Taking a Well-Deserved Break … and What I’ve Learned

Recently, I left my job at MIT, and I don’t have another job. As the Executive Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, my days (and many nights) were filled with activity – working with students, teaching, and shaping entrepreneurship education programs. All that has stopped, and I’ve taken time to be still, breathe, take stock, and think.

This time of reflection is providing me a much clearer view of what is possible—and realizing the big picture is even bigger than I thought. Quitting your job is not for everyone (and I am very fortunate that I’m in a position where I could do that), however, taking time to make room for other activities is something I highly recommend to everyone. Creating space to see that there are other opportunities, different ways to work, new skills to learn, and passions to embrace is enlightening. (My new passion is tennis! Who knew?)

I have had three acts thus far in my career. I held roles from engineer to executive in tech companies. Then, as an entrepreneur, I navigated two startups through to IPOs, and my third act was a career in academia teaching entrepreneurship in the classroom and through hands-on programs. Each transition had its moments where I said, “What did I get myself into?!” Yet, digging in and being open to learning proved to be rewarding in every case. I’ve had great rides with successful companies, enjoyed relationships with diverse and interesting colleagues, and embarked on learning experiences I could never have imagined. I have traveled the world, thrived in new environments, and have seen colleagues soar and cheered on their success. I’ve learned so much about people and how they think, work, celebrate, and come back from setbacks. It makes you realize that the people you work with truly can make or break any job experience.

As someone with many, varied job experiences, I’ve realized that experience is double-edged sword. On the one hand, you know how to do things, and perhaps you have even forgotten what others have not yet learned. However, experience also can leave you in a lane you know too well and prevent you from taking the risk of trying—and potentially failing—at new skills. When you are starting fresh, you know there will be new risks, new failures, and new experiences.

I am extremely fortunate to have enjoyed every job I’ve had, but I do realize my enjoyment of work is dependent on my own attitude and approach. Approaching each new role as a learning experience helps you get over the hurdles and enjoy the successes. I’ve worked with folks who had deep expertise but lacked some of the skills I have, and we ended up being a terrific team. I am fortunate to have friends from my very first job and from my most recent job, and I make a concerted effort to keep in touch with these people. My network—and talent tree—is something that was built organically with people I enjoy, and it makes a career so rewarding.

In my research findings for my doctorate, it wasn’t a real surprise that matching new graduates with seasoned employees in data analytics roles was a recipe for success. The veterans could contextualize situations for the students based on experience, and the recent graduates would apply that context to achieve a much more robust analysis. Later, my work at MIT included building mentorship programs and creating networking relationships between students, alumni, and startup founders. When I was no longer running these programs, I realized I needed to apply my networking and mentorship skills to myself as well.

Although I am a certified professional coach, it’s true that even coaches need a coach. If you want to do something different and are unsure about how to get there, working with a coach is a perfect way to figure out these decisions. I needed a coach to look at why I was working so hard; although I enjoyed the work and the people, it didn’t feel like it was enough for me at the time. My coach helped me realign my values and aspirations—something that had not been done for quite some time.

I have always been curious, optimistic, and a contributor, but I needed more balance, less commuting (yes, I still commuted through most of the pandemic!), and a good challenge to be passionate about. The first two were difficult to manage in my last job, but there was no lack of challenge, in fact, there were actually too many challenges! I spread myself so thin because I wanted to do everything and for everyone—and this led to an erosion in my passion for my job.

So, as I take time to reflect, I’m betting on myself and focusing on balance. Just creating the space to reflect has let me think about of all sorts of exciting things I can do next, both professionally and personally. I am enthusiastic about the future and approaching new challenges with the renewed energy that taking a break has given me. I hope my story inspires you to give yourself some space to think, reflect and renew!

We See Ourselves as Entrepreneurs, But Others See Our Gender or Race …

Last November, the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship celebrated Women’s Entrepreneurship Month by featuring a different female entrepreneur each day on Instagram. Accompanying each photo was a short Q&A with questions about their entrepreneurship journey, including, “What are 3 words to describe entrepreneurs who are female?”

One response, in particular, stood out to me.  Sonal Singh, founder of Spatio Metrics, said, “I struggle with this one – I’m proud to represent female and minority founders because we’re tenacious, grounded, and human. But at the end of the day, I’m like every other entrepreneur. No preface, no modifier, no disclaimer.” 

Do you see yourself simply as an entrepreneur? A female entrepreneur? A Black female entrepreneur? Do you use the modifier or not? Do you see yourself differently? Do you feel that others note your gender, race, or ethnicity when describing you? There is no right or wrong answer here. 

Sonal’s quote made me think. Is our goal as underrepresented entrepreneurs to be evaluated on exactly the same playing field? Or, should we be thinking about equality versus equity – that is, distributing resources based on the needs of the recipients? Should women and people of color be afforded a leg up until they can catch up? How can established entrepreneurs (of any gender or race) help others who are trying to succeed in launching their own ventures?

To the entrepreneurs reading this blog, my goal is to present information, ideas, and resources as you undertake your entrepreneurial journey. Learn from those who have taken this path before you and be prepared to blaze your own trail, sharing your lessons with those who follow.

Susanne Althoff, the author of the book Launching While Female: Smashing the System That Holds Women Entrepreneurs Back conducted over four years of research on entrepreneurship and gender, race, ethnicity, LGBTQ status, disability status, and other identities. “The entrepreneurial path is harder than it should be [for these groups],” she states. “We’re all missing out on innovation when we do not see full entrepreneurial participation in this country.” If this topic is of interest, be sure to watch the Trust Center’s Speaker Series event featuring Susanne. She urges taking action by being a mentor or a sponsor to help underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Perhaps our differences are what set us apart and make us unique. In this Business Insider article, Simmone Taitt, founder and CEO of Poppy Seed Health, says, “I’m a Black woman in tech, and for some people that counts as being ‘different,’ but for me, it’s just me moving through the world as the person that I am. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t come with challenges. Early in my career I would scratch my head trying to figure out if I was given opportunities or not given opportunities because of my gender, race, or both.”

As today’s underrepresented entrepreneurs try to establish themselves, it’s important to understand some of the challenges they may face.

Underrepresented Entrepreneurs by the Numbers

Let’s take a look at some statistics from Fast Company about women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color based on the 2019 State of Women-Owned Business Report:

  • Women started an average of 1,817 new businesses per day in the U.S.
  • This now represents 42% of nearly 13 million businesses overall
  • These businesses employ 9.4 million workers and generate revenue of $1.9 trillion
  • Women-owned businesses are growing 2X faster on average than all businesses nationwide
  • Women of color are starting businesses at 4.5X the rate of all businesses
  • Women of color represent 39% of the total female population in the U.S. but account for 89% of the net new women-owned businesses per day (1,625)
  • The greatest growth in women-owned businesses happened at the two extremes of the spectrum: low-revenue companies and million-dollar-plus businesses.

