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The University Magazine

Labors of Love

When RIT grads pursue their passions, the results are amazing. On the following pages, you’ll meet eight alumni who are following their hearts to extraordinary careers.

At age 26, Patricia A. Moore ’74 went undercover disguised as a woman in her 80s to learn first-hand about the obstacles faced by older people. Her findings changed her life.

Patricia A. Moore

Patricia Moore: Design for life

After graduating from RIT in 1974, Patricia A. Moore (industrial design) went to work in the New York City office of Raymond Loewy, one of the most prominent designers of the 20th century.

It was a wonderful opportunity, but she admits to being something of a malcontent. She repeatedly questioned why products were being designed without consideration for people of different abilities. Could someone with arthritis operate that switch? Could someone in a wheelchair reach that handle?

Could an older person open that door?

“Very quickly, I became known as the one who was looking after the disenfranchised,” says Moore, now an internationally renowned authority on inclusive design.

Moore’s sensitivity to the needs of people of all ages and abilities led to an extraordinary experiment. At age 26, she transformed herself into a range of women over the age of 80. The disguises involved more than makeup and clothing: She altered her body with prosthetics that blurred her vision, reduced her ability to hear and limited her motion. She relied on canes, walkers and a wheelchair. Her portrayals included the homeless and wealthy matrons, elders who were quite fit and those who struggled with illness and the effects of time.

From 1979 to 1982, she was in the roles about every third day for as much as 20 hours at a time. The experiment took her to 116 cities in 14 states and two Canadian provinces. She says that as time went on, the project took on a life of its own. She sometimes had difficulty getting back to her “real” life.

“It was very rigorous,” Moore says. The makeup damaged her skin, and a severe mugging at the hands of a gang of youths left her with serious, permanent injuries.
Ultimately, the undertaking set the stage for her life’s work. “My whole life is about applying that experience.”

It’s important work. Moore notes that more than 13 percent of Americans are over age 65 and that percentage continues to grow. In addition, one in three Americans has a cognitive or physical condition that requires compensatory means to accomplish daily activities.

“As a force for creation and change, designers need to step back, analyze our mission, and retake our role as responsible providers for the quality of life of consumers,” says Moore. “The need for ‘humanism’ in design has never been more critical.”

Moore notes that ageism persists, along with other forms of prejudice against people with differing needs (she rejects the label “disabled”).

“The compartmentalization of people – that really gets my Irish up,” she says.

Moore expanded her education with advanced studies in biomechanics at New York University’s Medical School & Rusk Institute and earned graduate degrees in psychology and counseling and in human development (social gerontology) from Columbia University.

Now president of MooreDesign Associates in Phoenix, Moore has worked in the areas of communication design, product development, environmental design, package design, transportation design, market analysis and product positioning. Her long list of clients includes AT&T, Boeing, Corning Glass, General Electric, Herman Miller, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly Clark, NASA, Marriott, Procter & Gamble, Seoul (Korea) Design City Project, 3M and many others.

“We’re currently designing the light rail vehicles for Cincinnati, Phoenix and Honolulu,” she says. “We’re also helping to create physical rehabilitation environments for the soldiers returning from war with injuries that require that they relearn the skills for everyday living with special technologies and prosthetics.”  

She is an adjunct professor of industrial design at Arizona State University and has lectured at universities worldwide. She was named by ID Magazine as one of The 40 Most Socially Conscious Designers in the world and ABC World News featured Moore as one of 50 Americans Defining the New Millennium.

The work keeps her on the go.

“I fly 200 days of the year,” she says. “I’ve been doing that since 1980. It’s a lifestyle, not a choice. I need to go where the action is.”

She’s traveled many miles from her home in Buffalo, but she’s never lost touch with her roots. Moore attributes her interest in the disenfranchised and older people to being raised with grandparents at home.

She chose RIT “because I knew I couldn’t be too far away from my family.” Initially, she planned a major in medical illustration. But early in her studies, Leland Smith, a professor in the new industrial design program, saw Moore working on a metal sculpture. “He asked me if I knew what industrial design was and gave me a stack of ID Magazines.”

