Have you ever finished a riveting book and realized that the plot, characters, and setting have left an indelible mark on your being? That is how I will always remember the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship – the people, energy, and ideas will forever imprint the fabric of my life.
When I joined the Trust Center nearly six years ago, I blogged about Disciplined Entrepreneurship – the framework we use for the entrepreneurship program at MIT’s Trust Center based on the book by Bill Aulet, the Center’s Managing Director. One of the ideas that resonated with me then, and continues to do so, is that “ideas mean nothing without execution.”
Reflecting on the past six years, I realize that my time at MIT was about more than a job, it was about the execution of entrepreneurship. It was a chance to shape the lives of aspiring entrepreneurs who had big dreams and ideas to change the world for the better and help them to shape and execute those ideas into concrete plans. At the Trust Center, we like to say that MIT’s student entrepreneurs tackle the world’s big problems, and it was exciting to help make that happen.
Here’s the synopsis of how I landed at the Trust Center, and filled many roles, ultimately becoming the Director of MIT delta v, as well as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence and a lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management on entrepreneurship topics.
In 2014, I had completed my doctorate in work-based learning at the University of Pennsylvania’s Chief Learning Officer program, and I wasn’t sure what my next step should be. I had the option to get back into the corporate world and focus on business analytics, but instead decided to pursue a role in education. I was hired by MIT as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence and to help lead the student venture accelerator program, which is now known as delta v. From there, my role has expanded to teaching entrepreneurship classes, spearheading global programs, and becoming a spokesperson and thought leader representing MIT’s entrepreneurship initiatives.
This was definitely something new and different for me, and I had to push myself out of my comfort zone and embrace the challenge. The results achieved have certainly been beyond what I could have anticipated six years ago, including the expansion of the Trust Center – both physically and via online with Orbit, growing delta v both in size and in scope, partnerships with other universities, and instituting a flagship program to support the mental health of entrepreneurs. There were also many awards and accolades along the way, both personally and for the program.
But I’m not here to toot my own horn … I want to sincerely thank the whole team at the Trust Center for their support, teamwork, and camaraderie over the years – our group is quite the entrepreneurial talent tree. I’d also like to thank all the students who I was able to work with and mentor on their entrepreneurial journeys. Your enthusiasm and bright light made the hard parts of this job rewarding and worthwhile.
For those of you who are rethinking your own career situation, after the past year this may be exactly the right time to open yourself up to new experiences and find that that your next chapter was better than your last. I am leaving a job I love for the unknown – of course, this is a risk, but as an entrepreneur you bet on yourself, and make the choice to wake up with a “wow” in terms of what is going to happen today.
For me, this is the time to move beyond what has become well-loved and comfortable, and to take a leap into the next chapter – the fourth in my career. First, I was an engineer who moved up through the executive ranks. Second, I focused on startups, leading two companies to successful exits. Third, was my move into academia at MIT by leveraging my startup experience. And, for the fourth chapter, I’m not 100% sure what it will be yet, but stay tuned – that is the exciting part!
Wisdom from the Women Who Support MIT’s Entrepreneurs
Today, November 19, is Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, a day celebrating and encouraging female entrepreneurship. Our student venture accelerator program, delta v, has launched some amazing female entrepreneurs – and our historical data show us that the women-led delta v companies surpass our very impressive overall stat that 3 of every 4 delta v startups are still operating. At MIT, our goal is to support all our entrepreneurs and make them as successful as possible. That is why we are thrilled when we hear feedback like the quote below – it shows us that we are succeeding in our support of diverse entrepreneurs, and neutralizing any implicit biases.
“In the Trust Center, gender, age, race, culture, even hierarchy, are invisible. It’s the only space I’ve ever walked into where all that baggage was truly left at the door. This almost disorienting sense of equality allows for a re-imagining of identity.” Joan Kelly, delta v entrepreneur and CEO of Abound
For the entire month of November, we’re profiling some of our women entrepreneurs, faculty, and Trust Center staff on our Instagram feed (@eshipMIT) with the tag #WEMatMIT (which stands for Women’s Entrepreneur Month at MIT). Follow the feed and be inspired!
