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MIT Technology Review

Nils Fonstad, SM ‘96, PhD ‘03

INSEAD researcher works to stimulate innovation in Europe

October 27, 2010

As a senior research fellow at eLab, a think tank operated by the international business school INSEAD since 1999, Nils Fonstad works on a leafy campus just south of Paris. While he deplores his lack of progress in learning French–he simply has not found time for language lessons–at least, he says, “I practice French talking to the fruit and vegetable vendors at my local street market.”

When he’s not shopping, however, he’s usually talking about his research on how organizations and governments use information and communication technologies to develop innovative business models, products, and services. Fonstad recently completed a study for the European Commission on how leaders from academia, the private sector, and government are working together to build Europe’s supply of professionals who are savvy in both IT and business. He believes that the lack of workers with such crossover skills costs Europe thousands of jobs each year.

Though far from MIT, Fonstad has fond memories of his former stomping grounds in Eastgate. Born and raised in the environs of the Institute, he often refers to himself as an MIT brat. His father, Clifton Fonstad, SM ‘66, PhD ‘70, the Vitesse Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, joined the faculty 40 years ago.

Nils left for Cornell to earn bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering and film studies. Back at MIT, he studied in the Technology and Policy Program for his master’s degree and at the Sloan School for PhD studies that focused on information technology and organization studies. He worked as a research scientist at the MIT Center for Information Systems Research before joining eLab in 2008.

Today, Fonstad’s overriding goal is to turn eLab into a major leadership complex for business executives, academics, and policy makers focusing on the digital economy. “I try to find a common language that will bring all these stakeholder groups together,” he says. “I want to identify the common ground between leaders from business, academia, and government.”