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Lemelson Foundation: Inspiring and enabling the next generation of inventors and invention-based enterprises

What do the following people have in common?

  • William Hewlett & David Packard (founders of HP)
  • Douglas Engelbart (inventor of the computer mouse)
  • Robert Langer (prolific bioscience inventor & entrepreneur)
  • Raymond Damadian (inventor of the MRI machine)
  • Thomas Fogarty (inventor of the embolectomy catheter)
  • Dean Kamen (prolific inventor – Segway and infusion pump for diabetes)
  • James Fergason (inventor of liquid crystal displays)
  • John Rogers (inventor of bendable silicon electronics)
  • Angela Belcher (inventor of bacteria inspired catalysts)

All of the above, and many others, are recipients of the prestigious Lemelson-MIT Prize. It is the largest prize in the US given to an individual inventor. All of the above are inventors, and their inventions have saved lives, changed how society communicates, made our industries more sustainable, and have profoundly impacted lives across the globe.

I first heard about The Lemelson Foundation in the context of their sponsorship of the Lemelson-MIT Prize when I came to MIT in 1998. It was easy to tell even back then that the foundation truly sought out and supported the most inventive people in our society – people whose scientific and technological inventions would impact millions, and perhaps billions, of people around the world and change the course of history. As a scientist researcher, then an inventor who became an entrepreneur, and now an investor in startups built around breakthrough technology innovations, it was a matter of great honor that over this past summer I was asked by the Lemelson Foundation to join their Advisory Committee. I agreed, and will proudly join their Board meeting this week in Portland where the Foundation is headquartered.

The Lemelson Foundation was created by prolific US inventor Jerome Lemelson and his wife Dorothy in 1992. Jerome (Jerry – see brief video biography here) had more than 600 patents to his name (earning more than one patent a month over 40 years), and both he and his wife were strong advocates for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education even before creating the Lemelson Foundation. Jerry’s inventions ranged from industrial robotics and machine vision to medical devices, communications equipment and toys. Jerry has now passed away but Dorothy and the Lemelson family have continued their strong support of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship in the US and in several other parts of the world. As the official statement on the website reads: “The Lemelson Foundation uses the power of invention to improve lives, by inspiring and enabling the next generation of inventors and invention-based enterprises to promote economic growth in the US, and social and economic progress for the poor in developing countries.”

The Lemelson Foundation today sponsors multiple programs to support STEM education, inspire invention and promote entrepreneurship. During time I recently spent with Carol Dahl, its Executive Director who came to the foundation via Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I learned about their focus on the following:

Education –> Invention –> Innovation –> Entrepreneurship

The above totally resonates with me as it leads to new technologies that advance humanity, save lives, protect our fragile environment & earth’s ecosystem, create jobs and improve livelihoods across the globe. Lemelson’s programs inspire youth to identify interesting problems and solve them via inventions, they provide tools to young inventors to help invent, and help college student entrepreneurs in the launch of invention-based enterprises. In doing so, the Foundation is able to maintain its vision of strengthening the US economy and helping the poorest of the poor in developing countries. 

Over the past 10-15 years I have been fortunate to participate in some of the kinds of activities that The Lemelson Foundation promotes at a much bigger scale. I am proud of the effort some friends and I put into launching the first science and engineering research university in Pakistan (LUMS SBASSE), StartLabs, an organization focused on engineer founders at MIT that I helped start, will be holding their annual Startup Bootcamp next week, and Roughdraft.vc, a student venture fund I co-founded in 2012 has now funded nearly 25 student startups, some of whom have gone on to raise much larger venture financings. Now as a partner at Lux Capital, I am fortunate to be able to spend all of my time meeting amazing inventors, entrepreneurs, and people who wish to change the world for the better. My partner Larry Bock - founder of several companies including Illumina, leading company in genomic sequencing – subsequently founded the National US Science and Engineering Festival, and several other partners are themselves PhDs and inventors on multiple patents. All of them are equally strong supporters of The Lemelson Foundation’s mission.

