Matt Michelsen ’94

Major: Consumer Economics
Title: Founder and CEO, The Backplane; Chairman, GUNNAR Optiks

About a year ago, Matthew Michelsen (’94) made a million dollar wager with his pal, rapper 50 Cent, that he could finish the Ironman World Championship in October 2011. He did, and the prize money is now helping to feed 1 billion children in Africa through the rapper’s SK Charity.

But running the Ironman was probably the smallest of Michelsen’s big ideas. He’s built many successful companies in finance, retail, and social media, including two hedge funds and trading technology firm UNX. Today, he’s most notably the man behind Lady Gaga’s powerful social media presence. We’re not talking about your standard social networking campaign, but an entirely new social media platform that he co-created and used to launch a start-up tech company called The Backplane, along with Lady Gaga’s business manager.

It was 50 Cent who introduced them. But Michelsen may not have ever met “Fitty,” except for an earlier idea born of Michelsen’s own digitally-induced migraines and his wife Jenny’s concerns about the eye-health of their son Gunnar and the growing computer generation. Turns out that Jenny ’95 is another URI Big Thinker who co-founded GUNNAR Optiks, a revolutionary company that produces high-tech computer eyewear designed to protect against Digital Eye Fatigue and Computer Vision Syndrome, now affecting an estimated 125 million Americans. “Fitty” heard about Jenny’s company and called about investing. Jenny handed the phone to Matt, and the rest is history. Along with a former Oakley engineer, the Michelsens gathered input from medical experts, developed a prototype, founded the company, secured a handful of investors and launched their first product all within five years.

We have a feeling there are many more big ideas rolling around in Matt Michelsen’s head.


It seems simple, but it’s a very big idea. And URI Clinical Professor of Nursing Judith Mercer isn’t the only one to think so. The National Institutes of Health awarded a $2 million, five-year grant for her to continue her investigation into the health benefits of delayed umbilical cord clamping on preterm infants.