Who will be among the next batch of MIT Startups?

MIT’s student venture accelerator program has kicked off for 2017!

delta v is a unique program that provides a capstone educational opportunity for MIT student entrepreneurs, and prepares them to hit escape velocity and launch into the real world.

“delta v” literally means a change in velocity, and we believe this truly captures what happens to these students when they join us for MIT’s accelerator program. (Our program was previously called the Global Founders’ Skill Accelerator – we changed the name last year.)

Our 2017 cohort of students has been selected, and they will begin go through “entrepreneur boot camp” this summer. Sorry, but we can’t yet release the startup names and ideas, but we have created an infographic to give you the big picture of our incoming group.

2017 delta v Cohort_JPEG

Mark your calendars for September 9.  That’s our Demo Day in Boston, when each of the companies will present to the public. (Here’s a recap of Demo Day 2016.)

We also went back to our 2016 cohort and asked for advice they could share. Here are some of the highlights:

Create the Right Team and Team Culture

Get to know the rest of the cohort early! I can’t tell you how much I wished I had gotten to know the other teams in the cohort earlier, and how sad it felt to begin bonding so late in the summer only to leave a few weeks earlier. Take initiative and invite other teams out! They won’t bite.
Kumwe Logistics

Invest in getting to know Trust Center staff and the other teams; they are as much of a resource as the funding.
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I recommend taking free personality tests and working as a team to identify work styles and potential weaknesses that both individuals and the team as a whole may face so that when these hard times hit, and they will hit, you know what to expect and can band together to push through.
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As we have moved forward and made some progress it has become even more evident that VCs and investors, especially in the seed round, are investing as much, if not more, in the team than in the business idea.
Kumwe Logistics

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

For international team, communication is your best friend. Have a WhatsApp group, have a daily Skype call, do whatever it takes. It’s impossible to be talking too much to your fellow team members while you’re geographically separated.
Kumwe Logistics

Show up, Be Present & Network

Be present as much as possible, even if the attendance requirement says only 2 people have to be there.
Solstice

Go to every event possible. Even if you think you already know the topic, go to it anyways. Delta V brings in people at the top of their field to share their insights with the teams, take advantage of that! Other people would kill for that opportunity.
Kumwe Logistics

Simplify

Everyone has this big fetish for cool-sounding technology, especially at MIT. Talking tech helps wins competitions, but at the end of the day the only people you really need to impress are your customers (with a good product, not with the underlying tech!)
dot Learn

Promote Increased Value over Cost Savings

If I were to start over, I’d promote the time [our services] save their staff, the benefit of dealing with one company for all their needs that’s responsive, proper billing, and other similar points that our clients tell us they appreciate and are worth value [rather than just cost savings].
Kumwe Logistics

Perfect Your Pitch

One of the best things we got out of the whole exercise was the final pitch document and presentation we had. The same pitch and document has helped us get $100,000 from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and DFID UK, along with the money we have raised from investors.
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Anticipate Change & Challenges

Company culture is created predominately through the personalities and work styles of the founders and early employees. Make sure to spend time understanding what sort of culture you’re looking to build and understand that the good comes with the bad.
Rendever

There WILL be challenges and failures that lie ahead and it’s helpful to understand how your team will work to overcome these hurdles.
Rendever

Prepare for After MIT

Treat Board members as valuable mentors even after the program is over.
Solstice

Take advantage of the support Network at MIT while you can, and if you’re leaving Boston, try to build a support network (friends/entrepreneurs/etc..) wherever you go. The struggle is real, and the real world can be cold and lonely.
dot Learn

Great advice from our last group of entrepreneurs!  I’m looking forward to spending the summer with our incoming class.

We’re on Fire!

mittrustcenter2-bwMIT’s Martin Trust Center: Quietly Educating and Empowering Students to Positively Change the World

Our fantastic team at MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship was recently selected for a BostInno 50 on Fire” award recognizing innovative individuals and organizations in and around Boston!

We were excited to join BostInno’s year-end celebration, held at the Moakley Courthouse on the waterfront, which recognized the city’s inventors, disrupters, luminaries, and newsmakers. Over 800 nominations were submitted for the awards, which were culled down to a list of 150 finalists. From those finalists, 50 were selected by a panel of judges to claim the title of “50 on Fire.” Here’s a list of all the winners, and the finalists in the Education category – our kudos to BUILD, Panorama, and Shorelight Education, the other winners in our category.

When MIT’s Martin Trust Center was announced as a winner, a cheer rose up from our staff. It was a powerful reminder that while we celebrate our students all year round, once in a while we need to celebrate the staff for the time and effort they put into creating and executing innovative and thought-leading programming.  A quick overview for those of you unfamiliar with the Trust Center …

The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, as the name implies, fosters entrepreneurship at the Institute. It serves all students across all schools and disciplines.  At the Trust Center, we provide MIT students proven frameworks, a global network of experts and a dynamic home to develop their skills using our curriculum and programs. Our goal is to be entrepreneurial leaders by advancing the field of entrepreneurship at MIT and around the world.

