Why We Need to Redefine Start-up Culture With Positive Mental Health Habits

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Data shows self-awareness practices helped M.I.T. entrepreneurs better manage the stress of entrepreneurship.

Anxiety and depression are rampant among entrepreneurs. The stereotype of a founder — fueled by caffeine and ramen noodles, while forgoing sleep, exercise, fresh air, friends, and family in the quest for success — has been the norm for years. It has been encouraged, and even glorified, by start-up culture.

The Inc. article “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship” explores this topic and explains, “the same passionate dispositions that drive founders heedlessly toward success can sometimes consume them. Business owners are ‘vulnerable to the dark side of obsession.’” Yet this is not healthy or helpful for long-term success.

Compounding this problem is the start-up founder’s hesitation to show weakness or self-doubt. They feel the need to project confidence for investors and employees, despite any inner insecurities. They also tend to connect their self-worth and identity to their start-ups, which can lead to feelings of depression if their start-up fails.

We also commonly see “impostor syndrome” — an unjustified, yet pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence. This can slow down an otherwise well-designed new organization by curtailing its ultimate impact and potentially even its existence. The majority of entrepreneurs have experienced these feelings, but they are pushed away and not discussed.

At M.I.T., we don’t believe entrepreneurship has to be this way. The health of a start-up doesn’t need to impact founders’ mental health. We believe self-awareness and mental preparedness can enhance an entrepreneur’s abilities. This, in turn, leads to creating a more successful business. The right tools can help entrepreneurs work through stress, rather than work in spite of it. This is a real game changer for the start-up culture.

Through a new exploratory program, we’ve found data affirming that when entrepreneurs understand their thoughts, feelings, and biases, it is useful in managing stress — and this is a skill that can be taught. In fact, 93% of M.I.T. delta v entrepreneurs believe self-awareness practices can help them create more successful businesses. Here’s more about the program:

Entrepreneurial Confidence and Communication

Last year, we debuted Entrepreneurial Confidence and Communication (E.C.C.) at M.I.T.’s delta v accelerator. This is the first comprehensive program to address mental health challenges in the start-up community and builds on our previous smaller experiments in this area. Our goal was to teach 84 student founders and their team members tools to build greater self-awareness and to provide a confidential environment for venting and peer feedback. Stress is inevitable in start-ups, but by learning how to be less affected by that stress, participants could make better choices for themselves and their start-ups.

In the first six weeks of the program, participants were taught the tools of self-awareness, including meditation and mindfulness, and their benefits. What are the benefits of meditation or mindfulness? Studies abound, but two that may be of particular interest to entrepreneurs are:

  • Harvard study on practicing mindfulness meditation for at least 30 minutes a day reports that the practice can increase grey matter in the hippocampus. This is one of the more important meditation facts, since this part of the brain plays an important role in memory and learning.
  • Another study, published in Heliyon, showed that practicing mindfulness meditation for a short period of time may enhance visuospatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning.

In the second six weeks, they applied their learnings, discussing key choices entrepreneurs face — taking breaks vs. spending all your time on your start-up, working through limiting beliefs, considering others’ perspectives, and approaching challenges with fear or curiosity. Participants learned through readings, optional group meditation, and small group sessions where they could talk confidentially about challenges they were facing with people who could relate to what they were going through.

The results were significant. Participants didn’t just learn that a self-awareness practice can benefit them — they decided to implement it on a regular basis in their own lives. The overall experience had a measurable effect on their well-being.

The student entrepreneurs started becoming what we call “antifragile.” The term antifragile is used by professor and author Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book titled Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. When applying his systems analysis to humans, antifragile people are those who “grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.”

A comparison of surveys conducted before and after the program, with 60 participants responding, revealed the following results:

Learning new skills

Before the program, 65% of participants had never meditated and only 21% were regularly practicing meditation or mindfulness.

By the end of the summer, 88% of had independently established their own regular, weekly meditation or mindfulness practice, despite heavy workloads and continual critical deadlines. And, their practices were measurably impacting how they worked through stress. After the program, 53% of participants were using a deliberate technique to calm themselves when in the midst of a stressful situation.

