“Innovation isn’t just limited to Silicon Valley or Cambridge. Why can’t we take the best and brightest of what MIT has to offer and put it in a package that can be delivered and talked about across the world?”
That’s what MIT Executive MBA, Philip Rigueur, EMBA '23, wondered as he set out to begin his IDEA Lab Action Learning project with BRAIN-Tunisia ’23.
“Coming into our global labs, I was looking for something that was more comprehensive, more impactful—and that wasn’t necessarily solving for one company’s problem,” he explains.
BRAIN-Tunisia '23 Bootcamp
Empowering Tunisian entrepreneurs
BRAIN (Bridging Research and Innovation)— co-developed by Open Startup and entities throughout MIT and the Tunisian Innovation Ecosystem — is establishing scalable deep-tech ventures in Africa through a bootcamp for 28 PhD entrepreneur-scientists focused on advanced AI, biotech, the Internet of Things, and robotics.
- Legatum Center for Entrepreneurship and Development at MIT
- MISTI’s MIT-Africa Program
- MIT Executive MBA Program
- Open Startup
- Africa Grow
- U.S. Embassy
- Digital Africa
“We take a lot for granted when building tech companies in the U.S. compared to other countries like Tunisia. Tech entrepreneurship is difficult everywhere, but more so when you’re also constantly fighting for support from your community,” says Jonathan Dickerson, EMBA ’23.
The team of seven EMBAs brought a wealth of expertise and knowledge, planning, moderating and facilitating bootcamp sessions on customer discovery, market segmentation, business and revenue models, competition analysis, and more. In March, they traveled to Tunisia to conduct the one-week bootcamp. They identified promising startups through a pitch competition, who then traveled to MIT for an immersion week in May.
In Cambridge, the startups spent 12-hour days interacting with faculty, mentors, and the innovative Kendall Square community at spots like the entrepreneur-hive Venture Café and in workshops on campus, focusing on everything from finance to business modeling to compliance.
"During the program, the Executive MBAs played a crucial role in skillfully matching startups with the suitable mentors, taking into account their respective fields,” says Yesmine Mansar, BRAIN program manager at Open Startup. “Their proactive and attentive approach became the driving force that led the mentorship phase to great success.”
''As an engineer coming from a scientific background, the BRAIN program helped us tremendously to optimize our go-to-market strategy, the pricing of our products, and the best approach to our customers,” says Mohamed Amine Ben Salem, founder and CEO of Hayat Technology, which offers an AI-powered, land-based fish farming solution to reduce food shortages. “In addition, it helped us to get a thorough idea on the American ecosystem being one of the largest markets, and strengthen our ability to compete against global companies."
Working hand in hand toward fostering deep-tech in Africa, the IDEA Lab team surpassed BRAIN’s expectations.
"What set the EMBAs apart was not only their unwavering support during sessions but also their genuine dedication to our startups’ success,” says Open Startup CEO Houda Ghozzi. “Engaging in meaningful discussions and one-on-one interactions, they proved approachable and generous with their time, becoming a beacon of support for our entrepreneurs.”
Connecting across cultures
While the on-campus component was important, the team says that representing MIT in Tunisia was equally significant, forging bonds based on camaraderie and shared goals, often over three-hour dinners where they discussed everything from work and the local economy to their families.
Outside of Cambridge and the U.S., there’s this notion that MIT is this ivory tower institute, which I don’t think is the case at all. We think about the motto, mens et manus, mind and hand. For me, that means not staying at the ivory tower. It’s actually going into places that have historically been underserved and bringing these frameworks into play.
The pilot program was a resounding success. The BRAIN team hopes to repeat the bootcamp with the MIT Executive MBA and Dr. Phil Budden's IDEA Lab, and expand it to more African countries in the future.
“In the end, the results spoke for themselves,” says Ghozzi. “We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the MIT Sloan Action Learning Office and IDEA Lab for being true catalysts of transformation, and we eagerly anticipate future opportunities to collaborate and inspire change together.”
And, while the bootcamp made a lasting impact on Tunisian entrepreneurs, it also shaped each student as they leave MIT Sloan with a broader, global mindset.
“We leaned in; we stepped out of our comfort zone. We really wanted to make a difference. And now we have lifelong connections with these entrepreneurs,” says Robert Jackson, EMBA ’23.