a decent smile.”
At South Station, PTC rolls out the green
Commuter rail riders are seeing a lot of green these days — PTC green.
PTC became the latest local tech firm to pay for a takeover of South Station, following the likes of Snyk and Akamai Technologies. In PTC’s case, the Boston-based engineering software company paid Clear Channel Outdoor for the rights to hang its banners throughout the train station for September. The campaign focuses on how digital technology can be used to transform a physical reality.
The takeover is part of a broader campaign at PTC to build brand awareness among the executives who are leading companies that might use PTC’s manufacturing design software, or among those who already do. (Local clients include Boston Scientific, Bose, New Balance, and Thermo Fisher Scientific.)
The campaign — or this part of it, anyway — also aims to make PTC more appealing to employees and those who might consider working there (thus the “ptc.com/joinus” on the banners).
“Quite honestly, we have an aspiration to be a household name in our backyard, in Boston,” said Eric Snow, senior vice president of marketing at PTC. “The green really pops out in that space and it’s a way for us to elevate our profile in the Greater Boston area.”
Entertaining Her Majesty
The death of Queen Elizabeth II last week revived some old memories among members of former mayor Kevin White’s cabinet, thanks to a visit the queen paid to Boston in 1976.
White had new furniture installed in City Hall for the queen’s arrival and spiffed up the area outside the building. He also had a variety of wines waiting for her, as former press secretary George Regan recalled, but the queen ended up telling the mayor she would prefer a gin and tonic instead.
That apparently sent some of the Boston police officers present scurrying to answer the queen’s call. Regan said he suggested one of the restaurants in the nearby Faneuil Hall marketplace even though it was a Sunday morning. A group of motorcycle officers returned in a matter of minutes with gin and tonic from the (now long-shuttered) Seaside Restaurant.
“I’m barely authorized to buy a drink [and] he said to me, get the queen a gin and tonic,” said Regan, who now runs his eponymous PR agency. “Forty-some years later, you remember it like it was yesterday.”
So does Ira Jackson, White’s chief of staff at the time. White casually introduced Jackson to the queen by saying, “You must know Ira.”
To Jackson, that weekend signified the beginning of Boston’s rebirth: Quincy Market was reopening, the tall ships were in dock, the bicentennial celebration was in full swing, and the queen of England was in town.
“If you can date the beginning of the turnaround and renaissance of Boston, that’s the day,” said Jackson, a former BankBoston and Brandeis executive. “That was the beginning of Boston going from where it had been to becoming the world-class city it is.”
Querying a president
As someone who guided HubSpot through many years of growth, cofounder and executive chairperson Brian Halligan couldn’t help but ask former president Barack Obama about his leadership strategies on Friday. That’s when Obama visited Boston to speak at HubSpot’s Inbound conference, returning to “in person” mode after a pandemic-induced hiatus, in Boston.
The conference drew about 10,000 people to the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, including HubSpot clients, employees, and vendors. The Cambridge-based marketing software firm used the event to promote some key product launches and used high-profile guest speakers such as Obama to draw the crowds.
“You seem to thrive in ... crises,” Halligan told Obama during a Q&A session. “What’s your secret? How do you stay calm?”
Obama said he steers clear of cable news and social media, outlets that he said are designed to elicit immediate emotions.
But he also pointed to where he grew up.
“It helps being born in Hawaii,” Obama said. “Because it’s always 80 and sunny, you just grow up kind of chill.”