I very much look forward to learning and contributing to the mission of The Lemelson Foundation. My primary responsibility will be to advise the executive leadership of the Foundation in their planning, execution and assessment of the programs. As such I will be on the lookout for new ideas and feedback. So please do share any thoughts that I can pass on to the Foundation.

“One Cruel Poem” – a Pakistani immigrant thinks out aloud

One of my favorite websites, Pakistaniat (where I had the honor of being an editor during its initial years), posted this wonderful poem. It is recited in Urdu and I wish I could translate it here. Maybe I will when I get a little more time. The author of the post aptly calls it “Ek Zalim Nazm“, meaning “One Cruel Poem“. It is intended for the immigrant Pakistani population, questioning their judgment in leaving their country behind to search for better opportunities, but more importantly for not returning back as they promised when they left the country. This comes at an interesting time for Pakistani immigrants in the US who are observing the tragic flood situation in Pakistan but finding themselves unable to do enough to help the people there.

I am one of those immigrants. I left my home country 15 years ago in search of a better education, and hopefully an opportunity to make something of myself before I returned to my country. I had no idea that 15 years later, I would still be in my host country, in fact a country that I now call home and am a proud citizen of. What happened to promises I made to myself and to my family – as non-verbal as they may have been – to return to my country to make it a better place not just for myself but for all others that I know, love, and care for. I won’t use this space to spell out the many reasons why I haven’t gone back to live in Pakistan – many of them have to do with my personal and professional circumstances. But yes, it is a promise that I did renege on, at least for the time being, and certainly not one I can be proud of.

My country of origin and my birthplace can probably use me for more good than the country that has been so gracious to make me its own. Over the past 15 years I have tried to not just keep my ties alive, but have also tried to contribute in small little ways. I continue to search for opportunities to be involved, to be a part of the change that a new generation of Pakistanis are trying to bring about despite absolutely horrendous hurdles before them. I have tried to be a part of non-profit organizations, written policy white papers, worked with the government in its reform efforts, volunteered time to the founding of a research institution, donated money, and advised/guided students and others….but there really is so much more I could potentially do if I was there in person.

Last night I had dinner with a friend who left an extremely lucrative Wall Street career to go back to Pakistan. In preparation for his return he completed a part-time law degree (despite a hectic investment banking job), and upon returning founded a 3-partner law firm to focus on constitutional and civil law in Pakistan. In a brief 2 year period he has fought constitutional cases on behalf of the provincial government against the federal government to uphold democratic institutions, brought a very senior ranking bureaucratic official to justice for taking law in his own hands, helped find release of countless poor villagers who could not pay for lawyers to fight their cases, and has filed lawsuits on behalf of many villagers who were being bullied by the local landlords. He told me passionately that when he worked days and nights on M&A transactions for his Fortune 100 client, the only motivation was his bonus at the end of the year – so how could he even try to compare that silly reward to what he gets now: gratification that is sincere and obviously goes beyond his income – a poor woman’s tears when his son is freed from jail, a young man’s joy when he gets his land back, and an appreciation from everyone around that he is helping building the country one court case at a time. He is back in the US for 1 year to do his LLM. He is not interested in coursework that most others in his class would follow to get lucrative careers in the US – but he wants to study the history of jurisprudence, theory of law, civil rights, and democracy so he can go back and build his practice stronger. His court cases continue and his associates continue to represent his clients.

My intention was not to be melodramatic about my losses and his wins. But to highlight (a) the responsibility that all of us Americans, but especially immigrants, have towards people who are in need of our skills and our resources, and the value we can bring by just adjusting our schedules slightly to commit a little more time towards helping build our native countries, and (b) the great work that a young, committed, brave generation is doing in Pakistan. I am motivated to do even more going forward, to make more of my resources available. That, I believe, is also a very American thing to do.

Now, for the poem:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TpTs51bTz8&feature=player_embedded#!]

Miles to go before I sleep….

My good friend Adil brought this to my attention via his blog pakistaniat.com. It is a TV advertisement for a mobile phone company in Pakistan. But that is probably the least of what it is. It totally rocked my world. I have heard over and over again for the past hour or so. And I can’t seem to stop. The song, the video, the story has such a strong message – for people like me who left their country of birth in search of a better future, but who have so much they still owe to the country and people they left behind.

