22 February 2008

Lots of Entrepreneurial Action at MIT!

This week has been creatively busy for me here at MIT, with lots of cool events, great connections with emerging entrepreneurs, and exciting developments in MIT's efforts to accelerate innovations everywhere. Just thought I'd mention a few highlights...

I met with several student entrepreneurs working on ventures in sectors as diverse as mining social signals, urban mobility systems, rural gas & power systems, a carbon offsets ecobusiness, labor market-making, running a social club, scaling-up agriproducts, health care diagnostic & delivery systems, and more. They are all both entering the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition by the deadline next week 28 February 2008 AND they are quite serious about actually building their ventures.

My MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge colleague Pearl Freier (who runs Cambridge BioPartners) swung by to discuss the exciting up-coming line-up of our Innovation Series, a monthly combination of stellar speaker and "live-case" startup company. Each month the Innovation Series spotlights a different technology-business cluster here in Boston-Metro/Massachusetts/New England. Sometimes this is a vintage, but thriving, cluster -- for instance, biotech or enterprise software, and other times we have and will continue to spotlight emerging technology sectors -- e.g. cleantech, neurotech, web-mobile, gaming, and more. All this is organized by an all-volunteer committee of entrepreneurs, investors, professional service providers, and other key members of our greater MIT Enterprise Forum community. Pearl, of course, chairs this committee and makes sure all the complicated pieces are interwoven and properly orchestrated.

I connected with venture capitalist Jim Matheson of Flagship Ventures earlier in the week to follow-up on his great Power, Drugs, and Money conference from last week. Energy, Biotech, and Financial Services are three entrepreneurial super-clusters here in New England and Jim's conference really drew many interesting themes together cutting across those sectors. (Jim chaired the volunteer organizing committee.) Anyways, really great VC's are most interested in the new and non-obvious stuff. So stay tuned for more events and even startup ventures touching on emerging themes such as green consumer goods, ocean & marine systems, urban innovations, healthcare robotics, and the like.

I was delighted to meet Andrei Trandafir, Virgil Chitu, and Marian Banica, the three winners of the Romanian ICUBE business plan competition who came to visit Boston earlier this week. This business trip was part of their prize-winnings, which I think is just fantastic. The whole program is run by Ioana Ceausu, who was also part of the trip. She had connected with Dean Kamen at last year's MIT Global Startup Workshop in Trondheim, and sure enough, the four Romanians went up to see him at DEKA yesterday in Manchester, NH. The ICUBE competition is modeled after the MIT $100K, which I had the great honor of running for two years as Lead Organizer. Anyways, the trip to Boston allows these winners to engage with people in our greater-MIT entrepreneurship ecosystem. But that doesn't happen automagically; indeed their visit was substantially orchestrated by one of MIT’s current MBA students, Ovidiu Bujorean, also a Romanian and ICUBE Board Member, and our Teaching Assistant last year in the Nuts & Bolts of Business Plans class I co-teach with Joe Hadzima and Yonald Chery.

Bryant Harrison, one of the key leaders of the MIT African Internet Technology Initiative (AITI) came by my office to discuss their plans to escalate their summer teaching programs to more regions of Africa this coming summer. AITI sends MIT students for 2-3 months to Africa to teach programming and entrepreneurship to both high school and college students. And since mobile phones are absolutely taking off throughout the continent, the content is increasingly becoming web+mobile. This is also a domain of tremendous entrepreneurial potential, as Africans both decide what problems are worth solving and have the tools and skills and ambition to solve them through inventive applications and startup businesses. AITI is dedicated to helping accelerate progress towards a vital and thriving Africa, as you can see in this great article entitled Infotech Program Aids African Students featuring Bryant and mentioning the essential support provided by MIT President Emeritus Paul Gray.

Many more things happened, but I'll finish by mentioning that Chuck Eesley & I hosted our MINDS @ the Muddy neuronight (with nearly two dozen participants over the evening, including Professor Ed Boyden, MIT alumna and current HBS student Ann DeWitt (who's running the Biotech Track for the MIT $100K), several visiting entrepreneurs, and a great mix of grad students, post-docs, and researchers.)

I also saw the new leadership of SEID, the Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development, and discussed some of the exciting projects they are in the middle of planning for this semester, the upcoming summer, and beyond.

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