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Entrepreneur sees potential in Emerson


Mark Donovan '89, COO of Thinaire, speaks at the Emerson Staff Forum on March 19. (Photo by Aja Neahring '13)

Mark Donovan ’89 is helping change the face of outdoor advertising.

He works in New York City as the chief operating officer of Thinaire, despite graduating from Emerson with a bachelor’s degree in television production and later obtaining a master’s in education at Columbia University.

“I started in entertainment and now I’m on my ninth or tenth start-up venture in tech space,” said Donovan during his March 19 visit with President Lee Pelton, faculty, staff, and students.

Donovan, who is on the Emerson Board of Overseers, spent the day touring parts of campus that didn’t exist when he was a student—including the Engagement Game Lab—and addressed a crowd at the Staff Forum.

“The Game Lab is doing amazing things,” he said. “The way they do things is absolutely in the right direction of where we need to get our students and faculty in thinking about how to approach problems.”

Under the direction of Eric Gordon, associate professor of Visual and Media Arts, the game lab has been praised for creating the Community PlanIt platform, which produces video games that has players participate in the community planning process of cities and neighborhoods, including Detroit, Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, and a section of Salem, Massachusetts.

“The way Eric has gone about building that, in the scrappiest way with not a lot of infrastructure…that’s what you’re looking for in terms of what drives a center of innovation,” Donovan said. “I think applying a broader methodology to that would allow for things beyond gaming and civic applications.”


“The desire is there from faculty, administration, and certainly students.”


Speaking about Emerson’s drive to be more innovative, Donovan said, “The desire is there from faculty, administration, and certainly students.”

He added that, with the rapidly changing communications field, Emerson has a particularly strong opportunity to take an innovative approach in how it prepares students for the real world.

“The exposure to as many different things as possible is of such an enormous benefit,” he said. “The more we’re able to show anyone who is problem solving how to connect a solution to a set (of skills) that ordinarily wouldn’t make sense to connect with, the more likely solutions are going to be innovative and take the action up to the next level.”

Donovan’s Thinaire is at the forefront of a type of mobile marketing called Near Field Communication (NFC), which is when smartphones receive video and interactive advertising through electronic chips when scanned in close proximity to a product or stationary advertisement. An example would be if the electronic chip were scanned near a display at the grocery store or a stand-alone advertisement at a bus stop.

Donovan is also the founder of Karmist, a “stealth-mode behavioral marketing venture”; was chief executive officer of GoMed mobile health products; and held other management positions at imATHLETE, Flyfone International, and Viva Group.

Before getting into start-up ventures, Donovan worked in strategic planning for the Walt Disney Company from 1991 to 1993, serving directly under well-known executive Meg Whiman, who later grew eBay into an $8 billion company as CEO. Donovan also served in various roles for Mercer Management Consulting, CastleRock Entertainment, Interscope, and Columbia/TriStar Pictures.

“Most people choose between two different paths,” he said. “The first is a very, very targeted path (in which) you will do everything you can to be a specific thing. The other path is, ‘How does what I want to do interrelate to a whole bunch of different things?’”

Trained as a classical vocalist, Donovan said his career path “wasn’t clear to me initially. But now, as I look back on it, there’s a lot of clarity for me.”

Donovan volunteers with the Cobble Hill Health Center, a 520-bed specialized long- and short-term care facility for the elderly and disabled in New York City. An accomplished marathon runner for more than 24 years, Donovan lives in the Big Apple with his wife and three children.

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