List: Six alumni whose innovations caught on

Mark FobareMark Fobare

Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — Technology and engineering education is all the buzz in Niskayuna, from competitive robotics to 3-D printing and original inventions. Though it’s constantly changing, in a sense, it’s nothing new for Nisky grads. Here are six alumni from the past 50 years who pushed the field forward for today’s blossoming innovators.

Brian Chesky, Class of 1998

In 2013, Brian Chesky was on Forbes’ annual 40 under 40 list. In 2014, not only did the 33-year-old billionaire make the list again, but his company, Airbnb, hosted the party for some of the world’s most prestigious young entrepreneurs.

Chesky is one of three co-founders of Airbnb, a sharing service that connects travelers with individuals willing to rent them lodgings in their private homes. Sometimes, that’s an apartment; other times, it’s an artisan treehouse or a European castle (yes, really).

Airbnb is often cited as an example of the “sharing economy,” which involves private citizens renting their property. It relies on apps and its website to connect people.

The company has caused some controversy, most recently when New York City legislators tried to outlaw it based on pre-existing rules for short-term rentals. That fight is ongoing, pitting people who want to make extra cash by renting their places while they’re away against affordable housing advocates who think short-term rentals inflate living expenses for everyone.

Al Lee, left, and Mike Lee, right.

Al Lee, left, and Mike Lee, right.

Mike Lee, Class of 1988,
and Al Lee, Class of 1991

Dieting in the smartphone age usually involves tracking food and calories on a smartphone app, and, more often than not, that app is MyFitnessPal. If you’ve ever used the program to log a meal or look up the caloric content of a restaurant dish, you have Niskayuna natives Mike and Al Lee to thank.

Mike Lee started programming MyFitnessPal as a personal tool to help him prepare for his beach wedding, according to an interview with the website Lifehacker. He shared the first version publicly in 2005. In 2009, his brother Al joined the company. Since then, they’ve kept up with health trends by growing the app to work with fitness wearables.

Earlier this year, the Lee brothers sold MyFitnessPal to Under Armour for $475 million.

Mark Fobare, Class of 1985

Panels from Monolith Solar power homes and businesses in New York state and Missouri, but locals may recognize them most as the glimmer at the back of the Niskayuna Town Hall parking lot. Monolith Solar’s panels were installed there in 2012 and have been saving the town about a third of its energy costs ever since.

Niskayuna graduate Mark Fobare is president and co-founder of the company, which is influencing the future of solar by encouraging the many local schools they outfit with panels to add renewable energy to the curriculum.

Colin Angle

Colin Angle

Colin Angle, Class of 1985

Hate vacuuming and love viral videos of small dogs riding Roombas? Hat tip to the iRobot company, where Niskayuna alum Colin Angle is co-founder and CEO, for bringing both those things into the world.

IRobot is perhaps most famous for its Roomba automatic vacuum, but it does much more. According to Angle’s biography on the company website, iRobot spent its early days building a Mars rover for NASA. Now, its focus is on home and military robots that make difficult tasks easier or safer.

Bad news for science fiction fans, though: Angle has said in multiple interviews that the idea of humanoid robots is an expensive and inefficient fantasy. Sorry, C3PO.

Ron Rivest, Class of 1965

If you like your personal information secret on the Internet and your vote anonymous in the ballot booth, then — whether you know it or not — you’re a fan of Ron Rivest’s work.

Rivest is a cryptographer who has won multiple awards, including the Association for Computing Machinery’s AM Turing Award in 2002 and the Marconi Prize in 2007, for his work in online data security.

According to the Marconi Society’s website, Rivest and two other scientists worked together to create the most popular public-key cryptography system in the world, which has had positive effects on international business, politics and social networking.

From medical research to sports recruiting, meet five female Niskayuna alumnae who are on the cutting edge of their fields.

About the Author

Rebecca Isenhart
Rebecca Isenhart is the reporter/writer for Your Niskayuna, presented by the Daily Gazette of Schenectady.