I am also reminded of my favorite poem (by Robert Frost):

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-suC2rTtxvo&feature=player_embedded#]

also “still trying to figure out what to make of it. As a song. As a video. As message. As an advertisement.” But I know what it is asking of me…from so many of us. I am reminded of my favorite poem by Robert Frost:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Tech Crunch: “What’s Better: Saving the World or Building Another Facebook app?”

Vivek Wadhwa just published an interesting article in TechCrunch discussing what our scientists and engineers could be focusing on. I highly recommend others to read it as well…I hope it will be inspiring to students at our colleges/universities who have the passion to change the world.

In a couple of hours I will be speaking to a large group of Chinese & Chinese-Americans who have gathered to celebrate the Chinese New Year (Happy year of the Tiger!), and my message will be: Think BIG. Life is too short to nibble at the edges of innovation. There are billions of people in this world who would not only benefit from our innovations, but would also be willing to pay a decent price to improve their lives.

There is a way. In 2008, Charles Vest, the president of the National Academy of Engineering brought together a group of prominent deans of engineering schools from around the country to create a list of Grand Challenges that can be solved by engineers, in our lifetime. These were in several broad realms of human concern — sustainability, health, vulnerability, and joy of living. Dr. Vest believed that “the world’s cadre of engineers will seek ways to put knowledge into practice to meet these grand challenges. Applying the rules of reason, the findings of science, the aesthetics of art, and the spark of creative imagination, engineers will continue the tradition of forging a better future”.

Here is the list of the 14 Grand Challenges the deans created:

  • Make solar energy economical
  • Provide energy from fusion
  • Develop carbon sequestration methods
  • Manage the nitrogen cycle
  • Provide access to clean water
  • Restore and improve urban infrastructure
  • Advance health informatics
  • Engineer better medicines
  • Reverse-engineer the brain
  • Prevent nuclear terror
  • Secure cyberspace
  • Enhance virtual reality
  • Advance personalized learning
  • Engineer the tools of scientific discovery

via What’s Better: Saving the World or Building Another Facebook app?.

A Step Beyond Human – Hugh Herr is building the world’s most advanced prosthetic foot

A fascinating story of courage, dedication, skill, and genius. Hugh Herr is an inspirational guy…and we, at General Catalyst, are so proud to be a part of his journey.

A Step Beyond Human

Andy Greenberg
Forbes Magazine dated December 14, 2009

MIT professor and double amputee Hugh Herr is building the world’s most advanced prosthetic foot.

On his way to a lunch meeting a few years ago Hugh Herr was running late. So he parked his Honda  Accord in a handicapped parking spot, sprang out of the car and jogged down the sidewalk. Within seconds a policeman called out, asking to see his disability permit. When Herr pointed it out on his dashboard, the cop eyed him suspiciously. “What’s your affliction?” he asked dryly. Herr, a slim and unassuming 6-footer with dark, neatly parted hair, took a step toward the officer and responded in an even tone: “I have no [expletive] legs.”

Blurring the boundaries of disability is a trick that Herr, director of the biomechatronics group at MIT’s Media Lab, has spent the last 27 years perfecting. At age 17 both of Herr’s legs were amputated 6 inches below the knee after a rock climbing trip ended in severe frostbite. Today he’s one of the world’s preeminent prosthetics experts. His goal: to build artificial limbs that are superior to natural ones. His favorite test subject: himself. “I like to say that there are no disabled people,” says Herr, 45. “Only disabled technology.”

Read more at the link below.

via A Step Beyond Human – Forbes.com.

NY Times: Branded a radical by hate-groups, a Muslim educator loses her school

Apalling…..When something like this happens, we all suffer. Americans, Jews, Muslims, Christians…Everyone.