Here is our lineup of stellar women supporting MIT’s entrepreneurship community and their responses to our questions on entrepreneurship. As I reflect on the contributions of these women, it is evident that the strong entrepreneurial ecosystems at MIT did not just materialize – they are nurtured, fostered, and improved upon by these individuals. They all bring a focused passion to their roles – with a lack of ego, they meet students where they are on their journeys to become entrepreneurs and help them flourish.
What advice can you share with aspiring entrepreneurs?
“Just start! Usually that first step is the hardest one. If you just start you will see that anyone can get started. Figure out what that first step is and do it. And if your first step was to make a PowerPoint, nice job doing that first step, but now get out of PowerPoint and talk to humans!!” – Kit Hickey
“Admit what you don’t know. Share your idea and take every opportunity to learn from those around you. This isn’t always a comfortable way for talented, high performers to operate. But it is critical. Rather than always looking for validation of your ideas, look for evidence that reveals weaknesses in your hypotheses.” – Megan Mitchell
“Seek a broad range of advisors, mentors, colleagues – diversity in terms of age, gender, experience, outlook on life and don’t limit it to people you think you align with – so that you are challenged to move beyond your comfort zone.” – Lesley Millar-Nicholson
“Follow your intuition and do what you feel is right. Women have stronger emotional intelligence, use this to make appropriate decisions and follow through with persistence.” – Karen Golmer
“Remain open-minded to what you learn through research. Approach research with curiosity, rather than an opportunity to reinforce and validate your current assumptions. Embrace surprising results and be ready to go back to the drawing board and adapt your solutions to a deeper understanding of the problem you’re looking to solve.” – Jinane Abounadi
“The outcome of any entrepreneurial endeavor is extremely uncertain, so you should be really excited about the journey. And surround yourself with people you like and respect, because you’ll be spending a lot of time together!” – Carly Chase
What do you believe female entrepreneurs need to do more of/better/differently to be successful?
“Unfortunately, we still need to have incredibly thick skin because the industry is not yet as equitable as it should be. Given the inequities, we’ve got to support and stick up for one another, in both small and big ways.” – Carly Chase
“Recognize that there are fewer female-backed startup companies, fewer women on Boards of companies, fewer patent holding female scientists – but don’t let that be a hurdle. In fact, find those who have or are those things – and learn from them, what inspires them, what tricks and tools have they created to achieve what they have achieved.” – Lesley Millar-Nicholson
“Really examine what YOU want out of your entrepreneurial journey. We spend so much of our lives being told what we should be, it is a challenge to break away from that and define what success is for you. Success for you may be completely different than what success means for your classmate, and that’s OK. By actually defining success for yourself, you can have a much more meaningful, impactful and enjoyable career.” – Kit Hickey
“Female entrepreneurs need to own their space, their knowledge, and their brilliance. Women have to be deliberate in the words they use when they speak about their experience and their ventures. Please don’t say, ‘If the pilot is successful, we will…” Come from an affirmative position. Trade that language for something more like: “Following our successful pilot, we will…” – Megan Mitchell
“Speak up more often (males don’t wait for their turn to speak ) – so don’t wait to be asked, offer up your opinions, experience, insight and do it in a thoughtful and measured way – so people are keen to listen.” – Lesley Millar-Nicholson
Female entrepreneurs need to work together and hold one another accountable when they see another not owning her own power. Women working together will elevate all.” – Megan Mitchell
“Own your ‘imposter syndrome’ and don’t let it come an excuse to demonstrate your knowledge, passion and capabilities – in fact, challenge that feeling by speaking up.” – Lesley Millar-Nicholson
“Don’t back down, instead listen with respect and learn about other perspectives. When feeling blocked or ignored, don’t speak louder to be heard – try a different approach.” – Karen Golmer
“Try not to take it personally when you hit a roadblock, or your initial ideas get rejected. Be confident in your talent and your ability to overcome hurdles and challenges. Use a network of caring mentors to get honest feedback and be open to listening and growing in the process.” – Jinane Abounadi
How do you, personally, keep inspired and moving forward?
