MIT News - Business and management - Startups MIT News is dedicated to communicating to the media and the public the news and achievements of the students, faculty, staff and the greater MIT community. en Sun, 08 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0400 A mobile tool for global change Dimagi’s data-collection platform has helped improve health care for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Sun, 08 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Frontline health workers represent the lifeblood of many health care systems in low- and middle-income countries around the world. Often overworked and underpaid, these workers operate outside hospital settings to meet the community’s poorest people where they live and work, ensuring health care initiatives impact the families that need them most.</p> <p>The global growth in cell phone ownership has increased the potential for mobile solutions to help these workers, and perhaps no company has unlocked that potential with more success than the social enterprise Dimagi.</p> <p>Dimagi’s flagship product, CommCare, lets users with no coding experience build apps featuring things like registration forms, decision support, and multimedia that can be accessed offline by cell phones of all types. With the backing of nonprofit organizations and governments, those capabilities have been put into the pockets of frontline workers in the most remote, impoverished regions of the world, transforming the way they collect information and provide care for hundreds of millions of people across 80 countries.</p> <p>Multiple studies have documented CommCare’s transformative effect. Randomized control trials have shown it helped frontline workers improve child nutrition in India, increase the percentage of in-facility births in Tanzania, and reduce errors in screenings for cardiovascular diseases in South Africa. Other studies have shown CommCare helped increase the frequency of HIV tests for pregnant women in Nigeria and reduced infant and maternal mortality rates in Guatemala.</p> <p>Beyond health care, Dimagi’s mobile tools are also being used in education, agricultural, and financial initiatives around the world. For founders Jonathan Jackson ’03, SM ’05 and Vikram Kumar, the company’s impact has come one successful project at a time through a user-centered approach to creating the most empowering and scalable solutions possible.</p> <p>“Our motto at Dimagi is ‘impact, team, profit,’ in that order,” Jackson says. “It’s not just what’s the most impactful thing we could make in theory, it’s what’s the most impactful thing we could make in practice that will scale with the market.”</p> <p><strong>An idea scales</strong></p> <p>In 2002, Kumar was a graduate research assistant in MIT’s Media Lab and on his way to earning his MD in the MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology. Jackson was building a personal digital assistant for nurses in Zambia as part of his master’s work at MIT.</p> <p>The two students met through a teacher’s assistant in one of Jackon’s classes and immediately decided to start a venture together. They initially planned to use health informatics to improve public health but realized the developing world wasn’t quite ready for that approach.</p> <p>“As soon as we got into the sector we realized there’s no good data to begin with, so we had to build the underlying data management systems,” Jackson says. “We rapidly shifted the company from public health informatics to more of a global health software focus.”</p> <p>In early consulting projects around Africa and India, the founders built a drag-and-drop system for building forms that clinicians could use in hospitals, using the Nokia phones that were quickly becoming common.</p> <p>“The writing was on the wall for massive mobile adoption in general, with dumb phones, and then you could see smartphones were going to take off,” Jackson says. “But we always focused on building for the phone technology that users had today as opposed to the technology that might be available tomorrow, and I think that was one of the reasons we were so successful.”</p> <p>One of Dimagi’s early projects was working with partners to create a national medical record system for Zambia. The system is still in use today, and because Dimagi’s solutions have been open source from the beginning, the system has since been adopted by other countries around Africa.</p> <p>Around 2008, with SMS-based solutions and a case management app built out, Dimagi began focusing on helping frontline, or community, workers. Such workers have traditionally relied on paper-based data management systems in the field that offer little on-site guidance and require data entry into a central system later on.</p> <p>With health care workers in low- and middle-income countries, “you have a workforce with amazing potential, and they are often the only option for health care provision in rural settings,” Jackson says. “These workers are often not able to be trained sufficiently, not able to be paid well, and they’re often overburdened. We thought the inclusion of mobile phones and the value that could be delivered by community health care workers and frontline providers was a great synergy.”</p> <p>The pivot made Dimagi’s users more dispersed and numerous, but Jackson says his team never wavered in its philosophy of working closely with the people they are trying to help and learning from them as they design solutions.</p> <p>“We feel incredibly strongly about getting field experience and being humble,” Jackson says. “We have a methodology called ‘Design Under the Mango Tree’ based on how we did a lot of our early work with CommCare. We were out there with the users, getting feedback, staying up late and overnight so it looked how they recommended the next day. That experience, of seeing the frontline workers, them being able to tell us they want something different, going in and changing it, and then asking if they like the change, that was an adrenaline boost for us.”</p> <p><strong>Designing under the mango tree</strong></p> <p>Dimagi’s approach has led the company to a scale the founders never could have imagined when they first started out. It has also guided them as they’ve built out features.</p> <p>Today, Dimagi boasts that CommCare allows users to “collect data on everything, in any language.” The data can include text, images, GPS coordinates, barcodes, audio, and more. Customers designing a data collection app on CommCare can monitor field workers in real time and include notifications or progress updates. Incorporating multimedia components into the app, like pictures and video instructions, allows illiterate field workers and patients to interact with CommCare and gives credibility to the workers.</p> <p>Dimagi also offers extensive support services to go with some of its subscription options. The company of about 150 people includes experts specializing in programs around women’s health and empowerment, agriculture, financial literacy, and more.</p> <p>Some of Dimagi’s biggest customers are governments. India, for example, has equipped more than half a million workers with a CommCare solution to help with state childcare and nutrition services.</p> <p>Unfortunately, scale has not brought simplicity. In fact, Jackson says things have gotten as Dimagi has grown, noting the donor-centered social enterprise space is great at launching new projects, but not good at incentivizing mature companies to continue innovating in areas where they’re already deployed.</p> <p>That’s one of the reasons Dimagi restructured its company last year. Jackson says Dimagi is now divided into three parts: its software division, its professional services team, and what he calls the impact team, which has been instructed to break even while making as much impact as possible and not worrying about profit.