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

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How Educational Accelerators are Aiming to Neutralize Gender Bias for Entrepreneurs

Overcoming-Gender-BiasGender bias is sneaky. It’s often subtle, yet pervasive – and the effects are far reaching.

We’ve heard a lot this summer about outright sexual harassment and discrimination against women in the tech industry. This is certainly disgraceful and I applaud the actions taken to remove the offenders from their positions. Yet, beyond these blatant examples, there is an implicit gender bias that has a cumulative effect in everyday decisions that stacks the deck against women and minorities.

This blog post will look at how we can help budding entrepreneurs to think differently – and how Educational Accelerator programs, like MIT’s delta v, are making changes to identify and root out these implicit biases.

Gender Bias in the Tech Industry

First, let’s look at some examples of gender bias in established tech industry companies. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, wrote an exclusive feature for Vanity Fair on “How to Break up the Silicon Valley Boys’ Club.” She says she was “frustrated that an industry so quick to embrace change and the future can’t break free of its regrettable past.”

Wojcicki brings up sometimes subtle forms of bias that even well-intentioned male colleagues or managers may overlook. These include:

  • being frequently interrupted or talked over;
  • having decision-makers primarily addressing your male colleagues, even if they’re junior to you;
  • working harder to receive the same recognition as your male peers;
  • having your ideas ignored unless they’re rephrased by your male colleagues;
  • worrying so much about being either “too nice” or “sharp elbowed” that it hurts your ability to be effective;
  • frequently being asked how you manage your work-life balance; and
  • not having peers who have been through similar situations to support you during tough times.

Wojcicki states that by employing more women at all levels of a company, it creates a virtuous cycle that has proven to address both explicit and implicit gender discrimination.

So, how can we work with startups to take these biases out of the picture from the very start of a company’s formation?

Experience of Women Entrepreneurs at MIT

Steph Speirs

Steph Speirs, co-founder of Solstice presents at MIT delta v Demo Day, 2016

At MIT, we embrace the philosophy that diversity fuels innovation. By bringing together people with different backgrounds and experiences – people who don’t necessarily think the same way or agree with you – you will spark innovation from these diverse perspectives, even though it may be more difficult working together at first.

We also believe that hiring more women is part of the solution. We’re proud that 45% of our 2017 delta v cohort are women, and 75% of our teams have at least one female co-founder. I reached out to several of these female entrepreneurs and asked one fundamental question:

What is your perspective on what is being done at MIT and elsewhere to help women entrepreneurs?

Overall, I heard that:

  • Women are looking for role models and opportunities;
  • It is less about the classes at MIT and more about experiencing – programs that allow students to challenge themselves; or the attraction of going out of their comfort zone was appealing to them;
  • Many women have spent time with a non-profit, being motivated by a strong connection to the mission but it was often limiting as well;
  • There was a strong feeling of wanting to do things or make things happen as a reason to become an entrepreneur;
  • Several women had family members who were entrepreneurs, giving them a built-in role model;
  • In general, role models were significant – and seeing a female role model or working with a team with a woman founder was a clear reason for their interest in entrepreneurship.

Three of the entrepreneurs in particular summed up the feelings that many have – a hesitancy and second-guessing that sometimes held them back. Yet, the power of role models and mentorship helped propel them forward.

“Even when I started GETRID I didn’t really think I could be an entrepreneur, and kept telling everyone for a while that this is just a school project. Only when we had external validation (customers) and official external support (FUSE) is when I started believing in our ability.”

Get Rid

“One of the most meaningful moments was in the FUSE accelerator when [Entrepreneur-in-Residence] Nick asked the cohort on the first day ‘Who made money today?’ When I was the only one who raised my hand, and everybody clapped, it helped me realized that we accomplished something and it might indicate that we have the ability to succeed.”

 

-Bar Pereg, Founder of GETRID

Bloomers“As an engineer, I started asking questions about how things work. I wondered ‘Who is going to fix these big problems in the world?’ Then, it dawned on me … I can help fix these problems.”

-Alicia Chong Rodriguez, Founder of Bloomer HealthTech (P.S. To learn more about this female engineer founder and CEO from Costa Rica, read here.)

“Having other women on my team was one of the defining highlights of my first experience in entrepreneurship. These women were visionary, incisive, and caring. They made the team more thoughtful and our work more rigorous. They showed me what I could accomplish with team members that trust one another, are secure in their own contributions, yet are eager to get to the next level.”

-Joanne WongOctant

Here at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, we can see some of these gender differences in action. As we practice for our big Demo Day company presentations, some of the entrepreneurs don’t want to “sell” their companies too strongly, because not everything is proven yet.  We see this much more frequently with the female entrepreneurs than the male entrepreneurs. We let them know that investors want you to explain your vision and the milestones you’ll achieve to get there – and you need to be confident in your presentation and your abilities. This type of mentorship and hands-on experience is one of the ways we believe we can help female entrepreneurs effectively express their ideas and be considered equally alongside their male peers.

Here’s What Other Educational Institutions are Doing?

I also reached out to my personal and professional network and asked colleagues at other universities how they are tackling this issue. I believe their input is valuable and we can learn a lot from each other.

