My MIT experience has been incredibly eye opening. I recently had the opportunity to write for the MIT Entrepreneurship Review (fondly referred to as MITER) and discussed what I see as “the rocket fuel” that runs the MIT entrepreneurial engine. Check out the post here.
The best $40 I’ve spent during my time as a student: a ticket to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. My buddy Raj (contributor to BC Interruption) and I went to the BCEC with high expectations and left agreeing that those expectations had been exceeded. Bill Simmons (one of my favorite sports writers and a panelist) affectionately dubbed the event “Dorkapalooza” given the event’s affiliation with MIT. I have never pretended to understand sports in any great depth; but what I heard at the conference I believe transcended sports and can simply stand alone as solid business practice. One lesson was this: even the best quantitative analysis will never put a business into auto-pilot while it executes a plan.
Bill Polian, the president of the Colts, and Jonathan Kraft, the Owner of the Patriots had an amazing volley back-and-forth around the role of quantitative analysis in football. Their approach to quantitative analysis was far from how Mark Cuban (Owner of Dallas Mavericks) & Daryl Morey (GM of Houston Rockets / Sloanie) described basketball, and even further from how Michael Lewis (Author of MoneyBall) & Bill Simmons (ESPN sports writer) described baseball. Baseball and basketball, which both have more discrete actions than football, seem to be better suited for making in-game decisions based on analytics. Football, however, resembles the business world in that it operates in an almost infinitely complex environment with many “good” answers but no “perfect” answer.
Both Kraft and Polian agreed that the complexity of game-time situations in football, which could include injuries on a previous play, receiver / safety match-ups, offensive / defensive momentum, and a dozen other factors, are far too complex for a super-computer based on analytics to make better decisions than the best tacticians in the game (professed to be Polian & Belichick). Contrary to Polian and Kraft’s aversion to in-game analytics was their belief that pre-game analytics could be a critical success factor for designing a game-plan and strategy for an opponent. I couldn’t help but remove football from the picture and apply this to standard business management. Taken a different way, what they said was that in an infinitely complex environment you should build a plan based on sound analysis. When it comes time to execute, however, you need to have the wisdom to potentially divert from this plan as new and impossible-to-predict information emerges.
I plan on covering the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in several subsequent posts. I urge everyone to look into going next year, it was an absolutely incredible experience. If you want to follow the ongoing conversation on Twitter: #SSAC.
This past weekend, the lead organizers of the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition had their annual off-site meeting to discuss our yearly objectives and mission statement. As I sat around the table with some of the most intelligent and dedicated individuals I have ever worked with, it dawned on me that I haven’t taken the time to reflect on something that we as organizers sometimes take for granted – that we run the single most successful, highly regarded, and emulated entrepreneurship competition in the world. I don’t know how many times in my life I’m going to be able to say this about the places where I work, the organizations where I volunteer, or the businesses I start. For that reason, I’m going to make the most of reflecting on why the MIT $100K is so special to me and why I’m so proud to be a member of the organizing team.
Track Record of Successful Companies are Great Role Models
The MIT $100K has a long track record of developing highly successful companies. It is this momentum that attracts the brightest minds from around MIT to submit their innovations and ideas to each of the three contests that the MIT $100K hosts annually. To put some numbers to this, in the full version of a 2009 report published by MIT Professor Ed Roberts (executive summary here), it is estimated that entrants in the MIT $100K alone have generated more than $15B in market / exit value, have founded 120 companies, and have created 2,500 jobs. That’s impressive – but if you drill down a bit and look at some of the individual companies you can really get a picture of what I’m talking about. A short list of MIT $100K alumni companies includes: Akamai, valued on the NASDAQ at $4.6B; Harmonix, the makers of Guitar Hero; Brontes Technologies, which sold to 3M for $93M; Direct Hit, which was acquired by Ask Jeeves for $517M; VirtualInk, the technology behind the Kindle; and last year’s winner KSplice, which has won multiple awards including one from the Wall Street Journal for “Best Security Innovation of 2009.” Companies like these provide inspiration for new companies to follow in their footsteps.
Large Prize Pool. No Strings Attached.