Sharing challenges

Most founders rarely have the opportunity to talk about the challenges of entrepreneurship with someone who is knowledgeable, and whom they don’t feel the need to impress. Participants in E.C.C. reported significant value from both small group discussions and optional one-on-one sessions, which were both 100% utilized by the students. The fact that very busy students took full advantage of E.C.C.’s optional one-on-one coaching, in particular, indicates the strong value the participants realized from the program.

Credit: The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship

Making better choices

We hypothesized that self-awareness tools could help founders make better moment-to-moment choices in their daily entrepreneurial lives. We found that after the program, 34% of participants who had established a meditation or mindfulness practice were more confident in their communications with others. And 40% were more aware of the emotions they were feeling, choosing to go ahead and feel those emotions rather than push them away.

The data affirms that self-awareness tools are useful in managing stress — and they can be taught. These tools help you understand your automatic responses to difficult situations and to perspectives different from your own. You start to notice problems earlier and feel more personal confidence, making it is easier to treat yourself and others with respect and to be resilient in the face of entrepreneurship’s challenges.

As demonstrated in this Boston Consulting Group article “Unleashing the Power of Mindfulness in Corporations,” meditation and mindfulness have proven positive effects in other industries — and now we have data that shows they can be significantly beneficial in entrepreneurship. Integrating self-awareness into the entrepreneurial experience will help prevent burnout, encourage better mental and physical health, and create better team dynamics. It’s great for entrepreneurs, and it could be great for their start-ups’ bottom line too.

Self-awareness education can guide entrepreneurs to not only take care of themselves, but to spread these skills across the entrepreneurial ecosystem, building company cultures that are supportive of both individual and start-up success. As M.I.T.’s delta v program works to redefine the start-up culture by incorporating positive mental health practices, we want to help entrepreneurs practice the self-awareness skills necessary to nurture their own mental health and create more successful businesses.

This piece originally appeared in Thrive Global and was co-written by Kathleen Stetson.

Women and Work: Intentional Invisibility?

Be seen. Speak up. Make your voice heard. These are lessons we are taught as we enter the workforce and climb the ladder to corporate success. Yet, many women are uncomfortable with this advice, even though they want to succeed

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review titled, “Why Women Stay out of the Spotlight at Work,” explores the concept of “intentional invisibility” and why some women use this as a strategy to navigate the workplace. Immersed in a women’s professional development program, the HBR authors learned how this cloak of invisibility enabled women to “get stuff done” and quietly move things forward without drawing attention to themselves. The drawback? Although these women were well-liked, they were underappreciated, (probably underpaid), and often overlooked for promotions.

Women tend to choose intentional invisibility for three reasons:

  1. to avoid conflict,
  2. to be authentic to their personalities, and
  3. to seek personal and professional balance.

The term intentional invisibility really clicked with me. I believe that looking at this issue more closely can help C-level executives and managers value and encourage leadership qualities in women they work with, even if those women may not lead in the same way as their male colleagues. Here are some examples I’ve encountered in my own life.

Conflict Avoidance when Choosing a Startup CEO
At MIT’s delta v, student venture accelerator program, I mentor entrepreneurs. During the program, student teams form startup companies and choose a management team. Although women are well-represented in delta v overall, we still have more male CEOs than female CEOs. Often, the most extroverted person in the group is rewarded with leadership responsibility, and more reserved women on the team defer and don’t put forth an argument as to why they should be considered as CEO. Later, I’ve had female team members share with me that it just wasn’t worth the fight, or that it doesn’t matter who has the CEO title, they will all work together. This conflict avoidance lets the team initially move forward more quickly, but hidden resentment sometimes bubbles up to cause problems later. Ultimately, if the company succeeds, it is important who is the CEO. I’m encouraged that a lot of women in the delta v program this year took advantage of the personal coaching sessions we offer to address imposter syndrome. As leaders, we should ensure employees are evaluated on several different, varied criteria because the person who speaks up the loudest is not always the best for the job.

