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.”

undefined

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.