Each year, MIT Technology Review compiles a list of 35 innovators under the age of 35 — culled from a list of more than 500 nominations — who are making the biggest impact in moving tech forward. This year’s list of four individuals in the entrepreneur category includes three women who are building companies aimed at solving some of the world’s most pressing problems.
By Christine Coolick, SWE Contributor
Janice Chen, Ph.D.
Janice Chen, Ph.D., 30, is harnessing the power of CRISPR, the gene-editing superhero, to advance medical diagnostic tests.
Dr. Chen earned her Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley, where she worked in the lab of Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D. — a co-developer of CRISPR editing technology in 2012.
Seeking new DNA editors and novel uses, Dr. Chen developed a test that leveraged a gene-editing enzyme to hunt for a specific sequence of viral DNA in a sample, cutting into it and attaching a fluorescent signal. The discovery had potential to create new infectious-disease testing, and Dr. Chen co-founded the company Mammoth Biosciences with several other Berkeley students and Dr. Doudna to try to commercialize the technology.
After COVID-19 hit, Mammoth pivoted to develop a test for the coronavirus. The company has just announced that it has secured $195 million in financing to date, and it is currently commercializing its first product — a kit that can run 1,500 COVID-19 tests simultaneously.
“It is an honor to be recognized by MIT Tech Review’s Innovators Under 35 alongside other inspiring innovators and entrepreneurs,” said Dr. Chen, who serves as Mammoth’s chief technology officer. “This recognition … continues Mammoth’s momentum for developing breakthrough CRISPR products across diagnostics and therapeutics, as we build towards the future of precision medicine and personalized healthcare.”
Tammy Hsu, Ph.D.
Tammy Hsu, Ph.D., 30, is on a mission to get toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, cyanide, and benzene out of your favorite pair of Levi’s.
Traditional denim-dying indigo is rife with synthetic chemicals that can harm workers and contaminate local water sources. And every kilogram of indigo requires more than 100 kilograms of petroleum to produce.
Dr. Hsu co-founded the company Huue in 2018 with an approach to producing dye that takes inspiration from how colors are made in nature. Dr. Hsu and her team have programmed microbes to use enzymes to produce specific shades without chemicals or harmful processes. Their biosynthetic indigo has five times less toxicity potential compared with the industry-standard, chemically sourced dye.
Serving as the chief scientific officer of Huue, Dr. Hsu is now honing the process to make it cost efficient. The company plans to release its indigo dye in 2022 and is also looking to expand the colors its patented process can develop.
Dr. Hsu is honored by her inclusion on the MIT Tech Review list. “Our mission at Huue is to bring sustainable, non-toxic dyes to industries — like fashion — that are influencing the health and future of our planet,” she said, “and it’s incredible to think that science has finally reached a point where we’re able to partner with nature to make this a reality.”
Sara Spangelo, Ph.D.
Sara Spangelo, Ph.D., 34, wants to provide low-cost IoT connectivity to every corner of the globe.
Currently, 90% of the planet lacks cell or Wi-Fi connectivity. Much of this terrain includes oceans, deserts, and polar regions — not the first places that come to mind when looking to expand internet coverage. Yet, there is a rapidly growing collection of IoT devices — 75 billion by 2025 — that could benefit from constant, globe-spanning connectivity.
Dr. Spangelo is CEO of the company Swarm Technologies, which uses the VHF radio spectrum for its data connection. This provides a slow data transfer rate of 1 kilobit per second, but allows the satellites to be pocket-sized — they weigh less than a pound and fit in the palm of your hand — and therefore ultra-low-cost to deploy. Compared with the billions of dollars needed for traditional satellite network solutions, Swarm Technology’s squad of 150 satellites, which the company hopes to launch into low Earth orbit by the end of the year, will cost just under $3 million.
Providing constant connection to IoT devices anywhere on the planet, the Swarm satellite communications network will allow users to remotely monitor equipment in far-flung locations such as cargo ships or buoys out at sea, wind farms and pipelines stretching across the globe, or water supply levels or temperatures practically anywhere.
“I was honored to be selected,” said Dr. Spangelo of her inclusion on the list. “I loved seeing all the fellow inventors … with their focus on using technology to have a significant impact on health, diversity, energy, and climate change.”