She decided to make a change. Smith and professors Toby Thompson and Craig McArt became her mentors. She could not have foreseen where her decision would lead, but she knew one thing: “I just loved it.”

That is just as true today.

Moore is the author of Disguised: A True Story (1985), The Business of Aging (2010) and Ouch! Why Bad Design Hurts (upcoming).

Kathy Lindsley

Jeffrey Culver ’82

Jeffrey Culver: Providing security in an uncertain world

The protection of U.S. embassies and diplomats serving in foreign nations, and the security of U.S. businesses and citizens operating overseas are central security concerns for American policymakers – particularly given the current global threat environment.

A key actor in the government’s effort to protect U.S. foreign operations is Jeffrey Culver ’82 (criminal justice), who has spent more than two decades as a special agent and senior law enforcement executive with the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).

In October 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appointed him to one of the department’s top law enforcement posts as principal deputy assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and director of the Diplomatic Security Service. In this position, Culver manages security operations at U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions abroad and 28 field and resident offices domestically; oversees protective operations for senior U.S. diplomats including the Secretary of State; and directs efforts to enhance security and support for U.S. businesses and citizens operating in foreign nations through the DS Overseas Security Advisory Council.

“The Diplomatic Security Service is unique among law enforcement agencies because, on top of our security and enforcement responsibilities, we also have key protection and diplomatic functions supporting U.S. foreign policy goals,” notes Culver. “Our officers have to function as both policing agents and diplomats, which requires specialized skills and a keen understanding of the nations they are working in.”

Culver also serves as one of Secretary Clinton’s key security advisers, assisting in managing and implementing the department’s antiterrorism and disaster preparedness initiatives around the world. For example, nearly 50 Diplomatic Security agents were deployed to Haiti following the earthquake that ravaged the country in January, to provide security assistance to U.S. Consular Affairs personnel and Haitian officials.

Culver’s long career in the U.S. Foreign Service began in 1987. Over the years he has served as a regional security officer at U.S. embassies in Tel Aviv, Israel; Nairobi, Kenya; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; and New Delhi, India. He has also held posts as director of the Diplomatic Security Office of Antiterrorism Assistance and as chief of the Diplomatic Security Criminal Investigations division.

“I have always had a passion for law enforcement, even prior to enrolling at RIT,” he says. “I joined the Diplomatic Security Service because I was looking for a challenge and wanted to make the world a better place.”

As director, Culver is focused on improving the overall preparedness and training of special agents while also advancing Diplomatic Security’s ability to manage security operations, often in hostile environments such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. Given the continued threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. targets overseas, Culver also believes that Diplomatic Security Service’s responsibilities will continue to increase over the coming years, in support of the United States’ overall security goals.

“The DSS is currently working in conflict environments and taking on roles we would not have been asked to do 10 years ago,” notes Culver. “This requires management to take a broader look at our operations and how they fit into U.S. military and intelligence goals, to better protect our nation as a whole.”

Culver also argues that DSS and its agents are up to the task, in part because of the experiences they face on the job every day. “Diplomatic Security special agents are often the first line of defense in protecting the safety and lives of thousands of Americans living in unstable countries across the globe,” he concludes. “DSS can be referred to as a ‘baptism by fire,’ and I believe this gives our agents and managers the ability to provide the security support our nation currently needs.”

Will Dube ’09

Steve Yucknut ’89

Steve Yucknut: Global responsibility at KraftFoods

You’ve scooped from the Breyers Ice Cream package, the familiar box with rounded corners and tight-fitting cover.

Steve Yucknut ’89 (packaging science) designed that package, which replaced the folded paper cartons that once were the standard package for bricks of ice cream. He also helped design the equipment that makes it.

Now he has a bigger challenge. Much bigger. As vice president for sustainability at KraftFoods Inc. since 2007, Yucknut is responsible for building sustainability into the business strategy of the world’s second largest food company.

“We’re looking to make a lasting difference,” says Yucknut. “We’re incorporating sustainability into our business decisions, to help guide our thinking and our actions. We’re making it part of our recipe for success.”