What does this mean for you? Maybe it means you are not alone in your pursuits. Underrepresented entrepreneurs are making an impact despite the challenges.

Access to Funding

One of the major challenges for underrepresented entrepreneurs is access to capital to grow their business. Although it is probably not a conscious decision, investors tend to give venture money to people that look like them – they see the potential of people who remind them of themselves. This unconscious bias and lens of exclusion keeps funding away from underrepresented groups.

Another interesting point to consider is that raising money in a “friends and family” round is often the first access to capital for entrepreneurs – but, what if your friends and family don’t have anything to spare?

A CNN Business article interviewed Serena Williams on why Black female founders are often counted out right from the start. Williams has started the venture capital firm Serena Ventures, which invests in companies that embrace diverse leadership, individual empowerment, creativity, and opportunity. Statistics from the article show the discrepancies that face some entrepreneurs.

  • Black women rarely have a wealthy network they can call upon for early investment. The average Black household had a net worth of $17,150 in 2016, nearly 10 times less than their white counterparts.
  • Only 4% of the people who work in venture capital are Black, and only 3% of the people actually leading investments are Black, according to data from the National Venture Capital Association.
  • In 2018 and 2019, Black women founders raised only 0.27% of venture capital according to a data report by digitalundivided.

The Tech Inclusion blog explores similar stats in the technology industry and states, “there’s a reason why the Silicon Valley investor community has been called a ‘good old boys network.’ This is also borne out in the numbers.” One of the sticking points today is that female-founder companies don’t scale to the same level as those started by men. Also, there is a rather large drop off of female founders past the Series B level. They tend to get pushed out one way or another, and this is a very real problem that nobody talks about.

  • Data shows that women-led companies receive less than 5 percent of all venture capital funding, that African-American and Latino founders receive only 1 percent of funding, and that just 0.2 percent of it goes to Black women founders.
  • Compare this to the fact that tech companies led mostly by white, male founders receive over 97 percent of all venture capital funding and the landscape becomes particularly bleak.
  • There are also limitations due to geography. Data shows that almost 45 percent of total global venture-capital investment resides between San Francisco, San Jose, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

The Tech Inclusion blog post is a call to the technology industry “that lives off of and trumpets disruption” and suggests “it’s time for it to disrupt its own patterns of entrenched bias and elitism.” If you are part of the VC industry, think about how you can recognize and strip away your own unconscious biases. If you are an underrepresented entrepreneur seeking funds, look at a VC firm’s record of investments to see if they support diversity. Or investigate funds and organizations run by women or people of color – such as these VC firms that are bridging the gap – who make it part of their mission to support other underrepresented entrepreneurs. 

Access to Networks

In a recent Fast Company article, Shelly Bell, founder of Black Girl Ventures, says, “I experienced firsthand how relationships and introductions are essential to open doors to new opportunities as a serial entrepreneur. I can not emphasize this enough: Black and Brown entrepreneurs, especially women, need access to new networks.” She continues, “I believe in the power of building community to bring about systemic change…Everyone can play a part. Donate your time, expertise, or money to ecosystem builders. Bring diverse voices to the table and listen to what they have to say.”

A related area where women are advancing is representation on corporate boards, enabling access to the networking opportunities they provide. California was the first state to sign a Women on Boards bill into law in 2018 to advance equitable gender representation on California corporate boards. At least 11 other states have enacted or are considering board diversity legislation, according to the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance. The Forum reports, “The statutes are grounded on a large body of empirical evidence that board diversity contributes significantly to ‘good governance’ and improved financial performance. Businesses must focus on enhancing the diversity of their boards to both comply with the new statutory requirements and secure the underlying benefits to their performance.”

Despite Lack of Access, Women Entrepreneurs Deliver a Better Return

Yet, despite a lack of access to funding and networks, there is data that women-run businesses are more successful than those run by men. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) wrote an in-depth, research-based article on “Why Women-Owned Startups Are a Better Bet.” According to their research, the investment gap is real. When women business owners pitch their ideas to investors for early-stage capital, they receive on average $1 million less than men. Yet businesses founded by women ultimately deliver higher revenue – more than twice as much per dollar invested – than those founded by men, making women-owned companies better investments for financial backers.

Why? The article postulates several reasons, including that women founders and their presentations are subject to more challenges and pushback – this may ultimately mean they are more rigorously screened. Secondly, male founders are more likely to make bold projections and assumptions in their pitches – and this may backfire in the long run.

How can you use this information to your advantage? BCG’s advice is that women entrepreneurs (and by extension all underrepresented entrepreneurs) should ask for bigger investments during pitches, and also ask more frequently. They should avoid underselling their companies and focus on the positives. They should arm themselves with objective data and be prepared to deflect and defend against unwarranted criticisms.

The Issue of Scale. What Are Your Goals?

Of course, as an entrepreneur, it’s important to assess your personal goals. We hear about Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk jockeying to be the richest entrepreneur in the world with wealth measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars. But not all entrepreneurs have the same aspirations.

Almost 90% of businesses owned by women generate no more than $100,000 yearly, according to the What to Become blog. Is this because women focus more on B2C rather than B2B businesses – and often in the health and beauty industries? Half of all women-owned businesses are in the categories of personal services, healthcare and social assistance, or professional and technical services, according to the American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. We also need to remember that not all entrepreneurs work full time – this may be their goal for purposes of work/life balance, or the entrepreneurship gig may be a side hustle to supplement income.

This report states that “as work trends shift towards side hustles and the gig economy, so does female entrepreneurship…part-time entrepreneurship, often referred to as ‘sidepreneurship,’ is providing additional options to traditional employment and entrepreneurship for women.” This points to the conclusion that more underrepresented entrepreneurs may be considered need-based versus innovation-based entrepreneurs. Need-based entrepreneurs may start their own business after losing a job, to supplement their income, or to gain the flexibility they need in their lives. The What to Become blog states that “flexibility related to family care is the main reason why women start their businesses…women choose to be self-employed five times more often than men because of their families.”

At the Trust Center, our focus is innovation-based entrepreneurs, and these are typically the entrepreneurs vying for venture capital. However, that doesn’t discount the efforts of need-based entrepreneurs who are seeking the benefits of being your own boss, flexibility with childcare or elder care, and providing opportunities for yourself that a company can’t. All entrepreneurs deserve a shot at the funding and networks needed to help their businesses thrive.

Conclusion

“Women-owned businesses are driving economic growth in the United States…Yet there is a significant size disparity between these businesses and others,” states the State of Women-Owned Business Report. “Closing the gap benefits everyone, not just women…[this] requires changes in policies, business practices and attitudes. Some changes, such as family leave and affordable childcare, impact all working women while others, such as training and access to capital and markets, are specific to particular segments of business owners.”

