THERE’S THE BANKER who turned her family tragedy into a crusade against violence. The hiker who lost his legs, then built a bionic ankle system that is helping war veterans walk and run. The athlete who banned soda and junk food from an urban school and taught the kids to love their vegetables.
These are The Boston Globe’s 2012 Most Innovative in Massachusetts- a dozen pioneering individuals who embody the creativity and ambition that distinguish our state.
We found them with your help. Anyone could nominate an innovator. The only requirement was that the nominee had implemented an innovation in the past year that added vitality to the local economy, revolutionized an industry or product, or heightened the state’s quality of life.
We received 186 qualified nominations from business, medical, nonprofit, and other fields, each reflecting the innovative spirit of Massachusetts and the depth of the state’s talent.
The Globe assembled a panel of judges to choose the final list: Jennifer Lum, cofounder of Boston investment firm Apricot Capital; Henri Termeer, former chief executive of Cambridge biotech giant Genzyme Corp.; Christina Lampe-Onnerud, founder of advanced battery maker Boston-Power Inc.; pioneering local social entrepreneur Dan Pallotta; Greg Selkoe, chief executive of streetwear online retailer Karmaloop in the Back Bay; and Globe Innovation Economy columnist Scott Kirsner.
It wasn’t easy to choose, but here they are: 12 men and women whose achievements are incredible, inspiring, and truly innovative.
Click on each name to read the full profile.
David Cancel, chief product officer at the marketing software maker HubSpot in Cambridge, built a software “personalization engine’’ that “makes each interaction personal, like when you walk into your local corner store and are recognized every time - except now this interaction is in real time and online.’’
Since it was launched less than a year ago, Cancel’s software platform, called Performable, has become one of the hottest online marketing automation gadgets on the market, used by customers ranging from Rolling Stone magazine to data storage giant EMC Corp. in Hopkinton.
“We are trying to give small businesses the same kind of marketing technologies that companies like Amazon, Google, and Netflix have,’’ he said.
Harvard Medical School physician Dr. Julie Silver, 47, believes that the 12 million cancer survivors in the United States should have rehabilitation services provided as a standard part of cancer care.
That belief is partly personal; Silver is a breast cancer survivor. Her rocky post-treatment experience, with little support for coping with the symptoms and the side effects that can emerge weeks or even years later, led her to develop a system to provide the rehab services patients need to return to normal life.
“I knew that there had to be a solution to educating health care professionals about cancer rehabilitation,’’ said Silver, who cofounded Northborough-based Oncology Rehab Partners in 2009.
Space with a Soul is a new, collaborative office space for start-ups - but unlike other incubators, most of these start-ups are not tech companies. Instead, this incubator in Boston’s Innovation District is designed to create a thriving community of start-up nonprofits, said founder Stas Gayshan, a Boston lawyer.
Gayshan, 29, said he’s created the answer to the question: “How can people focus on their cause and not worry about the Internet bill or cleaning up their office?’’
The money nonprofits spend to set themselves up comes at the expense of their missions, Gayshan realized. Space with a Soul gives start-up nonprofits “the organizational capacity of large corporations,’’ he said.
The future of electric and hybrid cars depends on one key component: the storage battery, a device that hasn’t changed that much since the 19th century.
But now, it may be time to say goodbye to the battery as we know it. Using energy storage ideas he developed at MIT Laboratories, engineer and inventor Riccardo Signorelli has developed a battery with a lot more juice.
Through his company, the 30-employee FastCAP Systems Inc. of Cambridge, Signorelli, 33, is bringing to market batteries that are supercharged through nanotechnology. Called “ultracaps,’’ the batteries are built with microscopic carbon nanotubes for a bigger jolt. “Adding an ultracap to handle the acceleration will make hybrids a lot more fun to drive overnight,’’ he said.
Many pediatricians still perform the same kind of eye exam as in the 1950s: Cover one eye and read the chart. But children often can’t - or won’t - tell you if they can’t see clearly.
Yet vision loss can sometimes be prevented with early diagnosis. Pediatric ophthalmologist David Hunter of Children’s Hospital Boston was frustrated when young patients with lazy eye lost vision, because it can be corrected with an eye patch if caught early.
So Hunter, 54, founded a start-up, REBIScan LLC, and last year unveiled the Pediatric Vision Scanner, a handheld device that uses laser technology to scan the retina, and determine where each eye is focused.
For Monalisa Smith, the death of her 18-year-old nephew in 2010 was a wound that will never heal, and an urgent call to action. She formed a group called Mothers for Justice and Equality - a grass-roots peace movement that has rallied the community. Smith’s team of like-minded mothers, convening at a church in Dorchester, dedicated themselves to preventing other families from suffering such devastating losses.