“I look for and accept the challenges that appear – one at a time. When I end up in a conflict or uncomfortable situation, I use humor to diffuse the tension and redirect to move forward.” – Karen Golmer
“For me, the inspiration at his phase of my career comes from stepping back and hearing about stories of other amazing women that have worked hard and persevered to make a difference. I felt so inspired when I heard that there was a woman scientist (Ozlem Tureci) behind the [COVID-19] Pfizer vaccine. In my role, I see the potential of so many of our brilliant female students (undergrad or graduate) to make significant impact in the future and I will feel proud to have been part of their journey.” – Jinane Abounadi
“I love engaging with people – the passion, diversity and new ideas at MIT keep me inspired every day. Every day I learn from a student, and I love it! Being at a place where you continue to learn, can engage with amazing people, and have the autonomy to solve hard problems you are interested in, is what I love about being an EIR at MIT.” – Kit Hickey
“It is the entrepreneurs, their individual stories and passion that inspire me and keep me moving forward. Each entrepreneur has a story that connects them to the problem they are trying to solve. Often that story is deeply personal and offers me insights not only into who they are as individuals, but also the worlds in which they come from.” – Megan Mitchell
“Recognizing that I am part of a community and my contribution (or lack of it) has impact on others and what they can or cannot achieve because of my actions.” – Lesley Millar-Nicholson
“Building businesses from scratch is an incredibly difficult, gritty, and uncomfortable experience that forces you to grow in ways you didn’t even know you needed to! I’m addicted to not only the constant growth I personally get from being an entrepreneur, but also to the people who it attracts – they are the most exciting people in the world to be working alongside.” – Carly Chase
At MIT, our definition of entrepreneurship has evolved from a focus on startups to an entrepreneurial mindset – we see entrepreneurship as a skillset and a way of operating. We need entrepreneurial attributes in all our organizations – whether it is within a big company, a small company, or a university environment. These women bring that entrepreneurial mindset to their roles in helping curious entrepreneurs in corporate environments, ready-to-go entrepreneurs, and amplifiers in their communities. They cover the developing world, emerging markets, and corporate innovation. We live in a changing world with changing needs, and students need to test and adapt their entrepreneurial skills. Thank you to Jinane, Carly, Karen, Kit, Lesley, and Megan for your invaluable guidance to MIT’s student entrepreneurs! As we all work together at MIT, we see all boats rise which is what makes the MIT community an amazing ecosystem.
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.
At MIT, entrepreneurship programs run wide and deep – but across the board, student entrepreneurs know they can count on the university’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIRs) for their wisdom, experience, and advice.
We caught up with some former EIRs who have represented the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. They have been part of a rotational program spearheaded by Bill Aulet, the Center’s Managing Director. The concept of rotating experienced entrepreneurs through the Trust Center has been extremely successful – it gives students a sounding board for their questions and benefits the EIRs as well, enabling them to recharge and rejuvenate before their next venture.
Aulet likes to call the network of EIRs part of MIT’s Entrepreneurial Talent Tree. Many of these individuals have roots at MIT – they went into the world to become entrepreneurs, then touched back down at MIT as EIRs prior to moving on to do big things as entrepreneurs again, or in the entrepreneurial education community. Through this talent tree, the lessons and skills of MIT’s entrepreneurship program are widely shared, and a strong network is formed.
Elaine Chen, a former EIR who has recently been appointed as the Director of the Tufts Entrepreneurship Center (TEC) and the Cummings Family Professor of the Practice in Entrepreneurship, sums up the MIT EIR experience as an opportunity to give back to the entrepreneurial community by helping them learn. “We draw on our own experiences to help students acquire an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset, which will help them succeed wherever they go in their careers.”
“We try to give entrepreneurs a safe, unbiased set of feedback,” comments Dip Patel, now CTO of Soluna. “In the entrepreneurship game, it’s very hard to get unbiased feedback. And it’s doubly hard to get unbiased feedback from people who have been operators or founders.”
“It’s better to give than to receive,” adds Will Sanchez, now at Gradient, his fourth startup. “But as MIT EIRs, we certainly receive a lot from the students as well. And we are doing this in a serving way.”
