MIT REAP: Global Catalyst for Regional Entrepreneurship

Why are some regions of the world hotbeds of entrepreneurial and innovation activity—and accompanying economic opportunity—while other regions lag? No single element in isolation, it seems, helps one area prosper over another: a confluence of factors creates the foundations for thriving local innovation ecosystems. This insight was the genesis for MIT’s Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP), a capstone initiative connecting regional leaders from around the world as they tackle the challenge of building their own innovation ecosystems. With MIT REAP, leaders from five key stakeholder groups—government, entrepreneurs, risk capital, universities, and corporations—form teams that come to MIT to leverage the deep knowledge of our faculty and research resources.

Working collaboratively over a two-year period, teams gain access to the tools and insights required to strengthen and accelerate what MIT REAP leaders describe as “innovation driven entrepreneurial ecosystems.” Since its launch in 2012, MIT REAP has served over 50 regions around the world on six continents, helping local leaders drive an ever-expanding volume of positive impact.

MIT Sloan faculty members each bring their own unique expertise to the program. Scott Stern (David Sarnoff Professor of Management of Technology; Professor, Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management) helps regions understand the data and metrics of what they should be seeking. Fiona Murray (Associate Dean for Innovation and Inclusion; William Porter [1967] Professor of Entrepreneurship; Co-Director, MIT Innovation Initiative; and Faculty Director, Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship) provides expertise on bringing scientific and technological innovation to impact through entrepreneurship, including the roles of governments, universities, and corporations in this process. Phil Budden (Senior Lecturer, Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management), a former diplomat, advises teams on engaging all of the stakeholder groups. Bill Aulet, SF ’94, (Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship; Professor of the Practice, Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management) serves as an advocate for entrepreneurs, ensuring their voices are heard throughout the process. Shari Loessberg (Senior Lecturer, Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management) provides insights on risk capital and funding. And, Michael A. Cusumano (Deputy Dean; Sloan Management Review Distinguished Professor of Management; Professor, Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management) provides key strategic insights. While participating teams gain invaluable knowledge from faculty, they also benefit from collaboration with other teams globally.

Helping Regions Dream Bigger

Regions may be hampered by thinking of entrepreneurship exclusively through the lens of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): companies that may employ only a modest number of people and lack real growth potential. Thus, MIT REAP is focused on shifting thinking toward so-called innovation-driven enterprises (IDEs): ones with foundational frameworks and strategies designed to enable exponential growth. How can local entrepreneurs disrupt existing models and industries, rather than merely replicate them?

“MIT REAP works with regions to define what they’re excellent at and build stronger support for those unique comparative advantages,” says Travis Hunter (Director, MIT REAP). “It also allows them to dream and envision themselves where they want to be in the future, and gives them the tools to chart a path to get there.”

In a post-pandemic economy, catalyzing the proliferation of IDEs in regions around the world will be critical. “Startups are more resilient,” Hunter points out. “A few great ideas can bring up an entire generation from that region.”