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Using Empathy and Entrepreneurship to Improve Affordable Housing


Will Blodgett, MBA ’12, fondly remembers much from his time at MIT Sloan, but more than anything, he cherishes the friendships he forged across campus.

“I remember coming to MIT Sloan and being inspired by the friends I made there every day,” he says. “They made me think anything was possible. The energy in those halls was palpable, thanks in large part to being around people like them.”

Will Blodgett, MBA ’12

People like Daryl Morey, MBA ’00, whom Blodgett met while managing the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, and classmate Patrick Flynn, MBA ’12, who is now in charge of sustainability at Salesforce. Blodgett still talks to them and many others almost every day. He values their friendship, just as he values the friends he made in his native Chicago.

As a kid growing up in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago’s North Side, Blodgett put a lot of stock in his school friends. They rallied to support him whenever bullies would harass him because of his stutter. When circumstances took them away, it was heartbreaking.

“One day, they were at school and we were all hanging out together. The next, they were gone,” he recalls. Many lived with their families in public housing, so when the Chicago Housing Authority tore down their dilapidated units and relocated them to new construction further outside the city, Blodgett was devastated.

“I’m sure it hurt them. It definitely hurt me. I didn’t know then that I would eventually go into affordable housing, but I knew I wanted to do something. I wanted to help my friends.”

These experiences instilled in Blodgett a powerful sense of empathy. He channels these feelings of understanding in his work creating sustainable, high quality, and high opportunity affordable housing.

“I want to help solve the housing problem in the United States,” says Blodgett. “It’s not too difficult to build affordable housing on farmland, like where my Chicago friends moved, but it’s very difficult on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where one can have better access to infrastructure like public transportation, education, and health care.”

Blodgett admits setting out to solve the country’s affordable housing issue is a sizeable task, sometimes using the word “dream” to refer to it in conversation. Yet the size of the challenge has never deterred him, especially after he earned his MBA from MIT Sloan. He credits the school with giving him the confidence to believe in his ability to tackle this particular problem.

“If there’s anything MIT Sloan has taught me, it’s that big dreams are achievable. We can do good things and make the world a better place—all while addressing the social, environmental, and financial concerns, or the ‘triple bottom line,’” he says. “It is possible.”

During his first year in the MBA program, Blodgett enrolled in the 15.390 New Enterprises course taught by Bill Aulet, SF ’94 (Professor of the Practice, Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management; Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship). It was, as Aulet describes it, “not for the faint of heart.”

“At the time, he told me he didn’t consider himself an entrepreneur, but he said he found the topic and the material fascinating,” says Aulet. “He was really enjoying what he was learning about, especially since it was additive with what he was learning at MIT Sloan.”

Five years after graduating from MIT Sloan, Blodgett ran into Aulet in New York. The former student made his professor incredibly proud when he declared, “I am an entrepreneur now!”

“He took the entrepreneurial mindset and skills, crafted his own exceptional path in the affordable housing industry, and became a highly impactful entrepreneur,” says Aulet. “He is a wonderful example of how entrepreneurs can be all around us, and not just in high tech startups.”

Blodgett says the empathy he learned at an early age from his friends—and continues to learn from his classmates, colleagues, and day-to-day experiences—is his number one value.

“I believe housing should be a right. Without sustainable, high quality, and high opportunity affordable housing, you don’t have access to the same opportunities as others,” he explains. “It’s a foundation for life, a hand up instead of a handout, and a stepping stone for everyone to go off and do amazing things with their lives.”

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