Wharton

“The business case for diversity has already been made. VCs can play an important role. This article from Knowledge@Wharton captures different approaches to Gender Lens Investing. This includes seed funding in targeted sectors (e.g. improving women’s health care or financial inclusion), helping startups sharpen how they think about their market, influencing startups to include women on the board or on the leadership team, or looking closer at policies and practices within the company.”

-Dr. Candice Reimers, SPHR

Stanford

At Stanford, Fern Mandelbaum will run three different entrepreneurship courses focused on diversity this coming year — one focused on Entrepreneurship from Diverse Perspectives, one focused on Building Diverse and Inclusive Organizations, and one about Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital from the Perspective of Women. They are popular courses (she’s increased from two last year) that address these topics, bringing in a wide range of diverse role models with entrepreneurial and/or investing experience

-Deb Whitman, Director, Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Stanford Graduate School of Business

Our hope is that by examining, and hopefully eliminating, these biases at the beginning – when a company is first formed – it will lead to more equality, parity, and diverse viewpoints as the company grows. What better place to start than at the university level?

Come see how we’ve tackled this issue head on at the MIT delta v Demo Day on September 9 – Join us at Kresge Auditorium, and we’ll also live-stream the presentations.

Originally published on the MIT Sloan Experts blog, here.

A Key Milestone for MIT delta v Entrepreneur Teams: The Board of Directors Meeting

BOD pres_2

We’re about two-thirds through this summer’s MIT delta v educational accelerator, where student entrepreneurs participate in a rigorous “entrepreneurship boot camp” from June to early September. The students work on their ventures full time, and I am reminded of how much progress can be made when this is their sole focus.

Our 21 delta v teams have been preparing their companies for escape velocity and launching into the real world. To do this, they must discover who their customers are, understand their customers better than their competitors, and uncover which attributes of their value proposition really resonate. This is a key time to figure out if they really have a viable business or not.

One of the major milestones for the group is presenting to a mock board of directors. The board is made up of heavy hitters – business executives, entrepreneurs, faculty, and domain experts – and it’s always a tough hurdle for the teams to communicate their vision and business plan clearly and succinctly. The students have been living and breathing the intricacies of their businesses every day, and now they need to convince others to grasp and embrace their vision.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Communication before, during, and follow-up after the board meetings is key to successfully working with a board.  This can be difficult, because teams enter these meetings assuming that they can communicate a lot of detailed information about this idea they have been working on for some time. However, a board can only understand so much without getting “slide fatigue” or overload.

It is especially difficult if the business is very technical or requires deep expertise in a field such as healthcare. Students need to communicate their company’s value proposition in a way that people outside their field will understand. Their board of directors can include very smart people with great insight, but they may not be scientists, engineers, or doctors, and may not be as technical as the company founders.

There is a huge opportunity to learn from people on the board – particularly those in the investment community or those who don’t work in your field. These board members want the student companies to succeed. They know a great deal about business fundamentals and have tremendous networks that can help an entrepreneur. If students can’t successfully communicate with them, they will not succeed when out in the real world when they try to raise money.

It is worth learning how to manage interactions in board meetings. Although it is not always easy, entrepreneurs should try to get the best out of each person on the board.

The Feedback Process

After each mock board meeting, board members give feedback to the entrepreneurial teams. Often, the students will get feedback they didn’t anticipate or don’t agree with. This is where it is critical for teams to put their egos aside and really listen. This is their own personal “Shark Tank” – don’t argue, and strive to understand what each board member is trying to teach you. Even if an entrepreneur doesn’t agree with a piece of feedback, these folks have different and varied perspectives that can bring new insight and raise issues the students may not have considered.

Some students feel that a rating system based upon others’ perceptions can be unfair. In class, they are rewarded for completing certain activities; but at delta v, “business is business” and the board is concerned about return on their investment. When teams receive a mark of 75%, some students take that as a “C” and are upset about it, but the board is actually communicating that the team is about three-fourths of the way there with the business – that is positive feedback that the team is showing progress and now needs to finalize a few things.

There are no medals or performance trophies here. It is a harsh reality when a team gets feedback that they may not be communicating effectively, or when they are penalized for failing to meet a commitment. However, this feedback is designed to help the startups ultimately succeed.

Honest Conversations with Your Board Members

Our delta v teams learn that the feedback from the board is essential and the board members can also introduce them to lots of helpful people in their networks. When questions arise such as: “Is my team working collaboratively?’, “Do I have sales traction or a path to sales?”, “Do I need to pivot?” etc., the board members are there to help.

At this point in the accelerator program, you can see many of the student teams transitioning from a research project to building an actual business. The focus on testing hypotheses and assumptions quickly gets teams out of the “analysis paralysis” mode that often dominates an educational environment. The students now narrow their direction, which takes them from theory to a reality-based experience that they are living each day.

Although the students can earn venture money based on meeting a set of milestones, money is not the motivator at delta v. It is learning, working with a team, and ability to execute that are emphasized. The mock board meeting provides teams with enough structure so they don’t get lost in the superficial discussions; they provide a sounding board at this critical point in the business’ development.

I’m looking forward to the remainder of August where the students test their business readiness and audition for Demo Day on September 9th.  We hope you’ll join us!

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.
Solstice

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.
Rendever

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.
ricult

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.

headerimage

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
img_0076_cropped

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