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May 13, 2012

MIT is more than an Institute. It is a self-described ecosystem of new high-technology start-ups that sprout up all along the perimeter of the campus like a carefully unkempt English garden. The boundaries between the Institute proper and its technology start-ups are rigidly porous, with research and researchers flowing back and forth in a continually changing tide of reinforcing ideas.

If you are a prospective EMBA with an inclination toward entrepreneurship, MIT may have far more in store for you than you bargained for. Among the M7 schools, MIT is the unrivaled quantiholic. But you may not have considered that attending Sloan integrates you directly into a powerful entrepreneurial environment, providing you with an instant connection to entrepreneurial peers, investors, startups and growth companies seeking MBA’s, and technologists seeking founding partners. Capitalistic pollen.

The idea behind IDEA week is to ensure that that connection is anything but accidental. IDEA week  purposefully collide EMBA’s with the wider MIT ecosystem through a five day consulting gig with a local startup with a real business problem,while a series of lectures and panels with investors, IP experts, entrepreneurs, government officials, and other key stakeholders build an explore a theoretical framework for entrepreneurship.

IDEA week teaches entrepreneurship by asking students to carry out one of the key functions of an entrepreneur: assessing the current status of a startup company and formulating a strategic partnership. The week long project draws heavily on the Competitive Strategy course, which students complete just two weeks prior to IDEA week, and further educates students through the IDEA(Innovation Driven Entrepreneurial Advantage) framework. The framework provides students with a clear roadmap of entrepreneurial activities, from (i) identifying new opportunities, through (ii) opportunity evaluation, (iii) iteration to grow the opportunity, and finally (iv) integration, implying either an integration into a larger company or the purposeful decision to build a fully integrated, stand-alone entity.

The IDEA framework matched well with my own experiences as an entrepreneur. I found that even after 2 or 3 startup experiences, participating in a weeklong exercise gave me a new opportunity to stand back from the thousand daily challenges of starting a new venture to consider the full venture cycle from an entirely new point of view.

Entrepreneurship is my life long vocation. I’ve spent an enormous amount of time working, learning, struggling to do better. I watched my first company crater eight months after handing it over to a professional CEO. I have watched my second company wither, struggle and gasp for over seven years after handing it over to yet another professional CEO. I’ve made a personal commitment never to hand another company over. I’ll run my own ventures from now on, thank you very much. I care much more and I can scarcely do worse. So, you may imagine the intensity with which I set out to absorb everything that I could from IDEA week.

I was not disappointed.

The Langer Lab gave me a new model for ensuring that Disruptive Robotics excels at both science and entrepreneurship. My experiences listening to venture capitalists and angel investors reinforced many of our ideas of how to find, qualify, and partner with the right investors for us. The consulting gig gave me a first opportunity to look at an early stage company from an outsider’s point of view. This, in and of itself, was enormously illuminating.

As I sit here, write and reflect, it has just now dawned on me that for a serial entrepreneur, IDEA week teaches distance and objectivity. It provides a new set of tools that permit both process and analytical substance to creep into an arena that is still enormously driven by charisma and ego. IDEA week offered me a reason to maintain my faith as an entrepreneur, while enabling me for perhaps the first time in my career to think dispassionately about my passion.

It has been over six weeks since IDEA week and I am still engaging, exploring, and learning from the experience. I ordered a new set of books, based on particular start-up methods taught in the lectures. I am following up to meet with faculty in entrepreneurship. And I am taking my time to deliberately plant my own seeds in the MIT ecosystem.

Something will sprout.


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