From the January 2014 issue of Entrepreneur

These seven innovators are having a major influence on technology, healthcare and the government. Their ideas are changing the ways we do businessand addressing broader issues of national security, gender bias, world poverty and the state of the startup community at large. We've got our eye on these powerful women. You should, too.

 

The Bridge-builder

A Google executive acts as liaison with the public sector

The Bridge-builder
Michele Weslander Quaid
Photo © Scott Suchman

The U.S. government isn't exactly known for its efficiency or speed. But during her nine years at various national security agencies, including working with the director of national intelligence and the secretary of defense, Michele Weslander Quaid acted like an entrepreneur. She shook things up by dropping archaic software and hardware and convincing teams to collaborate via web tools. Basically, she treated each agency like a startup to transform the sclerotic federal agencies for which she worked.

That chutzpah caught the attention of Google, which hired Weslander Quaid in 2011; she now serves as innovation evangelist and CTO for its public-sector division. Based in Washington, D.C., she regularly meets with agency directors to map technological paths they want to follow, and helps Google employees understand what's needed to work with public-sector clients. "A big part of my job is to translate between Silicon Valley speak and government dialect," she says. "I act as a bridge between the two cultures."

It could have been easy for Weslander Quaid simply to accept that federal agencies don't share information or collaborate on decisions, but she wouldn't. She started by convincing higher-ups at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which provides maps and pictures for military intelligence, as well as execs at the National Security Agency, which collects audio feeds, to collaborate on combined reports so that military decision-makers could better understand the data. Her efforts paid off, and she became one of the youngest people appointed a senior government executive. "I call it a wartime promotion," she says.After earning undergraduate degrees in physics and engineering science and a master's in optics, she joined a commercial company that did work for consumers, businesses and the government. But after 9/11, she was asked to join the government to help fight the war on terror.

In her later roles, Weslander Quaid pushed for an early version of cloud-based software that people could access from outside their D.C. offices. She standardized platforms across agencies and streamlined a technology-testing and procurement process that reduced time and costs--all cutting-edge ideas among the closed fiefdoms of Washington. "My goal was to reduce timelines for getting things done, and making sure decision-makers in the Pentagon and the White House got the information they needed," she says.

Her latest effort: a series of programs open to developers (not just Google's) to show them how to create products based on Google's open-source technology that best fit government agencies' needs. The idea is to show government agencies and technology startups that by working together they can enjoy a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

"The government is risk-averse and likes the status quo, but it needs to keep up with the pace of innovation," Weslander Quaid says. "Tech companies are there to help. My job is to help both work within and around the rules and regulations, so that the public sector gets the best technology solutions of the day, and spend less of taxpayer dollars." --Vanessa Richardson

Rana El Kaliouby, The Translator

The Bridge-builder

Rana El Kaliouby
Photo © Brett Affrunti

 

The Translator

Facial recognition tech puts marketing to the test

Rana el Kaliouby can read your face like a book--and her insights could rewrite the rules of consumer engagement.

El Kaliouby and her MIT Media Lab colleague Rosalind Picard are the minds behind Waltham, Mass.-based startup Affectiva, whose flagship Affdex Facial Coding integrates automated facial-expression-recognition technology to measure and interpret viewers' emotional responses to brands, advertising campaigns and other digital video content. Forget focus groups, telemarketer surveys and other traditional audience research tools hamstrung by self-reporting variables: Cloud-based Affdex probes even the most subtle nonverbal cues to reveal what consumers really think about a program or product.

El Kaliouby has dedicated her career to leveraging technology to improve interpersonal communication and expression. Affectiva spun out of her research into how facial-coding technologies can ease autism spectrum disorders. "Many people with autism struggle with reading nonverbal cues and acting on them," she explains. "When you lose that ability to understand and process nonverbal cues, you're at a huge disadvantage socially.""You can understand so much about how consumers perceive a brand by analyzing their spontaneous, subconscious responses," says el Kaliouby, Affectiva's chief science officer. "If you're a content creator looking to elicit a certain emotion, we can validate that. In cases where an ad is trying to elicit humor, we can tell you if people get the jokes or not by the number of people who smile, the intensity of the smile and the timing of the smile. There are so many cases where self-reported responses get it wrong. Facial response is more accurate."

