|Born||May 1, 1959|
|Alma mater||B.S. Engineering, M.S. Applied Physics - California Institute of Technology|
|Known for||pioneering social entrepreneur, CEO of Benetech|
Jim Fruchterman is an engineer and social entrepreneur. He is the founder and 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.
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.
Fruchterman received his B.S. in Engineering and M.S. in Applied Physics from Caltech in 1980 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. The rocket blew up on the launch pad, but it launched Fruchterman’s career as a serial entrepreneur.
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 assisted people with disabilities to access printed information, at-risk human rights defenders to safely document abuse, and 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.
Honors and Awards
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 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 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 Treaty, which has been signed by over seventy-five countries.
Publications and Talks
- Fruchterman, Jim, “Digital Equity and Individual Rights in the Age of Big Data,” panel discussion at the 2014 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.
- Fruchterman, Jim, Inside Silicon Valley's conversation with Jim Fruchterman (iTunes), January 2014.
- Fruchterman, Jim, “Technology Serving Humanity,” in Schultz, Ron (ed.), Creating Good Work: The World’s Leading Social Entrepreneurs Show How to Build a Healthy Economy, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, pp. 145-51.
- Fruchterman, Jim, “Social change at scale -- that's innovation!,” TEDxSanJoseCA 2012.
- Fruchterman, Jim, “For Love or Lucre,” in Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring 2011.
- Fruchterman, Jim, “Making the Book Truly Accessible,” Keynote Speech at O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference, New York, NY, 2011.
- Fruchterman, Jim, “Developing Information Technology to Meet Social Needs,” in Innovations, MIT Press, 2008.
- Fruchterman, Jim, “Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained: Addressing the Critical Gaps in Risk-Taking Capital for Social Enterprise,” by Jed Emerson, Tim Freundlich and Jim Fruchterman, working paper published by Oxford Said Business School, 2006.
- Fruchterman, Jim, “Accessing Books and Documents,” in Assistive Technology for Vision-Impaired and Blind People, Springer Verlag. (pdf) (2008)
- Fruchterman, Jim and Lisa Friendly, “Bookshare.org for Education (B4E) Presentation to OSEP,” (2007)
- Fruchterman, Jim and Gregg Vanderheiden, “Everyone Deserves Access to Technology,” The Sacramento Bee, (2007)
- Fruchterman, Jim, Jed Emerson and Tim Freundlich, “Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: Addressing the Critical Gaps in Risk-Taking Capital for Social Enterprise,” (2007) (pdf)
- Fruchterman, Jim, “Build Great Companies, Then Help Build A Great World,” San Jose Mercury News (2006)
- Fruchterman, Jim, “High Tech Approaches for Building Social Enterprise: Jim Fruchterman on Leveraging Intellectual Property-Based Social Ventures.” (2006) Social Enterprise Reporter
- Fruchterman, Jim, “Comments on Accessibility of Google Print and Google's Library Project (2005) (pdf)
- Fruchterman, Jim, “Technology Benefiting Humanity,” in Association for Computing Machines Ubiquity (2004)
- Fruchterman, Jim, “The Power of Technology Social Enterprises,” N-TEN forecast series. (2004)
- Fruchterman, Jim, “In the Palm of Your Hand: A Vision of the Future of Technology for People with Visual Impairments,” in American Foundation for the Blind’s Journal of Vision Impairment and Blindness. (2003)
- Fruchterman, Jim and Alison Lingane, “The Chafee Amendment: Improving Access to Information,” in Information Technology and Disabilities. (2003)
- Fruchterman, Jim, and George Kerscher, “The Soundproof Book: Exploration of Rights Conflict and Access to Commercial EBooks for People with Disabilities,” in First Monday. (2002)
- Social Capital Markets Conference ABC News Affiliate ABC-7 San Francisco (2008-10-29)
- Microsoft's Annuska Perkins interviews Jim Fruchterman about Benetech's Bookshare.org project. (28-09-26)
- SpeakUP: The Voice of the United States Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Profile of Jim Fruchterman (Summer 2008)
- "When Tech Innovation Has a Social Mission" The New York Times. (2008-04-14)
- “With Sudden Wealth, the Desire for Sudden Impact.” The New York Times. (2007-11-12)
- “Big Grant Gives Free 'Books' to Disabled: $32 Million Boosts Online Access.” San Jose Mercury News. 2007-10-19
- “Geeks for Good,” The Stanford Magazine. (July 2007)
- “Tech Entrepreneur Helps Blind To Read Profile of Jim Fruchterman.” CBS News American Spirit Series. (2007-02-22)
- “Celebrating the Naming of a Genius: An Interview with Jim Fruchterman.” AFB AccessWorld. January 2007
- “Doing Well by Doing Good.” The IEEE Spectrum Magazine. December 2006
- “3 of region's brightest win 'genius' fellowships: $500,000 Each in Grants From the MacArthur Foundation.” San Francisco Chronicle. (2006-09-19)
- “An Executive Does Well By Helping Others.” San Jose Mercury News. 2006-09-22
- an-tech-cz_ec_1009valleyletter.html?partner=moreover “The Irony of Large Numbers.” Forbes. (2006-09-08)
- “From Smart Bombs to Reading Machines.” Caltech News Article. 2002