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The Pre-Obama Schmooze at MIT Today

Posted by Scott Kirsner  October 23, 2009 04:30 PM

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helen.jpgForced to spend an hour or two this morning inside MIT's Kresge Auditorium awaiting President Barack Obama, there was really nothing to do but schmooze. Once you'd entered the hall, you couldn't leave, and so it felt a little like being together on a spaceship.

One without refreshments.

I found myself wishing I'd brought coffee and danish to sell.

Most of the cleantech bigwigs present were hanging out down by the stage, and there were a few rows of seats marked "Reserved" nearby with white pieces of paper that featured the Presidential seal and the VIP's name. One of the seats was reserved for Yet-Ming Chiang, an MIT prof and co-founder of the battery-maker A123 Systems. He's pictured at right with Helen Greiner, an MIT alumnae and co-founder of iRobot Corp. Greiner mentioned that she'd just been in DC testifying before a Senate subcommittee on space exploration.

There was quite the contingent of venture capitalists in the house. (I was told that the New England Venture Capital Association received 25 tickets for its members.) They included Bilal Zuberi and Hemant Taneja from General Catalyst, senior associate Robin Lockwood from Flybridge Capital, Amir Nashat from Polaris, and, up in the cheap seats, Noubar Afeyan and Jim Matheson of Flagship Ventures.

There were a bunch of folks there from A123 Systems, the Watertown battery-maker that went public earlier this year: Desh Deshpande, chairman, David Vieau, CEO, and co-founder Ric Fulop, along with the aforementioned Chiang.

MIT prof Ely Sachs (currently on leave) and Frank van Mierlo, collaborating on the next-gen solar company 1366 Technologies, were there.

I talked a bit with Pat McGovern, chairman of International Data Group and a major MIT benefactor: he has committed $350 million to support the McGovern Institute of Brain Science, which is looking into the roots of autism and Alzheimer's. McGovern told me they've got phalanxes of MRI machines, but said he hasn't yet had his brain scanned: too worried about what they might find, he joked.


Nick d'Arbeloff is president of the New England Clean Energy Council:


Tim Healy is co-founder and chief executive of EnerNOC, a Boston company that helps utilities manage periods of intense energy demand:


Nearby I spotted Fidelity Investments executive Abigail Johnson and Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley, and chatted briefly with MIT prof Donald Sadoway and Carmichael Roberts of North Bridge Venture Partners.

About 100 students and faculty received tickets, I was told, and two of the students I met were Forgan McIntosh and Tim Heidel, co-presidents of the MIT Energy Club:


Ian Bowles, secretary of energy and environmental affairs for Massachusetts, was up by the stage chatting with Sam White, co-founder of Promethean Power Systems. That's Bowles in the photo:


After we spoke for a few minutes, his press guy dutifully handed me a press release headlined "Patrick-Murray Administration Shows Clean Energy Leadership," which I did not read. But you can, if you like.

And this one is totally anti-climactic, thanks to the awful camera built into my iPhone 3G: Barack Obama at the podium.


Afterward, I ran into Jarrett Goetz, formerly of RxVitality and Infinity Pharmaceuticals, and Jonathan Shapira, an attorney at Goodwin Procter who also runs the Boston-Israel Cleantech Alliance.

But once Obama's speech was over, the 1000-seat auditorium emptied out in about four minutes: after a couple hours of waiting (sans food or beverages) people were clearly ready to eat lunch and get to work.

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4 comments so far...
  1. Hey Scott,
    Greetings from LA! Thanks for the update... nice to see lots of familiar faces. Was with you guys in spirit. :)

    Posted by @krisztinaholly October 23, 09 05:46 PM
  1. so, wadjya think?

    a meaningful speech, with serious content, creating a new sense of urgency and shared mission?


    another campaign whistle stop preaching familiar platitudes to the choir?

    Posted by Steven Kane October 23, 09 08:46 PM
  1. You idiots at MIT do not even realise that modern science is, indeed, withering on the vine of knowledge. And, you have no idea which way to go. Sorry, materialistic-minded ones, Goethe was right! (You went with Newton- silly sods!)

    Posted by BTownExpress October 23, 09 10:49 PM
  1. science is for the birds. get over it you mit'ers. you are all wasting your time and money. stop your liberal slobbering

    Posted by jan October 25, 09 12:42 AM


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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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