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Course profile: 15.366 Energy Ventures

In 2007, Bill Aulet, SF ’94, senior lecturer and managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, saw a unique challenge and opportunity. Colleagues and students at MIT were studying energy and entrepreneurship—but they weren’t creating entrepreneurial ventures in energy, and Aulet wanted to find out why.

With a grounding in the system dynamics teachings of MIT professor John Sterman, Aulet discovered that the challenges of breaking into the energy sector were different. From buying patterns and technological drivers to increased regulation, energy is all about reliability, not speed to market and quick turnover. With this knowledge in hand, Energy Ventures was created.

Course 15.366 brings together engineers, entrepreneurs, computer scientists, and policy students from across MIT and teaches them how to take a great idea in the clean energy sector, commercialize it, and bring it to market. “The Energy Ventures course gave me the tools to help evaluate and develop the pieces of the business plan: value proposition, competitive advantage, customer interest, partnerships, and financial plans... . I love the process of taking a foundational innovation and working to find customers and make it real,” said Vanessa Green, MNG ’08, MBA ’11, co-founder and chief executive officer of FinSix. The company seeks to tackle the problem of existing power solutions that are unable to meet the size, performance, and cost constraints of LED lamps by building very high frequency (VHF) power supplies.

The interdisciplinary nature of the course is crucial to its success. Since the course was introduced in 2007, over 50 percent of its students have studied outside of the traditional MBA-degree programs. Every year, undergraduate and graduate students from other departments at MIT have made up the balance of the class composition. “Energy Ventures embraces all disciplines and all schools of MIT and beyond. By bringing people from different backgrounds together, it creates a fabric of bright, talented individuals that together will be able to solve this challenge,” said Green.

In describing Energy Ventures, Aulet summarized it as follows: “We have selected a number of the most talented and passionate students at MIT from multiple science disciplines and coupled them with top policy graduate students and MBAs and put them to work on building new energy companies. While there is still much to learn... a new breed of entrepreneurs, the energy entrepreneurs, will arise to meet the challenges of the energy sector.”

Now, six years into the experiment of Energy Ventures, with successful partnerships created and ventures launched, it appears to be working. Green is quick to recognize the unique nature of the community created through the class. “This is a strong core community,” she says, “where people are always willing to jump in and help each other. Being a part of Energy Ventures was impactful as a student, but the course continues to have an impact—and I anticipate it will continue to have one throughout my career.”