Dec 10, 2022 - News

Meet Boston's power players of 2022

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

As 2022 comes to a close, we wanted to reflect on who's made the biggest difference in Boston this year.

Why it matters: Boston's changing landscape means new voices are emerging — and some are finally getting recognized — in technology, politics, food and entertainment.

  • These influential individuals are shaping our city.

Methodology: We selected these power players using our own expertise, polling readers and conducting interviews with influential people.

  • The unscientific list is produced entirely by the Axios Local editorial team and is not influenced by advertising in any way.
  • People who made the power list were not notified of their selection until publication.

1. Nia Grace

Nia Grace
Photo: Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Nia Grace has created a home at Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen for Black foodies and entertainers, from singer and actor Valerie Stephens to up-and-coming rapper Ooompa.

  • After the successful launch of her second business, The Underground at Northeastern University, Grace is planning to launch a new business in 2023.

Grace’s efforts to uplift Black Bostonians are extending beyond the food and entertainment scene.

  • She served on a selection committee for the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau’s new tourism campaign.
  • “I think equity and advancement and inclusion and really painting a true picture of my hometown and the industries that I’m involved with is a priority, and the way you affect that change more is obviously by being at the table,” Grace told Axios in a recent interview.
  • Grace announced this month that she will be joining the GBCVB’s board of directors.

2. James Hills

Photo: Courtesy of James Hills

What started as one man’s musings on the COVID-19 pandemic on Facebook Live has grown into a platform James Hills leverages to uplift Black city leaders and connect residents of color with resources about vaccinations, chronic diseases and other information through his “Java with Jimmy” livestreams.

  • It’s the kind of public service performed by legacy news organizations that have access to prominent politicians and influencers. But Hills' social media series has included interviews with names like then-Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins and Mass General Hospital executive Joe Betancourt.
  • He’s not a reporter, but he’s broken high-profile stories in the last year, namely business leader Segun Idowu’s decision to join the Wu administration.

Hills is now using his platform to interview doctors under a partnership with MGH to discuss ways to prevent diabetes, heart disease and other diseases that disproportionately affect Black people.

  • "Having to be able to have three brown faces on the show this morning relaying this information and bringing it out into the communities is extremely well-taken from what I’ve been hearing from folks in the community,” Cindy Diggs, MGH's community and cultural engagement manager, said of the show last month while on with Hills and doctor Claude Alabre.

3. Adrian and Senofer Mendoza

Mendoza Ventures
Photo: Courtesy of Marcy Rolerson/Mendoza Ventures

Adrian and Senofer Mendoza, who founded Mendoza Ventures six years ago, are expanding their firm at a time when venture capital funding is generally shrinking.

  • Mendoza Ventures upgraded its Boston headquarters this year and is expanding into San Francisco.

Their influence in Boston’s VC scene is gaining national attention.

  • In May, the Biden administration tapped Senofer Mendoza to join the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The first Latinx VC firm on the East Coast (Adrian is Mexican American), Mendoza Ventures has prioritized backing fintech, cybersecurity and AI startups led by people of color, immigrants and women, who have historically been turned away by predominantly white, male funders.

  • The firm is raising money for a $100 million fintech fund that aims to “break the glass ceiling” for women general partners in venture capital.

4. Kendalle Burlin O'Connell

Kendalle Burlin O'Connell, MassBio president
Photo: Courtesy of MassBio

Kendalle Burlin O’Connell, who has helped build up the region’s biotech sector since joining MassBio in 2008, officially took the helm of the industry organization last month after Joe Boncore’s reported ouster.

  • The organization that O'Connell leads lobbies for more than 1,600 life sciences companies and is credited with securing over $1 billion in state funding over the past decade to boost the state's biotech sector.
  • MassBio is leading the charge to renew that funding commitment, known as the Life Sciences Initiative, under incoming Gov. Maura Healey.

Under O’Connell, MassBio just unveiled plans for a six-story life sciences complex with labs and classrooms in the former Boston Globe building in Dorchester.

  • She and leaders in health care and academia are also pushing the Biden administration to make Massachusetts the home of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, the new federal agency that aims to make breakthroughs in health care and technology.

5. Michelle Wu

Photo courtesy of Marcy Rolerson/Mendoza Ventures

Coming off her first year as mayor, Michelle Wu has laid the groundwork for her plan to make Boston the greenest city in the U.S., with more input from activists and experts than the predominantly white and male developers who have historically wielded power in the city’s real estate landscape.

  • Wu named Oliver Sellers-Garcia, formerly the MBTA's director of resiliency and equity, as the city's first Green New Deal director in August.
  • She announced a month later the city plans to add 9.4 miles of new bike lanes by the end of 2023.
  • In October, she unveiled new design standards for certain city infrastructure projects that can help improve stormwater mitigation and make the city more climate resilient.

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, who selected Boston to host his Earthshot Prize awards ceremony that took place this month, highlighted the city’s commitment to innovation and toured East Boston with Wu to learn more about the impact climate change has had on the city’s waterfront.

She also has expanded city government, adding offices prioritizing Black men, the LGBTQ community and workers' rights.

  • This is one of several strategies the Chicago-native-turned-Roslindale-mother-of-two is using to serve constituents who have historically seen little representation in the city’s halls of power.

Go deeper: See all 200 of Axios Local's Power Players in 2022

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