From The New York Times

April 28, 2008

Battle in Brooklyn | A Principal’s Rise and Fall

Critics Cost Muslim Educator Her Dream School

By ANDREA ELLIOTT

Debbie Almontaser dreamed of starting a public school like no other in New York City. Children of Arab descent would join students of other ethnicities, learning Arabic together. By graduation, they would be fluent in the language and groomed for the country’s elite colleges. They would be ready, in Ms. Almontaser’s words, to become “ambassadors of peace and hope.”

Things have not gone according to plan. Only one-fifth of the 60 students at the Khalil Gibran International Academy are Arab-American. Since the school opened in Brooklyn last fall, children have been suspended for carrying weapons, repeatedly gotten into fights and taunted an Arabic teacher by calling her a “terrorist,” staff members and students said in interviews.

The academy’s troubles reach well beyond its cramped corridors in Boerum Hill. The school’s creation provoked a controversy so incendiary that Ms. Almontaser stepped down as the founding principal just weeks before classes began last September. Ms. Almontaser, a teacher by training and an activist who had carefully built ties with Christians and Jews, said she was forced to resign by the mayor’s office following a campaign that pitted her against a chorus of critics who claimed she had a militant Islamic agenda.

In newspaper articles and Internet postings, on television and talk radio, Ms. Almontaser was branded a “radical,” a “jihadist” and a “9/11 denier.” She stood accused of harboring unpatriotic leanings and of secretly planning to proselytize her students. Despite Ms. Almontaser’s longstanding reputation as a Muslim moderate, her critics quickly succeeded in recasting her image.

The conflict tapped into a well of post-9/11 anxieties. But Ms. Almontaser’s downfall was not merely the result of a spontaneous outcry by concerned parents and neighborhood activists. It was also the work of a growing and organized movement to stop Muslim citizens who are seeking an expanded role in American public life. The fight against the school, participants in the effort say, was only an early skirmish in a broader, national struggle.

Read more

Earthquake in Pakistan: 2nd anniversary

It is the 2nd anniversary of the terrible earthquake that hit the northern areas of Pakistan. Much has been said about the earthquake, the lack of warning systems, the tragedy that struck victims living in poorly constructed homes, and the chaos after the quake that left many homeless and in desperate need of external intervention.

I recount below what ATP posted exactly one year ago in terms of the devastation that was caused by this massive earthquake. There is no other point in recounting this human tragedy but to remember and reinforce the necessity that the victims still need help. International aid agencies have all but left the region and the rebuilding effort is slow, plagued with charges of corruption, and philanthropic efforts slowing down.

But then I see the photo above (originally posted on ATP) and I think it says it all. The pain, the need, and the hope in her eyes. As a human being and as a fellow Pakistani, she deserves more than we as a community have been able to do so far. So the only thing I can do is to ask you to give more, and to give such that it reaches people like her quickly and efficiently.

Total dead in Earthquake = 80,000 – 90,000
Estimated proportion of children amongst dead = 80 percent
Estimated houses destroyed = 400,000
Early recovery assistance pledged by international donors = US$ 255 Million
Early recovery pledges that have NOT been received yet = US$ 94 Million
Original estimate of long-term reconstruction costs = US$ 3.6 Billion
Current (updated) estimate of long-term reconstruction costs = US$ 4.4 Billion
Current estimated shortfall = US$ 800 Million
Total displaced by Earthquake = 3,500,000
Affectees still living in tents in camps = 35,000 – 40,000
At-risk families without permanent shelter = 60,000 – 100,000
Additional people who might need shelter this winter = 30,000 – 60,000

Google’s massive solar complex and other clean-tech initiatives

There has been much written already about the corporate environmental leadership that Google has shown. And in his world where such leadership is almost always left wanting, it has to be complimented. Not only has Google been a part of sponsoring several cleantech initiatives especially through its Google Foundation, its founders (role-models for many) drive fuel efficient hybrids and have set clear directives for its employees to adopt more ‘green’ lifestyles.

And now the most visible display of Google’s environment-consciousness has been revealed. It is the most massive, largest corporate installation of solar panels at its Googleplex headquarters in Mountainview, CA. The majority of the solar panels (around 9212 to be exact) have been installed atop rooftops of the Googleplex and the remaining on top of the newly constructed parking Garages which also provide cords for plug-in electric vehicles. The photovoltaic solar panels have been designed and installed by a company called EI solutions, a remarkable feat in under 9 months.

