When I was a junior faculty member, new ideas from MIT labs generally followed one of two paths to the marketplace. A major corporation might sponsor our research and then use its own internal labs (often staffed by our graduates) to turn our discoveries into new processes and products. Alternatively, individual faculty members would connect with the risk capital community to launch companies that delivered their ideas to the world.
Today, the dominant model is entrepreneurship, with our students and alumni leading the way. Over the last 20 years, submissions for MIT’s $100K competition have risen tenfold. And the itch for new ventures sets in at ever younger ages: on average, MIT entrepreneurs who graduated in the 1950s launched their first company at about 40, a figure that drops to 28 for graduates from the 1990s and is still falling. In fact, 20 percent of incoming students expect to found a company or nonprofit while they are at MIT.
Hungry for skills, strategies, and mentorship, students are lining up to use every resource we have to offer, including the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, the Venture Mentoring Service, the Deshpande Center, the Bernard Gordon–MIT Engineering Leadership (GEL) Program, and UPOP (the Undergraduate Professional Opportunities Program), which alone engages 50 percent of the sophomore class.
We are working aggressively to enhance and expand our resources to meet this rising student interest. Through the new MIT Innovation Initiative, we are exploring options ranging from an entrepreneurship minor, designed to complement and bring a new perspective to students’ “home” disciplines, to a network of “maker spaces” across campus that would build communities of students united in the cheerful try-fail-try-again cycle so central to entrepreneurial success.
As we continue to work to give our students a running start on marketplace success, stay tuned. We will look to our alumni as a crucial source of ideas, inspiration, and mentorship.