The economic realities of the current pandemic may serve to jump start entrepreneurial activity according to The Boston Globe. “One team of researchers estimated that if U.S. women launched high-growth firms at the same rate as men, we’d add 15 million jobs in only two years. If we hope to turn around our pandemic-ravaged economy, we’re going to need lots more entrepreneurs.”

In summary, as a community we need to recognize how much underrepresented entrepreneurs bring to the table – and how much more they could bring with the right support.

How can you find support?

Listed below are some resources, studies, and reports as a starting point.

MIT Resources:

Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship

MIT Orbit – A resource for exploring entrepreneurship (most info is available to everyone)

Resources Beyond MIT

ICIC: 12 Organizations Driving Inclusive Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

BostInno: Guide – Resources for underrepresented entrepreneurs in Boston

The Root: In 2020, Who is Helping Black Women Start Their Own Businesses?

Ladies Who Launch: Founder Resources for Black Women Entrepreneurs

Studies / Reports:

Guidant Financial: Women in Business – 2020 Trends

Cornerstone Capital Group: Women Entrepreneurs: Foundational to Economic Recovery

NVCA-Deloitte Human Capital Survey: Diversity & Inclusion in the VC Industry

Boston Consulting Group: Why Women-Owned Startups are a Better Bet

American Express: State of Women-Owned Businesses, 2019

Pivots, a Pandemic, and Startup Founders’ Mental Health

The pandemic affects everyone. Today, we are all dealing with a different model for living – many people are working or attending school virtually, there is less social interaction, greater isolation, more juggling of home and work duties, and of course the anxiety and pain if loved ones become sick or die from COVID-19. A study by the CDC in June of this year reported 40% of US adults are struggling with mental health or substance abuse – substantially higher figures than in 2019.

Where does that leave our entrepreneurs? Beginning in March, the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship closed its doors until further notice. We are continuing to support MIT’s entrepreneurship community virtually, including via online resources like Orbit. This past summer, our delta v accelerator moved to a completely virtual experience, including online Demo Day presentations.

One question we continue to ask ourselves is:
How has the pandemic affected the mental health of entrepreneurs?

Building Entrepreneurial Confidence

As we look to answer that question, we realize we were fortunate that MIT started the first self-awareness program for entrepreneurs last year – the Entrepreneurial Confidence and Communication (ECC) Program. We piloted this program with the delta v accelerator class of 2019 to help student entrepreneurs prioritize their own individual well-being while building their businesses. The culture of entrepreneurship celebrates working 24/7 to demonstrate passion and dedication for your business. A founder’s self-identity is often tied to the success of their startup, and as a result, entrepreneurs often experience loneliness, depression, and anxiety as they work through the normal ups and downs of startup life. This has only been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic which has caused delays, roadblocks, and failures for many startups.

Traditionally, entrepreneurs have lacked the support and tools to improve their mental well-being. The ECC pilot program, created by MIT Sloan MBA alumna Kathleen Stetson, taught MIT student entrepreneurs the tools and benefits of self-awareness; they then applied their learnings – discussing key choices entrepreneurs face, such as: taking breaks vs. spending all your time on your startup, working through limiting beliefs, considering others’ perspectives, and approaching challenges with fear or curiosity. The results were impressive, after taking part in the program 93% of participants felt that a self-awareness practice could help entrepreneurs create more successful businesses.

This year, because of the additional stress due to the pandemic, and the need for teams to feel connected when working remotely, we added two simple elements to the small groups within the ECC program that startup teams could quickly and easily implement in their own team interactions:

Red/yellow/green check-in – this not only encouraged small group members to practice self-awareness during small group, but many teams took this check-in strategy back to their teams, practicing it at the beginning of each of their standups.

A more structured way to give and receive help – after a small group member expressed a challenge they were facing, small group members asked clarifying questions rather than immediately jumping into solutions and advice. This not only made the speaker feel that they were heard, but helped participants practice active listening. They then took this back to their team interactions, helping them better understand their team members’ perspectives.

In a Fast Company article, Kathleen Stetson explains, “The 24/7, hustle-till-you-drop attitude has been a problematic fixture of startup culture for years. And now, due to the pandemic, sustaining one’s health is even harder. ‘I don’t know a startup founder who’s not burned out,’ a founder friend of mine told me recently.”

The Pivot: A Key Pandemic Strategy

“Pivot” has become the go-to word for 2020. People are pivoting with career changes and businesses are pivoting with strategies, as we all try to keep moving forward dealing with the unanticipated changes brought by a global pandemic. Entrepreneurs need to realize that a startup failure can be due to external circumstances, and the founders are not marked with a scarlet “F” for failure. A change in business strategy or taking a break from trying to start your own company is a pivot that will make you stronger the next time.

One of our delta v teams faced this type of challenge recently. Easel was a startup service that matched parents with top quality centers for last-minute childcare needs. The company was a member of the delta v class of 2019 and was faced with the tough decision to wind down the business this year. With the COVID-19 pandemic, so many people have transitioned to working from home that their childcare model was no longer sustainable. Although childcare continues to be a huge need, co-founders Neha Sharma and Michael Leonard realized they would need to shelve their plans for Easel and pivot to the next chapter in their lives. However, as delta v’s Managing Director Bill Aulet stated, “I still chalk these up to success for sure. They are much stronger than when they got here.” That strength, in part, came from MIT’s ECC program.

This type of a transition is one that often tests an entrepreneur’s sense of worth and purpose. They have put blood, sweat, and tears into their business only to watch their dreams fade. As stated in the Thrive Global article I co-authored with Kathleen Stetson, startup founders “tend to connect their self-worth and identity to their start-ups, which can lead to feelings of depression if their start-up fails.” Yet, 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. This is why MIT is proud to host the Entrepreneurial Confidence and Communication program – the first comprehensive program to address mental health challenges in the start-up community and teach entrepreneurs how to effectively manage stress.

How did we adapt MIT’s Venture Accelerator as a Virtual Experience?

2020 is a year we’ll remember for many things, but 2020 graduates will certainly remember how typically crowd-filled graduation ceremonies were transformed into unique and socially distanced celebration amid COVID-19 restrictions. At MIT’s delta v, we can relate. We are just starting our summer-long student venture accelerator program, and, our entire program – start-to-finish will be virtual this year.

What does that mean? Although our fantastic space at the Martin Trust Center – usually buzzing with activity – will be dark, we’ve created a virtual model to provide a unique experience and lots of new and different opportunities for our student-entrepreneurs. At the end of the summer, these students will kick-start their ventures and reach escape velocity with a final presentation of their startup companies at Demo Day. We anticipate seeing some of the best and brightest new startups ever to come out of MIT, because – as said by Benjamin Franklin – “Out of adversity comes opportunity.”