Donna Levin adds, “The EIR role enabled me to help provide students with actionable skills, proven frameworks, and a sense of urgency – what we called moving at founder speed.” Levin has moved on to head up Babson’s entrepreneurship program.
Nick Meyer, now a co-founder of Relativity6, remarks on the bond between the EIR group at the Trust Center. “Everyone’s always trying to help each other out and make introductions, and we still talk all the time.”
Introducing MIT EIRs: What they’re doing Now
As a brief introduction, here’s a quick snapshot of the former EIRs interviewed for this article and what they are doing now. Each EIR explains what they felt they were able to share with the student entrepreneurs, and what they received in return.
Elaine Chen continues to expand entrepreneurial education in the Boston area as the Director of the Tufts Entrepreneurship Center and the Cummings Family Professor of the Practice in Entrepreneurship, following her nine years at MIT as an EIR and Senior Lecturer. Chen will work with students in all majors – including liberal arts, medical, dental, etc. Building on her MIT experience, this was a fantastic career opportunity and Chen looks forward to the year ahead.
Nick Meyer is now a co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Relativity6, a company that uses AI to increase customer retention and lifetime value, currently focusing on the insurance broker industry. Key to Relativity6’s success is how to be predictive, without using personal information. The company looks at patterns developing over the course of people’s lives.
Will Sanchez is now The VP of Business and Customer Development and a founding advisor at Gradient, a cybersecurity company that is working to reimagine digital trust from the very beginning. The 14-person, Boston-based startup is still very much in the jungle stage – no paved roads – and he’s learning tons of new things to satisfy his infinite curiosity.
Dip Patel, is now the CTO at Soluna, a company launched in 2018 that is building a new type of data center that combines with renewable power plants – grid operators can plug into and turn on and off whenever they want. The company’s mission is to make renewable energy the primary power source, using computing as a catalyst.
Giving to, and Gaining from, MIT’s Student Entrepreneurs
It’s evident that this is a smart and talented group. We are fortunate each of them shared their time and talents with the student entrepreneurs at MIT. Here’s how they felt they gave back to the entrepreneurship community, and what they gained in return.
Elaine Chen comments she was known as a “hardware person” at the Trust Center and was able to leverage her background at Rethink Robotics, Zeemote, SensAble Technologies, and other hardware-related startups, to help guide students with startups in that sector. She feels that she was able to share her experience having seen a lot of different scenarios and give students a dose of reality.
Working with the students, she learned a lot about different businesses – from bitcoin to chip design – because they researched it and learned it together. She also worked with current EIR Paul Cheek as product manager for MIT Orbit, and helped build up the knowledge base with over 600 unique articles for entrepreneurs.
Donna Levin explains, “We were able to create a safe environment and meet students wherever they were on their entrepreneurial journey. From ideation, market selection, to product market fit – early stage entrepreneurs craved the ability to have a conversation about the problem they were trying to tackle today or this week.”
She was constantly inspired by the societal problems the students are tackling in the world and learning about new technology and scientific discoveries. Levin says serving as an EIR was one of the most rewarding experiences of her career.
Nick Meyer believes he helped students navigate the MIT culture and break out of the mental blocks that can come from overthinking things. Many students at MIT have such confidence in their ability to build things, and build things quickly, that they default to building instead of first figuring out what should be built. Meyer was able to aid students by sharing a lot of stories of what’s practical and what has worked at his startups.
In turn, he reports that telling his stories to the students helped him created a narrative of what happened in his career, as opposed to how the startup made him feel. “You can build up this narrative that’s not the healthiest because there aren’t that many levels of success in startups. There is kind of ‘billionaire or bust’ mentality, so, most of your time is spent dealing in failure and not reflecting on everything you’ve learned, what you’re good at, and being helpful. I’ve learned from the students how valuable all my startup experiences really were, and just who I am and what I’ve learned, and how to approach things.”
Will Sanchez sayson the first day of the delta v kickoff, he introduced himself to the cohort as, “I’m Will, New York City kid. I don’t know how I can help you, but I will ask you the tough questions – the more awkward, the better.” He reports that seemed to have resonated well not only with the delta v team but with the cohort and students in general.
