Business & Tech

Scott Kirsner | Innovation Economy

Forbes Under 30 is impressive, but it has nothing on this group

The Forbes Under 30 Summit pulls into town next week, bringing to town thousands of twenty-somethings who will be lauded for their entrepreneurial energy and verve. Speakers include the rapper Cardi B (25), satellite designer Natalya Brinker (31), and John Urschel (27), the former Baltimore Ravens lineman now pursuing a doctorate in math at MIT.

But while people are constantly throwing parties for the Under 30s (and occasionally the Under 40s), it’s hard to find rosters that spotlight the septuagenarians and octogenarians who are still hustlin’ every day. So I wanted to put together a “7 Over 70” list to honor some of the veteran scientists, techies, entrepreneurs, and investors who still contribute daily to the innovation economy in Boston.

My main filter: I was hunting for folks who are still clocking in on a pretty regular schedule, rather than in golf-and-philanthropy mode — not that there’s anything wrong with that. The list is alphabetical, not ranked. And because seven is a pretty small number, I included three more “honorable mentions” at the end.

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I’m sure I missed some other worthies, so I invite you to submit your nominees.

Joe Caruso, age “over 70”

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It’s impossible to find an “angel” investor who meets with more entrepreneurs each week than Caruso does, listening to their pitches, dispensing advice, making connections — and occasionally, writing a check. Thinking about his calendar for the week, he ticks off regular visits to the Cambridge Innovation Center, District Hall, MassChallenge, WeWork, and the Harvard Innovation Lab. The tally, he said, is about 30 face-to-face meetings a week.

Caruso has put money into companies you’ve heard of, like HubSpot and Carbonite, both now publicly traded. Asked about his most recent investments, he says he made three over a two-day span, including Busy Beauty, a Manchester startup that makes a shaving gel for women that can be used outside of the shower.

Caruso says that more than 20 years ago he bought a home and golf club membership in Florida, planning to spend long weekends and stretches of the winter there. “I hated it,” he said. He eventually sold it for a rare loss. Offering guidance to entrepreneurs — and occasionally money — is a compulsion, Caruso said: “I can’t not do what I do.”

David Friend, 70

Boston-based Wasabi is Friend’s seventh startup company since college. It competes with Amazon in offering data storage services in the cloud, which customers can purchase on a monthly basis, adding more gigabytes or terabytes as they require. Friend’s pitch is that Wasabi is “one-fifth the price and six times faster” than Amazon’s comparable offering. In September, the two-year-old company raised $68 million in funding.

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Friend, the company’s CEO, says it has 45 employees. His previous startup was Carbonite, which sells cloud-based data backup services to individuals and businesses. It went public in 2011.

Having donated money for the David Friend Recital Hall at Berklee College of Music, he likes to elicit a reaction from baristas and restaurant servers along Mass. Avenue when they see his name on a credit card: “You’re still alive?”

Sherwin Greenblatt, 77

After earning a master’s degree from MIT in 1964, Greenblatt took a job with one of his former engineering professors, Amar Bose. He helped Bose’s audio products company grow, eventually serving as president before “retiring” in 2002. Now, Greenblatt recruits seasoned mentors — many of them also in their 70s, he says — to offer advice and coaching to the next generation of MIT entrepreneurs. He’s director of the Venture Mentoring Service at the school, which says it has assisted more than 1,450 fledgling businesses that collectively have raised more than $1.4 billion in funding. Among the companies that Greenblatt has assisted: SmartCells, a pharma startup acquired by Merck in 2010, and Terrafugia, a developer of flying cars acquired by China’s Geely Holding Group last year.

Phillip Sharp, 74

Sharp was a founder of the early biotech company Biogen in 1978 and won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1993. In 2018, he remains a full-time faculty member at MIT, where his latest research, published in the journal Science in June, explores a specific element of the process that controls cancer cell growth, called super-enhancers. He’s on the boards of two publicly held Cambridge biotechs — Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Syros Pharmaceuticals — and also a California startup, Vir, that is developing new treatments for infectious diseases. He also chairs the scientific review committee of the nonprofit Stand Up To Cancer.