Self-Identified in a Helper Role
In another example, many women I know (myself included) often end up in the job of the indispensable helper or chief assistant, the so-called right-hand man … only in this case, it’s a woman. Whether it’s as a COO, vice president, or research assistant, the right-hand woman makes it easy for her boss (usually a man) to be successful while she stays in the background. This role may be more aligned with her authentic sense of self, or it may be how she has been guided through the organization. When we meet these women, we wonder if their bosses could ever survive without them. In my opinion, many of these women would make excellent top executives themselves, but they may gravitate toward these roles because they define themselves as helpers. I’d encourage women to think about what they really enjoy in this role and find a voice. They should strive to shine independently and get credit for their accomplishments, not just enable their boss’ success. If they realize they’ve been hiding in their bosses’ shadow and would rather be the boss themselves, they should take the steps to grow into that position. I was fortunate enough to work with an executive coach who told me, “You don’t need a seat at the table, you already have it. Now, act like it.” No one had ever told me that before and it really re-framed the way I thought about my job.

The Balancing Act and the Second Shift
Finally, women tend to choose invisibility over face time when they need to balance responsibilities at work with those at home. However, what women really need is flexibility, not invisibility. Although the dynamic is changing, most of the women I know are still responsible for the lion’s share of household duties, our so called second shift – especially when it comes to parenting and elder care. While face time is important to get ahead in an organization, it becomes deprioritized for women who need the flexibility to bring a sick child or parent to the doctor, assist with after-school activities, or even to be the one who works from home when the cable guy is coming. Jobs that involve travel for work, networking events outside of regular work hours, or even casual after-work drinks often deliver undue stress for women. They know it’s good for their careers, but they either decline to attend or need to do a lot of juggling to make it happen. While the boss is getting chummy with the guys over a beer, often the female colleague is rushing home to pick up the kids, get dinner on the table, throw in a load of laundry, and get everyone ready to do it all over again tomorrow. When it comes time to pick someone for that plum assignment, Tom gets chosen because he’s a good guy and the project leader got to know him socially after work. This is a tough one, because it’s an implicit bias. I believe things will only change when both partners at home equally share responsibilities and both must deal with juggling the needs of a demanding job and home life. Of course, this is even trickier for single parents and caretakers.

Reality Check

As the HBR article explains, organizations value leaders who stand up, are visible, and take credit. But, this definition of leadership can leave women out in the cold because their behind-the-scenes contributions are overlooked or undervalued. It suggests that organizations value unconventional forms of leadership, fight implicit bias, and balance women’s second-shift responsibilities in order to make it easier for them to be seen and promoted. I wholeheartedly agree that today’s leaders must dig deeper to recognize and value the contributions and leadership qualities of women who are intentionally invisible in our workplaces. Most of these women truly don’t want to be invisible, so as leaders we need to see them, encourage their input, recognize their contributions, and offer flexibility. We need to make it OK to succeed by following a different path.

If you feel like you gravitate toward an intentionally invisible role at work, what can you do? Be mindful to push yourself out of your comfort zone and step in the spotlight. Find your voice and own your career, rather an allowing other people to do so. There are a lot of paths – you are allowed to do things your way and own your success!

Find Your Voice, Own Your Narrative, and Help Your Mentor Help You

In today’s society, there is an awareness that diversity is important not only as a concept, but also for real bottom line improvements. While this is good news, there is still a long way to go. I recently had the privilege of joining a panel that discussed the successes and challenges facing women in terms of equal pay, gender parity/blind bias, and upward mobility.

“Press for Progress” was sponsored by The Boston Club and held at the offices of Ernst & Young. First, my thanks to our moderator, Tara Alex, an Insurance Partner at E&Y, and my fellow panelists: Linda Rossetti, social entrepreneur and board member; Agnes Bundy Scanlan, who is on multiple boards and an advisor at Treliant Risk Advisors; and Jane Steinmetz, the Managing Principal for E&Y’s Boston office.

The overall feedback from this panel is positive – there is more focus on improving gender parity today, and sponsorship is key to that improvement. When you have a sponsor, someone is advocating for you; they have your best interests in mind and can recommend you for important assignments. The other key takeaway is the importance of having multiple women and minorities in the candidate pool for new hires.

