Accelerating Impact: MIT delta v
Just a year ago, would anyone have thought an MIT startup could map a pandemic by sifting through sewage? Our world has changed, and so has the world of entrepreneurship.
Through the ongoing generosity of donors, the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship’s delta v program has built an unmatched reputation for encouraging the skills of resilient entrepreneurship—and discovering opportunities in the midst of chaos. Here, we look at the past, present, and future of an initiative that embodies this spirit.
The summer of 2020 marked the 11th year that the Martin Trust Center hosted an accelerator program, and the 9th year of delta v—which was adapted to a virtual model to incorporate social distancing and other safety measures. This summer-long, full-immersion educational experience is designed to support MIT student entrepreneurs as they hone their entrepreneurial skills to build out breakthrough business ideas, validate their target market, and start creating a viable and sustainable venture.
While the goal is to build the next generation of the best innovation-driven entrepreneurs rather than focus on their startups, the companies they build can be a proxy for how successful the program has been. In this regard, the approach works, as evidenced by the extraordinary success of startups launched out of the delta v accelerator over the past decade:
215,000,000+ total funds raised from 375+ investors
2 of every 3 founders are still working for their delta v startup
3 of every 4 delta v startups are still operating
- 500+ people are employed at delta v startups
Impact that Endures and Adapts to Meet the Demands of Our Time
The success of delta v can be measured in both financial return and impact on society. Whether tackling a major problem or a perennial inconvenience, companies launched with the help of delta v are solving some of today’s most interesting challenges. Here are some highlights:
Biobot Analytics: Public Health Data from an Unlikely Source
Sewage may be the last place that most people would look for an inspiring business idea, but Mariana Matus, PhD ’18, is not like most people. Matus is working to transform sewers into public health observatories. Her company, Biobot Analytics, gathers sewage samples that scientists can test in real-time to track data from opioid use to infectious diseases. In the spring of 2020, Biobot launched a COVID-19 testing program in partnership with MIT, Harvard, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. This “wastewater epidemiology system” aggregated samples from wastewater treatment plants nationally, providing a dynamic map of COVID-19.
Airworks: A High-Flying Aerial Data Analytics Service
Recording and analyzing land survey data for construction has traditionally been a time-consuming and costly process, hampering decision-making and slowing project development. David Morczinek, MBA ’18, and Adam Kersnowski saw that it was time to take a totally different view on the industry. Their company, AirWorks, provides autonomous data analysis of aerial imagery harvested from drones and other sources to provide accurate, real-time information to project engineers. The resulting computer-aided designs (CAD) help slash costs, while enabling developers to build better cities for future generations. With a 2019 seed funding round totaling $2.3 million (led by Boston-based Innospark Ventures), AirWorks launched a comprehensive SaaS platform—expanding market reach while decreasing turnaround time for aerial site plans from seven days to 24 hours.
Embr Labs: Personalized Temperature Control Comes of Age
Launched through delta v in 2014, Embr Labs continues to transform the whole concept of temperature control as a wearable device. Founded by Matthew Smith, PhD ’12, Sam Shames, SB ’14, David Cohen-Tanugi, SM ’12, PhD ’15, and Michael Gibson, SB ’12, PhD ’16, Embr achieved rapid success with its Wave Bracelet. Using patented technology, their product uses thermal sensations to trigger the body and mind’s natural response to temperature. In 2019, Embr raised $6 million in Series B financing to grow their presence in digital therapeutics, accelerate the next generation of its core technology platform, and validate new use cases in thermal wellness. The company also won AARP’s Innovator in Aging Award, and was featured live on ABC’s Good Morning America.
Armoire: Taking the Stressing Out Of Dressing
How do you transform the concept of a closet into a new way of dressing that empowers women? While a large wardrobe can be satisfying, overstuffed closets with “underworn” items can create both stress and guilt. In fact, the average American throws away 26 pounds of clothes per year, with 20 percent of that clothing still bearing tags. Ambika Singh, MBA ’16, saw an opportunity in this conundrum and launched her company Armoire in 2016 with the help of the delta v accelerator. Today, Armoire thrives in providing a “closet as a service” business model: membership provides women with a curated collection of fresh fashion—enabled through a mix of algorithms incorporating customer preferences, as well as insights from personal human stylists.
The success of these companies validates the comprehensive, innovation-driven entrepreneurship training provided by delta v, and confirms the central educational philosophy of the Martin Trust Center: Entrepreneurship is not an inborn skill, but a craft that can be taught. This is especially true now, as participating students rise up to address the many challenges caused by the ongoing pandemic.
“Running the delta v program for the past five years has been one of the most rewarding things I have done in my life,” says Trish Cotter (Executive Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship; Director, MIT delta v accelerator; Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship). “The students are humble, hungry, hardworking, and extraordinarily talented, and it is thrilling to see how they embrace the challenge to make the world better… and then actually do so. The pandemic will not stop them, and I suspect many of them will be the leaders when we get to the other side.”
“The value of delta v is enormous and much larger than it first appears,” says Bill Aulet, SF ’94 (Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship; Professor of the Practice, Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management). “It becomes the goal of most entrepreneurial students when they arrive at MIT, and for some it is the reason they come to MIT. It is considered the Rhodes Scholarship of entrepreneurship, but what they do must be manifested in the real world. By having such an inspirational and achievable goal for the students, it makes all of our programs better. The students work that much harder to increase the odds of their being able to realize this extraordinary opportunity.”
Looking beyond the many challenges caused by the pandemic, the Martin Trust Center will continue to support its delta v students—especially those from diverse ethnic backgrounds and with global perspectives. They will also keep striving to neutralize gender bias for entrepreneurs; serve “Gen Z” in their statistically notable enthusiasm for entrepreneurship; and commit to providing the indispensable mentorship, nurturing, and team building that will drive the success of tomorrow’s business leaders.