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Prepping to Go Virtual

The delta v program has become known as a “transformative experience that only MIT could provide,” and the entrepreneurs that go through this program are truly helping to make the world a better place (Check out this video for 2-minute synopsis.) Many MIT programs were cancelled this summer, but thanks to Managing Director Bill Aulet’s advocacy across MIT and with the Trust Center donors, this summer’s virtual delta v program has become a reality. 

Students joining this program, and the whole MIT community, have major expectations of delta v. So, we knew we would need to go beyond just transitioning to Zoom meetings and putting our content online. We looked at what worked for MIT’s remote learning classes in the spring, and also reached out to our entrepreneurial education colleagues at other universities to gain their insight.

We held brainstorming sessions and many, many meetings to figure out how we could make this year’s delta v experience engaging and interactive. We honestly looked at the challenges and worked hard to address issues like onboarding, the lack of personal connections, less-than-ideal work from home situations, and “Zoom fatigue.” We knew that engagement, high-touch experiences, and cohort learning would all be essential for making this a success, and we put in extra effort to ensure delta v would not lose its special touch.

The 2020 Cohort

Our 2020 cohort of delta v teams was the smallest we’ve had in six years – 11 teams in Cambridge and six in New York City. We purposely selected fewer teams to allow for more individualized attention from our Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIRs), who are spending dedicated online time mentoring each team. (This also means if you didn’t get selected this year, think about applying again for 2021!)

This infographic shows the makeup of our 2020 delta cohort. Each year, we work on trying to get a diverse and balanced group of entrepreneurs tackling problems in a variety of industries.

More Talent!

A big part of delta v is learning from the pros. One of the benefits of our virtual session this summer is the sheer number of experts we’ve been able to line up. In fact, in the month of June alone, the delta v teams will have opportunities to hear from 21 different speakers delivering workshops.

With a virtual program, we have the benefit of being able to approach experts who are located anywhere, rather than focusing only on local resources or those willing to travel to the MIT campus. This summer, our students are fortunate enough to learn from many outstanding experts, including the following people:

Ryan Choi, MIT Alum, now with Y Combinator for a discussion on finding product-market fit and will be back for a discussion on hiring

Eleanor Carey, who spent 62 days at sea, rowing from California to Hawaii, gave an inspiring talk relating to the realities of entrepreneurship

James Baum, technology leader, investor, and advisor, who shared his advice on managing boards and will be back for office hours

George Petrovas, serial entrepreneur, who shared his founder journey and is on a delta v mock board

Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group will talk about fundraising in a Covid-19 environment

John Belizaire, CEO of Soluna, will speak about leadership

Perry Cohen, Founder Executive Director of The Venture Out Project will speak about his journey

Plus, our amazing faculty including Kirk Arnold, Kit Hickey, Erin Scott, Jason Jay, Bill Aulet, Paul Cheek, and Dip Patel.

More Mindfulness

This year at delta v, we will build on our Entrepreneurial Confidence and Communication (ECC) program to teach tools for self-awareness and mindfulness with the goal of better mental health and “anti-fragility” for entrepreneurs. We recently wrote about this program for the Harvard Business Review, and it has been well-received by students and the community. We believe that if we teach new entrepreneurs how to work through the stresses of entrepreneurship more effectively, it will lead to better decision making and healthier choices for their life and their business.

An interesting dimension to this year’s delta v cohort is that they are particularly receptive to learning about meditation and mindfulness for stress reduction, according to Kathleen Stetson, our ECC coach and creator of the program. She believes this is a direct result of the proliferation of information in the news and on social media about mental health concerns during the pandemic.

Demo Day

This year, Demo Day may be where we see the biggest impact of going virtual. Traditionally, at the end of the summer, all of the delta v teams gather to formally present their startups to the MIT entrepreneurship community. Things will change this year, but we are making some amazing plans for Demo Day and a post-event networking experience.

We will also hold a Virtual Investor Day, which is new this summer.  This will focus specifically on the financial foundation of the startups and will allow the final Demo Day pitches to be a bit shorter. Students will benefit by having two completed pitches when they finish the program.

Conclusion

Conducting the delta v accelerator program virtually is a first for all of us – we are learning too. We strive to bring this year’s delta v cohort an incredible and rewarding experience, and we are open to feedback and suggestions.

The delta v student venture accelerator is the most inspiring environment I can think of for an entrepreneur. There’s an energy here that propels each of our teams forward. For 90 days, our student-entrepreneurs will eat, sleep, and breathe their startups. They will be guided through a process that makes them really think through the realities of starting an actual business, not just chasing a cool idea. Our fervent desire is that some of our student-entrepreneurs will create companies that will help to solve some of the big, global problems we are seeing in our world today – such as preventing the next pandemic or eradicating racism.

As the delta v leadership team, our opportunity this summer is to assist our students in their educational journeys as entrepreneurs and to guide them in making entrepreneurship a force for good.

Finding the “Aha!” moment at MIT’s Entrepreneur Development Program

“Enjoy every moment of being fire-hosed.”

This slightly scary piece of encouragement might leave you with a bit of trepidation. But, an alum of MIT’s week-long Entrepreneurship Development Program (EDP) vows this program changed her business completely.

So, what is MIT’s Entrepreneurship Development Program? Let me offer a peek inside the program from the view of a faculty member and coach. I personally find it fascinating part to witness professionals experience their “Aha!” moment during the program – that sudden moment of realization, inspiration, and insight in their entrepreneurial journey.

Bill Aulet kicks off a session on Disciplined Entrepreneurship

For the third year in a row I recently assisted in teaching and facilitating this MIT Executive Education program with Bill Aulet. The group of people who attend EDP are highly motivated, driven, and want to make a positive impact in the world. These individuals are seasoned professionals who are used to delivering results, so we needed to provide the material in a way so that it can be applied to their real world. The MIT style of learning “mens et manus” (which translates from Latin to mind and hand) is a good match for the EDP cohorts. MIT provides the theory and reinforces it with the practical.

The global life experiences in the class make for such a vibrant community. They ask questions to deepen their understanding, and by doing so, we become better educators. The 2020 week-long program had 104 participants from 27 countries and six continents. The participants listen to a MIT fire hose of information during the day and apply the lessons in teams during the evening by going through simulations with coaching from experienced entrepreneurs.

Participants come together on their first day, and we put them through an introduction, then they jump right into entrepreneurial speed dating, pitching ideas, and form teams before they leave that evening. The balance of the rest of the week consists of the Disciplined Entrepreneurship (DE) framework, coaching, and ecosystem tours. The program is not for the faint of heart. It truly is a constant fire hose of content. EDP is more than an entrepreneurial mindset as these folks are building out ecosystems, starting companies, and came to the Entrepreneurship Development Program specifically to learn Disciplined Entrepreneurship. 

