This is the story of Nate, John, Chris and Tyler, who started a company while attending MIT and decided to stay in school while working on their startup at the same time.
I first met Nate Robert and John Reynolds in March 2013. Nate (then 22) and John (then 21) were seniors studying Mechanical Engineering at the time. In the previous semester, Nate and John took a mechanical design class (MIT 2.009), where they became intrigued by the problem of delivering beer to pubs without elevator access. Traditionally, beer distribution companies use dollies that cost around $300 each. Delivery personnel would stack two kegs on each dolly, then bend over and bounce 320lb of beer up and down flights of stairs. Not only does this destroy the dollies, but repetitive back strain for delivery men results in a high injury rate, costing these companies millions of dollars every year.
As we continue to recover from a global recession and look to the future, it’s imperative that we build more entrepreneurial-driven academic institutions. Not only will this provide the foundation for much-needed innovation, it also will strengthen economies by providing jobs and fostering sustainable growth in enterprises.
Lessons can be learned from universities around the world about accelerating entrepreneurship. They can provide the model for how to create clusters of commercially successful startups around research-driven institutions. However, the success of that model largely depends on the role of the business school within that university setting.
I was recently invited to give a talk for Knowledge Stream in Russia about entrepreneurship and cross-cultural issues. This is similar to a Ted Talk, but I spoke via videoconference from Cambridge to a live audience in Moscow. There is growing interest in entrepreneurship in Russia, especially among younger people, but it’s still a very new and emerging area. In fact, Russia is one of the countries with the lowest entrepreneurial intention rates. The request for a talk on this topic was encouraging.
I began my talk highlighting some of the trends worldwide in entrepreneurship. I analyzed many studies to identify these trends, but one of the most useful was conducted by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. According to GEM, we’ve seen a big increase in early-stage activity since 2011. In 16 developing economies, it has increased about 25%. Three developing countries in particular saw above average rates of growth in terms of new startups: Argentina, Chile and China.
Intent to start a business is highest in emerging economies. People in those areas are most likely to see opportunities and believe in their ability to start a business. They hold entrepreneurship in high regard. Expectations to start a business are also higher in certain developing economies like China, Chile and Brazil. Interestingly, those measures tend to fall as countries rise in economic development.
During my recent visit to Seattle with MIT Sloan’s Technology Club, the city impressed me as a vibrant, outdoorsy town with a dynamic technological ecosystem. And man, do Seattleites love their teams.
As a native of Boston — a city famous for its rabid sports culture — I have to hand it to Seattle, whose fans regularly cause earthquakes by cheering for their football team. (According to seismologists, Seahawks fans shook the ground under CenturyLink Field during the recent playoff game against the New Orleans Saints, causing the second Seattle fan-generated earthquake in three years.) Respect.
Fervent fans aside, what I found most striking about the city was its entrepreneurial spirit. Sure, I knew about the creative work done by Seattle’s blue chip behemoths: Microsoft and Amazon. But I hadn’t appreciated the city’s thriving startup culture.
As we dig out of the first snowstorm of the year, we are reminded of one of the great appeals of Silicon Valley: the beautiful weather! And yet we both see – having just co-taught a course at MIT looking at entrepreneurial regions around the world – that Greater Boston and Massachusetts have many sources of competitive advantage that still make it a leading global hub for entrepreneurship and innovation, with new opportunities in 2014.
As an ecosystem, our New Year’s resolution should be to do all we can to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This is not always easy: research at MIT has taught us that at least five key stakeholder groups matter in such an entrepreneurial ecosystem – a model we refer to as the ‘pentacle’, consisting of: entrepreneurs, universities and ‘risk capital’ (of course), but also large corporations and even government policy makers.