No. 464: Charging into the 20s, with Hawking, Cousteau, surgery bots and a new Penn Station

Traveling cosmo: Professor Stephen Hawking completed a rare geeked-out trifecta, appearing as himself on "The Simpsons," "The Big Bang Theory" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation."


Off we go: The holidays are over and reality returns, dear readers, as a fresh month, year and decade of socioeconomic innovation begins.

Taps: Get your QWERTY on.

It’s Wednesday, Jan. 8 – Babinden in Belarus, celebrating midwives, and World Typing Day, promoting speed and accuracy.

Sweets: It’s also National English Toffee Day and National Man Watchers Day, which attempts to balance societal scales by encouraging women to gawk at men for a change (not sure about the thinking here, but there it is).

Seeing 2020: Objectification of the opposite sex aside, you’re likely aware of all the amazing things scheduled for this year – the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the Mars 2020 Rover mission, some big election in November and much more.

Add this to the list: Innovate Long Island’s Innovator of the Year Awards, our annual breakfast bash honoring the brightest, busiest and boldest from across the regional innovation economy. Our fifth (wow!) A-list networker and awards celebration is coming March 24 to the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. More info on award-winners and sponsors coming soon; details on sponsorship opportunities and registration right here.

Eclipsed: Speaking of stellar innovators, German astronomer Simon Marius discovered the first three moons of Jupiter on Jan. 8, 1610.

Sadly for Marius, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered them one day earlier.

Debting it all: President Andrew Jackson was able to fulfill a lofty goal on this date in 1835, the first and only time the U.S. national debt stood at $0.

Unfortunately, Jackson’s single-minded focus on eliminating the debt led to reckless policymaking that triggered one of the worst financial crises in American history.

In living color: It was Jan. 8, 1935, when the first U.S. patent for a spectrophotometer – which could detect 2 million different colors and chart its results – was issued to Massachusetts inventor Arthur Hardy.

Other patents issued on this date include one in 1872 for African American inventor Thomas Elkins, who locked up his Chamber Commode – a single apparatus combining a toilet, bureau, mirror, bookrack, washstand, table and easy chair.

Seaworthy: Adventurer Cousteau, in better days for the Calypso.

Jacques star: “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” debuted on the ABC Television Network on Jan. 8, 1968.

Curse of the Calypso: And it was this date in 1996 when the Calypso – the heavily modified British WWII minesweeper that had served as the renowned oceanographer’s primary research vessel since 1950 – was accidentally rammed by a wayward barge and sank in Singapore Harbour.

After decades of wrangling about the salvaged ship’s fate, the late Cousteau’s estate finally commenced a total refit in 2016 – only to be slowed in 2017 by a Turkish shipyard fire.

A brief history: The incomparable Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) – the English theoretical physicist and most recognized scientist of his age, who outpaced Lou Gehrig’s disease long enough to change how we perceive time, space and even existence – would be 78 years old today.

Also born on Jan. 8 were Dutch astronomer Johannes Fabricius (1587-1615), who may have discovered sunspots; British naturalist Alfred Wallace (1823-1913), a Charles Darwin contemporary credited as co-discoverer of evolution through natural selection; American aircraft manufacturer William Piper (1881-1970), remembered as “the Henry Ford of aviation” for his popular two-seat Piper Cub; American businessman Walter Diemer (1905-1998), who accidentally invented bubblegum; and American burlesque legend Rose Hovick (1911-1970), the actress and author remembered best as Gypsy Rose Lee.

Civil warrior: Storch, as Agarn.

Where Indian fights are colorful sights: And take a bow, Lawrence Samuel Storch – the American actor and comedian, known best as bumbling Corp. Agarn on “F Troop,” turns 97 today.

Wish these and all the other Jan. 8 innovators well at, where we always welcome story tips, calendar items and classic sitcom references.


About our sponsor: Farrell Fritz, a full-service law firm with 15 practice groups, advises startups on entity formation, founder and shareholder agreements, funding, executive compensation and benefits, licensing and technology transfer, mergers and acquisitions and other strategic transactions. The firm’s blog, New York Venture Hub, discusses legal and business issues facing entrepreneurs and investors.



Back in business: Island Harvest food bank has received a $50,000 grant from the Morgan Stanley Foundation to support its Kids Weekend Backpack Feeding Program, an anti-hunger initiative designed to feed students who rely on school meals during the weekend – and now their families, too.