</p> <p>“We’re built to make an impact,” Jackson says. “That’s why everyone works at this company. It’s why we’re here. A lot of that just requires going that extra mile for the end users and that’s something that is infused in our DNA as an organization.”</p> Dimagi offers users a way to design mobile tools like registration forms that can be used by frontline health care workers in the most remote, impoverished regions of the world, transforming care.Image: DimagiInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Health care, Poverty, Alumni/ae, Apps, Social entrepreneurship, MIT Media Lab, Agriculture, Development, Africa, Medicine, School of Architecture and Planning New approach to sustainable building takes shape in Boston A five-story mixed-use structure in Roxbury represents a new kind of net-zero-energy building, made from wood. Wed, 04 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0500 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office <p>A new building about to take shape in Boston’s Roxbury area could, its designers hope, herald a new way of building residential structures in cities.</p> <p>Designed by architects from MIT and the design and construction firm Placetailor, the five-story building’s structure will be made from cross-laminated timber (CLT), which eliminates most of the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with standard building materials. It will be assembled on site mostly from factory-built subunits, and it will be so energy-efficient that its net carbon emissions will be essentially zero.</p> <p>Most attempts to quantify a building’s greenhouse gas contributions focus on the building’s operations, especially its heating and cooling systems. But the materials used in a building’s construction, especially steel and concrete, are also major sources of carbon emissions and need to be included in any realistic comparison of different types of construction.</p> <p>Wood construction has tended to be limited to single-family houses or smaller apartment buildings with just a few units, narrowing the impact that it can have in urban areas. But recent developments — involving the production of large-scale wood components, known as mass timber; the use of techniques such as cross-laminated timber; and changes in U.S. building codes — now make it possible to extend wood’s reach into much larger buildings, potentially up to 18 stories high.</p> <p>Several recent buildings in Europe have been pushing these limits, and now a few larger wooden buildings are beginning to take shape in the U.S. as well. The new project in Boston will be one of the largest such residential buildings in the U.S. to date, as well as one of the most innovative, thanks to its construction methods.</p> <p>Described as a Passive House Demonstration Project, the Boston building will consist of 14 residential units of various sizes, along with a ground-floor co-working space for the community. The building was designed by Generate Architecture and Technologies, a startup company out of MIT and Harvard University, headed by John Klein, in partnership with Placetailor, a design, development, and construction company that has specialized in building net-zero-energy and carbon-neutral buildings for more than a decade in the Boston area.</p> <p>Klein, who has been a principal investigator in MIT’s Department of Architecture and now serves as CEO of Generate, says that large buildings made from mass timber and assembled using the kit-of-parts approach he and his colleagues have been developing have a number of potential advantages over conventionally built structures of similar dimensions. For starters, even when factoring in the energy used in felling, transporting, assembling, and finishing the structural lumber pieces, the total carbon emissions produced would be less than half that of a comparable building made with conventional steel or concrete. Klein, along with collaborators from engineering firm BuroHappold Engineering and ecological market development firm Olifant, will be presenting a detailed analysis of these lifecycle emissions comparisons later this year at the annual Passive and Low Energy Architecture (<a href="">PLEA</a>) conference in A Coruña, Spain, whose theme this year is “planning post-carbon cities.”</p> <p>For that study, Klein and his co-authors modeled nine different versions of an eight-story mass-timber building, along with one steel and one concrete version of the building, all with the same overall scale and specifications. Their analysis showed that materials for the steel-based building produced the most greenhouse emissions; the concrete version produced 8 percent less than that; and one version of the mass-timber building produced 53 percent less.</p> <p>The first question people tend to ask about the idea of building tall structures out of wood is: What about fire? But Klein says this question has been thoroughly studied, and tests have shown that, in fact, a mass-timber building retains its structural strength longer than a comparable steel-framed building. That’s because the large timber elements, typically a foot thick or more, are made by gluing together several layers of conventional dimensioned lumber. These will char on the outside when exposed to fire, but the charred layer actually provides good insulation and protects the wood for an extended period. Steel buildings, by contrast, can collapse suddenly when the temperature of the fire approaches steel’s melting point and causes it to soften.</p> <p>The kit-based approach that Generate and Placetailor have developed, which the team calls Model-C, means that in designing a new building, it’s possible to use a series of preconfigured modules, assembled in different ways, to create a wide variety of structures of different sizes and for different uses, much like assembling a toy structure out of LEGO blocks. These subunits can be built in factories in a standardized process and then trucked to the site and bolted together. This process can reduce the impact of weather by keeping much of the fabrication process indoors in a controlled environment, while minimizing the construction time on site and thus reducing the construction’s impact on the neighborhood.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 500px; height: 333px;" /></p> <p><em style="font-size: 10px;">Animation depicts the process of assembling the mass-timber building from a set of factory-built components. Courtesy of&nbsp;Generate Architecture and Technologies</em></p> <p>“It’s a way to rapidly deploy these kinds of projects through a standardized system,” Klein says. “It’s a way to build rapidly in cities, using an aesthetic that embraces offsite industrial construction.”</p> <p>Because the thick wood structural elements are naturally very good insulators, the Roxbury building’s energy needs for heating and cooling are reduced compared to conventional construction, Klein says. They also produce very good acoustic insulation for its occupants. In addition, the building is designed to have solar panels on its roof, which will help to offset the building’s energy use.</p> <p>The team won a wood innovation grant in 2018 from the U.S. Forest Service, to develop a mass-timber based system for midscale housing developments. The new Boston building will be the first demonstration project for the system they developed.</p> <p>“It’s really a system, not a one-off prototype,” Klein says. With the on-site assembly of factory-built modules, which includes fully assembled bathrooms with the plumbing in place, he says the basic structure of the building can be completed in only about one week per floor.