Jim Fruchterman

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Jim Fruchterman
Jim Fruchterman Portrait.jpg
Born (1959-05-01) May 1, 1959 (age 61)
Alma materB.S. Engineering, M.S. Applied Physics - California Institute of Technology
Known forpioneering social entrepreneur, CEO of Benetech

Jim Fruchterman is an engineer and social entrepreneur. He was the founder and longtime CEO of Benetech, a Silicon Valley nonprofit technology company that develops software applications to address unmet needs of users in the social sector. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the MacArthur Fellowship and the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.

Early life[edit]

Fruchterman was born in Washington D.C. and grew up in the Chicago area. He graduated in 1976 from St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois.[1]

Fruchterman received his B.S. in Engineering and M.S. in Applied Physics from Caltech in 1980[2] and went on to Stanford University to pursue a PhD, but left school to join the Percheron private enterprise rocket project as its electrical engineer.[3] The rocket blew up on the launch pad, but it launched Fruchterman's career as a serial entrepreneur.[4]

Technology Entrepreneur[edit]

He was involved in the founding of several technology companies, including venture-backed Calera Recognition Systems in 1982. At Calera, he was the CFO from 1982 through 1987, and then the VP of Marketing. There he helped create omnifont character recognition technology, that is, a machine that could read any printed font. This technology had multiple commercial applications, including scanning contracts for lawyers or claim forms for insurance companies.

It sparked Fruchterman's interest in pursuing an idea he had in college: building an affordable machine that would recognize text and read it aloud to people who are blind. He began prototyping such a reading machine for the blind, but Calera's investors vetoed a project that wasn't expected to be profitable.

Fruchterman left Calera and in 1989 started two new companies. The first, RAF Technology, created OCR for large-scale applications such as routing the mail for the post office. Fruchterman was RAF CEO from 1989-1995, and continues to serve on RAF's Board of Directors. The second company was Arkenstone, a nonprofit social enterprise that produced reading machines for people who are blind based on Calera's optical character recognition (OCR) technology. Arkenstone became the largest maker of affordable reading systems for people who are blind during the 1990s. In 2000, the nonprofit sold the reading machine product line to Freedom Scientific and used the money from the sale to create new technologies for social good under the renamed nonprofit Benetech.


Under Fruchterman's leadership, Benetech's software tools have included Bookshare, which assists people with disabilities to access printed information , Martus, which helps at-risk human rights defenders to safely document abuse, and Miradi, which assists environmental practitioners to manage their efforts to protect species and ecosystems. Through its innovation arm, Benetech Labs, Benetech is exploring new software-for-good applications.

In the Fall of 2018, Betsy Beaumon assumed the CEO role of Benetech[5] and Fruchterman started a new nonprofit project called Tech Matters[6] with a stated goal of taking what Benetech has learned about leveraging technology to help other nonprofits become more effective.[7]

Honors and awards[edit]

Fruchterman is the recipient of numerous awards recognizing his work as a pioneering social entrepreneur, including the MacArthur Fellowship, Caltech's Distinguished Alumni Award, the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, the Outstanding Social Entrepreneur Award from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, and the CASE Award for Enterprising Social Innovation.

Fruchterman received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006[8] and the Outstanding Social Entrepreneur award in 2003 from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. He received the Robert F. Bray Award in 2003 from the American Council of the Blind in recognition of his efforts to make published works accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. In 2003, Fruchterman received the Francis Joseph Campbell award from the American Library Association[9] for outstanding contribution to the advancement of library service for the blind and physically handicapped. He also received the Access Award from the American Foundation for the Blind.

Fruchterman has served on three U.S. federal advisory committees, each on topics related to disability and technology. He was a founding board member (2000-2010) and chair (2008–2010) of the Social Enterprise Alliance, the national association of social enterprise practitioners in the United States. Fruchterman was a member of the Board of Directors for ZeroDivide, a foundation investing in community enterprises that leverage technology to benefit people in low-income and other underserved communities (2007-2012). He helped create the first draft of an international treaty to benefit people who are blind or other disabilities, and was a delegate to the diplomatic conference that produced the Marrakesh VIP Treaty, which has been signed by over seventy-five countries.

Publications and Talks[edit]


  1. ^ "Rocket Scientist Credits Viatorians with Setting Him on a Path of Service". Viatorians.com. 2012-10-25. Retrieved August 25, 2019.
  2. ^ "Caltech Names Six Distinguished Alumni". Caltech. 2013-03-14. Retrieved August 25, 2019.
  3. ^ Richman, Tom (1981-07-01). "The Wrong Stuff". Inc. Retrieved 2019-08-25.
  4. ^ Desmond, Ned (2017-11-01). "Palo Alto nonprofit Benetech wins a $42.5M Dept. of Education grant, a nod to founder Jim Fruchterman's quest to help the blind". TechCrunch. Retrieved August 25, 2019.
  5. ^ "Benetech Appoints Betsy Beaumon as New CEO". www.globenewswire.com. Retrieved 2019-10-06.
  6. ^ "The Tech Matters Network". techmatters.org. Retrieved 2019-10-06.
  7. ^ "Five Questions for Jim Fruchterman, Who Talks Non-Profits Out of Adopting New Technology". www.engineeringforchange.org. 25 July 2019. Retrieved 2019-10-06.
  8. ^ "MacArthur Foundation". www.macfound.org. Retrieved 2018-07-21.
  9. ^ "ALA | Francis Joseph Campbell Award". www.ala.org. Retrieved 2018-07-21.

External links[edit]