In truth, says Yucknut, who has worked for the company since 1987, “Kraft has been doing a good job with sustainability for a long time.” But under the leadership of CEO Irene Rosenfeld, who took the helm in 2006, the company began looking at doing more to incorporate sustainability into all business decisions.

“The idea right from the get-go was this is all about meaningful change,” says Yucknut. The stakes are high: to ensure the long-term health of the company and the planet.

It turns out that sustainability is good business.

“Customers want to do business with partners who support sustainability,” says Yucknut. “Consumers want to buy products from companies that ‘get it.’ And employees want to work for companies that respect and preserve the world around them. Everyone is realizing we can minimize the impact on the environment, help society and increase revenue and profit.”

KraftFoods – and Yucknut – are focusing efforts in six areas: agricultural commodities; packaging; energy; water; waste; and transportation/distribution. Starting with 2005 as a base, the company has established some aggressive goals to be achieved by 2011:

  • Reduce plant energy usage by 25 percent
  • Reduce plant energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent
  • Reduce plant water consumption by 15 percent
  • Reduce plant waste by 15 percent <
  • Eliminate 150 million pounds of packaging material

“We’re doing real well in all areas,” says Yucknut. “It’s really heartening to see the positive support. Sustainability has become everybody’s job.”

Here’s one of the efforts he’s involved in: In February, 2009, KraftFoods and other industry, government and non-governmental organizations joined with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to pledge a total of $90 million over five years to boost the incomes of cocoa and cashew farmers in Africa. The projects aim to strengthen the long-term viability of the West African cocoa and cashew industries.

With the potential of improving the livelihoods of 200,000 cashew farmers and 250,000 in cocoa production, “It’s win-win. We’re helping people help themselves.” says Yucknut. Plus, there’s an opportunity to improve the supply chain, which benefits KraftFoods.

Yucknut says his background in operations was key in his being chosen as the company’s first VP for sustainability. Prior to taking on that job, he was senior director of manufacturing business development and engineering.

His 23-year career with KraftFoods has included work as an engineer/scientist across a variety of divisions and product lines. He holds five patents. He also earned an MBA in operations management from DePaul University.

He started at KraftFoods with a co-op job in research and development for Post Cereals.

“The RIT co-op program made all the difference in the world,” says Yucknut, who has a deep appreciation for RIT’s balance of classroom teaching and hands-on experience. “The education I got was second to none.”

Kathy Lindsley

Rick Kittles ’89

Rick Kittles: Finding his roots in DNA research

Rick Kittles ’89 (biology) has devoted his career to the study of genetics.

But early on, the subject held very little interest for him.

“It seemed too abstract,” says Kittles. “It didn’t seem very relevant to me.”

Then, during his first year in grad school, he read a scientific paper on human mtDNA variation. The article explored mtDNA variation around the world and indicated that all human beings descended from one female who lived in Africa around 200,000 years ago – the “African Eve.”

“That got me really excited about genetics,” says Kittles, associate professor in the Section of Genetic Medicine of the Department of Medicine at the University of Chicago. Kittles’ research focuses on the role of genetic background in disease, particularly looking at health disparities related to race. His current research involves study of genetic changes related to prostate cancer. The connections are complex and intriguing.

“I’ll be busy for a long time,” he says. “This is a lifetime worth of work.”

Kittles began his career as a high school science teacher. But working in public schools wasn’t completely satisfying. “I wanted to teach, to mentor, but I also wanted to have my own research to pursue.”

He was in a biology master’s degree program at State University of New York at Brockport in 1991 and earned a Ph.D. in biology from George Washington University (1998). Kittles worked with the New York African Burial Ground Project in New York City, gathering DNA samples from the remains and comparing them with samples from a DNA database to determine where in Africa the individuals had come from.

In 1998, Kittles became an assistant professor of microbiology at Howard University. He also served as director of the African American Hereditary Prostate Cancer Study Network at the university’s National Human Genome Center and co-directed the molecular genetics unit of Howard University’s National Human Genome Center.

In 2003, while continuing his work at Howard, Kittles co-founded African Ancestry Inc. (, a genetic testing service available to individuals interested in tracing their roots.

“That really came out of my interest in finding my own African connections,” says Kittles. By comparing his own DNA to samples in a database, he learned that his ancestors came from Nigeria, Senegal and Germany. He found that many others were interested in this.

