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March 3, 2010
What Makes the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition Special

This past weekend, the lead organizers of the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition had their annual off-site meeting to discuss our yearly objectives and mission statement. As I sat around the table with some of the most intelligent and dedicated individuals I have ever worked with, it dawned on me that I haven’t taken the time to reflect on something that we as organizers sometimes take for granted – that we run the single most successful, highly regarded, and emulated entrepreneurship competition in the world. I don’t know how many times in my life I’m going to be able to say this about the places where I work, the organizations where I volunteer, or the businesses I start. For that reason, I’m going to make the most of reflecting on why the MIT $100K is so special to me and why I’m so proud to be a member of the organizing team.

Track Record of Successful Companies are Great Role Models

The MIT $100K has a long track record of developing highly successful companies. It is this momentum that attracts the brightest minds from around MIT to submit their innovations and ideas to each of the three contests that the MIT $100K hosts annually. To put some numbers to this, in the full version of a 2009 report published by MIT Professor Ed Roberts (executive summary here), it is estimated that entrants in the MIT $100K alone have generated more than $15B in market / exit value, have founded 120 companies, and have created 2,500 jobs. That’s impressive – but if you drill down a bit and look at some of the individual companies you can really get a picture of what I’m talking about. A short list of MIT $100K alumni companies includes: Akamai, valued on the NASDAQ at $4.6B; Harmonix, the makers of Guitar Hero; Brontes Technologies, which sold to 3M for $93M; Direct Hit, which was acquired by Ask Jeeves for $517M; VirtualInk, the technology behind the Kindle; and last year’s winner KSplice, which has won multiple awards including one from the Wall Street Journal for “Best Security Innovation of 2009.” Companies like these provide inspiration for new companies to follow in their footsteps.

Large Prize Pool. No Strings Attached.

The MIT $100K disburses more than $400K in cash and prizes to provide a giant carrot meant to pull aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators out of the woodwork. That’s great, right? What makes it even better is that there are almost no strings attached to how these prizes are distributed. We don’t dabble in convertible debt, equity rights, milestone restrictions, or other inhibitors to keep the entrepreneur from realizing their maximum potential. We believe that flexibility is critical to an entrepreneur’s exploration of uncharted territory. So when it comes to how winners of the MIT $100K use the $100,000 in the bank, the six months of free office space, the free tax advisory services, the free professionally designed website, or the free public relations services – the MIT $100K leaves the decision making to the entrepreneur.

Mentorship Opportunities Galore

At the core of the MIT $100K is education and mentorship. As an organization co-founded between the engineering and business schools, the MIT $100K is meant to engage in mentorship both internally and externally to MIT. As it relates to external reach, the competition attracts some of the most successful individuals in the entrepreneurial community. These individuals donate their time with one goal in mind: to help propel teams forward. Teams have the option to take advantage of this by engaging in activities like “Coaches Corner” events which occur multiple times per year. These events offer 30 minutes of individual face time with industry professionals – an activity that hopefully brings people together in productive ways. In our business plan contest, teams refine their business plan hand-in-hand with a partner-level venture mentor and similar legal mentor. These mentors are matched with teams based on areas of expertise, something that has proven its value both during the contest and after the contest as teams seek investment and business partnerships. The net desired result of these activities is to educate student entrepreneurs and give them the practice necessary to get a business off the ground following the MIT $100K.

The MIT $100K Spotlight Means (Almost) Guaranteed Business Validation

Along with mentorship, members of the Boston / Cambridge Entrepreneurial eco-system donate their time to help judge contestants’ entries. These judges bring a highly discerning eye for business potential – and they do so from multiple angles. Judges generally come from a diverse set of backgrounds including successful founders, venture capitalists, angel investors, and legal experts. With such a highly capable and selective judging group, many external parties (including our sponsors) value the credibility of MIT $100K winners as strongly as companies who receive investment from some of the most competitive VC firms. This instant credibility is an ideal foundation from which to launch a business.

Student Run Means the Focus is Always on the Entrepreneur

While the MIT $100K has an external focus to the entrepreneurial eco-system, our allegiance is always first with the entrepreneur. The reason we have maintained this commitment is simple – we’re entirely student run and all of our organizers are believers that entrepreneurship has the power to shape our future lives. Believe me when I say this, but the organizers of the MIT $100K want nothing more than to help launch the next Akamai, watch that company generate jobs, and see it contribute to the sustainable growth of our economy.

Next Steps in this Year’s MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition

Please come and join us on this amazing entrepreneurial journey. We welcome anyone to share in our celebration of entrepreneurship at the next two events.

  • BPC Semi-Final Event – March 11th, 7PM, Stata Kirsch Auditorium: We will select the top twenty-five contestants who will move on to our Business Plan Contest finale.
  • BPC Finale Event – May 12th, 7PM, Kresge Auditorium: We will announce the six ~$20,000 track winners, the $10,000 audience choice winner, and the $100,000 grand prize winner.

Connect With the MIT $100K

Jarrod Phipps is a Co-Director of the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition.  You can find this post, as well as additional content on his personal blog located here.  

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