Around the same time last year, Sacramento also became the first city in the U.S. to test digital license plates on dozens of the city’s fleet of electric cars. The devices from San Francisco-based Reviver emit a wireless signal and have been primarily used to track the mileage and location of the city’s EVs. But the plates also have the capability to offer safety and Amber Alerts, pay parking, tolls and DMV fees, or warn other drivers if an EV is not being driven by a human.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who named Stewart to lead the city’s new Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in mid-2017, calls him “a rare talent.”
“He is the guy we hired to look beyond the horizon and ask, ‘What is next?’ And that is exactly what he is doing.”
At the Mayor’s Technology Council roundtables—where Stewart hosts about two dozen leaders from local government, industry, and academia to solicit innovations in everything from biotech to agribusiness, artificial intelligence to cyber security—he’s making his mark.
“Louis is an innovation coordinator who empowers things,” says his friend Jay Sales, a well-known Sacramento technologist who attends the meetings.
“It’s important to have somebody that can be at the forefront and bring people to the table,” Sales says. “He puts the players in the room who are part of the solution.”
Learning to Build Alliances
Stewart’s knack for negotiation and outreach began as a kid living in Europe, where his father was an early pioneer in the international basketball scene in France and Italy. The years overseas forced Stewart to adopt new languages and cultures in order to get by.
“We had to learn how to fit in with our peers,” recalls the 48-year-old.
When he was 10, the family returned to the U.S., settling in Sacramento near his father’s relatives. Over time, Stewart developed his own passion for playing basketball. By his senior year at John F. Kennedy High School, college offers were pouring in for the 6-foot-8 inch forward-center.
But his heart was always set on Santa Clara. Louis’ father Michael Stewart, ’73, a standout SCU Hall of Fame basketball player, and his late mother, Carolyn Gray Stewart, ’74, had met and married on the Mission campus.
“My life literally began at Santa Clara; it was just kind of built into my DNA,” says Stewart, whose SCU basketball scholarship was signed off by Carroll Williams—the same coach who had recruited his father to the Broncos years before.
Red-shirted as a freshman, Stewart’s career started slow, however, and didn’t really take off. He wasn’t playing very much, partly due to some injuries, but also because his head wasn’t in the game. When he wasn’t at practice, he was exploring different majors, or working at the school’s radio station.
One day at the end of his junior year, his new coach Dick Davey told him he’d lost his scholarship for poor performance.
“I came into SCU not really understanding what was necessary, commitment-wise, for basketball,” Stewart acknowledges.
Devastated, the liberal arts major considered his options: find a job, or figure out a way to graduate. He went to work, selling clothes at Macy’s, scooping ice cream at Lydon’s, then into business recruiting. He even returned to basketball, playing in competitive city leagues around the Bay Area, on a semi-pro team, and professionally in Peru and Belgium–until his knees gave out.
A Critical Juncture
The setback proved to be life-changing: Stewart moved back to the South Bay, and by chance made his way to a job at Fry’s Electronics, where he embraced the world of technology. Next was a small South Bay tech startup, learning about inside sales and developing relationships with other tech companies.
Here again, his early knack for translation came into play.
“I would sit down with the engineers and translate their needs to the CEO,” he recalls, “and I would talk to the CEO and translate what he wanted to the engineers.” He did the same with other members of the C-suite, becoming a jack of all trades.
“It was all about ‘How do we get everyone speaking the same language so that it actually propels them to the next level?’” recalls Stewart, who also started networking computers and learning about telecommunications.
Yet always in the back of his mind loomed his missing college diploma. Stewart contacted Santa Clara to reassess his options. With the help of Art Professor Kelly Detweiler and SCU’s registrar’s office, they determined he was six classes short of getting a bachelor’s degree in studio arts. The university also agreed to cover his costs—making good on his scholarship from five years before—and he completed the remaining course work and got his diploma.