“I hope it has been helpful to people,” he says. “For many African Americans, information about where their ancestors came from has been lost. There’s a richness in knowing that. It’s one piece of who we are.”

Kittles’ work in this area has received significant media attention. Notably, he was featured in BBC films Motherland: A Genetic Journey (2003) and Motherland – Moving On (2004). He has also appeared in the PBS series African American Lives and African American Lives 2 and CBS’ 60 Minutes.

His interest in African American issues was evident at RIT, where he served as president of the Black Awareness Coordinating Committee. Kittles was instrumental in bringing the controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to campus.

“I remember being at odds with the administration at times,” Kittles recalls. He also co-hosted a late-night radio show, The Unique Beat, on WITR with Phil Thorne ’90 (film and video), and served as business director of WITR.

For Kittles, who considered attending Howard University, RIT turned out to be the right choice.

“I wouldn’t have changed anything. RIT was a great experience, and I’m not just saying that for this interview. I was challenged. I was nurtured.”

He tries to do the same with his own students. “I try to inspire my students that their life’s work should be for more than financial gain,” he says. Pursuing work that you love is much more satisfying, Kittles has learned from experience.

“When you get to do exactly what you want to do, I think that’s a blessing. Not many people can do that.”

For more information about Kittles’ work, visit

Kathy Lindsley

Virginia ‘Ginny’ Clark ’06, ’08

Ginny Clark: Shining bright at Constellation

You might wonder if Virginia “Ginny” Clark has had time to breathe in the past decade.

In addition to earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from RIT (’06, ’08, hospitality and service management), she has served as vice president for Community Affairs at Constellation Brands Inc., an international producer and distributor of premium wines, beers and spirits with annual sales totaling $3.77 billion. Clark oversaw two major community projects connected to Constellation: construction of the $13.5 million Constellation Brands Marvin Sands Performing Arts Center (known as CMAC) and construction of the $7.5 million New York Wine and Culinary Center (NYWCC), both in her hometown of Canandaigua, N.Y.

“Both broke ground in the same week, and both opened on time and on budget nine months later, in June 2006,” says Clark, who now serves as executive director for CMAC and a board member for NYWCC.

In 2007, Constellation president and CEO Robert Sands asked Clark to spearhead building of the company’s new global headquarters in Victor, N.Y. At the same time, she worked with Constellation Board Chairman Richard Sands on a $7 million campaign to expand the Canandaigua YMCA. She’s also been involved in fundraising for Finger Lakes Community College Foundation, the Greater Canandaigua Family YMCA and Mercy Flight Central.

For all of this and more, Clark was honored by the Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce and the Business and Professional Women’s Club as 2009 Athena Award recipient. The prestigious award is given annually to a woman who demonstrates excellence, creativity and initiative in their profession; contributes to the community; and assists women in realizing leadership potential.

Clark’s career began in the 1970s, when she returned to Canandaigua after graduating from Herkimer County (N.Y.) Community College and opened a travel agency. What was then Canandaigua Wine Company became her first major client – although company founder Marvin Sands told her only four people in the company traveled frequently.

“It was Marvin Sands who gave me my start,” Clark says. In 1998, she went to Richard Sands with a proposal to operate a travel department within the company. “My goal was to save $250,000 in the first year,” Clark says. Sands connected her with a top company financial officer, and “We saved a half million dollars in the first nine months.”

The rapidly growing company changed its name to Constellation Brands in 2000. Clark went from the travel department into public and government relations and then into her current job. She now also works with Richard and Robert Sands on philanthropic activities on behalf of the Sands family as well as the company.

“I love doing that. You can see the immediate results in the community,” says Clark. Often, she helps find and work with partners to further leverage the impact of each project. “It’s bringing the public and private sectors together for the betterment of our community that allows everyone to succeed.”

A case in point is the New York Wine and Culinary Center. In 2004, after acquiring Robert Mondavi Corp., Constellation became the world’s largest winemaker.

