Several years ago, I co-hosted a television show called Shining City, which highlighted scientific, medical, and social innovation in New England. It aired on NESN, which most New Englanders know for its sports and Red Sox coverage. The show never gained a big following—I’m always surprised when I meet someone who has seen it. But I’ll never regret the time I spent with the fascinating scientists, engineers, and social entrepreneurs who are transforming not only New England, but the world.
In particular, I’ll always remember one young woman who had designed a medical device that helped people with slowly healing wounds. Her invention replaced a $20,000 machine that was available only in hospitals with an inexpensive, portable device that could be used in developing countries and for disaster relief, such as after the earthquake in Haiti. In another segment, I spoke with inventors who were designing a “smart” wheel for bicycles of the future. It interacted with your smartphone and could perform such tasks as providing traffic updates, assessing pollution, locating friends, and also storing energy to help you pedal up hills!
Beyond the fascinating innovations created by my guests on Shining City, what made these individuals so inspiring was their optimism. We hear so many negative narratives around what our future might bring: The economy will continue to stagnate; drought will overtake parts of the country, while rising seas will submerge other areas; unstoppable pandemics will develop. But in truth, a lot of optimistic innovators are out there, and they are solving the problems—big and small—of the world. As I met all these incredible, innovative problem-solvers, I became inspired about the potential for a better future. I stuck with the long-shot television show because I wanted people to hear these optimistic viewpoints.
As I learn more and more about the people in the Babson community, I find them equally inspiring. Consider the alumni in this issue’s Risky Business with a Purpose. One alumnus is striving to design a more efficient engine that among other benefits could lower fuel consumption and emissions. Another is helping to bring the largest seawater desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere online in drought-prone California. A third is working to bring to market a new environmentally friendly polymer that incorporates the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, allowing it to be used in products instead of released into the atmosphere. Will they succeed? To use an old phrase, only time will tell. But the energy that exists around their endeavors reminds me of that hopefulness I felt while working on Shining City and exemplifies the potential of innovation and entrepreneurship to create a better and more just world.