MIT Entrepreneurs: Explore Orbit!

The resource portal for MIT students

September 3, 2020
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MIT Orbit is an online tool for student entrepreneurs. This FAQ is based on an interview with the site’s creator, Paul Cheek, a software engineer and tech entrepreneur who joined the Trust Center as an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) just over two years ago.

Q: What is MIT Orbit?

Orbit is the one-stop shop for MIT student entrepreneurs. There are extensive resources for entrepreneurs through Orbit, including our knowledgebase. Our Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIRs) have been developing the content for this vast knowledgebase, and Orbit lets us share this knowledge with the MIT entrepreneurship community.

Q: How did Orbit come about?

There had been a desire to build an online community of sorts for MIT entrepreneurship students. About two summers ago, during one of the MIT delta v cohorts, we put together an online forum where students taking part in the accelerator could go in and post information in a free-form fashion.

This also allowed them to connect with others, because one of the initial desires of such a site was to allow people to connect and engage with each other.

Q: How has Orbit evolved?

We looked at how people were using Orbit and developed the platform that it is today based on what people used the most. We’ve also recently synced Orbit with other MIT systems, which has made the tool easier to use.

For example, if you’re researching entrepreneurship classes, Orbit will know which classes you’ve already taken from its integration with the Registrar’s Office. We also connect to Crunchbase to show up-to-date information on MIT startups, including an overview, founders, funding, and recent news on each company.

Q: What types of things can Orbit be used for?

Orbit started as an online forum, and the existing knowledgebase was integrated into the system, features that are still mainstays of the tool. You can search the knowledgebase for any entrepreneurship-related topic and find valuable content created by our EIRs.

In addition, Orbit allows students to connect with EIRs as well as Sector Practice Leaders, students who help shepherd campus events and communities focused on specific verticals. You can also plan your classes, check out events and resources, find co-founders for your business, engage with alumni, or learn about internships or jobs at MIT startups. It has really evolved into a full-service tool.

Plus, as an online tool, it doesn’t matter if it’s 2:00 am on a Tuesday; you can find the information you need and learn how to navigate the entrepreneurship ecosystem at MIT whenever and wherever.

Q: Is Orbit only for MIT students?

No. Much of Orbit, including the knowledgebase, is open to anyone. We’ve always thought of Orbit as something that should be open to the broader entrepreneurship community. Of course, there are some functions, such as meeting with an EIR or detailed MIT course info, that is reserved for MIT students.

In fact, we have a collaboration with Queensland University of Technology in Australia and are working to develop something similar with them.

Q: Who is using Orbit today?

Over the past four months, we’ve seen users from over 30 departments across MIT! This means Orbit is becoming known in every little nook and cranny of campus.

That’s really exciting because students, faculty, and staff who aren’t fully aware of the entrepreneurship ecosystem here can use Orbit to wrap their head around what’s going on entrepreneurially at MIT.

Q: Can you quantify some information about Orbit and its use?

To date, here is Orbit by the numbers:

  • 15,000+ total users
  • Users from 30+ MIT departments
  • 100+ MIT entrepreneurship courses listed
  • 100+ MIT entrepreneurship resources listed
  • 300+ jobs from MIT alumni startups posted
  • 5,000+ articles in our knowledgebase

Q: How does Orbit allow the Trust Center to serve more students?

Orbit lessens the burden on our EIRs and makes us more effective. It serves as a front-line resource. For a student who has a specific question, or who just wants to understand what options are available, we can send them to Orbit to do some self-exploration. Then, they can still go through Orbit and book a meeting with us, but when they do so, it results in far more productive meetings. I believe we’re able to help students on a deeper level.

Q: How did COVID impact Orbit?

Due to the pandemic, the physical space of the Trust Center is closed right now, so it’s been extremely helpful to have an online portal for students to go to because it’s really the “virtual version” of our center right now.

Q: How do the internship and job opportunities work?

Matching students with internships is a new feature of Orbit. It helped us to very, very quickly spin up an online internship program for students, especially when some of them found their current internships were being pulled out from under them this summer due to pandemic-related issues.

Everybody was kind of scrambling, but because we had Orbit, we could very quickly communicate with all our alumni startups and say, “Hey, we need internship opportunities. Who can take a student to intern this summer?”

In one day, we had 20 opportunities and they all went straight into Orbit for students to explore. Those who were interested got a personalized email introduction to the founder of each company. The number of internships postings grew from there, and it has been an extremely popular feature of the site.

This past summer, more than 75 startups were represented on the site, and we were able to make over 120 student-to-startup connections.

Q: What’s next?

The next thing that’s coming for Orbit is a more tightly knit integration with our Entrepreneurship & Innovation (E&I) track, a program for MBA students at MIT Sloan. In the track, students must complete a certain number of course requirements, and we are going to manage the requirements process online through Orbit. We’re also working on greater personalization for students when they first log into Orbit.

Q: How can I learn more?

Just visit Orbit any time, or watch the introductory video below.