Gender Parity and Sponsorship

The panel provided actionable advice both for women trying to get ahead and for their mentors. It was clear from the panel’s experience, as well as the audience’s, that each individual’s journey is personal and gender parity mandates don’t work. Because each experience is different, the power is shifted to the employee to own their experience and make the most of it. Employees need to leave “breadcrumbs” along the way so that when opportunities arise, the managers making the decision know what you have accomplished. Whether it is seeking a board seat or a new career path, if no one knows what you want (and you have not networked to get the message out) then it will be difficult for the hiring folks to find you.

An interesting Harvard Business Review article by Stefanie K. Johnson, David R. Hekman, and Elsa T. Chan delves into the statistics around the number of diverse candidates presented and its impact on selection. Titled “If There’s Only One Woman in Your Candidate Pool, There’s Statistically No Chance She’ll Be Hired,” the article’s premise is that people are invested in maintaining the status quo. That means if two men and one woman are presented as equally qualified, employers tend to hire a male. The panel discussed making the candidate pool richer with more women and minority candidates, and how this could shift the odds.

The women on my panel have all played a sponsor role in their organizations. They talked about looking at a slate of candidates and finding opportunities to position them, so they are ready for the next opportunity. But this can only be done if the sponsor is aware of what you want and desire as a potential job candidate. This requires you as an employee to own your narrative, find your voice, identify what is of value to you, and link it to the organizational purpose.

Taking Risks

It is also clear that women often wait until they are fully qualified for a job before they apply for it, whereas men are more likely to take a risk and sell the vision of what they can/will do. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty states, “I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not co-exist.”

With each risk you take, you build confidence. The first risk is the toughest, and if you’re successful, each subsequent risk is easier. Changing jobs is scary, but this lets others perceive you in a different light and provides momentum to your career. Even if you fail, you will realize what the issue was – wrong organizational fit, skills mismatch, more travel than you understood it to be, etc. – but by taking the risk you’ll be better prepared for when you make the next decision.

Upward Mobility

Pay parity and advancement were topics of particular interest to women who take an extended parenting leave and then return to the workforce. The panel’s advice was that you need to align yourself to market value, not your former salary. Do the work, find the data, and present your case. Today there is more transparency in salaries with sites like Glassdoor, so use this to your advantage. Remember, it is much costlier for your employer to lose you as an employee than to provide you a market-value salary. Also, step back and look at patterns. If you have seen other people’s careers go off track, this is where you must convey your own narrative to decision makers and voice your expectations about what you need to make it work.

Another point women should consider as they negotiate salary and benefits, is that silence is OK. In fact, it is often a powerful negotiation tool, so use it to your advantage. One final point is that you don’t have to do a job the way your predecessor did. Make it your own. If your family obligations don’t allow you to be out every night of the week, then figure out what does work for you and own it.

Further Diversity Research

I looked further at the research and the Harvard Business Review has a series of articles on the latest studies in diversity. One article by Evan Apfelbaum, titled “Why Your Diversity Program may be Helping Women but not Minorities (or Vice Versa),” looks at the problem of lumping women and minorities into one bucket. “The fact is that 40% of women make up all employees in a professional setting, whereas black women and men by contrast rarely comprise more than 5% of employees in these same settings.” These statistical differences affect how concerned people are with “sticking out” as representatives of their group. While the “value in difference” approach may energize groups, like white women, the very same message may, ironically, undermine groups who are represented in smaller numbers, like black women and men.

In the end, business is conducted by people and the way to enhance performance and decrease turnover is to provide all groups the same opportunity to succeed.

 

Why Consistent, Passionate Leadership Makes all the Difference

Netezza4_halo

I had lunch the other day with a friend and former colleague; he had been the CEO of a successful company that we worked together to build. As usual, we caught up and reminisced, but what struck me about our conversation was our discussion around leadership, and how much truly good leadership contributed to the company’s success, culture, and camaraderie.

He shared that as he visits companies that have been built by previous employees – and staffed by a lot of talent from his previous companies – and he is greeted with such warmth. He said folks tell him that being a part of the company he led was one of the best experiences of their lives. I agreed. We had a great team, a great product, and built a company of significant value that positively impacted customers’ businesses.

