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The Tech Museum Awards: Celebrating and Supporting Our Laureates

Peter Friess

Friess Article
Each year at The Tech Museum Awards, we invite our 25 Laureates to spend a week with us in San Jose. As we come to know each of them, they inspire and humble us and remind us that technology can truly improve people’s lives. And they strengthen our dedication to encouraging more people to become innovators. What makes these Laureates so important, and what happens when the Laureates visit us in Silicon Valley

One thing that stands out among our Laureates is that they take innovation beyond just developing interesting or clever new technologies. They look deeply at the problems around them, and they create solutions that make sense for the people they are helping. Many of them grew up in the communities where their work is changing lives, or they have lived there, so their solutions fit with the resources and the values of local communities. 

Consider three very different 2006 Laureates.

  • The people at the Centre for the Development of Disadvantaged People realized that most water purification techniques are too expensive for the poorest people in India, so they used local materials to develop a low-cost, highly effective water treatment system. And they work with the people in their communities to teach them how to run the system themselves. The clean water, and the profits, are put into the hands of the people who need them.
  • Debesai Ghebrehiwet Andegergish reworked the Eritrean stove, keeping its three compartments for traditional cooking, but making it burn wood far more efficiently so that people do not have to cause deforestation to eat the way they choose.
  • The team at Campus School EagleEyes knew that many people though  severely disabled, are still able to control their eye movements.  They figured out how to connect those tiny eye movements to a computer screen so that people with limited physical mobility can successfully use a PC.

Like all of our Laureates, these examples demonstrate that innovation is at its best when it takes into account how people live, addresses their challenges in their own terms, and puts the benefits of the technology in the hands of those who need it. All of our Laureates empower people without collapsing personal or cultural differences. This is technology benefiting humanity.


When we invite our Laureates to visit us in San Jose, we do our part to empower them. At our Gala event we formally celebrate their achievements and we hope that, by extension, we inspire others to use technology to benefit humanity. Behind the scenes, we invite the Laureates into the Tech Laureate Venture Network (TLVN). The network gives the Laureates tools to sustain their work financially, and a network of fellow innovators who can learn from each other’s ideas, successes, and failures so that all of their projects become stronger.


A cornerstone of the TLVN is professional presentation skills training. Most of our Laureates have small budgets devoted almost entirely to their technology projects, so few of them can afford the expense of polishing their pitches to media and investors. We help them do this, and then we connect them with potential funders. We host a reception with foundations, corporations, and investment firms. And at the TLVN Showcase event, Laureates each have a table to display their technologies to potential funders and partners. While they are in town, the Laureates also have speaking engagements with groups such as the World Affairs Council, Santa Clara University, and Stanford University.


In addition, several Laureates have been selected to participate in Santa Clara University’s Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI), an executive education program designed to enhance their management skills and thereby turn their innovations into scalable sustainable enterprises.      


Feedback from our Laureates about the TLVN has been overwhelmingly positive. They tell us that the program has made a significant impact on their growth as social entrepreneurs and that the experience was of great value to them. As 2004 Health Laureate Ashok Gadgil explained, “The training offered by the Tech Museum to all of us in the days immediately preceding the Awards ceremony… is worth thousands of dollars, and would be quite unaffordable to most of us.”


After their week in San   Jose, Laureates continue to keep their high profile by posting their projects on, a Web site that connects corporate and private donors with philanthropic projects around the world. And Laureates remain connected through a regular newsletter and the lasting relationships they develop here.


Following the Awards and the TLVN, Laureates report that they receive local and international press coverage, more awards, and perhaps most importantly, other organizations have heard about and replicated Laureates’ projects in their own communities.


Our work at The Tech Museum Awards is to recognize people and organizations that are using technology in ways that are respectful, locally sustainable, and of great benefit to humanity.  And we hope that by celebrating the Laureates, and connecting them with each other and with funding opportunities, we support their work and inspire even more people to use technology to address humanity’s greatest challenges.

About the Author

Peter Friess

Peter Friess

Dr. Peter Friess joined The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Calif. in April of 2006, and is chartered with driving the content, programs, and Silicon Valley business and education partnerships essential to “inspiring the innovator in everyone.”  He has extensive museum experience, having helped create and then direct the Deutsches Museum Bonn, and having run projects for the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Bavarian National Museum.  In 2001, Bavaria’s State Chancellor asked Friess to build up their Agency for Media and Communication Technology in Germany, California, and India in order to attract foreign businesses to Bavaria, Germany.  Friess’ efforts resulted in 54 companies and 2,600 people coming to work in Bavaria.  Since 2003, Dr. Friess has been Secretary General of the Fondazione Parmenides of Elba, Italy.  Friess- a master clockmaker- received his Ph.D. in 1992 from the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich with a dissertation on Art and Technology.

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