She and Picard--director of MIT Media Lab's Affective Computing Research Group--launched Affectiva as an independent company in 2009, encouraged by interest from MIT sponsors including Procter & Gamble, Google and Microsoft. "We realized there are a lot of ways we can use [Affdex]--in cars, in mobile phones and in market research," el Kaliouby says. "I remember thinking, I don't know if I want to be in business! But what sold me was the vision of our technology becoming ubiquitous. It works in all sorts of contexts."

Affectiva has since raised more than $21 million from investors including the National Science Foundation, WPP and Kleiner Perkins, and inked partnerships with brand agencies Millward Brown and InsightExpress, both of which offer Affdex to their clients. The software integrates with any standard webcam across connected laptops, tablets and smartphones, capturing consumers' expressions as they view video content. All footage is streamed for processing to the Affdex cloud server, where computer-vision and machine-learning algorithms or techniques evaluate emotional states like surprise, disgust and concentration. From there, analytics tools slice and dice the aggregated data to generate overall emotion scores, complete with near-real-time, scene-by-scene facial-data playback.

Most Affdex consumer insights are derived from paid panel participants who are given the option to share their responses or disable the webcam. About 50 percent leave the webcam running, el Kaliouby says. "The incentive is that you're getting value back," she explains. "We're optimizing your content. Maybe we're making your favorite game more engaging by tracking your emotions over time. That's a powerful value proposition."

Affectiva is taking steps to get its facial recognition tech into even more hands. This fall the firm introduced a software development kit for Apple's iOS mobile operating system, enabling third-party developers to bake Affdex features into their iPhone and iPad apps.

"People check their phones an average of 150 times a day. To us, that's an exciting opportunity to capture your emotions at each of those moments," el Kaliouby says. "Emotion-enabling apps also opens up a ton of ideas around gaming, usability and messaging. Education is another big, big place to make a difference. Our hope is the SDK will allow us to bridge the gap into a number of new markets. Emotions are core to everything we do." --Jason Ankeny

Nina Nashif, The Healer

The Bridge-builder
Nina Nashif
Photo © Kevin J. Miyazaki

The Healer

A business accelerator helps advance the lagging healthcare industry

Perhaps no one understands the inefficiencies plaguing the global healthcare industry better than Nina Nashif. After more than 15 years of experience in healthcare management, Nashif believes she has found a viable solution to the sector's woes: entrepreneurs.

In 2011 she founded Healthbox, a business-accelerator platform for early-stage healthcare-technology startups, to "advance innovation in the industry and to speed the pace at which it's identified and implemented."

Large healthcare organizations traditionally innovate from the inside out--a labyrinthine process that stalls progress. Nashif believes that if these organizations become early adopters of entrepreneurial solutions, co-creation will allow for faster advancement and, ultimately, more effective patient care. Healthbox's model aims to put together an ecosystem that allows entrepreneurs to access the industry resources and knowledge they need to build their businesses.

One Healthbox portfolio startup addressing the growing patient-engagement space is 3Derm Systems in New Haven, Conn. Its low-cost platform lets users take photos of moles on their skin and send them to a dermatologist for remote monitoring and checkups."Part of the challenge is that the system is so complicated, and often as an entrepreneur you don't even know where to enter. Every hospital and healthcare organization is different, so we spend a lot of time early on in the program helping entrepreneurs find where they fit in the context of the industry, really getting down to the details of how their solution would impact the operational process within [that organization]," says Chicago-based Nashif, who spoke at the TEDMed conference last year and was named a "Young Global Leader" by the World Economic Forum. "At the same time, we're out evangelizing in the industry, talking about how to become an early adopter."

"As we move toward different payment models in the industry and the need to provide value and outcomes, and large providers are needing to take risk for the population they're managing, we need to empower patients to care for themselves … and manage health in a more effective way," Nashif says.

Nina Nashif
Nina Nashif

Since its launch, Healthbox has supported 54 health-tech companies and 134 founders through its accelerator programs in London, Boston, Chicago, Nashville, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla. Beyond the training and support they receive in exchange for up to 7 percent equity, all startups that participate in the 16-week program receive up to $50,000 in funding, office space and access to healthcare experts.

The companies that have completed the program have, on average, doubled their number of partnerships. They have secured some 130 pilot programs and early customer relationships and were projected to affect the lives of more than 1 million people globally in 2013.

