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This past June, a new crop of 20 teams entered MIT delta v, the educational startup accelerator run by the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. Each had a different problem in its sights, from the difficulties amputees face in controlling prosthetics to wasted space in airplane cargo holds. Over three months, teams reframed these problems, honed solutions, and mapped paths to market. In September, they took to the stage at Kresge Auditorium for MIT delta v’s annual Demo Day to pitch companies that were, in many cases, significantly different from what they had envisioned at the start of the summer. According to Carly Chase (Senior Lecturer; Director, MIT delta v 2021) “One thing we always hope is that teams will have the confidence to pivot.”

Since 2012, MIT delta v has helped aspiring entrepreneurs build that confidence. All teams include at least one current MIT student, and the program is designed to be part of the full MIT experience. As Bill Aulet, SF ’94, (Professor of the Practice, Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management; Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship) put it in his Demo Day remarks: “We’re an educational program trying to create entrepreneurs, not necessarily companies.” Along the way, it has nurtured both. Among MIT delta v’s many success stories are wastewater epidemiology venture Biobot Analytics, robotic restaurant Spyce, and space propulsion developer Accion Systems.

For 2021 MIT delta v participant and MBA student Claire Beskin, MBA ’22, the goal of starting a health tech company has shaped her time at MIT. Classes at MIT Sloan taught her how to structure term sheets and decipher startup law. She teamed up with Ruizhi (Ray) Liao, SM ’17, PhD ’21, after they met in 2020 at a Trust Center event. She and Liao applied for support from the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund each semester and sought guidance through the Venture Mentoring Service. Last summer, through MIT delta v, everything came together—complete with a pivot of their own.

Originally, Beskin explains, the machine learning algorithms they intended to commercialize through their startup, Empallo, were designed to help radiologists assess pulmonary edema in chest x-rays. But her early market research indicated sales would be difficult. By Demo Day, Liao had built on his research to create a new product that could predict hospital readmission risk or other adverse events for heart failure patients. Interviews they conducted during MIT delta v confirmed this information would be actionable for a range of end users, such as clinicians who might adjust plans for a patient’s care after discharge from the hospital or keep a patient for an extra day to lower the risk of readmission.

Over the summer, Empallo had access to the Trust Center’s Entrepreneurs in Residence and a “pod” of fellow teams, as well as a mock board of directors that included experts from the health sector. “We made a lot of progress because we were held accountable during these board meetings,” Beskin says. The monthly encounters could unlock funding up to $20,000, and beyond that, she adds, “Our board members are people we want to impress and maintain relationships with. The stakes definitely felt real.”

When Beskin watched Liao take the stage on Demo Day to introduce their company, that too felt real. “It was encouraging to see interest from potential investors and employees who might want to join our team,” she says. Entering 2022, Empallo’s founders are focused on further developing their tech and forging partnerships with hospitals. Validation in the form of FDA clearance and paying customers is likely a year or more away. For now, says Beskin, the excitement of their MIT delta v debut will help keep them going. “That’s what I’ll reflect on when things get tough.”