20 Big Ideas

20 Big Ideas logoOver the course of 2015, we will be celebrating The Lemelson Foundation’s 20 years of work to improve lives through invention. This work started two decades ago with the vision of Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson, and continues to thrive today through the efforts of our grantees and thousands of inventors around the world. Throughout the year in 20 Big Ideas, we will highlight some of our collective accomplishments, and preview how inventors of tomorrow are already tackling our world’s most pressing problems. We will share how 20 Big Ideas have improved lives and created self-sustaining businesses in the U.S. and developing countries, while being environmentally responsible. They have inspired us, and we hope that they will inspire inventors for generations to come. 


20 Big Ideas

December 29, 2015

Jay Harman: Biomimicking Our Way to a Better World   

Jay Harmon thumb“Nature has already solved every single problem facing humanity.” Jay Harman, one of this year’s AAAS-Lemelson Ambassadors, is a naturalist, entrepreneur, and founder of PAX Scientific, Inc. PAX is a fluid dynamics research and design firm that uses biomimicry – emulation of nature’s patterns and strategies to solve human challenges – to develop energy-efficient industrial tools. Harman believes that inefficient energy usage is the root of many problems in industry today, and that simple solutions can be found in nature. All we need to do is pay attention. Read more.




December 11, 2015

Video Spotlight: The Inventor's Pathway  

Lemelson Center thumbnail The Lemelson Foundation is dedicated to improving lives through invention. To do this, we support inventors through every step of their development – from the moment they’re inspired to solve a pressing problem, to the education they need to gain vital skills and knowledge, to the incubation of viable businesses that will transform their ideas into products, and get those products into the hands of people who need them. This “Inventor’s Pathway” is crucial in transforming ideas into life-improving solutions. Learn more about each step of this pathway in our video. Read more.


November 20, 2015

The Smithsonian's Lemelson Center: 20 years of Helping Kids - and Their Parents - See Themselves as Inventors  

Lemelson Center thumbnail Over the summer, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History celebrated the opening of the new Lemelson Hall of Invention and Innovation. The Hall explores the role of invention in the United States, through hands-on activities, informative exhibits, and collaboration. In just a few months since its opening, the Hall is abuzz with the excitement of young and old would-be inventors.

The new Hall is the first permanent public home of the Jerome and Dorothy Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention, and its opening showcases a 20-year partnership between The Lemelson Foundation and the Smithsonian. The alliance was forged in 1995 when Jerry and Dorothy Lemelson approached the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, about an exhibition space that would increase the public’s understanding of invention and its power to effect change in our lives and communities. Read more.


November 10, 2015

Spotlight on Villgro [Video]  

Villgro video thumb Villgro, a long-time partner of The Lemelson Foundation, is an Indian-based organization that works to incubate innovations that improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in rural India, and support the social entrepreneurs behind those innovations. Villgro provides seed funding, mentoring, coaching, and more for innovation-based businesses. These aren’t just any businesses. They are enterprises that improve the lives of India’s poorest people and solve pressing problems with exciting new productsRead more



October 22, 2015

20th Anniversary Highlights [Video]  

On September 18, 2015, more than 300 of The Lemelson Foundation’s partners and peers gathered in Washington, DC. It was an opportunity to celebrate the Foundation's 20th Anniversary and to share a visions for ways invention can ignite change in the future. The day-long event paid honor to the enduring legacy of our founder Jerome Lemelson, and featured a compelling mix of speakers, panels and presentations by the world’s leading minds in invention.

Relive the full day in less than five minutes with this short video. Read more



October 6, 2015

Catalyzing Capital for Invention  

India is a country of glaring contrasts: 400 million people living in extreme poverty alongside a growing middle class; persistent and prevalent challenges like unsafe water, air, and sanitation in a nation that just sent a mission to Mars; 2.9 million young people studying engineering but many unable to find jobs.

The Lemelson Foundation believes that invention can reconcile many of these disparities and improve the lives of millions of Indians. But invention-based businesses in India need a more supportive environment in order to realize their full potential. Read more



September 25, 2015

Celebrating 20 Years of Improving Lives Through Invention 

20 Yrs teaser photo

Last week, The Lemelson Foundation celebrated our 20th anniversary with a look at the work supported by our grantees and partners, and an optimistic look forward to the future of Impact Inventing.