The MIT $100K disburses more than $400K in cash and prizes to provide a giant carrot meant to pull aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators out of the woodwork. That’s great, right? What makes it even better is that there are almost no strings attached to how these prizes are distributed. We don’t dabble in convertible debt, equity rights, milestone restrictions, or other inhibitors to keep the entrepreneur from realizing their maximum potential. We believe that flexibility is critical to an entrepreneur’s exploration of uncharted territory. So when it comes to how winners of the MIT $100K use the $100,000 in the bank, the six months of free office space, the free tax advisory services, the free professionally designed website, or the free public relations services – the MIT $100K leaves the decision making to the entrepreneur.
Mentorship Opportunities Galore
At the core of the MIT $100K is education and mentorship. As an organization co-founded between the engineering and business schools, the MIT $100K is meant to engage in mentorship both internally and externally to MIT. As it relates to external reach, the competition attracts some of the most successful individuals in the entrepreneurial community. These individuals donate their time with one goal in mind: to help propel teams forward. Teams have the option to take advantage of this by engaging in activities like “Coaches Corner” events which occur multiple times per year. These events offer 30 minutes of individual face time with industry professionals – an activity that hopefully brings people together in productive ways. In our business plan contest, teams refine their business plan hand-in-hand with a partner-level venture mentor and similar legal mentor. These mentors are matched with teams based on areas of expertise, something that has proven its value both during the contest and after the contest as teams seek investment and business partnerships. The net desired result of these activities is to educate student entrepreneurs and give them the practice necessary to get a business off the ground following the MIT $100K.
The MIT $100K Spotlight Means (Almost) Guaranteed Business Validation
Along with mentorship, members of the Boston / Cambridge Entrepreneurial eco-system donate their time to help judge contestants’ entries. These judges bring a highly discerning eye for business potential – and they do so from multiple angles. Judges generally come from a diverse set of backgrounds including successful founders, venture capitalists, angel investors, and legal experts. With such a highly capable and selective judging group, many external parties (including our sponsors) value the credibility of MIT $100K winners as strongly as companies who receive investment from some of the most competitive VC firms. This instant credibility is an ideal foundation from which to launch a business.
Student Run Means the Focus is Always on the Entrepreneur
While the MIT $100K has an external focus to the entrepreneurial eco-system, our allegiance is always first with the entrepreneur. The reason we have maintained this commitment is simple – we’re entirely student run and all of our organizers are believers that entrepreneurship has the power to shape our future lives. Believe me when I say this, but the organizers of the MIT $100K want nothing more than to help launch the next Akamai, watch that company generate jobs, and see it contribute to the sustainable growth of our economy.
Next Steps in this Year’s MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition
Please come and join us on this amazing entrepreneurial journey. We welcome anyone to share in our celebration of entrepreneurship at the next two events.
- BPC Semi-Final Event – March 11th, 7PM, Stata Kirsch Auditorium: We will select the top twenty-five contestants who will move on to our Business Plan Contest finale.
- BPC Finale Event – May 12th, 7PM, Kresge Auditorium: We will announce the six ~$20,000 track winners, the $10,000 audience choice winner, and the $100,000 grand prize winner.
Connect With the MIT $100K
I am planning on writing a more casual post about our MIT $100K Executive Summary Contest finale event last night, but figured I’d post our press release while I’m thinking about it. Overall, the organizing team did an unbelievably good job pulling this event together.
CAMBRIDGE – February 11, 2010 – More than 350 people and 100+ online viewers from around the globe tuned in to see the MIT $100K award Pushpins the Overall Judges’ Choice Award and Mobile Track prize for the 2010 MIT $100K Executive Summary Contest. Pushpins was just one team of a record-breaking submission field consisting of more than 140 entrants. Other winners included Vala in the Development Track, OzComp Natural Gas Compressors in the Energy Track, Leotus Home Cooling in the Products and Services Track, peerTransfer in the Web/IT Track, and Hydrangle Systems both in the Life Sciences Track and as the Audience Choice Award winner.
The theme of the night was The Matrix and the MIT $100K’s search for “The One.” The competition organizers continued their efforts of combining entertainment with entrepreneurship, and created an evening full of excitement and comedy. The event started with a poster session where all semi-finalist teams displayed their ideas for the general public. Highlights of the evening included topics such as why a recession is a great time to be an entrepreneur, a preview of the upcoming MIT $100K Business Plan Contest, and an inspiring keynote address from Dr. Christina Lampe-Onnerud, CEO and Founder of Boston Power.