</p> <p>“We're all aware of the need for an immediate transition to a zero-carbon economy, and the building sector is a prime target,” says Andres Bernal SM ’13, Placetailor’s director of architecture. “As a company that has delivered only zero-carbon buildings for over a decade, we're very excited to be working with CLT/mass timber as an option for scaling up our approach and sharing the kit-of-parts and lessons learned with the rest of the Boston community.”</p> <p>With U.S. building codes now allowing for mass timber buildings of up to 18 stories, Klein hopes that this building will mark the beginning of a new boom in wood-based or hybrid construction, which he says could help to provide a market for large-scale sustainable forestry, as well as for sustainable, net-zero energy housing.</p> <p>“We see it as very competitive with concrete and steel for buildings of between eight and 12 stories,” he says. Such buildings, he adds, are likely to have great appeal, especially to younger generations, because “sustainability is very important to them. This provides solutions for developers, that have a real market differentiation.”</p> <p>He adds that Boston has set a goal of building thousands of new units of housing, and also a goal of making the city carbon-neutral. “Here’s a solution that does both,” he says.</p> <p>The project team included&nbsp;Evan Smith and Colin Booth at Placetailor Development; in addition to Klein<strong>,</strong>&nbsp;Zlatan Sehovic, Chris Weaver, John Fechtel, Jaehun Woo, and Clarence Yi-Hsien Lee at Generate Design; Andres Bernal, Michelangelo LaTona, Travis Anderson, and Elizabeth Hauver at Placetailor Design<strong>; </strong>Laura Jolly and Evan Smith at Placetailor Construction<strong>; </strong>Paul Richardson and Wolf Mangelsdorf at Burohappold<strong>; </strong>Sonia Barrantes and Jacob Staub at Ripcord Engineering; and<strong> </strong>Brian Kuhn and Caitlin Gamache at Code Red.</p> Architect's rendering shows the new mass-timber residential building that will soon begin construction in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood.Images: Generate Architecture and TechnologiesResearch, Architecture, Building, Sustainability, Emissions, Cities, Energy, Greenhouse gases, Carbon, Startups, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), School of Architecture and Planning QS World University Rankings rates MIT No. 1 in 12 subjects for 2020 Institute ranks second in five subject areas. Tue, 03 Mar 2020 19:01:01 -0500 MIT News Office <p>MIT has been honored with 12 No. 1 subject rankings in the QS World University Rankings for 2020.</p> <p>The Institute received a No. 1 ranking in the following QS subject areas: Architecture/Built Environment; Chemistry; Computer Science and Information Systems; Chemical Engineering; Civil and Structural Engineering; Electrical and Electronic Engineering; Mechanical, Aeronautical and Manufacturing Engineering; Linguistics; Materials Science; Mathematics; Physics and Astronomy; and Statistics and Operational Research.</p> <p>MIT also placed second in five subject areas: Accounting and Finance; Biological Sciences; Earth and Marine Sciences; Economics and Econometrics; and Environmental Sciences.</p> <p>Quacquarelli Symonds Limited subject rankings, published annually, are designed to help prospective students find the leading schools in their field of interest. Rankings are based on research quality and accomplishments, academic reputation, and graduate employment.</p> <p>MIT has been ranked as the No. 1 university in the world by QS World University Rankings for eight straight years.</p> Afternoon light streams into MIT’s Lobby 7.Image: Jake BelcherRankings, Computer science and technology, Linguistics, Chemical engineering, Civil and environmental engineering, Mechanical engineering, Chemistry, Materials science, Mathematics, Physics, Economics, EAPS, Business and management, Accounting, Finance, DMSE, School of Engineering, School of Science, School of Architecture and Planning, Sloan School of Management, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Architecture, Biology, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering MIT Solve announces 2020 global challenges Tech-based solutions sought for challenges in work environments, education for girls and women, maternal and newborn health, and sustainable food. Tue, 25 Feb 2020 16:15:01 -0500 Claire Crowther | MIT Solve <p>On Feb. 25, MIT Solve launched its <a href="">2020 Global Challenges</a>: Good Jobs and Inclusive Entrepreneurship, Learning for Girls and Women, Maternal and Newborn Health, and Sustainable Food Systems, with&nbsp;over $1 million in prize funding&nbsp;available across the challenges.</p> <p>Solve seeks tech-based solutions from social entrepreneurs around the world that address these four challenges. Anyone, anywhere can apply by the June 18 deadline. This year, to guide applicants, Solve created a course with <em>MITx</em> entitled “<a href="">Business and Impact Planning for Social Enterprises</a>,” which introduces core business-model and theory-of-change concepts to early-stage entrepreneurs.</p> <p>Finalists will be invited to attend Solve Challenge Finals on Sept. 20 in New York City during U.N. General Assembly week. At the event, they will pitch their solutions to Solve’s Challenge Leadership Groups, judging panels comprised of industry leaders and MIT faculty. The judges will select the most promising solutions as Solver teams.</p> <p>“Based all over the world, our Solver teams are incredibly diverse and have innovative solutions that turn air pollution into ink, recycle and resell used textiles, crowdsource data on wheelchair accessibility in public spaces, and much more,” says Solve Executive Director Alex Amouyel. “World-changing ideas can come from anywhere, and if you have a relevant solution, we want to hear it.”</p> <p>Solver teams participate in a nine-month program that connects them to the resources they need to scale. To date, Solve has facilitated more than 175 partnerships providing resources such as mentorship, technical expertise, and impact planning. In the past three years, Solve has brokered over $14 million in funding commitments to Solver teams and entrepreneurs.</p> <p>Solve’s challenge design process collects insights and ideas from industry leaders, MIT faculty, and local community voices alike. To develop the 2020 Global Challenges, Solve consulted more than 500 subject matter experts and hosted 14 Challenge Design Workshops in eight countries — in places ranging from Silicon Valley to London to Lagos to Ho Chi Minh City. Solve’s open innovation platform garnered more than 26,000 online votes on challenge themes.</p> <ol> <li> <p>Good Jobs and Inclusive Entrepreneurship:<strong> </strong>How can marginalized populations access and create good jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for themselves?</p> </li> <li> <p>Learning for Girls and Women:<strong> </strong>How can marginalized girls and young women access quality learning opportunities to succeed?</p> </li> <li> <p>Maternal and Newborn Health:<strong> </strong>How can every pregnant woman, new mother, and newborn access the care they need to survive and thrive?</p> </li> <li> <p>Sustainable Food Systems:<strong> </strong>How can we produce and consume low-carbon, resilient, and nutritious food?</p> </li> </ol> <p>As a marketplace for social impact innovation, Solve’s mission is to solve world challenges. Solve finds promising tech-based social entrepreneurs around the world, then brings together MIT’s innovation ecosystem and a community of members to fund and support these entrepreneurs to help scale their impact. Organizations interested in joining the Solve community can learn more and <a href="">apply for membership here</a>.