Star inventors honored in Cambridge, Mass.

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September 16, 2011, 7:14 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Cambridge, Mass.) - It will never be confused with the Hollywood walk of fame -- or be that popular -- but what could be more authentically Cambridge and MIT than the new Walk of Fame for nerds unveiled Friday -- entrepreneur-nerds.

It launches with seven honorees: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Bill Hewlett and David Packard of Hewlett-Packard, spreadsheet-software company Lotus founder Mitch Kapor, Genentech founder Bob Swanson, and maybe the greatest of all time, Thomas Alva Edison of General Electric.

"We all have great vision today because we stood on the shoulders of giants,'' Howard Anderson, founder of The Yankee Group and Yankeetek ventures, said at the unveiling ceremony, paraphrasing Sir Isaac Newton.

The walk of fame is outside the outbound Kendall Square MBTA Red Line station, on the edge of the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a power engine of worldwide innovations whose graduates are estimated to have founded more than 25,000 companies that now employ more than 3.3 million people around the world.

Of those honored, only one could come in person, Kapor, whose company made the pioneering Lotus 1 2 3 spreadsheet application and was bought by IBM in 1995.

"I take this as something honoring the company and the people who worked there, and as the founder, I'm representative of it, and I'm just so glad that there's recognition for what we did as a company,'' said Kapor, who now lives and invests in Silicon Valley.

Kapor added that he thinks the installation is great for the information-technology industry generally because "as an industry, we have so little appreciation for our history and don't have a good sense of our own history. Things change so rapidly because the technology changes so rapidly. This can get people thinking about connections between now and the past, what came before, and all that has a lot of value.''

Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung -- who is also pursuing a masters' degree at MIT's Sloan School -- was a key driver of the project as chairman of the council's economic-development committee.

"In a recession, entrepreneurs and new businesses are the number-one creators of new jobs so we really wanted to try to focus all the energy that we have here and inspire more people to become entrepreneurs in the city,'' Cheung said.

"We all know that what we weren't really doing in Cambridge and Massachusetts and New England is celebrating entrepreneurship, and the whole idea is that you get more of what you recognize and celebrate.''

Working with MIT, the Marriott hotel chain, the city, the MBTA and others, Cheung and a committee got the walk of fame built and installed in less than a year. The plan is to add a new name every year in September. A website all about the walk is www.entwof.org .

"Absolutely it feels like the right place, and it feels like a beginning, if you will, like it's clearly going to evolve from here,'' said Marcus Wilson, chief marketing officer with Ideapaint, an Ashland, Mass.,company that makes paint you can use to turn entire walls into giant erasable white boards.

Paul Maeder, a venture capitalist with Highland Capital in Cambridge who unveiled the Steve Jobs star at the ceremony, said, "What I love about it in particular is that we're celebrating not just people with a connection to Boston, but nationwide. Entrepreneurs are people with a passion for making the world better, and that's something we need to encourage and celebrate.''

Tags: Peter Howe, Cambridge, business , Bill Gates, MIT, GE, Steve Jobs, Mass., Walk of Fame, Hollywood Walk of Fame, entrepreneur, nerds, Bill Hewlett, David Packard, Mitch Kapor, Bob Swanson, Thomas Edison
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