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Harvard picks marketing exec with experience battling mosquitos and tooth decay to run new Innovation Lab

Posted by Scott Kirsner  April 29, 2011 07:33 AM

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Gordon Jones Press.jpgIn a former television studio in Allston where Julia Child once demonstrated proper fish filleting technique for PBS viewers, Harvard University is setting up an Innovation Lab to spur more commercialization activity across its many schools.

And the university has just made an interesting choice for the Innovation Lab's inaugural director: Gordon S. Jones, a former Procter & Gamble marketing executive who is currently an adjunct lecturer at Bentley University in Waltham.

Jones helped P&G and Gillette market products like Crest toothpaste and Oral-B toothbrushes around the world, and he has also been involved with two companies that sell backyard mosquito-control technology, including American Biophysics, maker of the Mosquito Magnet. In 2003, that company was Inc. Magazine's fastest-growing company in America.

The Innovation Lab, currently under construction, is set to open in September. But Jones starts his new job next month.

One challenge of Jones' job will be promoting the Innovation Lab among Harvard's student body and the faculty — and perhaps his background in sales and marketing will help on that front. (Harvard is perhaps better-known for two drop-outs who've started software and social networking companies than any of its own efforts to foster entrepreneurship.) "I'm going to encourage the students to help sell the iLab to the rest of the university," Jones says. "I don't view myself as the only evangelist."

The iLab will host events like Hack Harvard and the Harvard Business School Business Plan Competition. It'll offer new for-credit courses, as well as seminars on topics like social entrepreneurship or developing consumer products. It'll also provide office space to students' start-up companies; among those Jones has encountered so far are Tivli ("reinventing television"), Aid Aide, and a facial recognition start-up from grad student Zak Stone.

"This is Harvard's much more overt step to saying, 'This is a community we embrace,'" Jones says. "The promise is that, five or ten years down the road, [the iLab] could expand to multiple locations. This is a global century."

Jones holds two patents, and has been involved with launching about a dozen new products. Not on his CV, however: starting a company of his own.

The Innovation Lab's Twitter account is @innovationlab; Jones isn't yet blogging or on Twitter.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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