When Lyssa Koton Neel was in seventh grade, her school in Connecticut got its first computer—a teletype-based system that she quickly learned to program using BASIC.
“I was always in the computer room,” she recalls. “I loved that there was this machine that would do whatever you wanted, if you learned to think logically. After I took all the computer courses at my high school, they let me take classes at the University of Hartford.”
That passion for working with technology—and a dislike of being told what to do—led Neel into an entrepreneurial life. She has founded or worked for seven startups; one went public, another was acquired, and two others are still operating. Her newest venture, Linkitz, is about to begin production of “wearable toys that teach kids to code.” She hopes the colorful programmable modules—such as links that fit together in bracelets that light up when friends are nearby—will prove engaging, especially to girls.
“We want to give kids a chance to do things with their hands and gain confidence, so they can advance to other activities that keep building their skills,” she explains. “There’s not much encouragement for girls to pick up hardware and tinker with it; we want to provide the opportunity to see if they like it.”
Neel credits much of her success to her Institute studies. “I loved my Course 6 experience,” she says. “The ideas, the technology, so many smart people—it prepares you to defend your ideas and look at problems from different perspectives. And the MIT name has opened many doors for me. It’s the most valuable thing in my life besides my husband and three daughters.”
Before starting Linkitz, Neel cofounded and served as program manager of the University of Toronto Early Stage Technology Program (UTEST), a startup incubator for the university’s students, faculty, and recent grads.
Neel advises would-be entrepreneurs that “customers are better than investors, because revenue is better than investment.” She adds that it’s essential for your family to be temperamentally suited to startup life: “You need three years to know if a company is going to make it, and that’s a long time.”
After eight years in Toronto, Neel and her husband, Benjamin Neel, a doctor, recently moved to New York City, where he is director of New York University’s Perlmutter Cancer Center. She enjoys life there and frequently goes on long runs without headphones. “Just feeling my feet on the pavement, the air going by—it totally clears my head,” she says.
How Facebook and Google fund global misinformation
The tech giants are paying millions of dollars to the operators of clickbait pages, bankrolling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.
DeepMind says it will release the structure of every protein known to science
The company has already used its protein-folding AI, AlphaFold, to generate structures for the human proteome, as well as yeast, fruit flies, mice, and more.
Inside the machine that saved Moore’s Law
The Dutch firm ASML spent $9 billion and 17 years developing a way to keep making denser computer chips.
This is what happens when you see the face of someone you love
The moment we recognize someone, a lot happens all at once. We aren’t aware of any of it.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.