</p> <div></div> Renewed products consist of upcycled or recycling materials. The Renewal Workshop is an MIT Solver team that works to save textiles from landfill.Photo: The Renewal Workshop MIT Solve, Special events and guest speakers, Global, Technology and society, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), International development, Artificial intelligence, Learning, Environment, Health, Community, Startups, Crowdsourcing A human-machine collaboration to defend against cyberattacks PatternEx merges human and machine expertise to spot and respond to hacks. Fri, 21 Feb 2020 14:12:18 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Being a cybersecurity analyst at a large company today is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack — if that haystack were hurtling toward you at fiber optic speed.</p> <p>Every day, employees and customers generate loads of data that establish a normal set of behaviors. An attacker will also generate data while using any number of techniques to infiltrate the system; the goal is to find that “needle” and stop it before it does any damage.</p> <p>The data-heavy nature of that task lends itself well to the number-crunching prowess of machine learning, and an influx of AI-powered systems have indeed flooded the cybersecurity market over the years. But such systems can come with their own problems, namely a never-ending stream of false positives that can make them more of a time suck than a time saver for security analysts.</p> <p>MIT startup PatternEx starts with the assumption that algorithms can’t protect a system on their own. The company has developed a closed loop approach whereby machine-learning models flag possible attacks and human experts provide feedback. The feedback is then incorporated into the models, improving their ability to flag only the activity analysts care about in the future.</p> <p>“Most machine learning systems in cybersecurity have been doing anomaly detection,” says Kalyan Veeramachaneni, a co-founder of PatternEx and a principal research scientist at MIT. “The problem with that, first, is you need a baseline [of normal activity]. Also, the model is usually unsupervised, so it ends up showing a lot of alerts, and people end up shutting it down. The big difference is that PatternEx allows the analyst to inform the system and then it uses that feedback to filter out false positives.”</p> <p>The result is an increase in analyst productivity. When compared to a generic anomaly detection software program, PatternEx’s Virtual Analyst Platform successfully identified 10 times more threats through the same number of daily alerts, and its advantage persisted even when the generic system gave analysts five times more alerts per day.</p> <p>First deployed in 2016, today the company’s system is being used by security analysts at large companies in a variety of industries along with firms that offer cybersecurity as a service.</p> <p><strong>Merging human and machine approaches to cybersecurity</strong></p> <p>Veeramachaneni came to MIT in 2009 as a postdoc and now directs a research group in the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems. His work at MIT primarily deals with big data science and machine learning, but he didn’t think deeply about applying those tools to cybersecurity until a brainstorming session with PatternEx co-founders Costas Bassias, Uday Veeramachaneni, and Vamsi Korrapati in 2013.</p> <p>Ignacio Arnaldo, who worked with Veeramachaneni as a postdoc at MIT between 2013 and 2015, joined the company shortly after. Veeramachaneni and Arnaldo knew from their time building tools for machine-learning researchers at MIT that a successful solution would need to seamlessly integrate machine learning with human expertise.</p> <p>“A lot of the problems people have with machine learning arise because the machine has to work side by side with the analyst,” Veeramachaneni says, noting that detected attacks still must be presented to humans in an understandable way for further investigation. “It can’t do everything by itself. Most systems, even for something as simple as giving out a loan, is augmentation, not machine learning just taking decisions away from humans.”</p> <p>The company’s first partnership was with a large online retailer, which allowed the founders to train their models to identify potentially malicious behavior using real-world data. One by one, they trained their algorithms to flag different types of attacks using sources like Wi-Fi access logs, authentication logs, and other user behavior in the network.</p> <p>The early models worked best in retail, but Veeramachaneni knew how much businesses in other industries were struggling to apply machine learning in their operations from his many conversations with company executives at MIT (a subject PatternEx recently published <a href="">a paper</a> on).</p> <p>“MIT has done an incredible job since I got here 10 years ago bringing industry through the doors,” Veeramachaneni says. He estimates that in the past six years as a member of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program he’s had 200 meetings with members of the private sector to talk about the problems they’re facing. He has also used those conversations to make sure his lab’s research is addressing relevant problems.</p> <p>In addition to enterprise customers, the company began offering its platform to security service providers and teams that specialize in hunting for undetected cyberattacks in networks.</p> <p>Today analysts can build machine learning models through PatternEx’s platform without writing a line of code, lowering the bar for people to use machine learning as part of a larger trend in the industry toward what Veeramachaneni calls the democratization of AI.</p> <p>“There’s not enough time in cybersecurity; it can’t take hours or even days to understand why an attack is happening,” Veeramachaneni says. “That’s why getting the analyst the ability to build and tweak machine learning models &nbsp;is the most critical aspect of our system.”</p> <p><strong>Giving security analysts an army</strong></p> <p>PatternEx’s Virtual Analyst Platform is designed to make security analysts feel like they have an army of assistants combing through data logs and presenting them with the most suspicious behavior on their network.</p> <p>The platform uses machine learning models to go through more than 50 streams of data and identify suspicious behavior. It then presents that information to the analyst for feedback, along with charts and other data visualizations that help the analyst decide how to proceed. After the analyst determines whether or not the behavior is an attack, that feedback is incorporated back into the models, which are updated across PatternEx’s entire customer base.</p> <p>“Before machine learning, someone would catch an attack, probably a little late, they might name it, and then they’ll announce it, and all the other companies will call and find out about it and go in and check their data,” Veeramachaneni says. “For us, if there’s an attack, we take that data, and because we have multiple customers, we have to transfer that in real time to other customer’s data to see if it’s happening with them too. We do that very efficiently on a daily basis.”</p> <p>The moment the system is up and running with new customers, it is able to identify 40 different types of cyberattacks using 170 different prepackaged machine learning models. Arnaldo notes that as the company works to grow those figures, customers are also adding to PatternEx’s model base by building solutions on the platform that address specific threats they’re facing.</p> <p>Even if customers aren’t building their own models on the platform, they can deploy PatternEx’s system out of the box, without any machine learning expertise, and watch it get smarter automatically.