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Behind the Scenes at MIT delta v Demo Day

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On Friday, the MIT delta v accelerator returns to Kresge Auditorium for the 2022 edition of Demo Day.

The Institute community and the public are invited to attend the annual event highlighting the 2022 cohort’s 22 teams. This year’s cohort is comprised of 65 students, a third of which are from MIT Sloan, and their entrepreneurial interests include artificial intelligence, biotech, clothing and apparel, commerce and shopping, consumers, education, energy, financial services, government and military, health care, and software.

In addition to students and staff, another group will either be sitting in the audience or standing just out of sight backstage at Demo Day—the teams’ advisors, many of whom are not only MIT delta v alumni but Sloanies as well.

Bill Aulet, SF ’94

Credit: Justin Knight

“MIT delta v would not be possible without a highly experienced alumni community willing to help pull it off,” says Bill Aulet, SF ’94 (Ethernet Inventors Professor of the Practice of Entrepreneurship; Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship). “Not only do alumni pitch in to pull it off, but they provide invaluable support to help successfully transition the new entrepreneurs and ventures out of the MIT bubble and into the real world.”

The need for community

Throughout the accelerator experience, team members learn from their peers, build community, receive mentorship and coaching from industry experts, attend talks and seminars, participate in simulated board meetings, and grow their expanding networks—all while getting their startups off the ground.

All of these are core to MIT delta v, but as Jenny Larios Berlin, MCP ’14, MBA ’15 (Entrepreneur in Residence, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship; Lecturer) explains, building community is one of the most important hallmarks of entrepreneurship.

“As entrepreneurs, we need a community that we can rely on for encouragement, learning, and being challenged,” says Berlin, who co-founded and served as COO of Optimus Ride before joining the Trust Center to co-lead MIT delta v. “It is our goal to ensure that alumni continue to feel connected and, in some fashion, pay forward the goodness they received while they were here learning from other alumni; and for current participants to see this, so they can follow in the same footsteps and, in this way, create a virtuous cycle of support and community.”

Kosta Ligris, EMBA ’20 (Entrepreneur in Residence, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship; Lecturer) agrees. When offered the chance to lend his experience as an entrepreneur and a Sloanie to MIT delta v, the co-founder and CEO of Stavvy could not resist.

“This was an exciting opportunity for me to roll my sleeves up and get into the fast-paced and intense immersion our teams experience,” says Ligris. “Everyone thinks my job as an entrepreneur in residence is to mentor, answer questions, and solve problems—but, in fact, I learn so much from these talented entrepreneurs and ask more questions than I answer.”

Jenny Larios Berlin, MCP ’14, MBA ’15

Credit: Caitlin Cunningham

Because of mentorship from alumni like Berlin, Ligris, and more that continues long after Demo Day, Aulet says the survival rate for MIT delta v teams is high at 60 percent. “It could be mentoring, funding, making introductions to potential customers, or just hearing a friendly voice,” he explains, “but alumni are an important part of our program and value proposition.”

The longevity of entrepreneurship

Stretching from June to early September, the pace of MIT delta v is rapid. Teams accepted into the summer program immediately delve into the details of their ventures, and their speed only slows for the moment they present themselves to the MIT community at Demo Day.

Despite its haste, MIT delta v prepares students for a career journey across the entrepreneurial landscape that can—and often will—persist for many, many years. Or, as Ligris describes the process: “Regardless of where you land, it’s a set of skills that last a lifetime.”

“Entrepreneurship is a career path that, if you choose it, grants you significant agency over your actions and decisions,” says Berlin. “It’s also a craft that benefits from practice and community. And if you choose to take this mindset to the corporate structure, it facilitates opportunities for internal innovation.”

Ben Soltoff (Entrepreneur in Residence, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship), who co-leads MIT delta v with Berlin, further expands on the idea of longevity when discussing what entrepreneurship is and what it can be. He is especially passionate about the potential of its durability when it comes to tackling “thorny problems” like climate change.

“I see entrepreneurship as a route to making positive change in the world,” says Soltoff, whose primary interest is utilizing climate tech to hack environmental challenges. “At the core, entrepreneurs are people who convert challenges into opportunities. That’s an essential skill when it comes to addressing climate change.”

Being a part of an entrepreneurial ecosystem like the one fostered by the Trust Center is what originally drew Soltoff to this work and what keeps him going at MIT delta v.

“I always come away feeling energized and beaming with pride at our amazing teams,” he says. “I’m awestruck at the progress they’ve made. Demo Day will be their moment in the spotlight.”

Live and in person

After going virtual during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Demo Day returned to Kresge Auditorium for an in-person gathering last year. The excitement in the room was palpable then, and with just a few days left before this year’s Demo Day, the anticipation is just as high.

As a graduate student at MIT Sloan and the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Berlin never attended Demo Day live and in person. Now, she will not only be live and in person on Friday, but will also be facilitating the event with Soltoff, Aulet, and the rest of the Trust Center.

“I love being behind the scenes, encouraging and supporting our teams and founders,” says Ligris, who is also excited for Friday’s showcase. “Whether it’s leading a meditation before they take the stage or giving them the encouragement to get comfortable being uncomfortable, it’s our super bowl. Although I’m on the sidelines, I get to take it all in. It energizes me.”

Visit the MIT delta v website to register to attend Demo Day in person or watch the live webcast.

For more info Andrew Husband Senior Writer & Editor, OER (617) 715-5933