In June, the center unveiled its remodeled and expanded co-working digs, which can better accommodate startups on campus, host larger events centered on entrepreneurship and has a new makerspace called Protoworks. The Trust Center is also home to “delta v,” MIT’s student venture accelerator. The accelerator provides a capstone educational opportunity for MIT student entrepreneurs preparing them to hit escape velocity and launch into the real world, culminating in the accelerator’s Demo Day.

Our team at the Trust Center includes: Bill Aulet, Alicia Carelli, Elaine Chen, Eliza Deland, Pat Fuligni, Sorin Grama, Donna Levin, Tommy Long, Leah Lovgren, Erin Martin, Nick Meyer, Laurie Stach, Marvin Wilma, Greg Wymer, and all those that have gone before us…. The center is a rotation of folks who bring fresh perspectives and raise the bar on our thinking.

We believe it is important to view entrepreneurship as a craft, and we provide apprentice-like experiences for our students. These students want to make a positive impact in the world, and we enable that through our innovative, well-executed programming, along with the community support that makes the Trust Center so special.  We don’t shed a spotlight on it too much, but once in a while it is nice to shine a light on a creative team that executes in a world-class manner…that is the Martin Trust Center, and I’m proud to be a part of it!  Entrepreneurship is a craft that can be taught. Want to see more? This video captures all the winners clowning around during the photo shoot. Thanks to BostInno for showcasing the innovative talent we have here in Boston!

P.S. I’d also like to give a shout out to friends of the Trust Center who were at the awards including Drift, Pill Pack, Melissa James, Coach Up, Paul English, and Katie Rae, just to name a few …

Shining a Light on Female Entrepreneurs in Tech

Last night, MIT’s Martin Trust Center hosted a screening of the award-winning documentary “She Started It” which follows five women in their journeys to launch businesses in the technology industry. We were honored to have the director and co-producer of the film, Nora Poggi , with us to introduce the film and join in our discussion along with our own panel of budding tech entrepreneurs.

The event was inspiring and featured accomplished women who beat the odds. If one message came through “loud and clear” it was that the entrepreneurial journey is all about persistence and networking. Our discussion reinforced that entrepreneurship can be taught, and that practicing entrepreneurial skills will pay off in the end.

The “She Started It” film focuses on five female entrepreneurs and their experiences, along with empowering the next generation of women tech founders. (You can check out the trailer here.) The film cited statistics about being a female entrepreneur in the technology industry that were bleaker than a cross-industry perspective. For example:

  • Women create only 3% of tech startups
  • In Silicon Valley, women earn only 49 cents to a man’s dollar
  • Women receive less than 10% of venture capital funding
  • Only 12% of undergrad computer science degrees are earned by women
  • 96% of venture capitalists are men

Yet, the five women profiled in the film are out to break the mold.

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Following the screening, I moderated a discussion with Poggi and a panel of female founders sharing their own experiences. They included:

  • Elsa Sze of Agora which uses technology to bring more people to the civic conversation
  • Melissa James of The Tech Connection, a premier marketplace for purpose driven, diverse technical talent
  • Alex Wright-Gladstein of Ayar Labs which brings high bandwidths and energy efficiency of fiber optics to silicon chips
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L to R: Alex Wright Goldstein, Nora Poggi, Elsa Sze and Melissa James

 

The panelists discussed challenges and what is most intimidating about starting a tech business. The audience – which included many women in the process of exploring entrepreneurship for themselves was extremely engaged and had many questions. We also talked about how today’s female entrepreneurs can be role models to help other women and girls embrace the entrepreneurial path. Essentially, “you can’t be what you don’t see.”

One of the insightful quotes in the film is from Meghan Smith, Chief Technology Officer for the United States. She says, “There have always been women and minorities in all of the areas of technology for all history. It’s just the stories are less known. And so, we need to embrace our history and tell it to each other.”

Although women are a small minority of tech startup founders, it is also an issue that many women tend to understate their achievements, and not let their own light shine. “She Started It” is a first step to showcase some of these achievements. My thanks to everyone who participated in our event! It was a great success!

P.S. On a personal note, this week I received the exciting news that I’ve been selected as a finalist for the Stevie Awards for Women in Business the category of mentorship. As I worked with the panel for this our film event, I drew parallels to my own submission for the Stevie Awards. Often, as women, we dismiss the things that we do and don’t let our own lights shine (especially when surrounded by all the brilliance here at MIT). For me, this is a reminder to value our successes and share them with other women.