The night continued with $2,000 track prizes awarded to each of the six track winners, 60-second elevator pitches from each team, and the awarding of the Audience Choice and Judges’ Choice winners. The track winners were:
- Development: Vala – VALA is a company that uses mobile phone technology to instantly connect consumers to what they need and desire from vendors in the informal market of urban India. VALA promises to increase the market activity of low-income vendors, while opening a sizeable profit potential through tiered fees, advertisement, and high-value data.
- Energy: OzComp Natural Gas Compressors - OzComp is a high efficiency double-acting compressor technology developed in conjunction with MIT with high serviceability and low weight/footprint for natural gas applications at the wellhead. Modular design and lower manufacturing cost are other benefits as well.
- Life Sciences: Hydrangle Systems - Hydrangle Systems has discovered a way for men diagnosed with prostate cancer to maintain potency while undergoing prostate cancer treatment surgeries. The Apex by Hydrangle Systems is a probe-like device that is used during prostate cancer “freezing” treatments to protect the “sex nerves” surrounding the prostate and preserve potency.
- Mobile: Pushpins – Pushpins is a viral and interactive couponing platform that pushes coupons as consumers browse and scan products in grocery and retail settings.
- Products and Services: Leotus Home Cooling - Leotus is redefining home cooling with a modular room air conditioner. Leotus’ patent pending technology splits the traditional unit into three parts—an indoor unit, an outdoor unit, and a connector bridge—resulting in a system that is safe and easy to install, tastefully designed, and allows full use of your window.
- Web/IT: peerTransfer – peerTransfer is an innovative online international money transfer & payments startup out of MIT. Thanks to its patent pending technology, it provides individuals and small businesses with a low cost alternative compared to international bank transfers, saving around $300 for every $10,000 sent while increasing convenience and reliability.
In addition, a $1,000 Audience Choice Award was presented to Hydrangle Systems and was decided using technology from former MIT $100K competitor PollEverywhere.
The night concluded with the awarding of the $3,000 Judges’ Choice Award to Pushpins.
Events are already underway for the MIT $100K Business Plan Contest, with a submission deadline on March 4. Semi-finalists will be announced at an event on March 11th and the finale event, where the MIT $100K will award over $350,000 in cash and prizes, will be on May 12th.
To this point, I consider myself a student of “micro-entrepreneurship.” I am a member of the MIT Sloan Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program and along with many of my classmates maintain a clear focus on trying to launch or join an early stage start-up. Nearly all of the classes, lectures, and speeches I have attended to date have focused on an individual’s pursuit of entrepreneurship and the various challenges you may encounter. This is very relevant and actionable information which aligns beautifully with our MIT motto: Mens et Manus (Mind and Hand).
What I haven’t been thinking about is the big picture impact of entrepreneurship – I will refer to this as “macro-entrepreneurship.” I started to think about this in my post on legislative changes that promote entrepreneurship, but never as deeply as I have after my experiences this week.
As one of the directors of the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, I had the privilege to speak at MIT’s Entrepreneurship Development Program. Between my talk and the reception that followed, I was approached numerous times by representatives from different countries all asking about how to build similar entrepreneurship competitions. Countries included Ireland, Scotland, Nigeria, and Argentina. Their requests stemmed from government initiatives with an explicit intent to spur entrepreneurs to build economic value through innovation.
In the same week I stumbled on an interesting article on Bill Gates’ investment strategy for his renowned foundation. Gates says that “investment in science and technology can leverage those dollars and make more of a difference than charity and government aid alone.” Same message – innovation makes an incredible impact.
Experiencing this first hand really hammered home the fact that entrepreneurs have a very real opportunity to fuel the world economy through innovation! For me, taking a step back and looking at the big picture makes my individual pursuit of entrepreneurship that much more exciting.
For those interested in how to build an entrepreneurship competition…
I take no personal credit for the fact that the MIT $100K is one of the model competitions emulated around the world. My highly esteemed former directors were the visionaries that resulted in the worldwide recognition the program has received. In 1998, a spinout of the MIT $100K emerged called the Global Startup Workshop. This program has held annual conferences around the world to promote the infrastructure that makes the MIT community so successful at incubating and deploying new technology (one facet of which is the MIT $100K). If you are interested in hearing more, follow the two organizations on Twitter: @MIT100k and @startupsg.
