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From MIT delta v to Demo Day and Beyond

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After jumping onto the stage at Kresge Auditorium, Bill Aulet, SF ’94 (Ethernet Inventors Professor of the Practice; Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship), turned to the audience at the 12th annual MIT delta v Demo Day in September.

“This is the best day of the year for entrepreneurship at MIT,” he said, “It’s also a day where we get to bring in new talent for next year. You’re going to see some amazing entrepreneurs tonight, and where did they come from? Last year, they were sitting in your seats.”

In 2021, Corina Negron, MBA ’23, had been sitting in one of those seats. She texted a few photos to her friend Isabella Passaro, a Tufts University graduate, who subsequently attended Demo Day 2022 with Negron to support friends who were participating. They were nervous for the presenters, but they were also curious about following in their footsteps.

“It was a very surreal experience,” says Negron, CEO of medikana, the medtech platform she co-founded with Passaro, COO, at this year’s event. “We knew where we were sitting and what we were thinking back then, and now a year later, it was great to be onstage.”

Medikana and 22 other student-led teams made their pitches to the Kresge crowd, which included MIT President Sally Kornbluth, MIT Corporation Chair Mark P. Gorenberg, SB ’76, the deans of the School of Engineering and MIT Sloan, and members of the Institute community. Demo Day marked the end of their journey through the three-month educational accelerator, and the beginning of their first steps out into the world.

Adventures in entrepreneurship

This all-star gathering was quite different from what Ed Roberts, SB ’57, SM ’58, SM ’60, PhD ’62, (David Sarnoff Professor of Management of Technology; Founder and Chair, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship) remembers of his days as a student and young faculty member.

“MIT delta v has been uniquely successful in advancing so many would-be entrepreneurs that it has now excited all of MIT to the adventure and consequences of accelerating our students,” says Roberts.

As Aulet likes to point out, entrepreneurship is a craft that can be taught, though Jean Hammond, SM ’86, general partner and co-founder at LearnLaunch Accelerator, is quick to emphasize imparting these lessons to teams like those in MIT delta v. “It is a demonstration of what happens when a team gets access to resources to help solve problems and receives nudges to analyze the potential for their company,” Hammond explains.

Teams apply in the spring, and those selected participate in a full slate of summer programming that includes peer learning and community building, coaching and mentorship, simulated board meetings, and more. Afterward, they present at Demo Day in September and—starting this year—attend optional fundraising events later in the fall.

The students bring ideas from previous undertakings to the table, hoping to innovate something worth exploring in the long term. Like Stwart Peña Feliz, MBA ’23, co-founder and CEO of MacroCycle, a sustainable plastics recycler in the 2023 cohort, who began his adventure as an engineer in the oil and gas industry.

“That’s when I saw the reality of recycling in the oil and gas industry,” says Peña. “More harm was being created than good. Yes, plastics were prevented from entering our oceans and landfills, but we were releasing more hydrocarbons into our atmosphere in the process.”

After meeting Jan-Georg Rosenboom, a postdoctoral fellow at the MIT Langer Laboratory, and learning about the plastics recycling technology he was developing, Peña realized more could be done. Along with intern Elizabeth Huang, a Wellesley undergraduate, they began collaborating on what would become MacroCycle and joined MIT delta v.

“The amazing resources at MIT are helping us to scale up,” says Rosenboom, co-founder and CTO of MacroCycle. “We are challenged every day by our mentors to bring this exciting technology to the market and pressure-test its business case, and to understand our customers and provide them with real value.”

MIT delta v participants, including medikana team members, discuss their work at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.

Credit: Justin Knight

 

A community at work

The fintech platform Cru also came to the program to expand on an original idea. Initially, co-founder and CEO Jose Rebolledo, MBA ’23, wanted to find a way to facilitate access to capital in Latin America. After collaborating with co-founder and CTO Jan Berczely, MBA ’23, the pair decided instead to create a new financial platform for small and medium-sized international trade businesses in the region.

Working together to create change and change one’s creations is, Rebolledo explains, what entrepreneurship is all about, and MIT delta v provides a space for startups like Cru to do just that.

“Part of the journey is understanding where there’s an opportunity in the market, so you can continue to polish the value proposition and make a lasting impact,” he says. “That’s how we came to MIT delta v and the MIT entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Before entering this ecosystem, Negron was inspired to help repair the troubled health care system back home in Venezuela. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Boston University, and though she ultimately decided not to pursue a career as an engineer, Negron still wanted to work in health care.

This subsequently led to two opportunities: a startup working on a novel preterm labor test, and an AI platform connecting pharmaceutical companies to labs to streamline clinical research. Negron learned a lot about business development at both, but she and her teams constantly struggled to navigate the complex logistics of getting lifesaving medical technologies across international borders. These difficulties inspired her to become an entrepreneur.

“I realized I could use these experiences to help speed up access to health care internationally, and that's how medikana was born,” Negron explains.

Attending MIT Sloan made the most sense, both for its proximity to engineering and its renowned entrepreneurial focus. When she arrived on campus, however, Negron was surprised by how cordial and collaborative the MIT Sloan entrepreneurial community was. “Everyone I’ve spoken to in the network while working on this venture has been incredibly helpful and supportive,” she says.

Berczely could not agree more. As one of the New York-based MIT delta v teams, Cru also had access to the same community as their counterparts in Cambridge, despite the hundreds of miles that separated them. “When building a startup, most people think they are alone,” says Berczely, “but this feels like that Sloanie mentality, where everyone is helping each other with a smile on their face. I’m happy every time I come into the office.”

MIT delta v participants regularly get to hear from successful entrepreneurs through mock board meetings and presentations.

Credit: Justin Knight

 

Entrepreneurial rock stars

The week before Demo Day, Peña and his team were eager to share their progress and promise with the world, and his excitement was on full display when he debuted MacroCycle in the final presentation of the night at Kresge.

This would be an exciting accomplishment for any of the MIT delta v teams, but MacroCycle credits the program first with giving them tools for staying grounded and focusing on the long-term.

As Rosenboom notes, “The summer in this program has really opened our eyes to the reality beyond technology, in terms of customer base, formation of an actual company, how to handle intellectual property, raise funds, and create a vision to unlock long-lasting, positive, and profitable change.”

The medikana team echoes this point. “Drinking from the firehose is real, even after you graduate,” says Negron. “A lot of alumni have reached out to ask how they can help, and we plan on taking advantage of this network for as long as we can.”

Though Passaro admits that some of the teams are nervous about “going into the real world,” many have already added new customers and contracts, additional research and development space, and expanded networks to their list of successes. After all, the entire cohort successfully completed its MIT delta v journey and came out the other side.

Or, as Aulet told Kresge after the final Demo Day presentation in September, “These are rock stars and they’re going to help us in the future.”

“And,” he added, “we want you all on the stage next year.”

For more info Andrew Husband Senior Writer & Editor, OER (617) 715-5933