These entrepreneurs see the effect they can have in the world through entrepreneurship. After recovery from the week, one participant said, “I am already working on the social enterprise that I have been wanting to build for 10 years, but I didn’t know how to make it into a business.” I appreciate the opportunity to teach and coach in such a results-based program.

During the school year, 90% of my day to day is made up of teaching, leading programs, and supporting current MIT Students. About 10% of my day is working in Executive Education and community building. EDP is such an essential part of our ecosystem as it brings frameworks, application, and experience to people from all over the globe who are experienced executives but are looking to take their entrepreneurial initiatives to the next level.

EDP coaches

However, our MIT educators are not the only ones teaching about the entrepreneurial ecosystem. In EDP, we bring entrepreneurs who have launched after participating in our various entrepreneurship programs. Companies like AirWorks, Floating Point Group, CaroCare, and Ministry of Supply. We also introduce non-MIT related support like Greentown Labs and the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC).

No one program can claim the success of any MIT startup, as it is the collective ecosystem that encourages those at MIT to reach back into the community to help others rise up. Many of the people who come to the Entrepreneurship Development Program are already active in their entrepreneurship ecosystems, bringing the Disciplined Entrepreneurship lessons to others. This is the impact of EDP.  We continue to foster the community.

Here is some of the feedback from participants:

MIT Entrepreneur Development Program, class of 2020

Dale Cree, CEO, 3EN Cloud ltd
“At the end of the day, it was absolute proof, you need to complete the 24 steps to have any chance at all. Greatest foundation for any business journey. MIT EDP.”

Kasper Juul, Director, External Innovation at LEO Science & Tech Hub
“The combination of inspiring lectures and practical exercises, with the support of experienced entrepreneurial mentors is simply invaluable. This makes for a very intense course with a steep learning curve that will push you to your limit while having lots of fun. Most importantly EPD makes you feel part of a community that will continue to support you on the entrepreneurial journey.”

Mariam AlEissa, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Fellow at MIT
“I’m so grateful to be part of the Entrepreneurship Development Program where I learned innovative ideas can’t be delivered without entrepreneurial skills. As a Saudi woman, I’m fortunate to live in a time where women empowered as part of 2030 vision and I’m trying my best to be ready to play an active role in my community at all levels.”

Dr. Dani Abu Ghaida, Technology Leader working with Middle East organizations to create, build and launch new ventures
“What particularly attracted me [to EDP] is to find answers on what I did wrong in the ventures I have led and that failed prior to EDP. EDP not only answered this question but gave me the motivation to move ahead and pursue multiple programs at MIT leading to the ACE [Advanced Executive Certificate] qualification I have now. This journey has equipped me with the tools that I need to answer all the management, strategy, innovation, operations, and supply chain challenges I can face as a venture leader, business executive, and a person who wants to change the world.”

Mary Rodgers, Innovation Community Manager, PorterShed (past participant)
“Since returning to Galway, MIT EDP has become an integral part of our daily working lives. Managing a co-working Tech Hub, I regularly meet with entrepreneurs at different stages of their life cycle. I used the DE [Disciplined Entrepreneurship] roadmap to refocus the companies, and provide an objective, practical, advice and actions to progress.”

Want to learn more? Visit these websites:

Entrepreneurship Development Program

Disciplined Entrepreneurship

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.

Entrepreneurship 2020: A Look Ahead

Heading into a new decade is a time for both reflection and predictions. What have we learned about entrepreneurship? And what do we see as trends moving forward?

2019 marked the tenth summer that MIT’s Martin Trust Center has hosted an accelerator and the eighth year of our formal MIT delta v program. I’ve had the pleasure of leading delta v for the past five years, and I’ve seen tremendous growth during that time. The summer-long bootcamp works with entrepreneurs who enter with an idea for their business and progress to product creation and new venture launch. The program is based on the Disciplined Entrepreneurship framework with the philosophy that entrepreneurship can be taught; you don’t have to be born an entrepreneur.

A Decade of Success at MIT’s delta v Accelerator

We’ve studied the path of the companies coming out of delta v; as of January 2018, 101 teams made up of 316 students had taken part, and a full 75% of these startups were either still in business or had been acquired – far above the average for new ventures. These delta v alumni companies employ more than 500 workers across the globe, and 25% of our teams have ten or more employees. According to figures on Crunchbase, as of November 2019, delta v teams have raised more than $215 million from 375+ investments. One-third of the companies raised at least $1M+, and six teams have exceeded $10M+ in funding rounds.

In the words of one of our board members, Max Faingezicht, “delta v is a driving force of the entrepreneurial ecosystem where you mix talent with motivation to go out and change the world.”

So, what changes do we anticipate in the next decade of entrepreneurship? Some of the broader trends we see are ones reflected in delta v.

A Rise in Women Entrepreneurs is Impacting the Economy

It is a fact that women entrepreneurs are driving economic growth. According to an article in Forbes on 10 Stats that Build the Case for Investing in Women-Led Startups, women were the sole or majority owners of an estimated 12.3 million U.S. businesses at the beginning of 2018, and are starting businesses at a rate of more than 1,800 per day. The number of women-owned companies is growing at a faster rate than all businesses and women of color are driving this. In addition, companies founded by women deliver higher revenue – more than 2 times as much per dollar invested – than those founded by men.  

Four out of every ten businesses in the U.S. are owned by women, according to The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). These businesses tend to be smaller in terms of revenue and employment. In fact, 88% of women-owned businesses generate less than $100,000 in annual revenue, while 1.7% generated more than $1 million in revenue – although both segments are growing.

At MIT’s delta v we see more women taking leadership roles in the startups. With each cohort, we strive for diverse gender and ethnic backgrounds plus a worldwide perspective, and we proactively aim to neutralize gender bias for entrepreneurs. Diverse teams offer a tremendous benefit in terms of networking and help each other solve challenges, supporting our philosophy that diversity fuels innovation. We’ve also seen that the rate of our successful women-led startups is even higher than the delta v average.

Mentorship Lays the Foundation for Entrepreneurial Success

An article in VentureBeat explains that people with access to a mentor are five times more likely to be interested in starting a business than those without a mentor. Mentorship is linked with business success, and business owners who receive three-plus hours of counseling report higher revenues and employment growth rates. The article also states nearly half of women entrepreneurs say one of the top challenges they face is finding a mentor who can direct them to the resources and organizations that can help them launch their businesses. 

At delta v, our Entrepreneurs-in-Residence and board members are built-in mentors for our student teams. Both bring resources and experience to guide the new entrepreneurs on their journey. We also encourage student entrepreneurs to find their voice. This requires mentees to speak up and be active participants in the process. They need to own their narrative, identify what is of value to them, and speak up to find a mentor or sponsor and make that relationship fruitful.

Gen Z’s Vision of Entrepreneurship

Although we work with a lot of Millennials in delta v, it’s interesting to keep an eye on the upcoming generation of entrepreneurs. (Pew Research considers anyone born between 1981 and 1996 a Millennial, and anyone born from 1997 onward is part of Generation Z.)