What he learned from the students was that there’s so much he had to offer. “Going into it, I didn’t know what I could possibly offer these brilliant students and faculty, I just ran a small start-up that was somewhat successful. It was surprising to me how much I could add as a generalist.”
Dip Patel explains he was always extremely candid about his past and showing his vulnerability to the students – from sharing what it was like to fire his best friend to landing a million-dollar deal. “I think that what I brought as an EIR is candid vulnerability, plus realism as to what they are signing up for. And the energy, I think I brought energy.”
In terms of learning from the students, he comments, “It is extremely motivating that I get to meet students who share their dreams with me. The fact that I’m able to help them achieve their dreams, and they are grateful for that, motivates me as an entrepreneur.”
Keeping it Fresh
In other businesses, employee churn is generally seen as a negative. However, at MIT, the EIR position is designed to be part of a rotational model that keeps things fresh for both the students and the experienced entrepreneurs. EIRs find that the role of being an advisor to students lets them recharge their entrepreneurial batteries and unwind after the stress of starting a new company – and, the Trust Center gets the benefit of new and different experiences with each EIR.
Patel comments, “When you sell a company, even if you make millions of dollars, you’re losing a big piece of who you are. A lot of people say you shouldn’t connect your professional life with who you are, but it’s really hard for an entrepreneur to do that – damn near impossible. So, when that company ends, for whatever reason, it really takes a toll.” The beauty of the EIR role is that it lets entrepreneurs decompress and figure out what’s next. However, he continues, “After we started Soluna, I missed the Trust Center and wanted to get back involved, so now I’ve come back as a lecturer, co-teaching one entrepreneurship class each semester.”
Meyer says that when he was first approached for the EIR position, he was in the middle of a starting a new company, so he declined. “About three months later, I realized that I was in no mental space to be doing another start-up, because it was like my seventh or something, starting from when I was in high school,” comments Meyer. “I knew I did not have the grit or energy built up to last for another three, four, or five years working at another startup. I just needed a break.” After a short stint as a ski instructor in Switzerland, he joined MIT as an EIR for about two years. Along with helping students, it let him reflect on the best way to move forward. “I’d say MIT encourages people to move on after spending some time as an EIR. Very few people camp out for a long time.”
“MIT is a special place. It’s a place where people truly believe the impossible can work,” explains Patel, and this belief resonates in the discussions with all of the EIRs. Chen adds, “Being an EIR in MIT’s strong entrepreneurial ecosystem was an amazing opportunity.”
Sanchez reflects, “As EIRs, we’re all sorts of shapes and sizes and colors, but we all want to add the human dynamic to entrepreneurship – the stuff you can’t just Google or read about in a class.” Patel continues, “The EIRs are truly there to help, but the entrepreneurs have to ask. And you have to get comfortable asking for help – that’s another piece of advice. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to ask for help.”
As this group of EIRs blazes new trails, they are each still inextricably tied to their EIR cohort and the student entrepreneurs they advised while at MIT’s Trust Center. This network runs deep, and the talent tree continues to grow.
This summer, MIT’s delta v accelerator program for student entrepreneurs was adapted as a virtual experience. Although this called for a flexibility and creativity all around, one of the benefits was that we were able to virtually connect with some amazing speakers.
Our Founder’s Talk Series let us hear about journeys of successful entrepreneurs, the challenges they’ve had to face, and their advice for our students. This year, we were lucky enough to hear from: Eleanor Carey, an Australian adventurer who gave an inspiring talk relating to the realities of entrepreneurship; George Petrovas, a serial entrepreneur who shared his founder journey; John Belizaire, CEO of Soluna, who spoke about leadership; Perry Cohen, Founder and Executive Director of The Venture Out Project who spoke about his journey; and Ed Baker, Investor, Entrepreneur, and Growth Specialist, previously with Uber and Facebook, who talked to students on scaling their businesses.
We concluded the series by speaking with Hayley Sudbury, founder and CEO of WERKIN, a company that raises the visibility of underrepresented talent. What Hayley and her team are doing at WERKIN is extremely important because although people talk about diversity and inclusion in companies, they don’t always know what to do about it. Here’s a short recap of what we learned from Hayley during her Founder’s Talk.
