I recently went to MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the first time to attend a 3 days executive education program at MIT Sloan School of Management called MIT REAP, more here. More about the program in my next few posts but in short it has something to do with developing our startup ecosystem in Singapore.
Almost 26,000 companies are founded by MIT alumni that still existed in 2006. If they were a country, it would have the 11th highest GDP in the world. My first impression was that MIT churn out great technology companies from their licensed technologies, but that is not the case. Most of the 26,000 companies founded by MIT alumni, very few (about 10%) are from MIT-licensed technology. But don't get me wrong, there are still about 20-30 companies spun out yearly from MIT. It finally hit home after speaking to Dharmesh Shah from Hubspot that most software startups started by MIT alumni are not MIT-licensed.
After an informative and definitely transformative 3-4 days at MIT, here are my three takeaways with regards to startups that are associated with MIT and why they interest me:
A predominantly engineering university with a cluster of engineering disciplines creates tremendous network effects. World class in research, both in reality and in perception. I can feel my IQ rise as I wander around the campus, eavesdropping on conversations. No doubt, they have skills, some probably harbor world class skills of varying depths. Over the years, the history and performance of startups from MIT faculty and alumni further shaped those who enrolled, those who researched, and those who taught.
I ran into at least 4 professors who are entrepreneurs many times over or "have helped to start 12 companies". That is a pretty rare occurrence as compared to where I am from. The culture of collaboration, experimentation, and the courage to change the world seems to be within the culture of Cambridge and MIT. The desire to learn, improve and do forces everyone in the system to be better. It fosters "creative confidence" and the courage to explore paths to bring a product to market.
The most unique thing that caught me that were constantly being emphasized, was the way the campus is constructed to encourage "collision" amongst students, professors, post docs, and alumni. The famous MIT Media Lab is designed and located specifically to create "creative collisions". They even conduct entrepreneurship classes at the Media Lab, see https://www.media.mit.edu/about/ventures.To add on to the 3 takeaways above, the talent pool in Boston/Cambridge is one of the best in the US, the availability of early stage capital is second only to Silicon Valley and co-working/collision spaces like CIC it only helps to support more creativity and courage to start companies.
My conclusion is, with enough density of people with the right entrepreneurial DNA and skills colliding together in a supportive ecosystem, amazing things will happen. What does this mean for me or Singapore? Stay tuned to my upcoming posts.