He chuckled at my recollection, said he kept emails from his staff telling him how badly things were going, how people disagreed with decisions that were being made, and that working with “so and so” was painful. In hindsight, that is true. So, is it the halo effect, where you remember only the positive and time fades the rest? Or, were we really accomplishing something as a team? I believe it is a bit of both.

Certainly, there were some low points – like when we blew a presentation, a product launch, hired the wrong people and took too long to recognize it, failed a customer, or failed to deliver as a team. We scaled fast but not fast enough, we forecasted sales but sold different models, we worked ridiculous hours. But, at the end of the day, we delivered it together. If we didn’t deliver on a customer commitment, it was “all hands on deck” to get that issue corrected, and that was a core value of the company. However, we also did a lot right. We focused on organic growth, so there was an opportunity to grow and learn. We took risks and learned from what worked and what didn’t.

I also talked to a former colleague who was just 21 when she joined the company. She remembers feeling personally responsible for making customers happy and making the company successful … and, everyone felt that way. If we weren’t passionate about the company, we wouldn’t care so much, and we wouldn’t have told the CEO all the things that we thought were wrong.

As a leader, how do you get employees to think like this? Part of it is to be transparent, celebrate successes, and think ahead to what is next. Communication of both successes and failures is essential, as is laying down the challenge to do better. I remember every day, as I left my office, I saw a sign that read, “Did I move the company forward today?” It was simple, yet meaningful. It was personal for me, and it was personal for others.

We had a mantra of: Performance; Simplicity; and to Be easy to do business with. It was a simple, yet consistent message of expectations – the expectations of our customers (who called us on it), and the expectations of our employees who focused on it internally and externally by communicating in an authentic way (rather than with charts or PowerPoint). This shared set of beliefs and living the culture every day became the guide rails we used to make decisions.

Leadership in building an enterprise is fraught with strife. How you show up everyday matters. It matters how you lead by example through good times and bad, the signals you send to the employees, prospective employees, customers, and investors. It matters what you say, and how you say it. People see how you carry yourself, and how you treat others. The CEO job is lonely, and all paths lead there, so it is vital that CEOs have their support network to provide perspective.

Maybe I have been lucky (or wise) in choosing the companies I have worked with, but I have experienced terrific leadership at a variety of companies, including employees that challenge those leaders to be better, and customers who depend on that. So, at the end of the day, I am pleased to hear that my former CEO is treated well – as he should be. There might be a bit halo effect as we reminisce, but in my experience, creating something special for others creates its own halo.

 

Where are the Hungry Dogs? A Look at Entrepreneurs in the Nordics.

When you think of an entrepreneur, you probably conjure a picture in your head: a tenacious achiever, a passionate risk-taker – essentially one of the “hungry dogs.” But culturally, this is not a universal characterization.

I was recently invited to Norway to teach an “Innovation Crash Course” workshop to postdocs and PhDs at the Technoport 2018 Deep Tech conference, technoportwhich focused on deep tech and what governments, universities, entrepreneurs, and corporations are doing to speed research from R&D labs to make a real impact on society. I was fortunate enough to spend time with entrepreneurs, potential entrepreneurs, and those supporting entrepreneurship in the Nordics, and the experience taught me quite a lot – including not to filter my view of entrepreneurship with a US-centric lens.

This article in Entrepreneur outlines “7 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs,” which include tenacity, passion, tolerance of ambiguity, vision, self-belief, flexibility, and rule-breaking. But, it makes me think –are we looking only at entrepreneurship from an American perspective? This post shares my experiences in Norway and my thoughts on how the region’s culture and social policies influence its entrepreneurs.

The Entrepreneurial Scene in the Nordics

Although Americans are known for our entrepreneurial spirit and the “American dream,” Nordic countries are also embracing entrepreneurship. Interestingly, according to The World Bank Economy Rankings, Sweden is ranked #13, Norway #19, and Denmark #34 for ease of starting a business, as compared to the U.S. at #49. (New Zealand is in the #1 slot.)

