Tola Marts isn’t what you’d expect from a Congressional candidate. The Minnesota native manages a team of engineers at Intellectual Ventures Lab, where he has regular one-on-ones with Bill Gates; he was one of the first employees at space venture Blue Origin, where he reported directly to Jeff Bezos; and he sits on the Issaquah, Wash., City Council.

But the Democratic candidate doesn’t think any of that is nearly as interesting as the high-tech, vacuum-powered thermos his team is building to preserve vaccines in the developing world. He’s so immersed in the details of the science that it took some backtracking to figure out we were even talking about vaccines when discussing his day job in a recent interview about his campaign.

Marts clearly loves his work as a mechanical engineer, but he felt called to run against incumbent U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert in Washington’s 8th Congressional District. He already felt he had a real shot at the seat, given the current political climate. And then came Wednesday’s surprise announcement that Reichert will not be seeking re-election.

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