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CEO summit offers business leaders a look at MIT’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

Campus visit precedes students’ global entrepreneurship projects

October 3, 2014

Conexia CEO Luis Navas discussed global entrepreneurship with an MIT Sloan class

Conexia CEO Luis Navas discussed global entrepreneurship with an MIT Sloan class

Twenty-five CEOs from startups and growing companies in 12 countries toured MIT Sept. 29-30 at a summit connecting them with faculty and students in MIT Sloan’s Global Entrepreneurship Lab, known as G-Lab.

One of the school’s signature action learning programs, G-Lab matches teams of four students with companies in emerging markets to work on projects focusing on business growth, new market entry, marketing, finance, or another realm. Teams work with their companies remotely during the fall, then travel to the partner company for three weeks in January to complete the project and deliver findings and recommendations.

Conexia CEO Luis Navas, whose Argentina-based health care IT company is hosting its fifth MIT Sloan G-Lab team, said it was invigorating to visit campus for the summit, the second such event the school has held.

“When you think about MIT when you’re abroad, you think ‘I want to go to MIT. I want to see the future.’ You get a glimpse of that when you see places like the Media Lab, and the systematic way that entrepreneurship is taught,” Navas said. “It’s a very rich and nurturing environment.”

At the summit, CEOs toured the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, in addition to the MIT Media Lab. They met with MIT Sloan faculty to discuss entrepreneurship and finance and spent time working with their G-Lab student teams.

Conexia hosted its first G-Lab team during the 2009-2010 academic year. That team examined whether the company should attempt to enter the United States market with its health care information exchange technology. Health care providers use Conexia’s software and services to quickly determine whether medical procedures are covered by a patient’s insurance company, speeding payment and reducing administrative waste and fraud.

The 2009-2010 G-Lab team helped Conexia decide to hold off on the U.S. market and instead focus its efforts on Colombia, where it has since thrived. The company now derives more than twice as much revenue from the Colombian market as it does from Argentina and employs 120 programmers and sales staff there. Its annual sales have grown from $4 million to $16 million, Navas said. The work is summarized in a 2010 case study, available free from MIT Sloan’s LearningEdge.

This year’s Conexia G-Lab team will work from the company’s office in Bogotá, Colombia, analyzing options and creating recommendations for a big data initiative and product.

“I think my greatest learning experiences have come more by doing than by sitting in a class,” said Cainon Coates, MBA ’15, a member of the Conexia G-Lab team. “It’s actually going out there and seeing a real-world problem and being right in the center of it.”

Michael DiBenigno MBA ’15, said the diversity of the student team—one member is an attorney, another is an entrepreneur, and two have consulting experience—makes it “uniquely positioned to … give Conexia insights that they might not otherwise get.”

Navas’s relationship with Global Entrepreneurship Lab has been fruitful for both his company and for MIT Sloan students. During the summit, he joined two sections of Professor Simon Johnson’s global entrepreneurship course to talk with students about building his company, expanding into new markets, and health care models around the world.