 

Closing the Opportunity Divide … one person at a time

Francilia Jones, my Year Up mentee

Francilia Jones, my Year Up mentee

Watching your child succeed at something important in life tends brings that choked up feeling – pride swells your chest and you blink away a tear or two. Well, Francilia Jones is not my child, but I’ve mentored Francilia over the past year, and I felt all those same emotions as I watched her give her graduation speech at this year’s Year Up graduation ceremony.

Year Up is an organization that empowers urban, low-income young adults to go from poverty to professional careers in a single year. As a mentor at Year Up in Boston, every year I’m amazed at the transformation of these young adults. They come to the program with talent and motivation – but, unfortunately, lack skills, experience, and opportunities. However, with the help of Year Up, these young people can gain six months of professional training in IT, Finance, or Customer Service, a six month corporate internship with a respected company, and up to 24 college credits – all in the course of one year.

The program’s success rate is impressive; 85% of Year Up graduates are employed or attending college full-time within four months of completing the program. Those employed earn an average starting salary of $16 per hour – $32,000 per year for salaried employees.

In Francilia’s case, her family was supportive and she was accepted into her dream school, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. However, a family illness and other misfortune meant that she could not afford to attend the school. She tried working to save money to do it on her own – and one day, Year Up’s Director of Student Services for Boston, Rob Fladger, entered the branch of the bank where she was working and told her she looked miserable. He told her about Year Up and she even attended an information session.

However, Francilia still wanted to do this on her own and tried attending college for one semester while working 70 hours per week. Needless to say, that didn’t work out. She still had Rob’s card and gave him a call. By joining the Year Up program, Francilia completed an internship at Harvard University and gained a passion for technology. She now hopes to attend community college and then gain her bachelor’s degree in computer science. She is also looking to work part-time to fulfill her goals. In the entrepreneurship program I help to lead at MIT we call it “escape velocity” and Francilia is on her way, but finding a job still is not easy.

In her graduation speech Francilia states, “I always knew that I could be more than by current situation. I always knew I could be better than my struggles.”  I couldn’t agree more.

I believe this really summarizes the Year Up program, and how it helps bright, motivated young people overcome their current situations. Year Up calls this the “Opportunity Divide” – millions of young adults in the U.S. have talent and motivation, but lack opportunity. They estimate that 6 million bright young people are without access to opportunities to connect to the economic mainstream. Meanwhile, over the next decade, American companies will face a shortage of over 14 million qualified workers. Year Up’s mission is to close the Opportunity Divide.

I wanted to share this experience because being a mentor is one of the most fulfilling things that I’ve done. It puts your personal issues into check, and you just feel good helping to guide someone who is so motivated to succeed. Year Up is always looking for more mentors, so I encourage others to share their time and talents and learn what it takes to become a mentor for Year Up – they have locations in many cities throughout the U.S.

Plus, I’d also like to put a shout out to my network – Francilia is looking for her next job opportunity, preferably in the technology space. Any interest in hiring a hard-working “go-getter”? Please let me know and I will make the connection.

Year up logo

Preparing Today’s Students: Notes from the 2015 T-Summit

what-is-tHow can industry, universities and students work together to address the business analytics skills gap?

I was fortunate to speak on this topic at the 2015 T-Summit at Michigan State University in March.

Demand for business analytics skills has increased sharply in just the past few years, with the rise of powerful analytics tools and Big Data. Companies today need business analytics skill sets at every level and in every department. Organizational demand for people with business analytics skills is increasing, while at the same time, more people are leaving jobs than coming in – and that’s a problem.

While companies look to universities to increase their pools of analytical staff, business leaders consistently report that there is a yawning gap between the skills that are required and the training that most academic institutions provide.

Currently, higher education is producing I-shaped graduates, or students with deep disciplinary knowledge. As I’ve noted before, T-shaped professionals are characterized by their deep disciplinary knowledge in at least one area, an understanding of systems, and their ability to function as “adaptive innovators” and cross the boundaries between disciplines.

The defining characteristic of the “T-shaped professional” is the horizontal stroke, which represents their ability to collaborate across a variety of different disciplines. To contribute to a creative and innovative process, one has to fully engage in a wide range of activities within a community that acknowledges their expertise in a particular craft or discipline and share information competently with those who are not experts.

Responsibility for training graduates is often mistakenly seen as belonging to universities. But businesses are in an essential training role through internships, mentoring, and on-the-job training. Likewise, businesses need candidates with more than just a degree, but who are actually qualified for the positions they are seeking to fill.

Research I’ve done through interviews with corporate executives suggests several key ways to improve:

– Encourage strong and collaborative partnerships between universities, placement offices and businesses. Course offerings should foster the T-shaped skills that hiring organizations demand.

– Create, support and manage robust internship and mentoring programs that include students in curriculum planning and emphasize the enhancement of T-shaped thinking.