</p> <p>By providing that flexibility, PatternEx is bringing the latest tools in artificial intelligence to the people who understand their industries most intimately. It all goes back to the company’s founding principle of empowering humans with artificial intelligence instead of replacing them.</p> <p>“The target users of the system are not skilled data scientists or machine learning experts — profiles that are hard for cybersecurity teams to hire — but rather domain experts already on their payroll that have the deepest understanding of their data and uses cases,” Arnaldo says.</p> PatternEx’s Virtual Analyst Platform uses machine learning models to detect suspicious activity on a network. That activity is then presented to human analysts for feedback that improves the systems’ ability to flag activity analysts care about.Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Machine learning, Artificial intelligence, Computer science and technology, Data, Cyber security, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS) An entrepreneur finds his way to MIT Introduced to the Institute through MITx and MIT Bootcamps, Jakub Chudik is now a senior in EECS and CTO of his own startup. Mon, 17 Feb 2020 00:00:00 -0500 Shafaq Patel | MIT News correspondent <p>Jakub Chudik went to China for the first time on his dad’s business trip. A translator communicated in English, and Chudik translated to Slovak, his father’s native language. Just a few years later, as a rising junior at MIT, Chudik was in China again — this time to pitch his own business to Chinese investors.</p> <p>He was pitching the startup he co-founded: ConquerX, which aims to develop a new type of blood test for detecting early-stage cancers. As chief technology officer, Chudik has high hopes for his company, but he’s also focused on finishing his senior year and graduating with a computer science and engineering degree.</p> <p>Chudik began his journey to MIT as an entrepreneurially minded high school student in a small town in Slovakia. There, he discovered the free online courses offered by <em>MITx</em> on the edX platform.</p> <p>He had learned English at his bilingual school and was interested in helping his mother grow her small accounting business, so he completed <em>MITx’s</em> Entrepreneurship 101 and 102 courses. From there, he applied and was accepted to the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp.</p> <p>Through the MIT Bootcamp, a weeklong innovation and leadership program on campus for people from across the world, Chudik — who at age 18 was one of the youngest in the group — conceptualized a business idea with a couple of other participants. Among them was Chudik’s current business partner, Deborah Zanforlin, who had the idea for the technology on which ConquerX is based. After the program, he decided to apply to MIT.</p> <p>“I loved how welcoming the environment at MIT was,” Chudik recalls. “I felt I could be myself and always find support and guidance. Especially being able to have a frank one-on-one discussion with a professor made a big impression on me at the time.”&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Hooked by helping people</strong></p> <p>Chudik became interested in medical technology, especially related to cancer, after his younger brother, who was a toddler at the time, was diagnosed with cancer during Chudik’s first year of high school. His brother is healthy now, but that experience was an eye-opener for Chudik.</p> <p>“I had never had such a bad disease so close to me before. And I realized how much disease can impact not just the person but the whole family,” he says.</p> <p>He was hooked by the idea of the startup once Zanforlin told him about the technology she had been working on.</p> <p>“I thought it would be really great if I could be involved in helping people. I believed that I somewhat understood what people [experiencing cancer] were going through or what our company could help save them from” by enabling early intervention, Chudik says.</p> <p>Chudik says he had always assumed that only doctors could help people with health problems. “I realize now that you can be an engineer; you could come up with good technology that would maybe help even more people than if you were a doctor.”</p> <p>Now, through his experience with ConquerX, Chudik has become interested in the management and investing side of business. He thinks he might want to be a chief technology officer for other startups or become a venture capitalist and help fund small businesses.</p> <p>Chudik spent this past summer working on his startup and gaining more experience — instead of doing an internship, he managed interns at his own startup. But he has used MIT’s Independent Activities Period (IAP) to acquire hands-on experience working for larger companies.</p> <p>During the IAP of his sophomore year, he went to Singapore and was a research intern for a biomedical institute. And for his junior year, he worked as a data science intern in Geneva for Expedia.</p> <p>“I must say, though, that classes and the startup have taken the majority of my time during college,” Chudik says.</p> <p><strong>No longer strictly ballroom</strong></p> <p>Chudik’s commitment to his startup echoes the way he delved into dance when he was growing up.</p> <p>His junior high and high school experiences were filled with ballroom dancing. He got swept into it when one of his friends needed a partner, and her entire family came to his house to ask him to join her.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>He danced for seven years, which included five years of competitive dance. He became extremely dedicated to the art, training for 12-20 hours a week plus entire weekends at competitions. He would travel to different cities throughout Slovakia, spend hours doing his hair and makeup, and practicing the routine.</p> <p>After a while, competitive dance started to take over his life and added a lot of stress and demand on his parents, so he stopped.</p> <p>“I’m glad it’s over now,” he says. Chudik says that he now has more control over his life and has a better sleeping and eating schedule in college than ever before.</p> <p>“During international student orientation, the sophomore and junior orientation leaders found out about my ballroom dance experience. They tried tricking me into joining and spent the whole week trying to recruit me, but no, it’s in the past now,” he says, with a laugh.</p> <p>He spends his time focusing on his classes — from his major-related classes to electives like game design — and the MIT International Students Association.</p> <p>He says the organization is currently not very active, but it has been a source of important friendships.</p> <p>“Sometimes we would meet new people, but oftentimes we would just meet up with friends at the meetings that we haven’t seen for a long time,” Chudik says. “The international community is not so big here, so we kind of all know each other.”</p> <p>When Chudik first moved to Boston, he didn’t know of anyone else from Slovakia — not even students from other universities. He says that when he studied in Slovakia, it was rare for people to apply to colleges in the United States. He had to slowly convince his family to let him study so far away. But once he got into MIT and received his financial assistance, his family was overjoyed.</p> <p>Chudik grew up with a large extended family who would come over regularly for dinner. He knew he would be saying goodbye to that sense of community when he came to Boston. But Chudik received MIT’s Kate and Gordon B. Baty Scholarship, and the family responsible for the scholarship made him feel at home. The family hosts lunches two to three times a year and has a Thanksgiving dinner for all the students in the scholarship program.