Robert Sands was impressed with Robert Mondavi’s role in making California’s Napa Valley a world-renowned wine and culinary region and major tourist destination. Determined to support New York’s wine industry in a similar manner, Sands came up with the idea for the NYWCC. The New York Wine & Grape Foundation signed on, and Rochester-based Wegmans Food Markets became a partner, bringing together industry, agricultural and culinary aspects of the project.

“The final prong was hospitality education,” says Clark, and RIT became the fourth founding partner.

That’s when Clark met Francis Domoy, director of RIT’s School of Hospitality and Service Management. “There was an immediate connection,” she says. “I had always wanted to go back to school. It was Fran who really opened that door.”

Balancing a demanding job, numerous outside activities, family and school was challenging, she admits, but she earned her bachelor’s and continued for a master’s degree, using her work on CMAC as her thesis project.

“I used a lot of my professional experience in school,” Clark says. “The coursework made me really think about redoing the business plan for CMAC, and looking at it beyond just the construction.”

The outdoor venue (formerly Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center) had often incurred operating deficits. Constellation, as a supporting partner, typically made up the differences. Under the new business plan, and with Clark as executive director, the facility is now successful and brings in top performing artists from across the country.

“RIT gave me much more confidence in myself,” she says, “and a much broader way of thinking.”

Domoy, who continues to work with Clark in connection with the New York Wine and Culinary Center, calls her a community asset.

“Her ability to bring people together to focus on social and economic issues is staggering,” he says. “Ginny has a great passion for efforts that strengthen the fabric of the community.”

Clark credits her family with helping her reach her goals. Husband Rob Clark “is my biggest fan.” Her daughter, Shaunna Bailey, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., graduated from law school when Clark received her master’s from RIT.

“I promised Shaunna that I would go back to school, and she held me to it,” Clark says. The close family network includes Clark’s parents, who live in Florida; stepdaughter Shannon Coyne and her husband, John, and their daughter, Sara Kate (10 months) in Atlanta; and stepdaughter Allison Clark in Grand Cayman. Shortly after Clark won the Athena, the family gathered for a celebratory reunion.

The sense of family extends into her work. She loves her job in great part because of the people she works with – from the Sands brothers and her Constellation colleagues to community partners and elected officials.

“I think if you have passion, and surround yourself with good people, you can accomplish great things,” says Clark. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the people you work with and the relationships you develop.”

Kathy Lindsley

Elan Lee ’98

Elan Lee: Alternate reality superhero

You’re watching a TV show. The lead character picks up the phone and punches in a number.

And your cell phone rings. She’s calling you and now you’re part of the story – not just a viewer.

This will happen in the very near future – and Elan Lee ’98 (computer science) is in the forefront of this coming “convergence of entertainment.”

“Imagine the best movie, the best book, the best TV show you’ve ever seen,” says Lee. “They’re all a series of scenes. The question is, how do you use your life as part of a story-telling mechanism? We use computers, cell phones, e-mail, social media, Web sites – the things we all use every day – to tell the story.”

Developing entertainment experiences has been Lee’s passion since his days at RIT.

“I got an amazing internship with Industrial Lights & Magic,” he says. During his stint with the Academy Award-winning special effects production company, Lee worked on the 1999 George Lucas film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

He discovered that he “loved making beautiful images” much more than writing computer code. “When I graduated, I knew I wanted to go big and bold.”

ILM offered him a full-time job, but then he met “a very clever recruiter from Microsoft” who suggested that Lee might want to try something new. And at Microsoft, “They had this crazy new thing called Xbox.”

Lee became lead game designer for the 2001 Xbox launch, which featured six games.

“Then one day Stephen Spielberg walked into my office, because Microsoft is a cool place where that kind of thing happens.”

Lee had been working with Jordan Weisman, creative director for Xbox. They were assigned to make a video game based on A.I., Artificial Intelligence, Spielberg’s 2001 sci-fi tale.

“But the movie didn’t seem to lend itself to a game,” says Lee. So they came up with another idea – create a “game” where the action takes place in the real world. Thus was born The Beast, considered the world’s first alternate reality game.

It’s complicated, but here’s the gist: In the fine print on A.I. movie posters, they listed “Jeanine Salla, sentient machine therapist.” People who happened to notice this intriguing bit of information could find her Web site. There they discovered a murder victim, Jeanine’s friend who had died under mysterious circumstances.