"We're not trying to come in and disrupt the industry; we're trying to work alongside it," Nashif says. "We're going to be seeing new delivery models, new partnerships, new ways that we manage populations and risk. I'd like to see that there are more entrepreneurs at the table and new solutions being brought in, vs. just the big players. In healthcare we need to start taking more small bets instead of [looking for] the one solution that's going to solve all our problems." --Michelle Juergen

Leila Janah, The Humanitarian

The Humanitarian
Leila Janah
Photo © Eva Kolenko

The Humanitarian

A nonprofit takes on poverty by bringing digital jobs to emerging markets

 

These seven innovators are having a major influence on technology, healthcare and the government. Their ideas are changing the ways we do businessand addressing broader issues of national security, gender bias, world poverty and the state of the startup community at large. We've got our eye on these powerful women. You should, too.

Leila Janah didn't launch Samasource to make it rich. She did it to make a difference.

Samasource creates living-wage digital jobs for women and youths in emerging markets, including sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia and the Caribbean. It collaborates with in-country partners to recruit prospective employees and tackle client needs such as data augmentation, digital transcription, image tagging for SEO and machine learning. On average, Samasource workers more than double their incomes after only a few months on the job, and 92 percent stay out of poverty after leaving the nonprofit.

Six years after its founding, San Francisco-based Samasource directly employs more than 4,000 people across the globe. It has generated more than $5 million in contracts from enterprises and academic institutions including Google, eBay, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Eventbrite and Stanford University, and in early 2013 announced a 400 percent increase in accounts over fiscal 2011.

Leila Janah
Leila Janah

"Something has to be done about extreme poverty," says Janah, Samasource's CEO. "It's an abomination that half the world's population lives on $3 to $4 a day. It's disgusting to me. I couldn't live with myself if I didn't do something about it."

Janah traces the roots of her activism to her extended family's efforts to combat poverty in India: Her great-uncle, celebrated photojournalist Sunil Janah, earned international renown for a series of images documenting the 1943 Bengal famine that claimed some 3 million lives. Leila joined the American Civil Liberties Union at age 15 and two years later earned a $10,000 scholarship that funded a volunteer stint in Ghana, where she taught English as part of the American Field Service student exchange group.

"The more time I spent in developing countries, and the more time I spent talking to poor people, I realized what they want more than anything is a good job," she says. "We spend billions on international aid annually, but we don't find ways to connect people to dignified work. I realized that if we don't think about ways to harness private capital to solve problems, we're leaving large amounts of money on the table and doing ourselves a disservice."

Samasource--the name derives from sama, the Sanskrit word for equal--took shape after Janah graduated from Harvard and worked briefly at the World Bank. While meeting clients in Mumbai, she befriended a young call-center employee who commuted each day from his home in Dharavi, the notorious slum featured in the Academy Award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.

I wanted to create a digital work model that disintermediates the middlemen that take up all the margins.""I knew there were more people like him capable of doing quality work, but connecting poor countries to richer companies historically benefits the elite," Janah says. "That's where we had a lot of opportunity to change things.

The Samasource model leverages a proprietary micro-work platform called the SamaHub, which transforms large digital projects into a multitude of smaller tasks assigned to individual workers via the internet. Samasource carefully vets computer centers and internet cafes in each market to identify staffers and house each project. Once new hires complete a two- to four-week training program and demonstrate proficiency on trial assignments, Samasource turns them loose on client work, with SamaHub software recompiling each project and checking the work against five steps of automated quality assurance.

"We tell [clients], 'You're going to spend this money on an outsourcing company anyway--why not end poverty and save the world without spending more money than you already spend?'" Janah says. "It's critical that we convince business leaders to see the potential. We have to convince them that this model makes business sense."

Samasource has paid out more than $4 million to workers across nine countries and earned financial support from MasterCard, eBay, Cisco Foundation and the U.S. Department of State. Janah is now turning her focus closer to home--last year, she kicked off SamaUSA, a pilot program that offers an 80-hour online boot camp to community-college students in low-income areas around San Francisco and Merced, Calif., and helps them find work online.

"The theory is that if we can get community-college students an extra $1,000 or $2,000 a semester, they're more likely to graduate," Janah explains. "And even if they do drop out, they now have this other skill set. We're optimistic this is a model that has widespread application to populations across the U.S."