Oslo, Norway is seen as one of the world’s best startup hubs even though it’s one of the most expensive cities in the world. Entrepreneurs can expect a refreshingly balanced approach to work/life and a great environment to base tech or communication startups. Norway’s startup scene is also starting to blossom in terms of investment, and these articles in Shifter and Medium show how other Nordic countries, specifically Finland and Sweden, are doing particularly well in terms of investments, with Denmark also catching up.

The Problem for Entrepreneurship in Norway

Although there is a welcoming environment, is the drive to be an entrepreneur similar to the U.S.?  An in-depth article in Inc. magazine reports, “The problem for entrepreneurship in Norway is it’s so lucrative to be an employee,” says Lars Kolvereid, Professor at the University of Nordland, who was the lead researcher for the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor in Norway.

In the U.S., about one-quarter of startups are founded by so-called necessity entrepreneurs – people who start companies because they feel they have no good alternative. In Norway, there is less necessity; the number is only 9 percent, third lowest in the world after Switzerland and Denmark, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.

The social welfare system is quite different there as well. The article explains there are no private schools in Norway; education is public and free, from nursery school through graduate school. In addition, the unemployment rate is low, and, if you are unemployed, there are generous benefits. Every Norwegian trondheim-2068802_1920worker also receives free health insurance in a system that produces longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates than in America. At age 67, workers get a government pension of up to 66 percent of their working income.

Zoltan J. Acs, a professor at George Mason University and former chief economist for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, summed it up, “The three things we as Americans worry about – education, retirement, and medical expenses – are things that Norwegians don’t worry about.”

Essentially, the wealth and comfort prevalent in Norway and Denmark mean there is less of a “hungry dog phenomenon,” something that was even remarked upon by the people I met with at the Technoport conference. This makes it a challenge to recruit young people to work for startups since they are well compensated in the public sector, don’t have debt, and generally lack incentives to take the risk. In addition, while I was in Denmark I heard that many startups are bought by American companies before they have a chance to make an impact on the Danish economy, so the benefits are not seen by the founding country.

Of course, Norway’s generous social benefits are financed largely from higher taxes, another consideration for entrepreneurs. However, as the Inc. article explains, Norwegian entrepreneurs tend to see taxes as an exchange of cash for services, rather than a burden. All of these factors certainly set a different stage for Nordic entrepreneurs as they consider starting their own businesses.

A Need for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Public Sector

I met with MIT alumni in both countries and came away with a better understanding of a need for entrepreneurship in the public sector. There is a strong corporate culture of innovation programs that are challenging the current thinking, but these share some of the same challenges that U.S. corporations face. Examples include budget cycles that are often incompatible with the reaction time needed to respond to new market changes and conditions, attention that gets divided between current versus future business challenges, functional silos, and challenging organizational dynamics.

A Successful Transformation from an Oil-Rich Economy

The economic impact of the oil industry is another factor when considering entrepreneurship in Norway. The focus of the Technoport conference was on energy, education, and ecosystems. And, although Norway’s oil industry has always been a key economic contributor for the country, it is a finite resource with all constituents looking ahead to what industries can, will, or should do to replace (or supplement) oil in the future.

In an article in TechCrunch, Anita Krohn Traaseth, the CEO of Innovation Norway, says that it’s time for the country to look beyond oil. “Norway needs to develop and build several growth sectors to contribute to a more diversified and sustainable national economy.”

“The fundamentals in Norway to make a successful transformation are solid,” she explains. “We still have a low unemployment rate, we still have a huge capital reserve toentrepreneur-593358_1920 make necessary investments for the future, we have a strong growth of entrepreneurial focus and companies. This is all about how we prioritize, reposition investments, build competence, and have the guts to make important, and maybe radical, political decisions today to secure tomorrow.”

Conclusion

Just as entrepreneurship in the U.S. is complex and driven by many factors, so is the entrepreneurial environment in the Nordics. On the plus side for Nordic entrepreneurs, because higher education is free in Norway, students don’t graduate with the crippling debt that is an issue for so many young professionals in the U.S. This provides an opportunity to focus on jobs they love, versus jobs that can pay back the loans.