“And on and on it went,” says Lee. People who followed the clues could eventually unravel the mystery, told through thousands of Web pages. The Beast ultimately attracted 2 million followers over six months.

“It was a huge amount of work, but really fun,” says Lee.

And the game proved to be a marvelous promotional vehicle. Lee left Microsoft in 2003 to co-found 42 Entertainment. The company gained acclaim for I Love Bees, an alternate reality game that served as a highly successful viral marketing campaign for the 2004 release of the video game Halo 2.

In 2006, Lee co-founded EDOC Laundry, which produced alternate reality games in which consumers could follow clues hidden within clothing. He is currently chief designer for Fourth Wall Studios, an entertainment production company he co-founded in 2007.

Once again, he’s looking to create something truly original. Among the current projects are two TV shows that hopefully will be on the air in fall 2010. While they can be enjoyed by viewers in the traditional manner, “they have the capability of reaching out and allowing people to connect in a variety of ways,” says Lee.

He admits a certain amazement that there is money to be made in this – “I am having way too much fun.” The key, he believes, is to keep moving beyond what’s cool at the moment to imagine what’s coming next. He has a theory as to why he’s good at this.

“What I like to do is to make people feel like superheroes. For the next 10 seconds, you’re unbelievable,” he says. “It’s so easy for me to infuse my games with this feeling, because my whole life, that’s what I’ve wanted. I’ve wanted to be a superhero.”

To learn more, visit

Kathy Lindsley

Keith Major ’84(Photo by Ryle Watson)

Keith Major: Model assignments

In one memorable segment of America’s Next Top Model, each contestant smears her face with a color – blue, yellow, orange, purple, green.

Keith Major ’84 (photo illustration) makes them look fabulous.

No wonder Tyra Banks, star of the Bravo TV series, asked him to do the shoot and be a guest judge.

“Tyra is somebody I shot early on,” says Major. “She’s been great to me.” The photographer and the supermodel have worked together on a number of projects, including an Ebony magazine cover in 2008.

Major has photographed celebrities in the entertainment and fashion industries: Sean P Diddy Combs, Patti Labelle, Wynton Marsalis, Beyoncé, Spike Lee and Kim Catrall, to name a few. He’s done work for publications such as Seventeen, Essence, Allure, USAWeekend and many others.

It sounds glamorous. In reality, being a successful commercial photographer is a lot of hard work, perhaps never more so than now. These are difficult times for the industry, says Major. Print media is undergoing major changes. Once-plentiful work for CD packaging has all but dried up.

Still, he says, “I love what I do, as difficult as some days may be. Having the opportunity to create beautiful images is a thrill.”

Major, a native of New York City, became interested in photography in grade school. “I had always been interested in the visual arts, starting from very early on,” he says. That led to art classes available through the city school system at Brooklyn Museum and Pratt Institute. “One year, all of the art classes were full, so I got into a photography class. I was about 12. By fourth or fifth grade, I knew I wanted to be a photographer.”

And when it came time for college, he knew where he wanted to go. “RIT was the place to be if you wanted to be a photographer,” says Major. “RIT gave me a great technical foundation.”

Returning to New York after graduation, he became an assistant to Anthony Barboza, a prominent photographer in the African American market. He also worked for Gamma One, a pioneering fine-art photography studio, where Major worked with several other RIT grads.

At the same time, he began shooting for himself on the side. Today, he operates his own studio in Manhattan. “I’m living my dream come true,” he says.

He’s also beginning to learn about video to expand his skill set – and he recommends that young photographers do the same. “It’s useful to be able to shoot for TV, movies, new media and all things Web,” he says. “You need to be versatile.”

Even more important is the need for photographers starting their careers to develop a clear idea of how to distinguish themselves, he says. “It’s easy to fall into the trap of copying the photographers you admire, and doing the kind of work that you’ve seen and like. But the most exciting young photographers I’ve seen are doing things that haven’t been seen before,” he says.

“Be unique and do your own work. When you’re young, that’s how you get noticed.”