That optimism is the central tenet of Janah's life and work. "What propels me is conviction," she says. "It's a joy spending the majority of your time in concert with your deepest values. There's immense pleasure in doing something that comes out of your heart." --J.A.

Michelle Rowley, The Tech Teacher

The Tech Teacher
Michelle Rowley
Illustration © Brett Affrunti

The Tech Teacher

Code Scouts is overturning the male-dominated programming world

Michelle Rowley knows all too well how one ill-placed string of code can cripple an entire piece of software. Then again, a single mention in the local newspaper was all it took to kick-start the biggest project of her life.

A May 2012 Willamette Week story about the lack of women in the Portland, Ore., tech scene referenced Rowley's plan to hold a Python programming workshop for new female programmers. More than 100 would-be coders expressed interest. It was the impetus Rowley needed to launch Code Scouts, a nonprofit with the potential to change the makeup of the software industry.

Computer-related employment is growing rapidly, but gender diversity is woefully behind other industries. Although women made up 51 percent of 2012's professional work force, they accounted for only a quarter of computer-industry staffing. Women make up 34 percent of web developers, 23 percent of programmers, 20 percent of software developers and 15 percent of information-security analysts. Perhaps most shocking, only 1.5 percent of open-source code--the backbone of the web--is programmed by women.

So she started hosting coding workshops for women, which caught the attention of Rick Turoczy, co-founder and general manager of the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE). Turoczy encouraged Rowley to turn her workshops into a business, but she was adamant that her operation be nonprofit, helping underserved people like single mothers, who can afford neither the time nor the money to attend months-long software-development boot camps. Incubators like PIE generally fund for-profit startups in exchange for equity and a taste of future revenue. "But we also are very much of the mind that PIE is an experiment," Turoczy says. "Given her focus on trying to create more development talent for the Portland startup community, it seemed like a perfect fit, so we took it on."Rowley learned to code through friends and self-teaching, and once she got work as a programmer, she entered a primarily male work environment. She was often asked to represent the female perspective. "That is a weird dynamic--being the only woman in the room--and they are all staring at you because they have to," she says. "I thought, I wonder how the dynamics would change if we could get more women involved."

In July 2012, PIE granted Rowley $18,000 to launch Code Scouts. Armed with a shoestring budget and an army of volunteers, the startup has pulled together a welcoming and accessible learning community for women, with 110 students (and a waiting list) and 30 mentors. Students work through projects such as building simple software like web scrapers and chat bots; they are also paired with mentors who evaluate completed projects and advise on career paths. Some even receive professional experience by interning with partner companies.

As Code Scouts wraps up its first year, word has spread. Rowley has heard from potential supporters in San Francisco, Austin, New York, London and other cities, and is hopeful that Code Scouts will open more chapters soon.

"We are not going to just stay in Portland--this is going worldwide for sure," says Rowley, who is building a kit for future Code Scout programs. "I just need some people in other cities that want to step up and make it happen."
--John Patrick Pullen

Nicole Glaros, The Matchmaker

The Matchmaker
Nicole Glaros
Photo © Julia Vandenoever

The Matchmaker

A Techstars leader guides startups to glory

A prolific entrepreneur might start a handful of companies over the course of a career. Nicole Glaros is involved in launching 10 to 20 a year. As managing director of the Boulder, Colo., and New York City programs for the Techstars accelerator, Glaros selects the 1 percent of applicants who are chosen for the three-month programs and guides them through the often-painful learning curve between inception and success.

The fast-talking Glaros is in some ways an unlikely kingmaker. She's a powerful woman in an insular industry overrun by men. And unlike many of the other mentors in Techstars (there are close to 1,000), she doesn't come with an inspirational startup story.

After launching a successful e-commerce company focused on the property-management industry with her father in 1997, Glaros' next two tech startups were "dismal failures," she admits. "What I learned was the [entrepreneurial] magic wasn't with me; it was with my dad."

She joined Techstars in 2009 after co-founder David Cohen noticed her deft ability to play matchmaker between startups and outside mentors. The program provides business services and modest financing for the startupsStill, her failures led to a job with a tech accelerator, the Boulder Technology Incubator, where she discovered that her ill-fated entrepreneurial attempts, combined with her strengths as an executor and networker, made her ideally suited to guiding others. "I don't have all the answers," she says. "But I do believe I know someone who does. My job is to find people who can be most helpful to that company."

it selects ($18,000 in seed funding and an optional $100,000 convertible debt note). But Glaros says the accelerator's most important role is not capital, or even connections to capital, but guidance.

