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The Globe 100: The best of Massachusetts Business, 2009
Globe 100 | The Big Think

Hockfield: Hope in new energy

Mass. must capitalize on interest in alternative energy

By Susan Hockfield
May 19, 2009
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The new attention to alternative energy solutions at the national level is good news for Massachusetts, the nation, and the world. Alternative approaches to energy represent our best hope for grappling with four interlocking challenges: mounting global energy demand; the geopolitical insecurity of traditional energy sources, such as oil; the risks inherent in climate change; and the global economic downturn. Massachusetts should seize this promising new opportunity, as a state that has repeatedly launched national economic growth by cultivating our talent for innovation.

The quest for new energy answers illustrates how effectively research universities can anchor an innovation hub and, together with ambitious companies, become magnets for talent and drivers of economic growth. A recent Kauffman Foundation report found that less than 10 percent of arriving MIT freshmen are from Massachusetts, but "more than 38 percent of the software, biotech, and electronics companies founded by MIT graduates" are located here. All told, MIT alumni have founded in an estimated 6,900 companies in the state, generating $164 billion in worldwide sales, or about 26 percent of the sales of all Massachusetts companies, according to the Kauffman Foundation.

These MIT-educated entrepreneurs favor Massachusetts over other locations because of the state's university talent base, ranking that ahead of low business costs.

MIT is hardly alone in feeding the region's potential. Nearly 18 percent of Harvard graduates, for instance, live within 75 miles of Boston. By producing both innovators and innovations, MIT and the state's many research universities, public and private, are essential drivers of our economic engine. It's no accident that 70 energy start-ups have sprouted within 20 miles of Cambridge and Boston. As we push closer to a low-carbon energy future, this dynamic will deliver positive economic results for Massachusetts.

Susan Hockfield, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, two years ago launched an MIT initiative aimed at "transforming the global energy system" through new energy technologies and policies. In March, she joined President Obama at a White House briefing to support the administration's plan to devote $150 billion to alternative energy.