More than 100,000 Long Island children qualify for free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program and the National School Breakfast Program, and Island Harvest partners with 27 schools in Nassau and Suffolk’s most vulnerable districts to send 1,000 of them home each weekend with two breakfasts, two snacks and two servings of milk and juice. Thanks to the Morgan Stanley Foundation and other benefactors, the weekend packs now include “one healthy meal for a family of four,” according to the Hauppauge-based food bank.

“Adding additional meals for the family in the weekend packs promotes healthier eating habits and allows families to enjoy a meal together,” Island Harvest President and CEO Randi Shubin Dresner said Monday. “We’re grateful to have received the grant from the Morgan Stanley Foundation that will help support our efforts in addressing the needs of school-aged children and families who face a daily struggle with hunger.”

Lori Ballen: Intensive effort.

Bun in the oven: Plans for a new neonatal intensive care unit in Manhasset are gestating nicely, thanks to a generous gift from the Auxiliary of North Shore University Hospital.

The auxiliary presented NSUH in December with a $150,000 check earmarked for the new NICU, raising 2019’s total project fundraising to $500,000 and three-year project fundraising to $1.5 million. In 2016, the auxiliary pledged to raise $2 million (over 10 years) for the NICU, with Auxiliary Board President Lori Ballen promising a matching $2 million donation once the campaign is complete.

“We are so grateful to the auxiliary for their steadfast support,” NSUH Executive Director Jon Sendach said in a statement. “This support will go a long way to support our world-class neonatal intensive care service.”



Train of thought: The governor’s multibillion-dollar 2020 strategy includes an ambitious Penn Station remake, including new LIRR options.

Swimming with sharks: And that’s good, as Mako surgery robots dive into Northwell Health’s Long Island talent pool.

Let’s have a big year: Help us help you by sharing this entertaining and informative newsletter with your fellow innovators – and encouraging them to subscribe for free.



Game plan: The 2020 Census and online hiring will both play huge in the New Year – and Long Island can score big if it plans ahead, according to workforce development expert Rosalie Drago.



From soup to nuts: How “ecosystem innovation” will play huge in the New Year, according to Forbes.

From groceries to healthcare: Keep your eyes on these innovation startups in 2020, according to Inc.

From 8K to autonomous autos: CES 2020 is off to a fast start, according to Engadget, which is reporting this week from the world’s biggest tech show.



+ Humm, a California-based wearable-tech maker focused on neural science, closed a $2.6 million seed round led by led by Blueyard Capital, with participation from CRCM Venture Capital and follow-on funding from the Berkeley SkyDeck Fund.

+ Bushel, a North Dakota-based provider of tech solutions for agricultural enterprises and food companies, closed a $19.5 million Series B funding round led by Continental Grain Co., with participation from Lewis & Clark AgriFood, Germin8 Ventures and others.

+ Forma Therapeutics, a Massachusetts-based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on rare hematologic diseases and cancers, closed a $100 million Series D financing round led by RA Capital Management, with participation from Cormorant Asset Management, Wellington Management, Samsara BioCapital and funds managed by Janus Henderson Investors, as well as an undisclosed healthcare investment fund.

+ Edquity, a New York City-based student-finance and emergency-aid company, raised $2.4 million in seed funding led by ECMC Foundation, Omidyar Network, Spring Point Partners, the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, Michelson 20MM Foundation and WGU Labs.

+ Huckleberry, a California-based online small-business insurance-management platform, raised $18 million in Series A funding led by Tribe Capital, with follow-on investments from Amaranthine, Crosslink Capital and Uncork Capital.

+ Gecko Robotics, a Pennsylvania-based maker of climbing robots for industrial inspections, raised $40 million in Series B funding led by Drive Capital’s Mark Kvamme, with participation from previous investors including Founders Fund, Next47 and Y-Combinator, as well as Mark Cuban, Josh Reeves and Jake Seid.


BELOW THE FOLD (Vegetarian Edition)

Veggie tales: No animals were harmed in the making of this Croissanwich.

That’s Impossible: Burger King is warming up a “meatless sausage” for breakfast.

That’s … implausible: KFC is testing out a vegan chicken sandwich in the UK.

That’s just disgusting: Behold, the vomelet – a prepackaged veggie omelet universally accepted as the world’s worst MRE.

Here’s the beef: Please continue to support the great firms that support Innovate LI, including Farrell Fritz, which serves up a well-done smorgasbord of world-class legal services. Check them out.