A Forbes article titled “Four Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Denmark’s Work Culture” cites teamwork, a flat, non-hierarchical structure, autonomy, and a compassionate management style as reasons for successful entrepreneurship – quite a different list than the seven traits listed by Entrepreneur at the start of this post.

At Technoport I was able to see that Norway is working to create a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem to provide solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems. I believe the mix of people I met in Norway and Denmark – young, older, entrepreneurs, corporates, and investors – are all willing to learn from each other and are looking for their role in supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

 

Reflections on delta v 2017

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It’s hard to believe I’ve recently finished my third year of guiding MIT startup teams through our delta v student venture accelerator. The 2017 cohort was another fantastic group of entrepreneurs and startups, and I look forward to seeing the places they will go as they develop their businesses and grow as individuals.

One useful exercise that we’ve done each year is to look critically at the delta v program at the end of each session and assess what went well and what could be improved. I believe this has helped us refine and grow our program, and I’d like to share some of our top findings:

Positive changes

We had great feedback from this year’s cohort, and did a comparison between 2016 and 2017. Here are some stats, and our take on what we’re doing well:

  • This was our largest cohort to date. We supported 21 teams and 65 entrepreneurs.
  • The average team size decreased from 5 members in 2016 to 3 members in 2017 – we feel that a smaller team size means more involvement in the process for each student.
  • The percentage of female entrepreneurs increased from 26% in 2016 to 45% in 2017 – we are making good strides toward gender parity and neutralizing gender bias, both important goals.
  • For the first time we expanded the delta v program with a Startup Studio in New York City supporting seven additional teams
  • The students were especially pleased with the founders’ dinner speakers and the interaction and support from our Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs).
  • They also generally liked the amount of programming included this year.
  • We implemented longer and more structured board meetings in response to requests made after the 2016 program; this was well received.
  • The teams closed more business during delta v than ever before, reaching more than $100K in revenue over the summer months.
  • Based on a survey of the students, the average net promoter score for the 2017 cohort was 93.6.
  • 100% of students surveyed are willing to be a reference for the program going forward.

We also reached out to our delta v board members for their feedback. Here’s what two of our board members had to say:

“Serving on a delta v board reminds me of the interdependency of the roles of ‘change agents’ and ‘game changers,’ irrespective of age or accomplishment. Board and delta v members, alike, seamlessly assume these roles while educating and constructively guiding each other to the launch milestone.”

  • Kristine Van Amsterdam, delta v board member

“As board members, we have the thrill and privilege of helping young entrepreneurs take those critical first steps to turn their ideas into real-life and life changing entities. Many of the ideas born here will become companies that impact the world.”

  • Janet Wu, delta v board member

 We’re thrilled that 100% of the 2017 board members are interested in participating in the program again next year.

Of course, there is always room for improvement. Here’s what we’re working on:

  • Our (new!) physical space is getting cramped with 21 teams.
  • Next year, we want to work more with the students to prepare them for meetings with the investment community.
  • The students gave us specific requests for new programming in areas from budgeting to negotiation to team development.
  • There was also a request for even more structure with the board, in terms of setting the agenda to focus on upcoming milestones.

We take feedback from our students and board members seriously and will be evolving the program for 2018. We wish our 2017 cohort much success! If you are interested in more detail on delta v, including seeing what some of our past alumni are doing, check out this year’s Martin Trust Center Annual Report.

MIT delta v 2017: Ready to Change the World!

demo day pic 2017Are you ready to be inspired? MIT’s student venture accelerator, delta v, revealed itself to the world at our 2017 Demo Day on September 9. It was a fantastic culmination to this year’s program and our students are ready change the world with their startup companies.

I want to thank the students, our speaker Shireen Yates from Nima, the staff at the Martin Trust Center, and our live and online audiences at Demo Day. I invite you to watch the video and view the entire program to see our entrepreneurs pitch their startups.

