19 fresh faces and bold new ideas from Boston
Pathbreaking women, a bacterial fountain of youth, mind-controlled video games, and more from 2017.
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1. Kyrie Irving
It would be a shame to forget what Isaiah Thomas meant to the Celtics, but such has been Irving’s impact. Irving’s typically the best player on the court by some good measure, and his ballhandling makes every possession a potential gif in your Twitter feed. Which is exactly the kind of panache these remade Celtics — returning only four players from last season’s team — need to balance their crucial but unglamorous status as one of the NBA’s top two defenses.
2. Phillip Levine
College is costly, and the complex math needed to determine just how much tuition you can afford makes the process all the more painful. Levine, a Wellesley College economics professor, developed an online calculator that asks parents a few questions about their income and savings, then gives them a practical range of what school will really cost. Wellesley has used it for four years, and Levine offered it to other schools this year. Its 15 adopters include Williams and Columbia.
3. Alex Cora
After the Red Sox flamed out in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year, the team hired its new manager from this year’s vanquisher (and World Series champions), the Houston Astros. New Sox skipper Alex Cora was an Astros bench coach, but Red Sox Nation will remember him as a player on the Sox’ 2007 championship team. The 42-year-old native of Puerto Rico becomes the team’s first minority manager.
4. Ruth Rollins
Longtime Roxbury activist Ruth Rollins launched We Are Better Together, the Warren Daniel Hairston Project to create a welcoming space for mothers whose children had suffered from or inflicted violence in the community. It was a need she knew from experience: When her 21-year-old son Danny was killed 10 years ago, she suffered in silence about the loss, his gang affiliations, and the community’s problems. We Are Better Together offers a way for her and others like her to heal and to foster community unity.
5. A Bacterial Fountain of Youth
Life-extending bacteria from Easter Island doesn’t even seem like a good piece of science fiction. But Boston’s PureTech Health is putting $15 million into building a company, resTORbio, around rapamycin, a compound derived from a bacterium first found in soil from beneath one of Easter Island’s giant monoliths. Research by Novartis found it extended lifespans of several kinds of lab creatures. ResTORbio started with a clinical trial testing rapamycin’s ability to combat respiratory-tract infections in the elderly. Success against this aging-related illness could eventually lead to treatments preventing the effects of aging.
6. Closing Jail’s Revolving Door
Boston launched the Office of Returning Citizens this fall to help the more than 3,000 city residents released annually from correctional facilities stay out of jail. Right now, some two-thirds of them land in prison again within three years. Led by Dorchester native Kevin Sibley, the initiative — based on previous pilots in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia — connects the recently released to everything from educational and employment opportunities to housing and addiction treatment resources.
7. Mind-Controlled Video Games
Shows featuring characters who move things with their minds fascinate us (here’s to you, Star Wars and Stranger Things). Actual telekinesis would be even cooler, and Cambridge’s Neurable now has a VR headset device that uses players’ brain activity to guide the action of Awakening, in which a telekinetic kid tries to escape government captivity. Neurable closed $2 million in funding in December to help bring its technology to market.
8. Safer Ride-Sharing
Massachusetts roiled the ride-sharing market last year when its new background check system for drivers banned about 8,200 people (out of 71,000) for everything from spotty driving records to a history of violent crime. Uber and other members of the regulation-averse industry pushed back, along with criminal justice reformers, calling some of the disqualification criteria too stringent; in September, the state loosened some of the restrictions. But thanks to the background checks, the banned included 51 registered sex offenders.
9. Electric Cars Unplugged
Watertown’s WiTricity has tantalized us with its revolutionary wireless energy tech for about a decade, and in 2017 seemed to score its big consumer breakthrough when Dell released a laptop that powers up via charging pad. But WiTricity then flipped to a new market, powering up electric and hybrid cars. The company cut nearly a third of its staff, but if the move works, it could end up on this list again next year.
10. Print Your Clothing
Getting a great-fitting blazer became a seamless experience for customers of Boston work-wear company Ministry of Supply. It introduced a robotic knitting machine to its Newbury Street storefront that in 90 minutes produces a no-seams, made-to-measure garment. Ministry, known for its MIT roots and high-tech fabrics, says the fit is better than off-the-rack methods, while the process wastes less fabric. Customers can also order these printed blazers online, as well as sweaters and sweater dresses, but some are printed off site.
11. A New Kind of Opioid Fighter
MIT spinoff Biobot, which makes a robot that analyzes sewer waste, launched its first pilot project in 2017, working with Cary, North Carolina to pinpoint communities most affected by the opioid crisis — and therefore, most in need of resources. Biobot places collection bots throughout the sewer system, giving authorities a neighborhood-level — though anonymized — look at a problem that in 2016 created $7.7 billion in criminal justice-related costs alone.
12. The Silent Healer
In November, the FDA cleared a fast track for a drug from Cambridge’s Alnylam Pharmaceuticals called patisiran, which takes ribonucleic acid — building-block molecules used by DNA to make proteins — and adapts it into a potentially revolutionary “gene-silencing” treatment that has shown remarkable test results against one type of rare disease. As if that weren’t enough, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore has promised to focus on “value-based” pricing — patients and their insurers would pay for the drug only when it works for them.
13. Heart Healthy
Heart attacks could become preventable, or at least much less harmful, thanks to a project to engineer new heart tissue spearheaded by Boston University in partnership with the University of Michigan and Florida International University. In September, the National Science Foundation awarded the university a $20 million, five-year grant to design personalized cardiac tissue using stem cells and nanotechnology, then produce them for individual patients. BU has already opened its new research center, led by David Bishop, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the school, who says replacing diseased tissue could stop cardiac arrest before it happens.
14. Fighting Racism
After a couple of ugly, racially charged incidents at Fenway Park last summer, the region’s five major pro sports franchises — the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and Revolution — created Take the Lead, a first-of-its-kind collaboration to work against racism in sports. Players from the teams appear in a public service announcement, played during home games, imploring fans to speak up if they hear hate speech. Also launched was a yearlong community relations fellowship to seed new sports management mindsets around inclusiveness.
> PATHBREAKING WOMEN
15. Holly Maloney McConnell
Influential Cambridge venture capital firm General Catalyst added McConnell (a Bowdoin grad) as one of its 10 managing directors this past fall, making her the first woman to have the title at the firm. In a field where only 11 percent of partners are women, General Catalyst is stepping up.
16. Marianne Harrison
When Harrison took over as CEO of John Hancock October 1, she became the first female to hold the position in the company’s 155-year history. The college English major-cum-CPA may oversee more historic change: Toronto-based parent Manulife is reportedly considering spinning the company off or — once again — taking it public.
17. Grace Cotter Regan
Cotter Regan’s appointment as president of Boston College High ended the school’s 154-year run of male leadership. Though the student body remains all male, her Eagles ties run deep: She’s the mother of an alumnus and daughter of famed former football coach Jim Cotter, and as a youngster roamed the sidelines dressed as the team mascot.
18. Julie Jones
Prudential Tower law firm Ropes & Gray marked the end of 152 years of male management by naming Jones chair. The mergers and acquisitions specialist, a 23-year Ropes & Gray veteran, will spend two years as interim chair-elect, officially taking over in 2020.
19. Rachel Skerritt
Skerritt returned to her alma mater, Boston Latin, this spring as the first person of color to hold the highest position at the country’s oldest public school. The Dorchester native’s appointment comes in the wake of racially charged incidents at the school that culminated in the resignation of her predecessor, Lynne Mooney Teta.