Michael Stonebraker, 74

Stonebraker is one of the bright lights of entrepreneurship and research related to faster and more efficient ways to manage data — a massive growth industry. “Running complex analytics on huge data sets is the Wild West,” he said. One of the challenges is whipping into shape data from different sources so that it can be analyzed — the concept behind Tamr, a Cambridge-based startup Stonebraker cofounded in 2012.

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Stonebraker is a founder of two other startups, and he spends one day a week focused on the trio of for-profit ventures. Three days are dedicated to teaching at MIT, and one day is for giving talks and attending conferences.

Does he ever think about slowing down? “I kind of wonder how much longer I’m going to be viable,” he admits. “But so far, experience counts for a lot. I can get my papers published, and I have interesting ideas that other people find valuable. I’m going to continue with Plan A until the real world tells me I’m not competitive.”

When we spoke this month, Stonebraker was in Heidelberg, Germany, attending a gathering of past winners of the Turing Award, a $1 million prize that is among the highest honors in computer science. One of the highlights of the event for him: mentoring the promising young computer scientists that attend.

Alison Taunton-Rigby, “over 70”

Taunton-Rigby was “one of the first women in a senior position in biotech, in a mainly male environment,” said Janice Bourque, a managing director at Hercules Capital and former director of the Massachusetts Biotech Council. In that way, Bourque said, Taunton-Rigby served — and still serves — “as a role model for other women in the industry.”

Taunton-Rigby was an executive at early biotech companies like Collaborative Research, Biogen, and Genzyme. These days, she’s on the boards of Boston Children’s Hospital and Tetragenetics, an Arlington startup focusing on new treatments for pain and autoimmune diseases. She’s on the scientific advisory board for the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which doles out state funding to support the life sciences industry. She’s also a member of the investing group Mass Medical Angels, which funds fledgling startups, and is a guest lecturer on corporate ethics and drug development at Bentley University and Tufts. (Full disclosure: Taunton-Rigby and I serve on the advisory board for the Convergence Forum, an annual health care conference.)

George Whitesides, 79

Whitesides oversees a lab at Harvard that covers a stunning range of science related to chemistry and new kinds of materials — from low-cost disposable medical tests for patients in the developing world to nimbler robotic hands to the chemical origins of life on earth. At any given time, Whitesides said, there are typically 20 to 25 graduate students and post-doctoral researchers working at the lab. And he’s a director or scientific adviser of four local startup companies, including Soft Robotics (robotic hands that can pick up many different types of objects) and Lyra Therapeutics (tackling chronic inflammation of the sinuses).

“George has always been motivated by solving humanity’s most important problems — like keeping the world healthy, fed, warm, and secure,” Carmichael Roberts wrote via e-mail. Whitesides is motivated by how many of those big problems remain unsolved, said Roberts, a former post-doctoral student of Whitesides who is now a venture capitalist, “which no doubt motivates George to continue his work with no hint of slowing down.”

Three Honorable Mentions:

Allen Razdow, 71

Razdow founded Mathsoft in the 1980s, which made math calculation and visualization software. It was snapped up by Needham-based PTC in 2006. Now he’s the founder of Truenumbers, which helps attach “structured language” to data in databases, so it’s easy to understand that a particular number refers to, say, the number of hours an engine has been run. The US Navy is an early customer.

Jit Saxena, 72

Saxena offers props to Brigham & Women’s Hospital for a kidney transplant last December that saved his life. A longtime tech exec, he now serves on the boards and puts money into companies like ClearSky Data, Actifio, and AtScale, all focused on storing and managing data. He was also an early investor in San Francisco-based Pinterest, the digital bulletin board.

Edward Roberts, 82

Roberts founded MIT’s Entrepreneurship Center in 1990 and has studied the impact of MIT-hatched startups on the regional and global economy. His forthcoming book, “Celebrating Entrepreneurship,” delves further into that impact. Roberts is also an investor in and adviser to startups, including Shareaholic, a Boston company that makes tools for online publishers.

“Being a CEO and entrepreneur is hard, hard, hard,” Shareaholic CEO Jay Meattle said. “Just knowing Professor Roberts is there in your corner and available, and absorbing his stories, has made a world of a difference to me, calmed me, as I’ve grown in my role.”

Scott Kirsner can be reached at kirsner@pobox.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKirsner.