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MIT is a powerhouse when it comes to problem solving. Some of the world’s most talented scientists engineers study and work at the Institute, and breakthroughs across different disciplines are often a part of daily life.

However some problems, particularly in the energy sector, transcend the scope of a single discipline and require a systems-wide approach. A new video by AMPS and the Alumni Association focuses on that multidisciplinary strategy, showing how innovation in energy technology has to be combined with innovation in business models and policies in order to create and promote a sustainable energy system.

View the seven minute Energy Innovation video above or watch it on TechTV.

the BiDi Screen created by Media Lab researchers

The BiDi Screen created by Media Lab researchers.

The latest issue of Quick Take, in case you haven’t read it yet, celebrates MIT advancements that could transform the future of communications, gadgets, transportation, construction, and computing.

In the computing category, for example, the BiDi Screen created by Media Lab researchers turns LCD displays into giant lensless cameras that can both capture images and display them and allow users to control on-screen objects with hand gestures.

Since Quick Take’s publication, gestural interfaces have been attracting a lot of media buzz. Alumnus John Underkoffler ’88, SM ’91, PhD ’99 demonstrated the g-speak Spatial Operating Environment (SOE) at last week’s TED conference in California (see video of it in action below). The idea behind the technology can be seen in the 2002 film Minority Report, for which Underkoffler served as a science advisor. He based the movie’s technology on his earlier work in the Media Lab. Several MIT alumni, who all work for Oblong Industries, were instrumental in creating the SOE.

Of course, other noteworthy MIT innovations have cropped up as well recently. One is in the new field of network coding. MIT researchers discovered that communications networks could be made more efficient—that is, Internet file sharing faster, streaming video more reliable, and cell-phone reception better—by randomly combining data at routers. Read the two-part article about MIT’s contributions to making the most of a network’s bandwidth.

What other inventions and innovations are on the horizon? Here’s a peek: shotgun-riding robots, radiation-resistant steel alloys, redesigned silicon transistors, and computational photography. Read Quick Take: Future to find out more.

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MIT Global Startup Workshop

Register today for the MIT Global Startup Workshop.

Considering innovative start-up ideas? Looking to expand your entrepreneurial network on a global scale? Attend the MIT Global Startup Workshop, the world’s premier learning and networking opportunity for entrepreneurs. This year’s workshop will be held in Reykjavik, Iceland, March 24–26, to the theme of Conquering the Economic Crisis with Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Green Energy. Its focus will be to interactively explore how to harness the powers of entrepreneurship and green-energy technologies to recover from the current economic crisis and create long-term sustainability. Iceland, a world leader in the emerging field of green energy, is the only country generating 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

The student-run three-day conference is geared to up-and-coming and established entrepreneurial leaders, financiers, professors, students, government agents, and private parties looking to stimulate discussion, generate ideas, and share best entrepreneurial practices. It features inspirational talks, expert panel discussions, interactive case studies, breakout sessions, an elevator pitch competition, a business plan competition workshop, and plenty of opportunities for facilitated networking with participants from more than 60 nations. You’ll leave with a global support network for all stages of entrepreneurial activity.

“Three power-packed days—fun, eye-opening, inspirational.”
—GSW attendee

This year’s confirmed keynote speakers include:

  • Alf Bjørseth (founder of Renewable Energy Corporation)
  • Robin Chase SM ’86 (founder of Zipcar and GoLoco)
  • Nader F. Darehshori (former CEO of Houghton Mifflin)
  • Kenneth P. Morse (founder of 3Com and five other companies).

Join this unique community, experience the dynamic forum, and help build the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Register today.

Guest blogger: Max Jahn MBA ’11

Entrepreneurship is at home in Silicon Valley—and one of its most fertile breeding grounds is MIT Sloan and its Entrepreneurship and Innovation (E+I) Program. Under the banner “East meets West,” around 90 MIT Sloan E+I Trek students set out to meet entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, alumni, and like-minded students to bring the best of both coasts together Jan. 2-6. The experience was “nothing short of amazing,” as one classmate put it.

The response of my classmates who joined the trek could not have been more enthusiastic. Over the course of five days, we bonded as a group, met with the movers and shakers in the valley, got an insight into some of the hottest start-ups, and had enough fun to now face the Boston winter head-on.

Sloan E+I Trek students celebrate the trek's end in Napa Valley.

Sloan E+I Trek students celebrate the trek's end in Napa Valley.

On a typical day, we would have a VC speaker in the morning, then visit a start-up, have a lunchtime speaker before heading to meet another company. In the evening we had a great alumni event one night and a mixer with Stanford and Cal students on another night. All in all, each student met with six companies. The company visits were in smaller groups of approximately 10 people, giving us the opportunity to get a good insight into industries of interest and ask questions.

Personally, I met with friend.ly, a facebook-related dating start-up; content-sharing website digg; naturalpath.com, a sustainable lifestyle blog; C3 Carbon; Intel Capital; and Aardvark, a social search engine. In five of these companies, I got to talk straight to the CEO. Everywhere we went, we were met with great interest and hospitality and all companies were extremely well prepared.

I noticed that the Silicon Valley community is very tightly knit and entrepreneurs and venture capitalists all seem to know each other well. While I heard repeatedly that there is an “acceptance of failure” on the west coast, reputation is vital. If you have a blemished reputation, it’s “game over.” Some of the people we met with pointed out that the truly great entrepreneurial ideas tend to come from people in their early twenties and often have foreign-born founders. Sobering news for most of us. The best advice I received was to “apprentice yourself to someone you think is a genius” and discover how to make yourself indispensable. At MIT Sloan, we are two phone calls away from anyone and should take advantage of that opportunity.

With 2010 on the horizon, many journalists and commentators have been surveying the year in review and commenting on its themes and trends. The financial crisis and its attendant challenges—high unemployment and the sluggish economy, etc—has been central to many conversations.

One question some MIT alumni and faculty members are asking is, can the Institute improve things in 2010? Technological innovation is one thing, but what about stimulating economic growth? For an assessment of MIT’s impact on local, regional, and global economies, Slice turned to a report released by the Kauffman Foundation.

According to the study Entrepreneurial Impact: The Role of MIT:

  • If the active companies founded by MIT graduates formed an independent nation, their revenues would make that nation at least the seventeenth-largest economy in the world.
  • An estimated 6,900 MIT alumni companies with worldwide sales of approximately $164 billion are located in Massachusetts alone and represent 26 percent of the sales of all Massachusetts companies.
  • 4,100 MIT alumni-founded firms are based in California, and generate an estimated $134 billion in worldwide sales.
  • States currently benefiting most from jobs created by MIT alumni companies are Massachusetts (estimated at just under one million jobs worldwide); California (estimated at 526,000 jobs), New York (estimated at 231,000 jobs), Texas (estimated at 184,000) and Virginia (estimated at 136,000).

Overall, the study found that the overwhelming majority of alumni-founded companies have the potential to stimulate local economies because so many of them are manufacturing, biotech, software or consulting firms that sell to national and world markets.

Want to learn more? Read the full report.

Randal Pinkett

Randal Pinkett

In 2005, Randal Pinkett SM ’98, MBA ’98, PhD ’02 won season four of The Apprentice. So how has his life changed as a result? And what was it like working for Donald Trump for a year? Read on to find out.

Love it or hate it, reality TV has become a new way to gain notoriety, both positive and negative, in America. For Pinkett, the gamble to appear before millions of viewers as he vied for a six-figure, one-year contract working for Donald Trump paid off, partly because he clearly defined what he hoped to gain from the experience. “I wanted to build a platform for my speaking and writing and build my company,” he says. Four years later, he still needs the business affairs manager, PR professionals, book agent, and speaker’s bureau he initially hired to handle the opportunities presented to him.

He’s attracted more private-sector clients to the Newark, New Jersey-based management, technology, and policy consultancy, BCT Partners, he cofounded and leads; published books; appeared as a correspondent for PBS’ CEO Exchange show; and serves as a national spokesperson for numerous causes, including Autism Speaks, a nonprofit he worked with during the show’s final episode; the National Visionary Leadership Project, founded by Dr. Camille Cosby (wife of comedian Bill Cosby); and the United Negro College Fund, for which he’s headlining the Empower Me tour.

Randal Pinkett at a speaking engagement

Pinkett maintains a busy schedule of speaking engagements for a variety of causes and events.

These days, he spends 80 percent of his time drumming up business for BCT Partners and 20 percent on his personal brand, a split he’s perfectly happy with. “I try to manage my speaking engagements and appearances,” he says. “At the end of the day, I’m a full-time entrepreneur.” Learn more about Pinkett.

On the big decision
If you watched The Apprentice finale, you know that at the end, Trump offered the job to Pinkett then asked him if he should also hire Rebecca, the runner-up. “There is one and only one apprentice, and if you’re going to hire someone tonight, it should be one,” Pinkett said. “It’s not The Apprenti [sic], it’s The Apprentice.”

The decision earned him some critics, an admittedly difficult experience for Pinkett. “I had to do a lot of soul searching [after the show]. It boils down to, do you want to be principled or popular?” he says. “I believe I found a certain grounding and strength in my faith to believe in who I am and what I stand for.” And in the end, he knows he made the right decision. “I would regret it to this day if I had caved in to that,” Pinkett says. “It was an insult for him to ask the question”—one Trump hadn’t asked before and hasn’t since, he points out. “It was a clear victory, and I earned it.” (more…)

MIT is a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity and NASDAQ OMX has noticed—so the world’s busiest stock exchange invited MIT folks to do the closing bell honors on Friday, Nov. 6. In fact, MIT Alumni Association President Ken Wang ’71 and MIT Enterprise Forum Chairman and President Rich Kivel will do the ringing. Update: see the video shown in Times Square.

Seven-story NASDAQ screen featured MIT Nov. 6.

Seven-story NASDAQ screen featured MIT Nov 6.

If you are near Times Square, just wander over at 3:30 p.m. and you can see a video featuring MIT entrepreneurs and inventors continuously displayed on the seven-story high NASDAQ tower, the largest stationary video display in the world. That’s when the MIT Webstream begins as well.

At 3:45 p.m., the actual bell ceremony begins and the event, with close-captioned remarks, is  set to be broadcast on the tower. After the stock market closes, the Webstream returns to the giant video broadcast until 4:30 p.m.

The event is also a chance to showcase Global Entrepreneurship Week, Nov. 16-22, an effort to engage millions of young people around the world in a growing movement to generate new ideas and to seek better ways of doing things. The sponsors are the Kauffman Foundation, which fosters a society of economically independent individuals who are engaged citizens, and Make Your Mark, the UK’s national campaign to give people the confidence, skills, and ambition to be enterprising. The MIT Enterprise Forum is a global partner of  Global Enterpreneurship Week.

Although commentators are talking about green sprouts poking up through the somber economic landscape, it’s still tough to garner success in business. Still, you can find some optimism and tips from MIT sources.

The 2009 National Best Books Award tapped a new book by Steven Spear SM ’93, an MIT senior lecturer and senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Chasing the Rabbit: How Market Leaders Outdistance the Competition describes how exceptional organizations create competitive advantage through the strength of their internal operations. He dissects what “high-velocity companies” like Toyota and Southwest Airlines do that droves of wannabees do not.growing_EF

On Spear’s Chasing the Rabbit blog you can read the first chapter of the book and get current tips.

The next global broadcast of the MIT Enterprise Forum, a project of the MIT Alumni Association, targets how to thrive in turbulent times. The Tough Get Growing: How to Succeed in a Down Economy is set for Monday evening, Nov. 16. You can network and see it on campus or go to one of the many worldwide viewing sites. Speakers include innovative business leader Helen Greiner ’89, SM ’90, CEO of the Droid Works, a robotics skunkworks. She is co-founder of iRobot which she transformed, with business partners Colin Angle ’89, SM ’91, and MIT Prof. Rod Brooks, from an spin-off into a ~$300 million business and the global leader of practical robots. 

Starting Up When the Economy Is Down” provides business tips from fellow alumni and points to MIT resources for alumni.

Tish Scolnik '10 working in Tanzania.

Tish Scolnik '10 working in Tanzania.

Glamour Magazine named Tish Scolnik as one of their Top 10 College Women (video), recognizing her work on mobility issues for the disabled, in the October issue. As a Public Service Center Fellow, Tish has traveled to Africa three times working with wheelchair workshops. Tish designed a three-wheel folding “small-business wheelchair” and five have since been built. Tish is also a member of the Leveraged Freedom Chair team, which designed a long-distance, lever-powered wheelchair that can traverse rugged terrain. Tish is also working with one of her community partners in Tanzania to build a new wheelchair workshop and skills training center.

Tish has helped four disabled entrepreneurs to start small businesses in Tanzania. These pilot entrepreneurs, emplower with their new wheelchairs, began by selling batik and bead jewelry, fixing small electrical goods, and repairing shoes. The shoe repair man has used some of his business profits to help two other disabled entrepreneurs to set-up shoe-shining businesses close to his stall.


Image: Vitality

Let’s all get online: my mom, my toddler neighbor, and of course, my prescription pill bottle. The latter is the idea behind GlowCap, a screw-on cap for standard prescription medicine bottles that links to the Internet and has embedded sensors and transmitters.

With the help of a computer, GlowCap users can program when their pills need to be taken. At the designated time, the cap flashes. Thirty minutes later, an alert sounds, followed by another, and if the container still remains sealed, then the system makes an automated reminder phone call to the patient or a caregiver.

Alumnus Joshua Wachman ’90, SM ’96 is the president of Vitality, the company that developed the cap, and CEO David Rose is a frequent lecturer at the MIT Media Lab.

Beyond the health benefits derived from sticking to a regular pill-taking schedule, GlowCap proponents also claim that fewer emergencies resulting from missed meds could save lives and reduce long term health care costs.

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