These suggested improvements can help corporations and universities to become better partners in providing students with most effective training for tomorrow’s workplace.

At this year’s T-Summit, Jeff Selingo, author of “College Unbound,” shared his findings about some of the innovative approaches underway right now to close the skills gap. I highly recommend watching his presentation, which is included below.

Corporate Communication and the Sound of One Hand Clapping

There’s an irony in writing blogs. Here I am, at some potentially great distance away from you, in time or space, sitting in front of a computer, and yet anticipating a conversation with another human being (That means you). If I didn’t have that genuine feeling of connection, I think I’d probably never blog at all. I wouldn’t read so many blogs, either.

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What draws us to blogs and social media? I think it’s almost always about connectedness. There is a natural human desire to connect. After all, we’re social animals. Solitary confinement is considered a form of torture in many countries for this reason.

While the instinct to connect is as natural as our need for food and shelter, it is one that is typically stifled in corporate environments, and that’s a problem. Too often, corporate communication is a monologue, not a dialogue. Business leaders tend to forget how our successes are often built on ideas generated by others. Communication is viewed as just another resource used to control, instead of engage, employees. Too many American business executives see “discussion” as an exercise in public relations, just another way to gain the upper hand.

In reality, breakthrough ideas tend to come from outside of traditional control-oriented companies. The workers who have the best ideas in these organizations are encouraged to communicate those ideas, to “shake things up” instead of being treated as though they don’t have a right to be heard.

IBM’s Executive Insights program is an initiative that tries to level the communications field, encouraging executives to use discussion as innovation resource, not a cattle prod. It’s a three-day program which gives real practice in social cognitive theory with the purpose of improving communication at every level.

Open Communication Requires Time … and Even Space

Open dialogue, trust, and respect. These are the three essential ideas of great team coaching and scaffolding, to build teams that “talk smart,” which in turn helps broaden the way employees expect to be heard. IBM has a vision of creating what I call a “smart talk zone.” Communication is part of the 360° feedback concept in IBM’s Executive Insights program. 360° feedback relies on gleaning insights from employees as well as managing executives to create a more complete, useful and actionable review. Few things have worked as well as 360° feedback to open deep dialogue. A 360° concept can clearly increase self-awareness skills while also helping to correct deficiencies in management through communication.

One thing we need to do more often is to create actual workplaces with physical environments designed to optimize open communication. Lev Vygotsky has even said that we must build specific “zones” to make this happen. Vygotsky, who survived the Russian Revolution, knows something about chaos and creation, silence and survival. The idea of building an actual, physical zone of communication is something that could truly revolutionize the way people expect to be heard. For now, IBM is attempting to create these kinds of creative communication zones with speakers bureaus that engage every level of management. Perhaps most importantly, IBM is committed to investing time in the process, too, since the workshops can last three days.

A college workshop on communication once left me with some valuable and lasting insights. As an example of how to communicate, a professor gave a sample lecture. I noticed a friend of mine taking notes on what he was saying – and I slipped a note to my friend: “Don’t write what he says…write down how he says it.” Context is essential. We value the “Eureka!” moment so much that we forget it almost always comes as part of a broader conversation. An unshared idea, I discovered, was the sound of one hand clapping. We tend to follow structure and miss meaning. When we consider and share ideas with others in context, we perceive. We create.


Being overly or rigidly structured, especially in how we communicate our goals, is why we so often get to the wrong places when we’re driving. After all, we know where we’re driving, even if what we know happens to be wrong. Once a company believes it is successful, it tends to become risk averse. It tends to blindly follow the pre-conceived directions without questioning them anymore. We can see that complacency in communication, in the way that innovative, “outside the box” communication can become stifled in a successful company. As corporate drivers, we may still feel connected to the steering wheel, but we forget the view, the intricacies, and the nuances that surround us.

Within the typical established corporate environment, we often tend to discount the ideas of people who appear to be unstructured in their communication. We want it to be sharp, efficient, to the point. Anything else seems like a waste of time, and hence a waste of money. But something can be lost in the equation: creativity.

I would challenge people to look anew at the shortcuts they use in daily communication. Are you able to consider new ideas with an open mind, even when these ideas may not be fully formed? Are you able to help cultivate and nurture ideas without controlling them? Are you empowering your employees with the assurance that they can run with an idea once it is fully formed? After all, James Laird at Clark University showed through his research that lasting positive communication relies on more than just words, but on action as well.

I remember as a child, seeing an old wooden plaque on a small business owner’s desk. It said “You ain’t learnin’ nothin’ when your talkin’.” We tend to learn best when we learn to listen. That’s easier said than done. But businesses have a lot to learn from their employees. Paying attention and empowering the exchange of ideas is a smart way for organizations leveraging a precious asset – and it’s the natural thing to do.