</p> <p>“They’ve become my second family here. They’re like grandparents that I’ve never had,” he says. “They’re so great.”</p> <p>Chudik has adjusted to Boston and has made this “very European-like” city his home. Because he found his way around an American university, he now mentors high school students in Slovakia and helps them navigate the college application process.</p> MIT senior Jakub Chudik became interested in medical technology, especially related to cancer, after his younger brother, who was a toddler at the time, was diagnosed with cancer during Chudik’s first year of high school.Image: Adam GlanzmanStudents, Profile, Undergraduate, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Cancer, Startups, MITx, Office of Open Learning, Massive open online courses (MOOCs), Health sciences and technology Maintaining the equipment that powers our world By organizing performance data and predicting problems, Tagup helps energy companies keep their equipment running. Wed, 12 Feb 2020 09:39:37 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Most people only think about the systems that power their cities when something goes wrong. Unfortunately, many people in the San Francisco Bay Area had a lot to think about recently when their utility company began scheduled power outages in an attempt to prevent wildfires. The decision came after devastating fires last year were found to be the result of faulty equipment, including transformers.</p> <p>Transformers are the links between power plants, power transmission lines, and distribution networks. If something goes wrong with a transformer, entire power plants can go dark. To fix the problem, operators work around the clock to assess various components of the plant, consider disparate data sources, and decide what needs to be repaired or replaced.</p> <p>Power equipment maintenance and failure is such a far-reaching problem it’s difficult to attach a dollar sign to. Beyond the lost revenue of the plant, there are businesses that can’t operate, people stuck in elevators and subways, and schools that can’t open.</p> <p>Now the startup Tagup is working to modernize the maintenance of transformers and other industrial equipment. The company’s platform lets operators view all of their data streams in one place and use machine learning to estimate if and when components will fail.</p> <p>Founded by CEO Jon Garrity ’11 and CTO Will Vega-Brown ’11, SM ’13 —&nbsp;who recently completed his PhD program in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and will be graduating this month — Tagup is currently being used by energy companies to monitor approximately 60,000 pieces of equipment around North America and Europe. That includes transformers, offshore wind turbines, and reverse osmosis systems for water filtration, among other things.</p> <p>“Our mission is to use AI to make the machines that power the world safer, more reliable, and more efficient,” Garrity says.</p> <p><strong>A light bulb goes on</strong></p> <p>Vega-Brown and Garrity crossed paths in a number of ways at MIT over the years. As undergraduates, they took a few of the same courses, with Vega-Brown double majoring in mechanical engineering and physics and Garrity double majoring in economics and physics. They were also fraternity brothers as well as teammates on the football team.</p> <p>Garrity was&nbsp;first exposed&nbsp;to entrepreneurship as an undergraduate in MIT’s Energy Ventures class and in the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship.&nbsp;Later, when Garrity returned to campus while attending Harvard Business School and Vega-Brown was pursuing his doctorate, they were again classmates in MIT’s New Enterprises course.</p> <p>Still, the founders didn’t think about starting a company until 2015, after Garrity had worked at GE Energy and Vega-Brown was well into his PhD work at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.</p> <p>At GE, Garrity discovered an intriguing business model through which critical assets like jet engines were leased by customers — in this case airlines — rather than purchased, and manufacturers held responsibility for remotely monitoring and maintaining them. The arrangement allowed GE and others to leverage their engineering expertise while the customers focused on their own industries.</p> <p>"When I worked at GE, I always wondered: Why isn’t this service available for any equipment type? The answer is economics.” Garrity says. “It is expensive to set up a remote monitoring center, to instrument the equipment in the field, to staff the 50 or more engineering subject matter experts, and to provide the support required to end customers. The cost of equipment failure, both in terms of business interruption and equipment breakdown, must be enormous to justify the high average fixed cost."</p> <p>“We realized two things,” Garrity continues. “With the increasing availability of sensors and cloud infrastructure, we can dramatically reduce the cost [of monitoring critical assets] from the infrastructure and communications side. And, with new machine-learning methods, we can increase the productivity of engineers who review equipment data manually.”</p> <p>That realization led to Tagup, though it would take time to prove the founders’ technology. “The problem with using AI for industrial applications is the lack of high-quality data,” Vega-Brown explains. “Many of our customers have giant datasets, but the information density in industrial data is often quite low. That means we need to be very careful in how we hunt for signal and validate our models, so that we can reliably make accurate forecasts and predictions.”</p> <p>The founders leveraged their MIT ties to get the company off the ground. They received guidance from MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service, and Tagup was in the first cohort of startups accepted into the MIT Industrial Liaison Program’s (ILP) STEX 25 accelerator, which connects high potential startups with members of industry. Tagup has since secured several customers through ILP, and those early partnerships helped the company train and validate some of its machine-learning models.</p> <p><strong>Making power more reliable</strong></p> <p>Tagup’s platform combines all of a customer’s equipment data into one sortable master list that displays the likelihood of each asset causing a disruption. Users can click on specific assets to see charts of historic data and trends that feed into Tagup’s models.</p> <p>The company doesn’t deploy any sensors of its own. Instead, it combines customers’ real-time sensor measurements with other data sources like maintenance records and machine parameters to improve its proprietary machine-learning models.</p> <p>The founders also began with a focused approach to building their system. Transformers were one of the first types of equipment they worked with, and they’ve expanded to other groups of assets gradually.</p> <p>Tagup’s first deployment was in August of 2016 with a power plant that faces the Charles River close to MIT’s campus. Just a few months after it was installed, Garrity was at a meeting overseas when he got a call from the plant manager about a transformer that had just gone offline unexpectedly. From his phone, Garrity was able to inspect real-time data from the transformer&nbsp;and give the manager the information he needed to restart the system. Garrity says it saved the plant about 26 hours of downtime and $150,000 in revenue.</p> <p>“These are really catastrophic events in terms of business outcomes,” Garrity says, noting transformer failures are estimated to cost $23 billion annually.</p> <p>Since then they’ve secured partnerships with several large utility companies, including National Grid and Consolidated Edison Company of New York.