What Fintech Taught Me About Leadership

Emily LeStrange, MBA 2019

One of the main reasons I chose to attend MIT Sloan was for the school’s prominent role in the so-called world of “fintech”. MIT Sloan Professor Antoinette Schoarfirst articulated it best At the intersection of finance and technology, fintech was almost made for MIT. The school’s rich history in the areas of finance and technology made it the perfect place for me to deepen my knowledge of various fintech applications and the (rapidly) developing fintech start-up scene. Upon arriving to campus, eager to learn all I could about fintech, I dove head-first into joining the MIT Fintech Conference planning team, and this year as a returning 2nd year MBA, I had the privilege of co-leading the event in its 5th year.

The MIT Fintech Conference convenes more than 450 students, professionals, academics, and start-up entrepreneurs each year for a full-day of conference programming and a start-up pitch competition. This year’s event, held in early March, was a banner year for the Fintech Conference team in a number of ways:

  • Our team hosted more than 40 speakers from all parts of the fintech ecosystem – start-up founders and CEOs, venture capitalists with a focus on fintech innovations, and even senior leaders from the world’s most well-known banks and asset managers.
  • Our event attracted more than 480 attendees this year – and what’s more impressive is that we had a 50/50 split between student and professional attendees. This is what makes our event truly unique in the Fintech Conference circuit – the opportunity for students and professionals to network and share ideas.
  • We had a record-number of start-ups apply to participate in our Start-up Pitch Competition, and after hearing 8 impressive and compelling pitches, awarded female-founded Alma Pact with the $10,000 prize.

Sarah Biller (Fintech Sandbox) and Jon Stein (CEO, Betterment) kicking off our event with a fireside chat on the future of robo-advice.

A packed room at the 5th MIT Fintech Conference

Getting involved with fintech at MIT was always a goal of mine, and the above stats show, the Conference proved to be an immensely impactful way of deepening my fintech knowledge. However, greater fintech insight wasn’t the only thing this experience taught me. More than anything, leading the MIT Fintech Conference gave me a crash-course it what it means to be a leader. I could go on and on about the many lessons learned, but as I’ve learned in my 15.280 Communications for Leaders class, I’m better off summarizing these lessons into three main takeaways:

  1. One of the most important jobs of the leader is to motivate and inspire others – My role as Co-lead was all about keeping people excited and engaged in our effort. Arguably, I was asking my peers for the most valuable thing they have in business school – their time. Making sure that each and every person benefitted personally from being part of the Conference team rests on the shoulders of the leader.
  2. Establishing shared team goals and a clear vision is key –Once the team was excited and eager to get started on planning the Conference, we took some time to establish (1) a clear vision for what we wanted the event to be like and (2) five goals to measure our success against that vision. Doing so helped us stay laser-focused and committed to a common vision, which was so important as our work was often divided into separate workstreams.
  3. A leader is nothing without his/her talented team Most importantly, you’ve got to have a great team. This year, we had more than 20 individuals from the MBA Class of 2019, 2020, and Sloan Fellows Program assist in the planning of the 2019 Conference. Every week, this team met to discuss every major workstream for the conference – content, marketing, finance, sales – you name it! Each person was committed to making the event the best we could make it.     

Being a Co-lead for the MIT Fintech Conference will go down as one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I’ve had during my time at Sloan. Not only has the opportunity given me the fintech knowledge I always wanted it, but it also taught me some important lessons about leadership. And, I’m proud to say I walk away from the experience with a lot of new friends who are just as excited about Fintech as I am. Thank you, team!

The 2019 MIT Fintech Conference Planning Team


Emily LeStrange

Emily LeStrange is a 2nd year MBA Student at MIT Sloan School of Management.


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