Celebrating a half century of MIT entrepreneurship

Two-day event honors the Institute's past innovators and salutes the next generation

November 21, 2016
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The MIT Sloan School of Management will celebrate more than 50 years of entrepreneurial research, education, and practice at MIT by hosting a two-day event honoring the achievements of the entrepreneurs and innovators who have emerged from MIT.

The celebration, which begins on November 11th, commemorates both the implementation of the MIT entrepreneurship program and the 25th anniversary of the founding of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center, now renamed the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. More than 250 students, alumni, faculty, staff, and community members are expected to attend.

“For more than a half a century, we have been in the business of creating, educating, mentoring, stimulating, and launching innovation-based entrepreneurship,” says Edward Roberts, the Founder and Chair of the Trust Center and the David Sarnoff Professor of Management of Technology.

“We are celebrating the ways in which MIT has influenced the moving of science and technology into the marketplace via entrepreneurship, paying tribute to the heroic MIT alums who pioneered companies that have become the building blocks of new industries, and saluting the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

The event features speeches, panel discussions, and demonstrations that showcase the breadth of entrepreneurship at MIT. The program includes sessions on MIT’s entrepreneurial impact on life sciences and biotechnology, the internet, and robotics.  Professors Phillip Sharp, Charles Cooney and Robert Langer will provide testimony to their own scientific and entrepreneurial contributions that created and developed the biotech industry. Tom Leighton, co-founder and CEO of Akamai Technologies, Brad Feld, co-founder of TechStars and the Foundry Group, Harry Lee, co-founder of three successful high tech companies including Applicon, Helen Greiner, co-founder and President of iRobot, and Noubar Afeyan, founder and CEO of Flagship Ventures, are among the many other distinguished speakers.

The event also provides an inside look at the development of MIT’s entrepreneurial program and its global spread. Entrepreneurship at MIT has a rich history and has flourished for much longer than 50 years. But it wasn’t until 1964 when Roberts began his research in the field that entrepreneurship as an organized activity took hold across the Institute. That influenced the creation of the MIT Young Alumni seminars on how to start a new company, followed by the MIT Enterprise Forum, now with 26 global chapters. Today MIT offers more than 60 courses across the university, taught by 10 tenure-track faculty members in collaboration with another 20 practitioners. The opening of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center in 1990 helped propel the growth of student clubs, the MIT $100K, the Clean Energy Prize, the IDEAS Global Challenge, and other programs.

“Entrepreneurship as a serious field of research was created here at MIT,” says Bill Aulet, managing director of the Trust Center and a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan. “Our goal is to build a scalable education process that is both rigorous and practical to teach students how to create positive impact in a rapidly changing world.”

Aulet will lead a luncheon panel, On the Shoulders of Giants, to highlight the Institute’s newest group of entrepreneurs. Among other speakers are: Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, a Nigerian social entrepreneur and founder of WeCyclers, which offers waste collection and recycling services in Lagos and Ella Peinovich, co-founder and CEO of Soku, which enables artisans to engage the international marketplace from difficult-to-access locations around the globe.

“We are not just celebrating the past; we’re showing what’s possible even today,” says Aulet.

The impact of MIT entrepreneurship has been well documented. According to Roberts’ seminal study, first published in 2009 and updated in 2015 with Professor Fiona Murray, MIT alumni have been among the founders of more than 30,000 active companies. Those enterprises employ roughly 4.6 million people and generate annual global revenues of $1.9 trillion, equivalent to the GDP of the world’s 10th largest economy as of 2014. The report also vividly illustrates MIT’s global entrepreneurial impact: Nearly a quarter of MITalumni firms were founded outside the U.S., but even more of MIT’s foreign-born alumni have built their companies here in America.

“Our unique culture, ground-breaking science and technology knowledge creation and education, and brilliant entrepreneurial people who build upon that knowledge make MIT an unsurpassed environment to learn how to start new ventures that positively change the world,” says Professor Roberts.