Innovation Teams, or I-Teams — are a joint product of MIT Sloan and the MIT School of Engineering — and bring together creative and motivated science, engineering, and management students to learn the theory and practice of commercializing science. Students put their knowledge into practice in a semester-long project that assesses the commercial feasibility of scientific breakthroughs. Most I-Team projects are based on ideas at the proof-of-concept stage in MIT laboratories. Some will come to market.
I-Teams are one of MIT’s signature Action Learning programs, reflecting MIT’s "Mens et Manus" motto. The class project — together with lectures, dynamic discussions, and guest lecturers — is designed to give students the skills needed for the commercial analysis of novel scientific ideas. Lectures focus on the tools required for effective commercialization, from analysis of promising early-stage scientific ideas through commercialization strategies and the assessment of critical milestones.
I-Team Projects put these new skills into practice. In teams of four to six, students work closely with the Project Lead (PL) — typically an MIT faculty member — and other members of the project lab. Teams also have an advisor from the local entrepreneurial community to provide guidance and contacts.
Over the semester, teams build a thorough analysis of the commercial potential as well as the commercial risks of the idea, and propose a set of milestones for future development.
In some cases, students on I-Team projects continue to work with the Project Lead to shape commercialization even after the class ends. Several have joined with their PL or students in the lab to compete in the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. Companies created from I-Teams include Lantos Technologies, Myomo neurorobotic medical devices, and several ongoing “proto startups.”
“I knew about American business, but not enough about what’s really become a global economy. … You can read about it all you want, but there’s no substitute for being there and seeing the context and seeing how completely different these [other countries] are.”
“One of the reasons I came to Sloan was because I wanted to be at a top MBA institution worldwide. But I also wanted access to working with the latest innovations and the highest technology that was coming out of the MIT labs.”
“We’re very interdisciplinary. Among the faculty in the group are an economist, a political scientist, a sociologist, and an industrial relations specialist. We’ve always made a big effort to be open to a variety of perspectives, but also to go beyond being open to them, to want to bring them in, because it makes for a richer environment.”
“These companies are really excited to work with MIT students.They reach out to the community to set up these projects and are great to work with. They give us access to all their resources and are very open to us.”
“I love being in a place that is such a nexus of people and ideas — people coming to learn something new and to define themselves. Being a part of that process is a real honor and a real gift.”
“It was really rewarding that they wanted to know what we thought. We left there being fairly certain that they will do some of the things that we suggested.”
"The relationships that we forged helped us to turn out a better project. We were able to test our hypotheses with the people that we spoke with every single day. And really, I think the friendships that you develop really propel the work that you’re doing."
“At MIT Sloan you have a lot of opportunities to explore entrepreneurship. Especially in a place like Kampala where you have a lot of development, entrepreneurship can be very exciting.”
“Because of the diversity of our backgrounds, when we hit the ground in Tanzania it almost was a natural play where different people assume different roles.”
“The conditions in the neighborhoods we were visiting were different than what we realized before getting there. Beyond that, what was surprising was that there weren’t surprises!”
“You could talk about watershed management and conservation of energy all you want. But until you put numbers to it and financial analysis to it, you’re not going to get much done. I came to business school to speak that language, speak with people in terms of numbers, financial numbers so that I can get projects done.”
“The assistant to the CEO was like our host mom while we were there. She arranged our housing for us, she took us out to her friend’s game farm, and we got driven around in 4x4s. She was just wonderful to meet, and we developed a personal as well as professional relationship with her.”
“We are very much an action-learning environment. The way to learn leadership is not only through reading cases, not only through learning theory — in fact we don’t want people to regurgitate the theory. We want people to take theory and to live it, use it.”
“For 35 years, we’ve been studying how companies get value from information. … We try to help organizations take a more holistic view of what they are trying to do.”
“I learn from what I do on the outside, I bring it back into my classrooms, and I bring it back into interpreting my research. It informs my research, and my research informs my practice.”