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MIT Technology Review

35 Innovators Under 35

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  • Sean Willems

    29

    Sean Willems’s quest for simplicity dates back to childhood; he recalls being “stressed that ‘Kansas’ and ‘Arkansas’ weren’t pronounced the same way.” Now the cofounder and chief scientist of Boston-based Optiant cuts through complexity as an industrial pioneer. Willems, who is also an assistant professor at Boston University, creates software that streamlines the flow of parts and materials to manufacturers. While a PhD candidate at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, he wrote an algorithm that optimizes such supply chain flows so manufacturers can cut costs by paring inventory. Previous algorithms solved only pieces of the problem; Willems addressed the task in its entirety. Willems tested his theories with leaders like Hewlett-Packard and Nortel Networks. When he applied them in a division of Eastman Kodak, the company cut inventory levels by 40 percent and saved $10 million over two years. The “cool thing about the life I lead,” he says, “is that I get to develop the theory at Boston University and apply it at Optiant.”