September 20, 2011
A New Generation of Opportunity @ MIT

Is MIT finally starting to catch up to its west coast counterparts in undergraduate entrepreneurship?  After attending this weekend’s t=0 entrepreneurship festival, it definitely appears so.

The t=0 entrepreneurship festival was an event inspired by the fact that that everyone has to start somewhere—at the point t=0.  During the festival, entrepreneurial evangelists, investors, and software experts came together to mentor college students in the Boston area and guide them through the process of founding a startup.

As an entrepreneur, I founded and sold my first startup (Cognate Technologies) during my undergrad time at MIT several years ago.  But I have always been somewhat disappointed by the opportunities available to undergrads.  For years, entrepreneurship resources and courses at MIT were mostly directed toward graduate students and faculty.  Yes, undergrads could enter events like the 50K (now the 100K), but it always seemed like the post docs or professors won.  And most entrepreneurship courses were for MBA or graduate students only.

But in the past few years, a shift has occurred.  MIT has developed new courses for tech entrepreneurship, led by Boston-area superstars like Reed Sturtevant and Brian Halligan.  And it has started to promote hackathons and other events for undergrad entrepreneurs too. 

Then, there’s t=0.  With a series of workshops, discussions, and activities led by entrepreneurial legends, t=0 brought mentors into close contact with MIT’s undergraduates like never before.   And what a success it was: Mitch Kapor told me after the event that “there were a number of highly promising startups presenting at the demo session last night, all of whom had been nurtured in one way or another by on-campus programs and many prominently featured undergraduates.”

So, what really distinguishes what it was like to be a young entrepreneur at MIT then as compared to now?  Sure, there are more courses now, which are directed at helping undergrads learn to build startups, but as events like t=0 are proving, there’s a cultural shift taking place.  Entrepreneurial veterans are answering the nitty-gritty questions on where they found their inspiration or what accelerated their success.  Angels and venture capitalists are giving students feedback on what they’re looking to invest in and how to put together impressive demos.  It’s not just the availability of resources, it’s the access to people that’s changed at MIT.    And that means we’re going to be seeing a new crop of people emerging as leaders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, ensuring that ventures don’t just burgeon at MIT, but that they flourish.

Raj Dandage is the co-founder of Appguppy.   He has over 10
years of experience with leading innovative software companies and has a
Masters & undergraduate degree from MIT.  You can also follow Raj
on Twitter @appguppy.