Overlapping Boundaries between Work and Life
Hayley commented that the boundaries between work and life have formally collapsed since March 2020 when the pandemic hit, and we all went remote. But also, there’s a bit of a trend toward moving back to our true humanity of who we are as people and the businesses we want to build to create change.
As an Aussie Brit, openly gay, tech, female CEO, Hayley jokes that she seems to tick a few boxes around “different.” She comments that getting a more diverse mix of founders will help create change in the world.
Driving Forces for Founding WERKIN
From her job at large bank managing a £ 50 billion balance sheet, Hayley notes she looked around and realized, there were no women above her, and there were certainly no gay women.
Even for the most extroverted types, it’s important to be able to see the version of yourself in life, as you look to create an aspirational pathway for your career or the businesses that you’re building. For Hayley, this was a real motivation to kind of get out and do something different.
Creating Inclusivity and Belonging at Scale for Business
WERKIN is very much focused on helping companies create inclusion and belonging at scale. The name comes from “We Are Kin” – and is dedicated to building a kinship and community within a workplace, helping employees feel visible and supported every day.
With the death of George Floyd earlier this year, there is a greater global awareness that we’re operating in a world where not all is equal. Race is a very important conversation that’s being had right now. This has opened up a broader conversation around consumers demanding more from companies – both companies we work for, and companies that we want to purchase from. Whoever we are, and whatever our lived experience or background is, how we choose to spend our money creates power.
Millennials, particularly, make decisions around wanting to work for a purpose-led organization. They expect more. They expect organizations to not only talk about being equal and fair and transparent, they demand that they are. And they’re looking for the data to kind of back that up as well.
WERKIN has been on a mission for quite a long time around helping organizations create this and inclusion and belonging. But now it feels like there’s much more of a sense of urgency and importance. CEOs are realizing if you really want a different result, you must do different things, and this year has really tipped the balance.
It Started with Mentoring
The seed for WERKIN starting with mentoring and sponsorship, which essentially go hand-in-hand. It’s the stuff that people do for you. It’s the doors that get opened. It’s the connection that someone makes for you to a colleague. It’s those small actions.
So, we looked at ways to democratize this idea of access to the right people, so that you’re visible, and the traditional “having beers in the pub” is not the only way to build rapport. WERKIN was created help that accessibility be open and available to more people.
We then leveraged technology to manage and measure these programs and demonstrate ROI. For us, it is very much a data play, as we create this digital standard for inclusion and belonging.
Love Your Customers, Not Your Product.
Falling in love with your product is a very easy thing to happen. You can see the pain point, for example, but if you fall into the trap of being product-first, not customer-first, it’s very easy to miss the real opportunity to create change.
At WERKIN, we think about how we want to change someone’s journey inside an organization so that they are seen, they are heard, they are visible to a larger percentage of the population. But not only that, they have a clear pathway to accelerate through to the highest levels that are, obviously, economically beneficial for that individual, but also allow them to influence the outcome of the organization.
Embrace the Most Exciting Time in our Lifetimes
While it may look terrifying from an economic outlook, if you’re in the business of building new ways to do things, this is probably the most exciting time in our lifetimes. Both from a change in civil rights, equality, and the move towards shutting down this very separate life we had between work and life, and actually coming back to our humanity. This means businesses that are purpose-driven, sustainability-focused, forward-looking, tech-enabled and changing the way we work, are all presented with massive opportunities right now.
The entrepreneurial journey is certainly a roller coaster ride – enjoy it!
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.
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
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
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
“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,
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.
“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.” –
“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
“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 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
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
Understanding their target market, customers,
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.)
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
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
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.
When you think of an entrepreneur, you probably conjure a picture in your head: a tenacious achiever, a passionate risk-taker – essentially one of the “hungry dogs.” But culturally, this is not a universal characterization.
I was recently invited to Norway to teach an “Innovation Crash Course” workshop to postdocs and PhDs at the Technoport 2018 Deep Tech conference, which focused on deep tech and what governments, universities, entrepreneurs, and corporations are doing to speed research from R&D labs to make a real impact on society. I was fortunate enough to spend time with entrepreneurs, potential entrepreneurs, and those supporting entrepreneurship in the Nordics, and the experience taught me quite a lot – including not to filter my view of entrepreneurship with a US-centric lens.
