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MIT Technology Review

Karen Dillon '79

KidSource founder balances career and family.

As a mother and entrepreneur, Karen Dillon ‘79 straddles two worlds–and so does her business. Dillon is the president and founder of KidSource OnLine, a company that provides health-care, education, and safety information to parents and technology services to clients–mostly major pharmaceutical companies that value Dillon’s background in chemistry and medical engineering.

KidSource.com features a cornucopia of articles on topics ranging from baby water-safety tips and toy recalls to year-round schooling and college prep for kids with learning disabilities. Dillon founded it in 1996; two years later, her company won a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a prototype for a personalization technology that helps users filter information. “The goal was to understand what is important to a user in the types of information they receive and then deliver what they want,” Dillon says.

The success of the KidSource website enabled Dillon to start technology consulting in 2000. Today, her company offers information analysis, database development, and website design. “I was able to adapt my interests and skills to create this job for myself,” she says. “With an MIT education, you can go off and do almost anything.”

Dillon has a busy work life, which includes managing an eight-person staff. But she doesn’t have a typical nine-to-five workday, as she told the MIT Women’s Leadership Conference hosted by the MIT Alumni Association in San Francisco last March. With the flexibility of running her own company out of her house, she is able to swim, hike, and be active in her sons’ Boy Scout activities. She says the San Francisco area, where she lives with her husband and children, is rife with people who work similar flexible schedules.

For the first decade after graduating from MIT with SBs in chemistry and electrical engineering, Dillon worked for Hewlett-Packard, where she managed an engineering and quality assurance team. However, the long hours and travel were not conducive to the family she wanted to create. Dillon set her sights on starting a business after earning her MBA from Stanford in 1989, but it was not until 1996–after the birth of her first son–that she did it.

Dillon, who uses emerging technologies in Web and database management to create her business services, credits MIT with fostering those skills. “I treat any new technology like a new course,” she says. “These new technologies are a lot easier than Maxwell’s equation.”