Gen Z has different priorities and different frames of reference than the entrepreneurs who preceded them. Amazon’s next-day delivery has always been a thing for them. They never went to Blockbuster to rent a movie and social media permeates their lives. As a result, internet-based business models are second nature; “Uberize” is even a verb used to describe a business model. Entrepreneur states that 41% of Gen Z-ers plan to become entrepreneurs.

Interestingly, Millennials are less likely to become entrepreneurs, according to a study from the U.S. Small Business Administration. It revealed that fewer than 4 percent of 30-year-olds are actively engaged in entrepreneurship, compared with 5.4 percent of Generation X-ers and 6.7 percent of Baby Boomers who were entrepreneurs at the same age. Coming of age during a time of recession and burdened with student debt, many Millennials turned to side gigs to make money. I explored the gig economy in my Xconomy article on Necessity vs. Innovation-based Entrepreneurs. Interestingly, necessity entrepreneurship is strongly counter-cyclical – that is, recessions drive necessity-based entrepreneurs to start their businesses.

As each new generation makes its way in the world, it is fascinating to see how they view entrepreneurship and the new types of businesses they create.

What’s Ahead for delta v?

With the data we have gathered on the delta v teams over the past decade, one of our next steps is to develop a more scalable playbook so that we can extend our reach even further. At MIT, we rely on observations, research, and experimentation. Our motto, mens et manus (which translates from Latin to “mind and hand”), is present in everything we do. In entrepreneurship classes and programs, this approach is vital. Our students don’t automatically have a higher success rate; they learn the fundamentals of becoming an entrepreneur hands-on. At the Martin Trust Center, we have integrated the mechanics of new venture creation in curriculum, programming, community support, and we have validated them on a world stage.

As the collective knowledge of entrepreneurship improves, we continue to move forward to meet the needs of the entire entrepreneur. However, like any discovery, it takes several experiments and iterations to fully understand aspects of the problem you are trying to solve. We realize that mental fortitude and self-awareness are crucial to moving forward and are implementing some exciting new programming in this area.

As we prepare to lead entrepreneurs into the next decade, there are some “big rocks” to address. We need to prepare students for financial discussions and mental stamina for the funding process. We need to focus on establishing a culture and nurturing it, supported by our team. A business reflects the character of the founding and growing team, so the journey starts with an individual and builds to a long-term game.

Why Give Back? Reflections from delta v Board Members

At MIT delta v, the capstone educational accelerator for MIT students run by the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, our board members are a very special part of the entrepreneurial mix. Each summer, the student teams work extremely hard to identify their beachhead market, build the right product, and secure initial customers as they form and grow their startup companies. On a daily basis, they receive mentorship and coaching from the Trust Center staff and the Entrepreneurs in Residence, but the rubber really meets the road when it’s time for the board of directors meetings. The board members bring in their real life, outside perspectives as the teams prepare to formally present their startups at the culmination of the program on Demo Day.

The delta v students live and breathe each detail of their startups every day, and interactions with their board members gives the students a chance to step back, look at the big picture, and convince others of their vision. They must rise to the challenge of communicating their business plan clearly and succinctly. There is a huge opportunity to learn from people on the board, who know a great deal about business fundamentals and have tremendous networks that can help an entrepreneur.

Our board members are incredible! Each of them is assigned to a startup team based on their industry interest, and they dedicate a minimum of 90 minutes per month during the summer to these meetings, not even counting preparation and follow up. The board’s specific role is to evaluate a team’s progress based upon rubrics and metrics focusing on customer and market understanding in month one, product development in month two, and the readiness of the business to launch in month three. In each meeting, the board evaluates how successful the team has been in meeting benchmarks and then awards the team an associated amount of equity-free funding. As a result, both the teams and the members of the board take these meetings very seriously.

But what’s in it for these volunteer board members?

Each of these people are highly successful, incredibly busy business executives, entrepreneurs, faculty, or domain experts. I’m sure each and every one could use a little extra downtime in their lives – especially over the summer – but instead they choose to engage with us at delta v. None do so passively; they come prepared and are tough graders for these student teams. Since delta v is an education accelerator, none of them have an equity stake in the companies they advise.

So why give back? I reached out and asked board members why they chose to do this. Their answers are truly amazing and inspiring.

Why have you chosen to give of your time, talent, and wisdom?

“Entrepreneurship requires a support network. It is almost impossible to do it alone. I have received so much support from the MIT ecosystem (that) I want to do whatever I can to help provide the same support for others in the community.” Adam Blake, entrepreneur and investor, Board Member for Viridis

“To me, the energy that radiates from the MIT community is like no other in the world. The ‘pay-it-forward’ mindset is so intrinsic to the culture at MIT; thus, I feel honored to be able to share anything I have learned so far, which might be helpful to others.” Amanda von Goetz, FERMATA Profiling,
Board Member for
Season Three

“My brain finds all this engaging. The board members and the structure help these [students] move along on their developmental path, which in turn contributes to the world’s ‘good’ business karma.”
Antoinette Russell, Eaton Vance, Board Member for
CaroCare

“I have received a lot of help and encouragement in my career to take on tasks that seemed impossible (sort of like starting a company!), and this is my way of paying it forward.” Chris Zannetos, Covered Security, Board Member for Quantifai

“All the time I invest in it is well spent, for it’s equally inspiring and enriching to hear new ideas, thought processes, and extract so much from all this talented and diverse melting pot.” Jerome Selva, IBM Watson Customer Engagement, Board Member for Quantifai

“Entrepreneurship matters! It drives our society forward and helps us solve the world’s greatest problems. Giving our time and sharing our experience is how we keep the startup fire alive.” Max Faingezicht. Entrepreneur, Board Member for Precavida

“Servant leadership is very important to me – it’s all about enriching the lives of others, building better organizations and ultimately creating a world that is more caring and equitable.” Rita B. Allen, Rita B. Allen Associates, Board Member for CaroCare

With all the worthy causes, why delta v?

“It’s always as much of a learning experience for me to be a part of a team on the ground floor of some amazing ventures. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to network with students in the program, as well as colleagues and business professionals/executives throughout different disciplines and industries within the Boston community.” – Rita B. Allen

 “delta v is the program that I wish existed when I was a student. I believe it epitomizes the ‘manus’ part of the MIT motto ‘mens et manus’ and serves as one of the most important mechanisms for enabling MIT technology and talent to create value for the world.” Adam Blake

“It is an incredible opportunity to connect and reconnect with out-of-this-world alumni from all corners of the MIT community, to problem solve alongside diverse minds, and to continue learning and growing through the experiences of others.” – Amanda von Goetz

“delta v is a driving force of the entrepreneurial ecosystem where you mix talent with motivation to go out and change the world.” Max Faingezicht

What is one thing that you can look back on during this summer’s program that makes you say, “This was worthwhile”?

