How the Trust Center adapted our accelerator to a virtual world
2020 is a year we’ll remember for many reasons, but the class of 2020 will certainly look back at how crowd-filled graduation ceremonies were transformed into unique and socially-distanced celebrations amid COVID-19 restrictions.
At MIT’s delta v, we can relate, being just weeks in to our summer-long student venture accelerator, and with our entire program shifting to a virtual reality as well. The Trust Center usually buzzes with activity in the summer, but now we’ve created a virtual beehive of activity that provides unique experiences and opportunities for our student entrepreneurs. And when summer ends, these students will kickstart their ventures and reach escape velocity with a final presentation of their startup companies at Demo Day where we anticipate sharing with the world some of the best and brightest new startups to come out of MIT.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.”
Prepping to Go Virtual
MIT delta v has become known as a “transformative experience that only MIT could provide,” and the entrepreneurs that go through this program are truly helping to make the world a better place. The short video below says it better than I can because it’s the alumni of our accelerator who are the ones that provided the words in the script.
Many MIT programs were cancelled this summer, but thanks to Managing Director Bill Aulet’s advocacy across MIT and with the Trust Center donors, this summer’s virtual MIT delta v has become a reality.
Students joining this program, and the whole MIT community, have major expectations for delta v and the startups we help create. So we knew we needed to go beyond just transitioning to Zoom meetings and putting our content online. We looked at what worked for MIT’s remote learning classes in the spring, and reached out to our entrepreneurial education colleagues at other universities to gain their insights.
We held brainstorming sessions and many, many meetings to figure out how the Trust Center could make this year’s delta v experience engaging and interactive. This meant honestly looking at challenges such as onboarding, the lack of personal connections, less-than-ideal work from home situations, and “Zoom fatigue.” We knew that engagement, high-touch experiences, and cohort learning would all be essential for making this year a success, and we have put in extra effort to ensure delta v would not lose its special touch.
The 2020 Cohort
Our cohort of delta v teams this year was the smallest we’ve had since 2014 with 11 teams in Cambridge and 6 in New York City. We chose to select fewer teams in order to allow for more individualized attention from our Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIRs), who are spending dedicated online time mentoring each student venture.
The infographic below shows the makeup of our 2020 cohort. Each year, we work on trying to select a diverse and balanced group of entrepreneurs tackling problems in a variety of industries.
A big part of delta v is learning from the pros. Going virtual this summer actually had a benefit in the sheer number of experts we’ve been able to line up. In fact, in the month of June alone, delta v teams will have had opportunities to hear from 21 different workshop speakers, subject matter experts who are located anywhere. These past and future speakers include:
- Ryan Choi, MIT Alum, now with Y Combinator, for a discussion on finding product-market fit and who will be returning for a discussion on hiring;
- Eleanor Carey, who spent 62 days at sea, rowing from California to Hawaii, who gave an inspiring talk relating to the realities of entrepreneurship;
- James Baum, technology leader, investor, and advisor, who shared his advice on managing boards and will be back for office hours during the summer;
- George Petrovas, serial entrepreneur, who shared his founder journey and is on a member of one team’s MIT delta v mock board;
- Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group, who will talk about fundraising in a COVID-19 environment;
- John Belizaire, CEO of Soluna, who will speak about leadership;
- Perry Cohen, Founder and Executive Director of The Venture Out Project, who will speak about his journey;
- plus, our amazing faculty, including Kirk Arnold, Kit Hickey, Erin Scott, Jason Jay, Bill Aulet, Paul Cheek, and Dip Patel.
This year at delta v, we will further build on our Entrepreneurial Confidence and Communication (ECC) program to teach tools for self-awareness and mindfulness with the goal of better mental health and “anti-fragility” for entrepreneurs. We recently wrote about this program for the Harvard Business Review, and it has been well-received by students and the community. We believe that if we teach new entrepreneurs how to work through the stresses of entrepreneurship more effectively, it will lead to better decision making and healthier choices for their life and their business.
An interesting dimension to this year’s cohort is that they are particularly receptive to learning about meditation and mindfulness for stress reduction, according to Kathleen Stetson, our ECC coach and creator of the program. She believes this is a direct result of the proliferation of information in the news and on social media about mental health concerns during the pandemic.
This year, Demo Day may be where we see the biggest impact of going virtual. Traditionally, at the end of the summer, all of the delta v teams gather on stage to formally present their startups to the MIT entrepreneurship community. Things will change this year, but we are making some amazing plans for a virtual Demo Day and post-event networking experience.
We will also hold a virtual Investor Day, which is new this summer. This event will focus specifically on the financial foundation of the startups for a select audience and will allow the teams’ Demo Day pitches for the general MIT audience to be more focused on the journey and world-changing impact as opposed to the dollars and cents. Students will benefit from having two completed pitches when they finish the program.
Conducting a virtual delta v is a first for all of us — we are learning too — and the Trust Center is striving to bring this year’s cohort an incredible and rewarding experience.
Our student venture accelerator is the most inspiring environment I can think of for an entrepreneur. There’s an energy here that propels each of our teams forward. For 90 days, our student entrepreneurs eat, sleep, and breathe their startups. They are guided through a process that makes them really think through the realities of starting an actual business, not just chasing a cool idea. Our fervent desire is that some of our student entrepreneurs will create companies that help to solve some of the big, global problems we are seeing in our world today, such as preventing the next pandemic or eradicating racism.
As the delta v leadership team, our opportunity this summer is to assist our students in their educational journeys as entrepreneurs and to guide them in making entrepreneurship a force for good.