This year, delta v hosted the largest cohort to date with 21 teams.  In addition to bringing a wide range of skill sets to the program, our 2017 cohort was the most diverse in gender and ethnic background, and had a worldwide perspective with representation from many different countries. This had a tremendous benefit in terms of networking and the teams helping each other solve challenges, supporting the philosophy that diversity fuels innovation. The teams took their skills in science, technology, design, management, and entrepreneurship to tackle everything from fresh water scarcity, climate change, and different ways of producing energy to the opioid crisis, soaring healthcare costs and gender inequality in healthcare to global financial transparency – all big problems in need of innovative solutions.

At delta v, our goal isn’t to tell the students how to do things, our goal is to lead them to their own conclusions. We are looking for students with the “heart of an entrepreneur” who are looking to solve the world’s really hard problems. We give them the opportunity to fail and get feedback in a safe environment. Plus, they learn from each other. Our value add is to help guide students who are ready to positively impact the world.

demo day 2Here’s a brief overview of each startup that presented at Demo Day (in alphabetical order). Remember them. It’s likely you’ll be able to point back and say, “I saw them when they were just a startup at MIT…”

 

 

Alba

Focused on empowering women to achieve their goals, Alba is a care giving marketplace for parents in Latin America.

Biobot Analytics

Biobot’s mission is to equip cities with data to build healthier and safer communities. Biobot Analytics’ first application is generating a new type of data on the opioid epidemic. (See recent coverage of the team in Boston Magazine.)

Blockparty

Blockparty tackles food insecurity through fun, engaging cooking classes where young professionals can learn a new recipe while also providing meals to our neighbors in need.

Bloomer Health Tech

Bloomer Health Tech is transforming heart health and quality of life for women suffering from, or at risk of, heart disease. Bloomer delivers effortless and comfortable medical-grade sensors embedded in a woman’s bra to monitor multiple biomarkers using patent-pending advanced fabrics and algorithms.

Divaqua

Divaqua is committed to making water scarcity yesterday’s problem. They are developing and commercializing higher performing, safer, and more cost-effective technology to treat wastewater.

InfiniteCooling

Power plants, the US’ largest water consumer, use 139 billion gallons of fresh water every day, which amounts to 50% of total US freshwater withdrawals. Infinite Cooling captures water in evaporative cooling tanks and reintroduces it into a powerplant’s cooling cycle.

Klarity

Klarity’s vision is to provide widespread access to concise and trustworthy legal advice through intelligent technology using machine learning to reduce the time spent on contract review.

Mayflower Venues

Mayflower Venues enables customers to create one-of-a-kind weddings and events while helping preserve unique open spaces across New England.

Mesodyne

Mesodyne is bringing portable power to those who need it most. Its breakthrough technology enables ultra-portable, reliable, and affordable energy generation for the military and beyond.

Octant

Octant’s data curation platform uses deep learning to accelerate autonomous vehicle (AV) development. Equipped with Octant’s solution, innovators can spend less time collecting and managing data, and more time improving the future of mobility.

Pine Health

Pine Health helps patients follow through on doctor’s orders by using patient data to trigger conversations with an AI-augmented health coach.

ReviveMed

ReviveMed is a precision medicine platform that aims to improve people’s health by unlocking the value of metabolomics data, allowing the right therapeutics to be delivered to the right patients.

Roots Studio

Roots Studio is a for-profit social enterprise that curates, digitizes, and markets culturally iconic artwork from indigenous and isolated artists to a global marketplace.

Sigma Ratings

Sigma Ratings is the world’s first non-credit risk rating agency and helps companies more effectively and efficiently navigate increasing regulatory challenges.

Sophia

Sophia connects patients with the right therapists for them using a data-driven matching process, creating stronger therapeutic relationships.

TradeTrack

TradeTrack aims to improve personalized customer services in the fashion industry. Their solution increases brand loyalty and helps to improve customer retention.

W8X

W8X helps athletes to become their best and strongest selves with strength training equipment that adapts to their specific needs. Inspired by robotics, W8X has developed a weight lifting system that creates resistance electrically.
Waypoint

Waypoint uses augmented reality (AR) to help frontline workers rapidly capture, access, and scale expert knowledge.

The delta v teams also present to alumni and investors in New York City and San Francisco – quite the exciting month!

See more coverage of Demo Day in the MIT News and MIT Sloan Management newsroom.

demo day 1