This article in Entrepreneur outlines “7 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs,” which include tenacity, passion, tolerance of ambiguity, vision, self-belief, flexibility, and rule-breaking. But, it makes me think –are we looking only at entrepreneurship from an American perspective? This post shares my experiences in Norway and my thoughts on how the region’s culture and social policies influence its entrepreneurs.
The Entrepreneurial Scene in the Nordics
Although Americans are known for our entrepreneurial spirit and the “American dream,” Nordic countries are also embracing entrepreneurship. Interestingly, according to The World Bank Economy Rankings, Sweden is ranked #13, Norway #19, and Denmark #34 for ease of starting a business, as compared to the U.S. at #49. (New Zealand is in the #1 slot.)
Oslo, Norway is seen as one of the world’s best startup hubs even though it’s one of the most expensive cities in the world. Entrepreneurs can expect a refreshingly balanced approach to work/life and a great environment to base tech or communication startups. Norway’s startup scene is also starting to blossom in terms of investment, and these articles in Shifter and Medium show how other Nordic countries, specifically Finland and Sweden, are doing particularly well in terms of investments, with Denmark also catching up.
The Problem for Entrepreneurship in Norway
Although there is a welcoming environment, is the drive to be an entrepreneur similar to the U.S.? An in-depth article in Inc. magazine reports, “The problem for entrepreneurship in Norway is it’s so lucrative to be an employee,” says Lars Kolvereid, Professor at the University of Nordland, who was the lead researcher for the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor in Norway.
In the U.S., about one-quarter of startups are founded by so-called necessity entrepreneurs – people who start companies because they feel they have no good alternative. In Norway, there is less necessity; the number is only 9 percent, third lowest in the world after Switzerland and Denmark, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.
The social welfare system is quite different there as well. The article explains there are no private schools in Norway; education is public and free, from nursery school through graduate school. In addition, the unemployment rate is low, and, if you are unemployed, there are generous benefits. Every Norwegian worker also receives free health insurance in a system that produces longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rates than in America. At age 67, workers get a government pension of up to 66 percent of their working income.
Zoltan J. Acs, a professor at George Mason University and former chief economist for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, summed it up, “The three things we as Americans worry about – education, retirement, and medical expenses – are things that Norwegians don’t worry about.”
Essentially, the wealth and comfort prevalent in Norway and Denmark mean there is less of a “hungry dog phenomenon,” something that was even remarked upon by the people I met with at the Technoport conference. This makes it a challenge to recruit young people to work for startups since they are well compensated in the public sector, don’t have debt, and generally lack incentives to take the risk. In addition, while I was in Denmark I heard that many startups are bought by American companies before they have a chance to make an impact on the Danish economy, so the benefits are not seen by the founding country.
Of course, Norway’s generous social benefits are financed largely from higher taxes, another consideration for entrepreneurs. However, as the Inc. article explains, Norwegian entrepreneurs tend to see taxes as an exchange of cash for services, rather than a burden. All of these factors certainly set a different stage for Nordic entrepreneurs as they consider starting their own businesses.
A Need for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Public Sector
I met with MIT alumni in both countries and came away with a better understanding of a need for entrepreneurship in the public sector. There is a strong corporate culture of innovation programs that are challenging the current thinking, but these share some of the same challenges that U.S. corporations face. Examples include budget cycles that are often incompatible with the reaction time needed to respond to new market changes and conditions, attention that gets divided between current versus future business challenges, functional silos, and challenging organizational dynamics.
A Successful Transformation from an Oil-Rich Economy
The economic impact of the oil industry is another factor when considering entrepreneurship in Norway. The focus of the Technoport conference was on energy, education, and ecosystems. And, although Norway’s oil industry has always been a key economic contributor for the country, it is a finite resource with all constituents looking ahead to what industries can, will, or should do to replace (or supplement) oil in the future.
In an article in TechCrunch, Anita Krohn Traaseth, the CEO of Innovation Norway, says that it’s time for the country to look beyond oil. “Norway needs to develop and build several growth sectors to contribute to a more diversified and sustainable national economy.”