The total installed capacity of this solar grid is 1.6MW. That is a big number! In one day the system generated 9,468 kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is enough electricity to power 83,000 hours of flat-screen TV viewing each day (see live Google stats on this solar installation). Google expects to save more than $393,000 annually in energy costs—or close to $15 million over the 30-year lifespan of its solar system. At this rate, the system should be able to pay for itself in roughly 7-8 years.

This is not the only way in which Google has taken a leadership stance in promoting clean energy and resource efficiency. It is already famous for having probably the largest employee density of people driving hybrid vehicles. Dr. Larry Brilliant, head of Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, has already announced the search engine company’s new Recharge It program—a Google.org initiative that aims to reduce CO2 emissions, cut oil use and stabilize the electrical grid by accelerating the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. It is estimated that commercial plug-in hybrids will be able to go ~40miles without any fuel use, which might be plenty for weekday commuting to work for most people. The gas engine will, in that case, act as a backup in case a longer trip has to be taken.

According to a news article, Google has been offering a $5,000 rebate to employees who purchase a vehicle that gets over 45 miles per gallon. That is wonderful. Nothing better than a direct cash incentive program. Hybrids, and especially the plug-in hybrids would get there. But so will diesel. In fact, with such a rebate from the employer a diesel powered vehicle would actually be cheaper than buying an ordinary low mpg gasoline car. Remember my note earlier than Honda is introducing a diesel car in the US that will get roughly 62.8mpg? Honda is not the only company introducing high fuel efficient diesel models in the US. Trust me that for long distance commutes, clean diesel powered cars will be more fuel efficient than a plug-in or gas-hybrid. The only thing sexier would be a diesel-hybrid! Now that’s what I am waiting for….

How to Raise Funds for Non-profit Events?

A few years back I had the distinct honor of helping the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA). IFMSA is an international umbrella network for all the national organizations of medical students. It has done terrific work since the second world war in mobilizing medical students to provide care and service in many therapeutic, and especially public health concerns. I was helping IFMSA put together a major congress and conference on its 50th anniversary celebrations – it was going to be a re-birth of an organization that had been successful in its first 50 years of xistence, and wanted to grow into the next stage of a global entity serving humanity.

One of the things I realized during that experience was the need in most non-profit ventures to learn about fundraising. That uphill battle becomes even more difficult when it comes to youth organizations that do not always have experienced staff, and where most people’s efforts are largely voluntary. Hence, at that time, a few of us published two documents that we thought would help students organize non-profit activities in their communities, and actually raise funds not just locally, but internationally. We were sort of amateurs ourselves, but wanted to have the knowledge and experience we had gained in the fundraising process to be distributed widely. These documents are given here:

I am reminded of the above because one of the IFMSA colleagues just posted a note on our mail server regarding a nice online fundraising organization tool for small non-profits raising monies. I am posting it in its entirety below:

Probably one of the most discussed topics in IFMSA is fundraising. I have found a tool on the net that can help you fundraise from individuals quite easily and wanted to share this with you. Just wanted to share this with you, it may be of help in funding your project. The tool is called Fundable and can be found at http://www.fundable.org

How does it work: you have a project and have a set fundraising target. Individuals can donate through the web with their creditcard or paypal. The individuals are only charged if your fundraising target is met, so there is no risk for the donors that the project doesn’t go through finally. There is however an options for donors to give you money regardless whether the target is met or not.

The service is not free of charge, if you reach your target, 7% is deducted to cover for the costs. But if you don’t reach your target, it doesn’t cost you a thing. Furthermore you don’t have to pay bank-costs for receiving creditcard payments.

To me this seems a perfect tool for small projects that don’t require a lot of funds. You can promote your project and refer possible donors to this site. You could even split your project in different stages to get funding for each stage. It also helps you to set realistic goals for fundraising efforts as you must reach your target to get your money ;-) This is just a tool, so you still need to approach donors yourselves. You will still need to make a good proposal, find possible donors and ask them for money. This tool just helps you to cash in.