The celebration held at the Ronald Regan International Trade Center in Washington, DC consisted of a day of informative panels, invention spotlights, inspiring videos, and informal networking of inventors young and old. A dynamic collection of grantees and sub-grantees discussed triumphant successes and resilience-building failures along each step of their journey as inventors. Speakers ranged from students at Cesar Chavez High School in Arizona to the inventor of the digital camera to heads of Lemelson-supported invention incubators in Africa, India, and Latin America. Read more


August 21, 2015

The Next Generation of Inventors: GMin Challenges Young People to Solve Problems

Gmin teaser photo

Many people will say that young people are the hope for our future. But they seem to think those young people will start tackling the world’s problems when they’re grown. Very few actually go to teenagers and ask them to solve community challenges—right now—with whatever materials they can find.

That’s what Global Minimum does. The results are impressive, to say the least. Read more



July 28, 2015

Technology With Purpose: A Conversation with Abhishek Sen 

Abhishek Sen

The Lemelson Foundation partners with Villgro to incubate innovations that improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in rural India, and support the social entrepreneurs behind these innovations. Abhishek Sen is one of the co-founders of the medical engineering and design firm Biosense Technologies, a company incubated by Villgro.

Sen is known for his pioneering work in point-of-care diagnostics, which are simple tests that can be administered at someone’s bedside. After noticing that most medical innovations catered to a western context, Sen and his partners founded Biosense to develop revolutionary diagnostics that are applicable in the uniquely complex environment of India. Read more


July 10, 2015

Inventions that Matter (Or "The Case Against Nonsense")

Carol Dahlby Carol Dahl, Executive Director

For more than 20 years The Lemelson Foundation has been committed to the power of invention to improve lives. While inventions come in many forms, the Foundation’s work is focused on those that help solve the world’s most complex and systemic problems with true and lasting impact. We call this impact inventing and it has three central tenets: inventions need to have positive social impact, be environmentally responsible, and be financially self-sustaining. While all three aspects of impact inventing are interrelated and important, positive social impact is essential. Without it, we will never be able to address the current challenges we face as a global population. Read more


June 24, 2015

Taking Their Best Shot: Kaléo Makes Big Strides in Auto-Injectors

Kaleo Thumb

No one wants to be fumbling for the instruction book when you need a shot of life-saving medicine. That is exactly why a new auto-injector technology talks users through how to administer emergency doses of drugs—minimizing the potential for errors in situations where even a brief delay could prove fatal. 

The talking injector was the brainchild of two college students who turned their own personal challenges into a major medical products corporation, with the springboards of the right college class and a modest investment from people who understand invention and entrepreneurs. Read More


June 15, 2015

Cold Waters Lead to Hot Futures for High School Inventors: A Conversation with Doug Scott and Katelyn Sweeney

Natick thumbnail

In 2013, the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam at Natick High School near Boston invented a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) capable of conducting search-and-rescue operations in iced-over waters. The vehicle can traverse the surface of the ice in just a few minutes, then lower a submersible into a hole in the ice with a boom and pulley system. The first-of-its-kind submersible takes the place of a human diver, searching for objects or bodies in dangerous waters up to 40-feet deep with temperatures of 33–45°F.

Natick’s InvenTeam has received significant attention for the breakthrough, including an invitation to participate in the 2014 White House Science Fair. The Lemelson Foundation recently caught up with Doug Scott, Natick’s InvenTeam mentor, and Katelyn Sweeney, a former InvenTeam team member who is currently a sophomore at MIT. Read More


May 15, 2015

The Lemelson-MIT Program: Cultivating and Celebrating Invention 

LMIT Program

Dr. Angela Belcher is an invention force to be reckoned with. The MIT professor of materials science and biological engineering is a leader in the field of nanotechnology, and has leveraged her extensive work on self-assembled materials to start two companies. Yet what excites Dr. Belcher the most isn’t lab work or business plans, but teaching. “If I didn’t have such passionate and brilliant students, I wouldn’t be able to do anything that I do. Students think anything is possible,” says Belcher.