“The common passion and conviction embodied by the participants – alumni, faculty, and board of directors – to seek ways to make the world a better place.” – Jérôme Selva

“The team I worked with is moving to India to start the company that they worked on. I’d like to think that we helped them to refine their approach over the summer and seeing the team follow through with real action is very gratifying.” – Adam Blake

“To be able to be a part of the launch and initial pilots of CaroCare, a new venture founded by two visionary young women.” – Rita B. Allen

 “I have found the teams to be tremendously open to feedback and re-assessing their assumptions; seeing them not just take our advice on face value, but really evaluating the feedback and exploring whether it should impact their plans. That makes it worthwhile.” – Chris Zannetos

“Seeing the progress of the teams is humbling. The amount of work that happens in just a few weeks gives us a glimpse of what is possible when we are focused and determined.” Max Faingezicht

“The team’s energy, their passion, their pure and unbridled excitement for what they do, is contagious in the best possible way. This is positive energy that reinvigorates and re-inspires you, which you can then take back with you into your own respective spheres.” – Amanda von Goetz

If you could share one piece of advice with students as they launch their startups, what would it be?

“You need to lead. Never forget that pivoting – and communicating the pivots – is an integral component of building.  You cannot build this on your own – you need those teammates – but you also need to lead.” – Antoinette Russell

 “Try to get as far as you can with as little capital as you can before scaling up.” – Adam Blake

“Get physically fit and work as hard as possible to stay that way. Being a founder is not an easy job, and it comes with a pretty hefty amount of stress. For that reason, it is really important that you stay as strong and healthy as possible. Get into ‘fighting shape,’ not just for yourself, but also for your team, and for all of the people who believe in you.” – Amanda von Goetz

“Be intellectually honest about your assumptions and challenge them constantly.” – Chris Zannetos

“Follow your passion, fuel your conviction, focus on outcomes to succeed together! The results will come!” – Jérôme Selva

“It’s always about people. Don’t get lost in the minutia and forget about your team, your customers, your partners, or your investors. In the end, people make up the journey, and that will determine the breadth of your impact.” Max Faingezicht

“Stay humble, honest, paranoid, and ALWAYS hustle.” – Rita B. Allen

One final note …

I’d like to give a big thank you to Martin Trust and his family; without him there would be no platform for delta v. Marty Trust passed away recently, and he will be fondly remembered by all of us at the center that bears his name. To learn more about Marty and his legacy, read this tribute by our Managing Director, Bill Aulet.

MIT delta v 2019 Startups … and a Look Back at How Far We’ve Come!

MIT delta v Demo Day is TODAY, Friday, September 6 at 4:00 pm ET!

This is your chance to meet the next generation of world-changing startups …
If you’re on campus, join us at Kresge Auditorium; please register here. (Doors open at 3:30.) For everyone else, you can join us virtually by watching the Livestream link. You can also follow the Trust Center’s Twitter feed and the #MITdeltav hashtag.

A quick background … MIT delta v is MIT’s student venture accelerator providing a capstone educational opportunity for MIT student entrepreneurs who spend three months in the summer working in preparation to hit escape velocity and launch. Demo Day is the culmination of the program – the biggest day of the year for entrepreneurship on the MIT campus – so get ready to learn about the next wave of MIT startups that are ready to change the world!

Every summer we select the best of the teams that apply – students with an interesting idea or proof-of-concept – and we help them to create impactful, innovation-driven startups. For 2019, 17 teams worked full-time at the Martin Trust Center on MIT’s Cambridge campus, plus 7 teams that worked at the MIT NYC Startup Studio in New York City.

These teams were focused on:

  • Team building, organization development, and dynamics
  • Understanding their target market, customers, and users
  • Learning the mechanics of venture creation (company formation, legal, financial, raising money, and more)

This year’s delta v teams are listed below, with a brief description and the companies’ web sites. At Demo Day, each team will have an opportunity to launch their company to the world via a short intro video followed by a live presentation from the founders. (You can also see more in-depth overviews of the 2019 delta v teams on our website with each team’s Demo Day presentation shared on our website after the event.)

delta v startups – 2019 cohort

Abound
Early learning, without the screens https://aboundparenting.com/
Hardworkers
A digital community for working-class Americans hard-workers.com  
Ocular Technologies
Diagnostics at the speed of sight
www.ocular-tech.com  
Acoustic Wells
Intelligent IoT for the oil and gas market
www.acoustic-wells.com
Haystack Ag
Empowering a new generation of farmers www.haystackag.com
Precavida
One-stop shop healthcare platform with a personalized navigator www.precavida.com.br  
Alpaca Technology, Inc. Helping people find their homes www.rentalpaca.com  
Haystack Health Intelligent chronic disease management platform https://www.haystack.health/  

Quantifai
We scale low-touch customer success with machine learning www.quantif.ai
Atem Helping people breathe easy https://www.getatem.us/  

Insanirator
Solving urban sanitation, now https://www.insanirator.com/  
Season Three
Boots for Humans www.seasonthree.com  
auggi
Building AI technology for better gut health management www.auggi.ai  
Live Sports Markets Fantasy sports shouldn’t end when the game begins www.livesportsmarkets.com SirMixABot
Preferred drinks, preferred location https://www.sirmixabot.com/  
CaroCare
Personalized, on-demand care for new parents and their babies www.carocareco.com  
Lynx
Explore the city in a new way!
www.lynxsharing.com
Spatio Metrics
Enabling a future in which every building makes us healthier www.spatiometrics.com

Easel
Flexible Childcare, because life happens!
easel.care  

Mantle Biotech
Extreme biology, extreme impact http://mantlebiotech.com/  
TireTutor
Buying tires made easy https://tiretutor.co/    
Elemen Skin care so personalized that it evolves with you www.skinelemen.com   Nextiles Smart apparel for superior workout www.nextiles.tech    
Viridis
Enabling financial inclusion through affordable and scalable data solutions www.viridisrs.com  

As our 2019 teams have been preparing for Demo Day, I’ve been reflecting on my past five years as a leader of the program, and my current role as Executive Director of delta v. The program has evolved and changed during that time, and I believe it has gotten stronger each year.

My reflections on five years with delta v

My plan for the summer of 2015 was to take some time off, enjoy a little rest and relaxation, and figure out the next chapter of my life after serving as an IBM executive and completing my doctorate degree. I learned about MIT’s Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, which was a place where I could see ultimately merging two of my passions – education and entrepreneurship. That initial phone call from Bill Aulet, the Center’s Managing Director, meant my relaxing summer plans were ruined!

Bill talked to me about this accelerator program he had started and how he needed someone to run it for the summer. I had never met Bill, but his passion, energy, and approach to entrepreneurship was in sync with my experience, and his excitement was contagious – so I signed on for summer 2015.

