Jennifer Lawton

Jennifer Lawton

Induction Category:
Business & Labor

Born: 1963

Inducted: 2014

Town: Fairfield

A highly respected technologist and company builder, Jennifer Lawton is considered a visionary in her field and is known for fostering innovation, entrepreneurship and a supportive corporate culture. A pioneer in the desktop 3D printing industry who led MakerBot to the forefront of bringing this new disruptive technology to consumers, she is now Chief Operations Officer at Techstars.

Born in 1963 in Quantico, Va., Jennifer Sconyers and her family moved around the country often as her father served in the Marines. Both her parents ended up becoming college professors, and the family eventually settled in Pennsylvania where Jenny attended high school. She excelled in math and science despite being told by her tenth-grade teacher that girls could not succeed in mathematics and that she would fail geometry because of her gender.

In 1981, she graduated with honors from Council Rock High School North and entered Union College where she majored in Applied Mathematics, earning a B.S. degree in 1985. Upon graduation, Jenny found it difficult to secure her first job, partially because there were so few women in engineering and mathematics at the time. She finally landed a position as an administrative assistant at R.G. Vanderweil Engineers, a small consulting company.

It was during this time that she discovered her talent for managing computer networks and worked her way through several technology companies before deciding to start her own computer support consulting firm, Net Daemons Associates (NDA), in 1991 in Boston. NDA provided IT support and very early-stage websites for many big companies including Sun, Apple and MIT. As she was growing her business, Jenny also began to grow her family. Having married Tim Lawton in 1988, she gave birth to her first son in 1991 and her second son in 1994.

By 1998, NDA was valued at around six million dollars and was recognized by Inc.’s 500 List of the fastest growing privately held U.S. companies as well as by Deloitte and Touche’s Fast 50 and Fast 500 lists. NDA had helped bring the emerging Internet to the larger public, and in 1998 Lawton decided to sell the company to Interliant where she would serve as Senior Vice President. She moved with her family to Greenwich, Conn., and commuted to White Plains where Interliant was headquartered. She later served as entrepreneur-in-residence at Softbank and Mobius Venture Capital. Then the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, caused Lawton to shift her perspective and take her career in a completely new direction.

Wanting to get out of what she describes as the “go-go world” of technology, Lawton decided to become more active in her Greenwich community by buying and managing two bookstores in downtown Greenwich. Just Books and Just Books, Too became hubs of community activity and played host to many big-name authors including Toni Morrison, Jane Fonda, Frank McCourt and Stephen King. She also opened a coffee shop, Arcadia Coffee Company, next door to one of the stores. After ten years of running her successful retail businesses and newly divorced, Lawton decided it was time to return to the corporate world.

In 2011, she re-entered the technology field and accepted the position of Chief Strategy Officer at Brooklyn-based MakerBot, a leader in the 3D printing industry. Founded in 2009, the company has succeeded in bringing 3D printing into the mainstream, reducing the cost of 3D printers from hundreds of thousands of dollars to a few thousand and putting the technology into the hands of everyday consumers.

In 2013, Lawton married Tim Daley and re-located to Fairfield, Conn. That same year, she was promoted to President of MakerBot and was tasked with overseeing the company’s acquisition by Stratasys. In 2014, Lawton was named CEO, succeeding company founder Bre Pettis.

During her time at MakerBot, Lawton was responsible for shaping the company’s overall strategy, growth and product development including the opening of the company’s first retail storefront on Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich, Conn. She grew the company from 45 employees to more than 500 and is credited with leading MakerBot to the forefront of the 3D printing market and fostering the development of the MakerBot 3D Ecosystem to drive accessibility and rapid adoption of 3D printing. Under her leadership, the company was named Popular Mechanics’ “Overall Winner” for best 3D printer and Popular Science’s “Product of the Year.” Time has also named MakerBot one of its “Best Inventions of 2012,” and Fast Company included it as “One of the World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Consumer Electronics.”

In 2015, she left MakerBot and joined the staff of Little Bits electronics, a platform of easy-to-use building blocks that empower users to invent anything from a remote-controlled car to a smart home device with bits that snap together with magnets eliminating the need for soldering or wiring. In the fall of 2016 she became the COO of Techstars, a technology start-up incubator with a focus on entrepreneurs.

During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice

Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”

A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.

Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.

Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.

A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.

Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent.  Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.

The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.

Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.