“The fundamentals in Norway to make a successful transformation are solid,” she explains. “We still have a low unemployment rate, we still have a huge capital reserve to make necessary investments for the future, we have a strong growth of entrepreneurial focus and companies. This is all about how we prioritize, reposition investments, build competence, and have the guts to make important, and maybe radical, political decisions today to secure tomorrow.”
Just as entrepreneurship in the U.S. is complex and driven by many factors, so is the entrepreneurial environment in the Nordics. On the plus side for Nordic entrepreneurs, because higher education is free in Norway, students don’t graduate with the crippling debt that is an issue for so many young professionals in the U.S. This provides an opportunity to focus on jobs they love, versus jobs that can pay back the loans.
A Forbes article titled “Four Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Denmark’s Work Culture” cites teamwork, a flat, non-hierarchical structure, autonomy, and a compassionate management style as reasons for successful entrepreneurship – quite a different list than the seven traits listed by Entrepreneur at the start of this post.
At Technoport I was able to see that Norway is working to create a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem to provide solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems. I believe the mix of people I met in Norway and Denmark – young, older, entrepreneurs, corporates, and investors – are all willing to learn from each other and are looking for their role in supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
On this year’s International Women’s Day, I’d like to reflect on how we can encourage women to speak up, be heard, and support each other. The #metoo movement has brought to light countless examples of abuse, mistreatment, and harassment, but if there is one positive glimmer out of all that is being shared, it’s a sense of solidarity and empowerment.
I believe that entrepreneurship can be a path to channeling that energy and creating positive outcomes. The time is now to step up and speak out. The time is now to take control of your own destiny. Stop saying “I’m sorry” and start saying “I’m ready to make a difference.”
I believe that sometimes making a difference is being your own boss. In my role as Director of MIT’s educational accelerator program, delta v, I work every day with both female and male student entrepreneurs. Some of these students have ideas that may change the world someday, but even more important is their sense of pride and accomplishment when they can make decisions that shape their own direction and have a positive impact on other people.
Maybe being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. But, if and when you are in a position to define your own path, you have turned the tables and now have control. You can help not only yourself but others.
Female Entrepreneurs make a Difference
This infographic from Entrepreneur on female entrepreneurship shows that women are founding companies at historic rates with more than 9 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. today. These businesses will provide over 5 million jobs this year. Interestingly, businesses with a woman on the executive team are also more likely to have significantly higher valuations (64% higher) at Series A. These statistics demonstrate that women are creating new models of leadership, and that is hopefully changing the balance of power.
How to Get Started
Now is the time to be an entrepreneur, yet the hardest thing about entrepreneurship is getting started. Newton’s first law states an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an external force – and this is true for entrepreneurship as well. So, you need to give yourself a push. For inspiration, here are some stories of female entrepreneurs gaining ground at MIT.
Find the focus that is right for you. Entrepreneurship for small and medium enterprises (i.e. opening your own business in an established industry, such as a florist, hair salon, or consultant) is different from innovation-driven entrepreneurship (i.e. the next “big idea”, inventing something new) but they both let you be your own boss.
What are you curious about? What do you dream of doing? How would you get started? Now is the best time. There are many educational resources (online, classes, workshops etc.), and there are a lot of folks who are willing to be mentors. Plus, check out co-working spaces that are great for startups. In the Boston area, we have the CIC in Cambridge, Venture Café, WeWork, etc. that also have speakers and educational resources in all areas of building a business.
Resources for Entrepreneurs
On any given day in Boston, there are events that budding entrepreneurs can attend – many are free, or some charge a small fee. Find the one that fits you. The City of Boston just held a series of events for women, Linda Henry runs HUBweek, there are Mass Challenge programs around the world. These all help expose those interested in entrepreneurship to various options. Here are a number of resources and organizations in the Boston and Cambridge area. Search online to find others in your area. Starting a Business (City of Boston)
The activism among several organizations has opened a lot of eyes, and hopefully recognition. Where women were once dismissed, that there are signs that voices should be heard – from women on boards to women funding enterprises. There is positive momentum, and you can make a difference. The time is now. Give yourself that push!