Over the years, the program name has changed.

We’ve gone from the Beehive, to FSA, then GFSA, to delta v, a name that literally means a “change in velocity.” We believe delta v truly captures what happens to these students when they join us for MIT’s accelerator program. The venue for Demo Day at MIT has also changed as we keep growing and more people want to come and be the first to meet our teams!

We’ve experienced geographical expansion as well. After initially taking the Demo Day show on the road with invitation-only events in New York City and Silicon Valley/San Francisco, we’ve now completed the third successful year of the MIT NYC Startup Studio – a separate cohort run by Carly Chase. (Watch this NYC Startup Studio video for a quick overview.)

The teams are amazing, which has been a constant through the five years.  

Many teams from my first year (Sandymount, Woobo, Khethworks, Humon, Ori Systems, VS Particle, and Spyce) are still going strong and even growing by leaps and bounds. Each year we see delta v startups become successful; they gain funding, win awards, even get acquired.

Feedback from our students each year has helped shape the program along they way. They’ve let us know how they want to learn, what is valuable to them, and what is different from what they learn in their classes. The initial feedback was that delta v was too curriculum-based, and since MIT had a lot of entrepreneurship course work that students had previously taken, we pivoted and began bringing in outside subject matter expert speakers plus added the support of multiple Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIRs). The hands-on, experiential learning at delta v is what differentiates these successful startups.

Our board members are incredible.

The delta v teams are guided along the way by a mock board of directors. The board is made up of heavy hitters – business executives, entrepreneurs, faculty, and domain experts – who give generously of their time and talents. When I started in 2015, I reached into my community, particularly with The Boston Club and the Society of Women Engineers to increase the diversity and technical expertise on our boards.

We also familiarized the boards with our rubric, and the Disciplined Entrepreneurship vocabulary that is so central to our everyday discussions. Last year was the first where we added delta v alums to the board, allowing current teams to learn from their peers who had gone through the same process.

We’re constantly improving our storytelling.

The best startup idea in the world will fall flat if you can’t explain it effectively. Each year, we realize more and more how communication – within delta v, with the board members, and ultimately at launch – is just as essential as a team defining its target market or raising funds. This year we used more video, put a greater emphasis on storytelling for Demo Day, and introduced Entrepreneurship Confidence and Communication as part of our program.

We have fantastic stories to tell and inspiring businesses to launch. Tune in to Demo Day 2019!

Three Profiles of Cannabis Entrepreneurs

Over 35 million US citizens use marijuana every month, more than the number of Americans who smoke cigarettes, according to the Dennemeyer Group. Research shows that the number of cannabis users is growing at over 15% a year. Interestingly, since cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, the US Patent and Trademark Office must refuse all cannabis-related trademark applications, but that hasn’t stopped entrepreneurs.

As outlined in my previous blog post, there is a multi-billion dollar market for cannabis and CBD products, which opens up entrepreneurial opportunities in both the plant-touching and ancillary businesses. This post will look at profiles of three entrepreneurs working in cannabis-related start-ups and their views on the market space.

From helping growers, to distribution, to working with individual consumers, the cannabis market provides many opportunities.

AdaViv: Predictive Agriculture for Smarter Growing

Founded by an interdisciplinary team of MIT researchers and alumni, AdaViv emerged from MIT’s delta v accelerator.  Julian Ortiz, co-founder of AdaViv, explains how predictive agriculture can help cannabis growers to develop a competitive advantage: “We help producers grow smarter – from disease prevention to rapid experimentation, improving yields, and quality optimization.” 

The company uses computer vision and AI to uncover hidden plant biometrics, then translates this data into actionable insights for indoor and greenhouse growers. AdaViv aims to transform agriculture and deploy their technology to a variety of crops grown in controlled environments, though the founders initially are focusing on cannabis due to the high value in the crop, the level of quality control needed for the medical market, and the level of differentiation they can offer to growers. AdaViv has recently closed a $1 million funding round and has lined up initial customers. (See this video of AdaViv’s delta v Demo Day presentation.)

I Heart Jane: ECommerce Marketplace for More Efficient Distribution

Another cannabis company started out of MIT is Jane Technologies, Inc., a retail tech company that can be found online at IHeartJane.com. I Heart Jane is the cannabis industry’s only complete online marketplace where consumers can discover and order cannabis online. Founder Socrates Rosenfeld is a West Point grad and an Iraq War veteran. Suffering from PTSD after his return from combat, he realized the benefits of cannabis for symptoms such as sleeplessness and anxiety. After receiving his MBA from MIT, he founded the company with his brother using a business model similar to the Grubhub food delivery service. 

The company website states, “We believe in the cannabis industry’s ability to bring well-being, health, and love into this world, and it is our mission to bring confidence to the online cannabis shopping experience.”  Their online marketplace lets consumers shop for cannabis with the same ease and sophistication that they shop for everything else.

JBS Holistic Nutrition: Healing Alternatives for Consumers

The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill removes hemp (with less than 0.3% THC) from the Controlled Substances Act and propels hemp-derived CBD to be a potentially $22 billion market by 2022. While cannabis is still illegal in many states, CBD products are being embraced nationwide by both entrepreneurs and major retailers.

Joanne Burke-Sherman, owner of JBS Holistic Nutrition, works one-on-one with clients for health coaching and healing alternatives and offers CBD products. CBD, or cannabidiol, offers therapeutic benefits without the high. Clinical research on CBD includes preliminary studies of anxiety, cognition, movement disorders, and pain. Although CBD products are only one aspect of her business, she initially saw a lot of interest in CBD because everyone was curious. “I have seen many people supported in pain and anxiety,” said Burke-Sherman. “One client with addiction issues felt it truly helped and ‘saved his life.’  Others feel their joint pain is reduced and others say their anxiety is reduced.”

As the market gets more crowded and large chains start to carry CBD products, small entrepreneurs may be squeezed out. Burke-Sherman is concerned that most consumers will not know what to use. It is very similar to the existing nutritional supplement market – there is high-quality and low-quality. She would highly recommend going through a qualified person who has knowledge about the product in order to buy it.  Otherwise, a person should spend time doing research.  Some basic information is whether a product is organic (no pesticides and herbicides) and non-GMO.  Is there third-party testing?  What is tested? Consumers should check for solvents, heavy metals, or other harmful materials to make sure anything they use is safe.

Conclusion 

As the market opportunities continue to spark up, everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Jim Belushi to Jay-Z are getting involved in the blazing hot cannabis industry. But the hope is that there is plenty of green available for the less-famous entrepreneurs profiled here as well.

For more on the cannabis market, please read my last post, A Growing Market Sparks Up: Cannabis Opportunities for Entrepreneurs.

An abbreviated version of these posts was published in Xconomy, under the title, The Entrepreneurial Potential of Cannabis.