The Innovators

The 7 Most Powerful Women to Watch in 2014

The Innovators


Innovators push the boundaries of the known world. They're change agents who are relentless in making things happen and bringing ideas to execution.

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

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This article was originally published in the January 2014 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Women to Watch 2014.

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