Good luck fundraising!

Yours, Jacco Veldhuyzen
IFMSA Treasurer 2001/2002.

Edhi for the Nobel Prize!

Many of you probably have no clue who Abdus Sattar Edhi is! I say this because my guess is that most people reading my blog are not of Pakistani origin.

But Edhi is not someone you should know as a Pakistani. Yes, Edhi is the name of a single person, but when spoken in the context of a lifetime of service to humanity’s poorest members, it is the name associated with a movement that to me is larger than any other known to mankind. Edhi is the name of an old man, approximately 80 years old, who is perhaps the most trusted, the most respected, and the most honorable bearded man that I know.

I have no qualifications whatsoever to write about Edhi and his monumental work in charity, welfare, emergency services, and shelters for women and children. As many many Pakistanis would say, Edhi Sahib is there when no one else is. When all hope is lost, one can turn to Edhi, if nothing than just for that precious loving smile that can only come from a man with such a generous heart. I do not easily use the word Sahib to salute someone, but among the few people in Pakistan I will bend over backwards for, Edhi Sahib has to be on top of it.

I first learnt about Edhi as a little kid growing up in Karachi. Edhi ambulances were everywhere, Edhi homes were the place to go for charity, when bodies were found dead without relatives taking ownership, Edhi Sahib’s morgues would hold them, prepare them for burial and his staff would say the cermonial prayer. When women were beaten in their homes and feared their lives, they went to Edhi Sahib’s shelters, and if I wanted to support the largest orphanages in my city, I knew I had to support Edhi Centers.

As a kid I have seen Edhi Sahib, in his ever so salt-and-pepper beard and cap standing on the street corners of Karachi, literally begging and collecting 1 ruppee at a time to continue his charity operations. I have handed him a 5 ruppee bill and heard him say “Shukria, Allah aap kaa bhalaa karey“. Those words will never be forgotten from my memory. When Karachi was burning in the early 90′s, I have watched Edhi defy bullets and enter areas of Karachi that I would not dare drive through. I have watched him carry wounded young men off the streets, and watched him beg the residents of the same city to not listen to idiotic politicians and give his network their charity, alms, and hides during the sacrifice season. When there were rumors in the city that Edhi Center was a front operation of an illegal organ sale mafia, I walked into an Edhi center and myself witnessed his workers serving food to the homeless and the women who had been abandoned by their families. I have watched goons go door-to-door discrediting this great man and his charity organization – and then I have watched the same feeble man show his two-room apartment in an old part of Karachi, from where he runs his largest ambulance network in one of the most populated countries of the world. The only thing I ask is, when have I not seen Edhi be at the forefront of all emergency relief, rescue, and support operations? When is Edhi not the name to call on in cases of trouble? When has Edhi turned anyone away, and has Edhi not sacrificed his entire life to create a momentum for charitable social service in Pakistan that will live way beyond his own mortal life. Truth be told, if we had a process in Islam to beatify saints, I would nominate him for that.

But no, we do not have that process. But what we do have is a request from a dear friend to help him create a dossier that he can file with the Nobel Committee to consider Abdus Sattar Edhi and his foundation for a Nobel prize. He is the one man I know who truly deserves it, not only because he has literally been the difference between life and death for millions of people, but because his charity supersedes nationality, religion, caste, culture, or creed. If there is one living bearded man who deserves to be on the front page of our newspapers, our stamps, our post card, and on our walls, it is he. Please support Adil in his nomination effort by sending your personal encounters with Edhi and any other information you might have on him to his attention. Let me know if you want his personal email, otherwise you can see his post here to get more information on his project (clicking on any of the pictures will take you the nomination post). Only a few days are left, so please hurry up!!!

Sources:
Edhi Foundation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edhi_Foundation
Abdus Sattar Edhi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdul_Sattar_Edhi
Nomainating Edhi for Nobel Prize: http://pakistaniat.com/2007/01/23/nobel-award-pakistan-abdul-sattar-edhi-testimonial/

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