“For too long, violence has left mothers fearful and without a voice,’’ said Smith, 49. “We are empowering them to make change in their homes and neighborhoods.’’
With a $30,000 grant from The Boston Foundation’s StreetSafe Program, Smith, a Citizens Bank executive, prompted important urban change, including the passage of an ordinance to restrict the sale of street knives to minors; parent-to-parent mentoring; and empowerment breakfasts with legislative leaders such as Governor Deval Patrick.
There are those who innovate, and then there’s Matt Coates, innovation consultant at Invention Machine Corp. in Boston. The company’s clients include such well-known brands as Boeing and Samsung.
Coates, 36, is a specialist in breakthrough ideas. Asked to build better glass for tablet computers such as Apple Inc.’s iPad, Coates developed a system that can recognize gestures in free space. A screen that is not touched means no more fingerprints.
In the last year, Coates has been constructing better tools for eye surgery; redesigning methods to extract heavy oil reserves; improving a critical design in heart valves; and developing a product for fresher breath.
Like a driver using GPS in an unfamiliar landscape, surgeons at the newest operating suite in Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital use a variety of sophisticated imaging systems to navigate a patient’s complicated anatomy.
This groundbreaking clinical center, called the Advanced Multimodality Image Guided Operating suite, or AMIGO, is the brainchild of Dr. Ferenc Jolesz. It combines in a single location the most advanced imaging technologies, including magnetic resonance imaging, X-ray computed tomography, and ultrasound.
In this futuristic setup, radiologists and surgeons move through sliding doors that connect three sterile chambers. A 33,000-pound MRI and other machines glide from one room to another so surgeons can match the most effective technology to different procedures. Watching a virtual model of the patient, doctors can pinpoint the position of their instruments. “Three-dimensional images that represent both anatomy and the disease complement what the physicians themselves see,’’ Jolesz said.
In the United States, physicians are as likely to tote a smartphone as a stethoscope, for communication and to help diagnosis. For veteran health care entrepreneur Donato Tramuto, it was clear that mobile devices could be a valuable tool for caregivers in developing countries.
“This is the new frontier in improving patient care in remote regions of the globe that ironically, may have few hospital beds, but plenty of cellphones,’’ said Tramuto, chief executive of Physicians Interactive in Marlborough.
Tramuto, 55, began in Haiti after an earthquake two years ago. A dozen mobile devices were brought there. Physicians who previously guessed about drug dosing had an automated guide.
A student at Codman Academy, a charter public high school in Dorchester, once wrote a paper about buying some fresh fruit for lunch. She’d have to take a bus for miles, past fast food restaurants and liquor stores, to get to a produce market.
It was a call to action for Mbakwe Okafor, Codman’s wellness director. His mission: to pull students with few options for healthy eating off the road to obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
Okafor, 33, began with a whole-school approach to wellness. Every student was weighed and measured, with follow-up resources offered to parents. “I want to help kids reach their potential, whether through exercise or eating right. It’s both a personal and professional mission,’’ he said.
By 2009, Codman had eliminated junk food from its free lunch plan. This year, the entire school was designated a junk food-free zone: Candy, cookies, and soda are banned.
The way Hugh Herr sees it, he’s in the transportation business. Personal transportation.
Herr, 47, weaves titanium, silicon, carbon fiber and nuts and bolts into prosthetic devices for amputees. “Our devices have to work like a car, because of the same profound reliance that people have for locomotion,’’ said Herr, director of the Biomechatronics Group at the MIT Media Lab and founder of iWalk, a bionics company based in Bedford.
The work is personal, too. Herr lost both of his lower legs 30 years ago in a hiking accident on Mount Washington. Last year, he introduced BiOM, the world’s first bionic ankle system, designed to work for millions and millions of steps while remaining reliable and comfortable. A wearable robotic system, the prosthetic can’t start to “rattle or hum’’ after long, daily use, Herr said. Veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the first to be fitted. They were able to walk out the door, leaving canes and crutches behind.
Shanker Sahai, founder of Cambridge start-up Greenbean Recycle, is turning the drudgery of recycling bottles and cans into an eco-game, a sort of FarmVille of trash disposal.
The new company has created a high-tech machine that is both recycling depot and arcade game. A barcode reader counts each bottle or can, gives instant green feedback - “one aluminum can, 500 watts saved’’ - and electronically transfers the 5 cent deposit to a PayPal or other account.
Recyclers can track their progress online, compare stats with friends, and win prizes. Users can connect via Facebook, and Sahai intends to give machines Twitter accounts: “50 containers recycled today.’’