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A diagnosis kindles an entrepreneurial spirit

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  • BILLSfan
    A diagnosis kindles an entrepreneurial spirit The Boston Globe Transitions By Martha E. Mangelsdorf, Globe Correspondent, 1/26/03 Each month in
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2005
      A diagnosis kindles an entrepreneurial spirit
      The Boston Globe Transitions
      By Martha E. Mangelsdorf, Globe Correspondent, 1/26/03

      Each month in ''Transitions,'' we profile individuals who have made
      significant changes in their work lives -- and highlight the techniques
      they used to make the changes.


      Globe Staff Photo/John Bohn
      Art Mellor, chief of Boston Cure Project, quit a chief technology post
      to start the nonprofit after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

      Art Mellor, 40

      Career transition: After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Mellor
      cofounded a nonprofit focused on organizing efforts to cure the disease.

      What he used to do: Mellor was chief technology officer of Gold Wire
      Technology Inc., a firm he cofounded in 1997.

      What he does now: Mellor is president of the Boston Cure Project for
      Multiple Sclerosis.

      Making the change: When Mellor learned he had multiple sclerosis in
      2000, he wanted to know more about the disease. ''Being an engineer and
      a nerd, I needed to know 'What's all the information I can get on this?'
      '' he recalls.

      First he went on the Internet to find information about MS, a chronic,
      frequently disabling disease that affects the central nervous system by
      destroying a substance called myelin. While MS is not considered fatal,
      it can result in a range of symptoms, from numbness to cognitive
      problems and seizures, according to the Web site of the National
      Multiple Sclerosis Society. And the symptoms may worsen over time.

      After the Internet research, Mellor turned to books on the subject but
      found they were mostly focused on helping people adapt to disabilities.
      So Mellor, who has an engineering degree from MIT, began reading
      neurology textbooks and research paper collections. ''And that's when I
      started to become a bit concerned,'' he says. He began talking to
      scientists and researchers, and he says they confirmed his sense that
      not a lot is known about what causes MS.

      At first, Mellor thought about going back to school to get a biology
      degree and become a researcher. But he realized that there were plenty
      of smart scientists doing MS research. What he didn't see was a
      big-picture game plan for research. And Mellor, who had cofounded
      several technology start-ups, was used to tackling projects by creating
      plans, steps, and milestones.

      Mellor talked with his neurologist, Dr. Tim Vartanian, about the way MS
      research is conducted. Together, they decided to form the Boston Cure
      Project (www.bostoncure.org). The nonprofit would focus on creating a
      ''Cure Map'' - essentially a game plan outlining the steps necessary to
      find the causes of MS. Vartanian, chief of the demyelinating diseases
      division at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, explains that the aim
      of the Boston Cure Project is to identify what needs to be done in MS
      research, identify the research gaps, and find the right people to fill
      them. Vartanian sees the Boston Cure Project as ''a strategic effort in
      MS research.''

      Deciding to tackle a daunting problem isn't unusual for Mellor. ''It's
      totally consistent with everything he's ever done,'' says Peter Schmidt,
      who in 1992 cofounded a company called Midnight Networks with Mellor and
      two other MIT alumni.

      ''Art's a consummate entrepreneur,'' Schmidt explains. Figuring out how
      to do things better and solve problems has always been central to
      Mellor, according to Schmidt.

      Mellor's decision to leave his role as chief technology officer at Gold
      Wire Technology was a ''double whammy,'' says Jonathan Wolf, chief
      executive and cofounder of the Waltham maker of access and configuration
      control products for data networks. ''Not only was I out a CTO, but
      Art's a good friend of mine,'' he says. Wolf says the two worked out a
      transition plan, and Mellor remained a board member. In addition, the
      Boston Cure Project sublets office space from Gold Wire Technology.

      Mellor says the Boston Cure Project, which was founded in 2001, has
      scientific advisers, four full-time employees, and about 150 volunteers.
      Last year it raised about $250,000. He says working in a nonprofit has
      ''opened up my world to a completely different set of people'' than the
      high-tech community he had long worked with.

      It also required new skills. ''Running a nonprofit is difficult,''
      Mellor admits. One challenge is raising money; another is learning to
      get things done with volunteers who, while ''fantastic,'' have busy
      lives and other obligations.

      Moving to the nonprofit world also meant a pay cut; in his first year,
      Mellor says he made about 1/15th of his previous salary as CTO of a
      young technology company. Now he's making about 1/6 of his CTO salary.
      Although Mellor profited from the sale of Midnight Networks in 1996, ''I
      still have to work - especially having been diagnosed with MS,'' and
      knowing that his health may deteriorate, he says.

      Mellor says that, although his disease is progressing, he's relatively
      unaffected right now in his ability to work. However, he does experience
      symptoms that range from bladder problems to numbness in his hands or
      legs, to occasional trouble remembering names. Still, working for the
      Boston Cure Project ''keeps me upbeat about the disease,'' Mellor says.
      ''I feel like I'm doing something.''

      Martha E. Mangelsdorf (m_e_mangelsdorf@...) is a business writer
      and editor.

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