As a Caucasian male born in suburban Connecticut with two Catholic educations under his belt, it will surprise most people to learn that I can recite every line of Tupac’s California Love and Biggie’s Hypnotize. I vividly remember the rivalry between the two rappers from back in the day. I was reminded of the drama and violence last week after Netflixing the movie “Notorious.” Fear not, this isn’t a blog about hip-hop music (although there will be a distinct parallel)…
I’m writing this 30,000 feet in the air on my way to Silicon Valley for a “Tech Trek” to fulfill my Entrepreneurship and Innovation certificate at MIT Sloan. In class before the trip, Bill Aulet, a professor of entrepreneurship joked that our meeting with Stanford and UC Berkeley MBAs would be like reigniting the Biggie Smalls / Tupac (he pronounced it “Two-Pack”) rivalry. I think it served its purpose – the class laughed.
Later in the same class, one of our guest speakers, another lecturer of entrepreneurship at MIT Sloan was running late. What held him up was a meeting at the statehouse in Boston where he was presenting to the Governor. The topic – legislative changes to non-compete clauses that can make it more favorable for start-ups to form and flourish in the Greater Boston area. Silicon Valley, and California in general, do not permit non-compete clauses and thus start-ups have been able to form out of larger less nimble companies.
What struck me was that these little 4, 6, 15 person start-ups, when grouped en masse, can really make an impact to the local economy. So much so that our state government is actively competing for them.
I’m heading to California to visit with nine funded and active start-ups, many of whom are extremely popular in today’s tech-savvy crowd (if you’re curious, the subset I’m meeting with includes Box.net, Posterous, Vapore, Serious Business, Salesforce.com, and Aardvark). I’m sure that within several of these companies, the story will go something like this: “I had an idea. It was a good one. I knew to get it off the ground I needed to move to the mecca of entrepreneurship – Silicon Valley. Blah. Blah. Blah.”
I’m an east coast guy all the way through. My family is here. I enjoy seasons (including the snow). I’m a Pats/Sox/Celts/Boston College fan. The state government of Massachusetts probably doesn’t have to do anything to make me choose Boston for my start-up… but I think its an amazing demonstration of the power of entrepreneurship that governments are taking full action to attract and retain start-ups. Hopefully in my lifetime Boston can reclaim the title belt from Silicon Valley as the premiere place to build your company.
I was very comfortable in my little world before interrupting it with a two-year business school hiatus. I had a series of clients that consistently appreciated my work. My managers were incredibly supportive – allowing me to innovate in ways previously shunned in large client service organizations (building industry-focused enterprise software templates). I was shielded from some of the less than ideal sides of being in a large consulting firm such as cross-country travel, high burn teams, and sub-par management. Net result I had a narrow view of the world around me – I lived in Boston and consulted for large high-profile companies up and down the east coast. I had tunnel vision.
Rewind the clock to November 2008 – I had just sat down to write an essay for Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. The question read something like this: “What are your goals and aspirations? Where do you want to be in five year? Ten years?” It turns out I hadn’t really thought about it much. Did I want to be a partner at Deloitte Consulting? Did I want to do internal consulting in an industry position (consulting speak for a non-consulting job)? Did I want to be a stay-at-home Dad or better yet a professional Beirut (Beer-Pong) player? After reflecting on this for a while, I realized what had energized me the most in my professional career was innovation. I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Upon this revelation, I immediately questioned what I had been doing for the past five years. Hopefully nothing was wasted. My instincts tell me that consulting has given me an amazing foundation for the entrepreneurial journey. A topic for another day…
I didn’t wind up going to Duke, partially because MIT Sloan had an entire program dedicated to Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Now that I am at MIT Sloan, what I find amazing is just how much entrepreneurship in the community treats MIT as its nucleus. In my first semester alone I have:
- Listened to speeches and met the founders of Genzyme, Bose, Mint.com, just to name a few
- Came up with an idea for a venture, filed a patent, and pursued funding
- Began leading the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition
- Met incredibly passionate, intelligent, and hard-working people
The list goes on…
So what is the moral of the story? Six months ago I lived an entirely different life. A life far less exciting than the entrepreneurial community I now find myself a part of. What will I try to do in the future? Uncover moments of tunnel vision as early as humanly possible and disrupt them in the same way that business school has. An entirely new world could be waiting if I force myself to open my eyes to see it.