"I hear all the time, 'Oh, if we only had $250,000, if we could only raise $1 million, our business would be so much better,'" she says. "That's not true. What's important, even in fundraising, is getting the right people around you who are passionate about your success."

Techstars' roster of mentors includes a wide array of entrepreneurs, industry experts and venture capitalists, such as Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, angel investor Esther Dyson and Vimeo and CollegeHumor.com co-founder Josh Abramson.

Glaros, like other managing directors at Techstars' seven campuses, serves as the networking hub of her programs, connecting startups with mentors, experts, investors and anyone else she believes could help. Such connections, she says, are Techstars' "killer app," the one that results in roughly 90 percent of graduates building sustainable businesses or being acquired.

"Nicole has an eye for talent," says Techstars' Cohen. "She has great instincts about people, and early-stage startups are almost exclusively about the people."

Would she ever start a company again? Has she found the entrepreneurial magic? "I get tempted every single year," she admits. "But every year I ask, 'Where's my biggest reward?' and it's here. I get to help 10 companies instead of just one." --Joe Lindsey

Caryn Seidman-Becker, The Fixer

The Fixer
Caryn Seidman-Becker
Illustration © Brett Affrunti

The Fixer

An investor brings biometric ID back to airports

In Caryn Seidman-Becker's world, it takes just one hour to get from downtown Orlando, Fla., to the airport and into a seat on the plane just before the door is closed and the flight takes off. "One hour, door to door, done," says the chairman and CEO of Clear.

How does she do it? Her company allows users to circumvent the biggest bottleneck in air travel: the security line. Wielding chip-embedded membership cards, Clear subscribers are fast-tracked past the queue by checking in at special kiosks where their identities are biometrically authenticated through either fingerprints or iris scanning.

Founded in 2003 by entrepreneur and journalist Steven Brill, New York City-based Clear (then called FlyClear) had won the hearts of 200,000 paying members, contracts with at least a dozen airports and $75 million in venture capital before the economic downturn, an unattended laptop full of customer data and $33 million in debt bankrupted the company in December 2009.

Seidman-Becker was a hedge-fund investor with stakes in companies like L1 Identity Solutions, the technology firm that powered Clear's technology on the back end. Unfazed by Clear's collapse, she believed that biometrics still had the potential to change the way people live, work and travel. She had built a successful career working closely with management teams to understand how to allocate capital and create long-term value, and in cracking open Clear's books, she saw that buying the company would make great business sense.

Her investment firm, Algood Holdings, bought Clear for $6 million in April 2010. Her first decision: keep Clear's easily identifiable blue-cube branding, which the former owners spent $40 million rolling out. "Customers knew it, so it was about rebuilding the trust and the integrity of that brand with them," Seidman-Becker says."The company died from self-inflicted wounds. It shouldn't have gone bankrupt. It had a lot of debt; it had a big core structure," she says. "We saw that Clear could be very successful if we ran it like other businesses that we had been involved with, and that's about thinking about the lifetime value of a member … and how to run an efficient organization."

To that end, Clear pulled out all the stops. The company honored the curtailed memberships from the previous ownership. Seidman-Becker listed her e-mail address on the company website, sent signed letters to former customers and called the most critical members to chat personally. "People can write anything in e-mail," she says. "But when you get them on a phone, they're far more docile."

She also had to convince airports and the Transportation Security Agency that the new Clear was different. "She's tenacious--she doesn't give up," says Brigitte Goersch, former deputy executive director of Orlando International Airport, the first to reinstate the service. Since relaunching in 2010, the 200-employee company has opened 30 lanes in nine airports, verifying the identities of its 250,000-plus members--each of whom pays $179 per year--at least 1.3 million times. "It's really very rapid improvement," Goersch says, "and that's because of her personal involvement--that's what's been a key to their success."

That involvement extends to her family life. When Seidman-Becker takes her three children on business trips to Orlando, they're able to use Clear to squeeze in a little extra time for fun. "That efficiency, it makes you feel so differently," she says. "I was with my kids at Disney World and I was like, 'Oh no, we can stay longer.' That's just a great feeling." --J.P.P.