And when the opportunities come, be ready, do good work and relish it. He says he really liked working on America’s Next Top Model.

“I chose this profession because I enjoy it. There’s always a certain amount of fun.”

To learn more about Keith Major, visit

Kathy Lindsley

David Kidder ’95

David Kidder: Taking risks pays off

Big, bright ideas come to David S. Kidder in a seemingly endless torrent.

A self-described “serial entrepreneur,” Kidder ’95 (industrial design) is co-founder and CEO of Clickable, an online software service that simplifies advertising on Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

ounded in 2007, Clickable has grown to more than 120 employees.

He’s also creator and co-author of the two-time New York Times best-selling book series, The Intellectual Devotional. Printed in more than 12 languages, each of the books comprises 365 one-page topics.

Kidder’s latest project expands on his interest in “philanthro-capitalism.”, launched in December 2009, is a “cause marketing platform” aimed at helping to end extreme poverty by providing free online advertising for philanthropic organizations. The idea is to get companies to donate their unsold online advertising space and make it available to nonprofits to place ads for causes such as sponsorship of water wells, buying malaria nets and inoculating children. He’s attracted launch partners including GE, NBC, Google and Soros Foundation-funded Millennium Promise.

“It’s a matter of scale,” explains Kidder. “Only a small percentage of people who see the ads will click on them, and a smaller percentage will actually take action. But there are over 2.7 trillion online ads placed every year – and growing 10 percent each year – with over 50 percent going unsold. Utilizing just 1 percent of this inventory each year could change a continent.”

Kidder’s interest in “cause marketing” extends from his experience with TED, a non-profit organization that brings together people from technology, entertainment and design. Through the annual TED conferences, he’s become connected with many gifted entrepreneurs and executives from many fields, all working to do good.

There’s an amazing network of people supporting this,” he says.

A native of Guilderland, N.Y., near Albany, Kidder came to RIT partly to play lacrosse. RIT’s hands-on culture and practical approach to education suited him perfectly. “I could study design very close to technology,” he says. “The skills transferred well and immediately to the real world. What I learned at RIT has been part of everything I’ve ever done since.”

After leaving RIT in 1995, he lived in Mexico City, where he taught industrial design at a university. Back in Rochester, he founded Net-X, (a Web authoring and Internet advertising services startup later acquired by Target Vision). He moved to New York City and lived through the dot-com boom.

Then he “got lost” traveling in Africa, India, China, Nepal, Tibet and elsewhere, ultimately visiting more than 20 countries.

Upon returning, Kidder married, had two sons, now ages 4 and 2 – and started another business. It’s been full speed ahead ever since. Prior to Clickable, Kidder co-founded SmartRay Network, a mobile advertising delivery pioneer acquired by LifeMinders.

“What guides me is, number one, the responsibility to take risks,” says Kidder. “I think that in general, students from America have a very myopic view of their place in the world. We have won humanity’s lottery.”

Even in tough times, things are better in America than almost anywhere else in the world. Opportunities exist here that are simply not accessible by a wider group of people. Because of this, Kidder postulates, “We have a responsibility to take personal risks.

“Number two, the markets will only reward those who invent. You have to create unique and proprietary value. As a student, you need to decide what kind of inspired, vibrating light you will be in the world. You need to be highly vibrating, with powerful ideas that will reward you and those that join you in creation.”

As for what kinds of ideas will be successful, Kidder has very clear ideas.

“You must build painkillers and not vitamins.” He explains that people take painkillers because they need them; vitamins are elective. “Innovations are more likely to succeed if they solve real market problems; success is far more assured if you solve a painful market problem affecting thousands of people economically, but also as it relates to time and complexity.

“Build companies and ideas that solve massive problems,” advises Kidder. “You need to be in huge marketplaces with big pain.”

His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Kidder received ID Magazine’s International Design Award and Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2008. He is frequently asked to speak at universities and organizations including the gradutate business schools at Stanford, Columbia and NYU.

He’s packed plenty into his 36 years. The question is, how does he do it all?

“I don’t sleep more than five hours a night,” he quips. “That helps.”

To learn more about Kidder’s work, visit;; and

Kathy Lindsley