</p> <p>Down the line, Garrity and Vega-Brown are excited about using machine learning to control the operation of equipment. For example, a machine could manage itself in the same way an autonomous car can sense an obstacle and steer around it.</p> <p>Those capabilities have major implications for the systems that ensure the lights go on when we flip switches at night.</p> <p>“Where it gets really exciting is moving toward optimization,” Garrity says. Vega-Brown agrees, adding, “Enormous amounts of power and water are wasted because there aren't enough experts to tune the controllers on every industrial machine in the world. If we can use AI to capture some of the expert knowledge in an algorithm, we can cut inefficiency and improve safety at scale.”</p> Tagup's industrial equipment monitoring platform is currently being used by energy companies to monitor approximately 60,000 pieces of equipment around North America and Europe. That includes transformers, offshore wind turbines, and reverse osmosis systems for water filtration.Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Alumni/ae, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Mechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Machine learning, Energy, Artificial intelligence Out of the lab and into the world E14 Venture Summit celebrates the diversity of spinoff companies from the Media Lab. Tue, 11 Feb 2020 16:30:01 -0500 Chia Evers | MIT Media Lab <p>In collaboration with the <a href="">E14 Fund</a>, on Jan. 28-29 the MIT Media Lab hosted the inaugural <a href="" target="_blank">Media Lab Venture Summit</a> — the first-ever celebration of the myriad spinoff companies created by the extended community of Media Lab alumni, research staff, and faculty members.</p> <p>Slated to become an annual event, the summit convened on the sixth floor of Building E14, with introductory talks by Deb Roy,&nbsp;professor of media arts and sciences and Media Lab executive director of operations and communications, and E14 managing partners Habib Haddad and Calvin Chin. Later events included a panel discussion between entrepreneurs from the Media Lab, presentations by nearly 40 spinoff companies, a networking lunch hosted by the MIT Industrial Liaison Program, some 25 demos, and three breakout sessions focused on radical reinvention of traditional industries, digitizing product value chains, and radical sustainability for future products. On the second day of the summit, participants were invited to tour Formlabs, Tulip, and Ginkgo Bioworks — local startups with MIT roots.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Started in 2014, the E14 Fund began as a small experiment, and has since grown into a robust network of support for Media Lab spinoffs, students, alumni, and other members of the extended lab community. As Roy noted in his introduction, entrepreneurship is a natural outgrowth of the lab’s approach to research. “I’ve long described the Media Lab, and one of the core aspects of the spirit of the lab, as entrepreneurial — enterprising, and characterized by the taking of research risks in the hope of intellectual and practical advances. It’s part of the ethos of the lab, and it’s amazing to see this rich collection of startups that the E14 family has recognized and been fostering over the last several years.”</p> <p>The program for the first day of the summit reflected the broad diversity of those startups, which range from early-stage companies founded by recent graduates and based on their Media Lab research to companies created by alumni who left the lab some time ago.&nbsp;</p> <p>Moderated by Joe Chung SM ’89, the opening panel provided an informative, emotionally honest, and sometimes surprising discussion of the different paths labbers have taken to starting their own companies. Chung himself left the PhD program to co-found Art Technology Group with Jeet Singh ’86, while Nan-Wei Gong PhD ’13, founder of Figur8, co-founded her first company (3dim Tech Inc., which was acquired in 2014) after winning the <a href="">2013 MIT $100K Competition</a> with friends. Former Media Lab postdoc Rana El Kaliouby co-founded Affectiva with Professor Rosalind Picard when it became clear that their research project had outgrown the lab. LittleBits founder Ayah Bdeir SM ’06, meanwhile, shifted her focus from creative electronics for everyone<em> </em>to creative electronics for children after the 2009 Maker Faire in San Mateo, California, where so many kids swarmed around her booth and refused to leave that she had to pretend she was closing so that their parents could take them home.&nbsp;</p> <p>A recurring theme was that many of the panelists didn’t leave the lab with the intention of starting a company — rather, they started companies because it seemed like the best way to accomplish a specific mission. “We build starting from the passion,” says Gong, “and then we figure out a business model and ask how we scale up.” John Underkoffler ’88, SM ’91, PhD ’99, whose dissertation work inspired the production design of the film “Minority Report” — on which he served as a consultant — and whose company, Oblong, continues to build upon that work, was more blunt: “I had no idea what I was doing.” He credited fellow Media Lab alumnus David Kung ’93, SM ’95, now vice president for product strategy at Oblong, with making him understand that the calls he was getting from Fortune 500 companies meant there was interest in his technology. “It was sidelong and sideways and unanticipated.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The panelists also spoke candidly about both their successes and their greatest challenges. Harmonix co-founder Eran Egozy ’93, MEng ’95 described the unprecedented surge of interest in “Guitar Hero,” which saw its sales figures double month after month, bypassing the usual post-holiday slump. Others talked about stresses and failures, from running out of funding to making painful business decisions to the difficulty of balancing personal relationships with the needs of an early-stage startup. “I always used to think when people said things like, ‘If I’d known how hard it was, I never would have tried,’ were being dramatic, but it’s literally true,” Underkoffler says. El Kaliouby offered advice on how to weather those storms: “Go back to core values. They’re not important when things are rosy, but they’re especially important in these tough times, when you have to make tough decisions.”&nbsp;</p> <p>After the panel discussion, presenters from&nbsp;36 ventures delivered lightning-round overviews, inviting attendees to learn more about their organizations during the demo and networking sessions in the afternoon. These presentations&nbsp;further showcased the diversity of the enterprises,&nbsp;from artificial intelligence applications designed to improve crop yields and reduce overuse of fertilizer and pesticides in commercial farming, to high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, to autonomous mobility solutions at scales from individuals to mass transit. The demos also included room for the whimsical — like the beautiful, networked touch lamps developed by John Harrison’s SM ’05 Filimin.&nbsp;</p> <p>Ann Perrin, a liaison from Media Lab member company Deloitte who has long advocated for an event like this, says, “The inaugural Venture Summit exemplified the power of the lab by bringing together faculty, innovative spinoffs rooted in research pioneered at the lab, and corporate members scouting for emerging tech and exploring partnerships. A great success.” Haddad agrees: “The summit is a great opportunity to celebrate the impact of the lab beyond the lab. It’s great to see all those startups continue building on top of the work they did at the lab, creating ventures at scale to tackle large and tough problems.” Ryan McCarthy, director of member relations at the Media Lab, adds, “It was amazing to hear from older spinoffs, and see how much they've&nbsp;accomplished, alongside these new companies that have so much potential.