Dr. Belcher is the winner of the 2013 Lemelson-MIT Prize, a $500,000 award that spotlights outstanding mid-career inventors dedicated to improving our world. The prize is just one of the Lemelson-MIT Program’s efforts to inspire young people to pursue inventive careers. Read More



April 24, 2015

Learning How to Learn: A Conversation with David Sengeh 

David Sengeh

The Lemelson-MIT Program celebrates outstanding inventors and inspires young people to pursue inventive careers. David Sengeh, a Ph.D. candidate at the MIT Media Lab, is an embodiment of that mission. 

Sengeh was one of the winners of the 2014 Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize Competition for his groundbreaking work on improved sockets for prosthetic legs. Sengeh witnessed the need for his invention first-hand by talking to amputees in his home country Sierra Leone and those in the United States. He noticed that many seldom used their legs and if they did, they were uncomfortable. The reason was simple: The prosthetics hurt. Read More



April 9, 2015

How To Unlock the Potential of Young Inventors

Carol Dahlby Carol Dahl, Executive Director

I recently met an amazing set of entrepreneurs who are tackling a dizzying array of challenges: developing systems to allow impoverished families in poor countries to heat and pressurize water for bathing, cooking, and cleaning; creating a lawnmower-type machine that harvests and converts crops directly into biomass pellets for fuel; and inventing improved medical devices like chest tubes and spinal probes to save time, healthcare costs, and patient suffering. Read more


April 2, 2015

Waste Not: Sanergy's hygienic sanitation solutions changing Kenyan slums 

Harish HandeMost of us take our indoor plumbing for granted, but about 40 percent of people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation. Many of those people live in cramped slums, where human waste ends up in rivers or the street, where it can contaminate drinking water and the food supply and cause disease.

Sanergy is helping to solve that problem in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya with a cost-effective solution that is not just providing hygienic sanitation, but also creating badly needed jobs and taking the waste out of the community. Read More




March 12, 2015

Nurturing Invention: How VentureWell brings ideas to market 

Harish HandeMushrooms that take the place of plastics. A ventilator that saves infants in Malawi and costs less than $200.  A replacement for rebar that makes buildings safer during earthquakes. These are just a few of the hundreds of ideas and companies that have been nurtured by VentureWell, a long-time grantee, partner, and collaborator of the The Lemelson Foundation. Read More 




February 10, 2015

Lighting The Way: A Conversation With Harish Hande

Harish HandeAccess to sustainable energy has been shown to improve the quality of life for both rural and urban populations by allowing them to enhance their livelihoods, and also address basic human needs, such improving health outcomes and educational success.  Achieving this impact requires more than great energy technology delivered in a uniform way to all clients, it requires that the technology that is delivered ties to the livelihoods and needs of those communities with appropriate means of financing. 

Since 2007, The Lemelson Foundation has been supporting SELCO India to provide reliable energy to the underserved households in rural India. Read More


January 21, 2015

A Growth Industry: How Ecovative Design’s mushroom-based products are transforming the packaging industry and proving the power of impact inventing 

EcovativeMaking packaging materials out of living organisms sounds like a far-fetched idea, but to hear Eben Bayer tell the story, it’s the most natural thing in the world. 

Bayer is CEO and co-founder of Ecovative Design, a materials science company that is developing a new class of home-compostable biomaterials made largely from mushrooms. Ecovative is using mycelium, the vegetative growth stage of the fungi – essentially a living polymer – to make environmentally responsible alternatives to traditional foam packaging, insulation, and other plastic-based materials. Read more


January 6, 2015

Problems Worth Solving: 20 Years of Impact Inventing

Carol Dahlby Carol Dahl, Executive Director

2015 is an important year for The Lemelson Foundation. It has been 20 years since our founders, the prolific inventor Jerome Lemelson and his wife Dorothy, mapped out their vision for a world where inventors and their inventions improve lives. As we pause to reflect on two decades of philanthropic work, we have much to celebrate and even more to learn. Over the next year we intend to mark our 20th anniversary with a mix of big ideas, shared learnings, and inspiring stories about the incredible work of our grantees. We also want to show how Jerome and Dorothy’s original vision together with the ongoing vision of the Lemelson family continues to shape the future of invention and inspire the work of the Foundation and our partners. Read more