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Jim Fruchterman

Founder and CEO, Benetech

Skoll Awardee

Biography

MacArthur Fellow, Technologist and Social Entrepreneur

Jim Fruchterman is the founder and CEO of Benetech, a Silicon Valley nonprofit tech company that develops software applications to address unmet needs of users in the social sector. He is the recipient of numerous awards recognizing his work as a pioneering social entrepreneur, including the MacArthur Fellowship, Caltech’s Distinguished Alumni Award, the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, and the Migel Medal—the highest honor in the blindness field—from the American Foundation for the Blind.

A Caltech-trained engineer, Jim’s first social enterprise idea was a machine that recognizes words and uses software to read those words aloud to people who are blind. In 1989—after a stint as a rocket scientist and after creating two successful for-profit Silicon Valley companies—he founded Benetech to actually build reading machines. Not only did these tools give blind users the freedom to read independently, they proved critical to their social inclusion and enabled them to expand their educational and employment opportunities. This impact inspired Jim to broaden Benetech’s mission to empower people to improve their lives by leveraging scalable technological applications.

Since then, Benetech’s work has grown to touch thousands of organizations and the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Benetech’s suite of tools and services has transformed the ways in which people with disabilities access printed information, at-risk human rights defenders safely document abuse, and environmental practitioners protect species and ecosystems. Today, through Benetech Labs, its innovation arm, Benetech explores new software-for-good ideas that have the potential to make life better for millions.

As a trailblazer in the field of social entrepreneurship, Jim continues to advance his vision of a world in which the benefits of technology reach all of humanity, not just the wealthiest and most able five percent.