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The event also highlighted something that Roy, Chin, and Haddad all emphasized in their opening remarks — that promising research from the lab may take years to come to fruition. “Some of the ideas that the Media Lab works on,” Roy says, “have gestation periods that will actually span not just years but decades, and eventually come into material practice.”</p> Left to right: Joe Chung (Redstar), Ayah Bdeir (littleBits), Nan-Wei Gong (Figur8), Rana El Kaliouby (Affectiva), Eran Egozy (Harmonix), and John Underkoffler (Oblong) participate in a panel discussion about their entrepreneurial paths out of the Media Lab.Photo courtesy of the MIT Media Lab.Media Lab, Startups, Alumni/ae, Staff, Faculty, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Special events and guest speakers, Business and management, School of Architecture and Planning MIT helps first-time entrepreneur build food hospitality company Led by Christine Marcus MBA ’12, Alchemista is finding success with a human-centered approach to food service. Thu, 30 Jan 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Christine Marcus MBA ’12 was an unlikely entrepreneur in 2011. That year, after spending her entire, 17-year career in government, most recently as the deputy chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Energy, she entered the MIT Sloan School of Management Fellows MBA Program.</p> <p>Moreover, Marcus didn’t think of herself as an entrepreneur.</p> <p>“That was the furthest thing from my mind,” she says. “I knew it was time to think about the private sector, but my plan was to leave Sloan and get a job in finance. The thought of entrepreneurship was nowhere in my mind. I wasn’t one of those people who came with a business idea.”</p> <p>By the end of Sloan’s intensive, 12-month program, however, Marcus was running a startup helping local organizations and companies serve food from some of Boston’s best restaurants to hundreds of people. Upon graduation, in addition to her degree, Marcus had 40 recurring customers and had sold about $50,000 worth of food from her classmates’ Italian restaurant.</p> <p>What happened to spark such a dramatic change?</p> <p>“MIT happened,” Marcus says. “Being in that ecosystem and listening to all the people share their stories of starting companies, listening to CEOs talk about their successes and failures, the mistakes they’ve made along the way, that was super-inspiring. What I realized at MIT was that I’ve always been an entrepreneur.”</p> <p>In the years since graduation, Marcus has used her new perspective to build Alchemista, a “high-touch” hospitality company that helps businesses, commercial real estate developers, and property owners provide meals to employees and tenants. Today, Alchemista has clients in Boston, New York City, and Washington, and serves more than 60,000 meals each month.</p> <p>The company’s services go beyond simply curating restaraunts on a website: Each one of Alchemista’s clients has its own representative that customizes menus each month, and Alchemista employees are on the scene setting up every meal to ensure everything goes smoothly.</p> <p>“We work with companies that focus on employee culture and invest in their employees, and we incorporate ourselves into that culture,” Marcus says.</p> <p><strong>Finding inspiration, then confidence</strong></p> <p>At first, all Marcus wanted from MIT were some bright new employees for the Department of Energy. During a recruiting trip for that agency in 2011, she met Bill Aulet, the managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and professor of the practice at Sloan.</p> <p>“I mentioned to Bill that I was thinking of doing an MBA,” Marcus remembers. “He said, ‘You need to come to MIT. It will transform your life.’ Those were his exact words. Then basically, ‘And you need to do it now.’”</p> <p>Soon after that conversation, Marcus applied for the Sloan Fellows Program, which crams an MBA into one year of full-time, hands on work. A few weeks after being accepted, she left her lifelong career in government for good.</p> <p>But Marcus still had no plans to become an entrepreneur. That came more gradually at Sloan, as she listened to experts describe entrepreneurship as a learnable craft, received encouragement and advice from professors, and heard from dozens of successful first-time entrepreneurs about their own early doubts and failures.</p> <p>“A lot of these founders had backgrounds in things that had nothing to do with their industry,” Marcus says. “My question was always, ‘How do you become successful in an industry you don’t know anything about?’ Their answer was always the same: ‘It’s all about learning and being curious.’”</p> <p>During one typically long day in the MBA program, a classmate brought in food from his Italian restaurant. Marcus was blown away and wondered why MIT didn’t cater from nice restaurants like that all the time.</p> <p>The thought set in motion a process that has never really stopped for Marcus. She began speaking with office secretaries, club presidents, and other event organizers at MIT. She learned it was a nightmare ordering food for hundreds of people, and that many of Boston’s best restaurants had no means of connecting with such organizers.</p> <p>“I made myself known on campus just hustling,” Marcus remembers. “First I had to spend time figuring out who orders food. … I made it my mission to talk to all of them, understand their pain points, and understand what would get them to change their processes at that point. It was a lot of legwork.”</p> <p>Marcus moved into the entrepreneurial track at Sloan, and says one of her most helpful classes was tech sales, taught by Lou Shipley, who’s now an advisor for Alchemista. She also says it was helpful that professors focused on real-world problems, at some points even using Alchemista as a case study, allowing Marcus’s entire class to weigh in on problems she was grappling with.</p> <p>“That was super-helpful, to have all these smart MIT students working on my company,” she says.</p> <p>As she neared gradation, Marcus spent a lot of time in the Trust Center, and leaned heavily on MIT’s support system.</p> <p>“That’s the best thing about MIT: the ecosystem,” Marcus says. “Everybody genuinely wants to help however they can.”</p> <p>Leaving that ecosystem, which Marcus described as a “challenging yet safe environment,” presented Marcus with her biggest test yet.</p> <p><strong>Taking the plunge</strong></p> <p>At some point, every entrepreneur must decide if they’re passionate and confident enough in their business to fully commit to it. Over the course of a whirlwind year, MIT gave Marcus a crash course in entrepreneurship, but it couldn’t make that decision for her.</p> <p>Marcus responded unequivocally. She started by selling her house in Washington and renting a one-bedroom apartment in Boston. She also says she used up her retirement savings as she worked to expand Alchemista’s customer base in the early days.</p> <p>“I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone without a strong stomach, but I jumped in with both feet,” Marcus says.</p> <p>And MIT never stopped lending support. At the time, Sloan was planning to renovate a building on campus, so in the interim, Aulet started a coworking space called the MIT Beehive. Marcus worked out of there for more than a year, collaborating with other MIT startup founders and establishing a supportive network of peers.</p> <p>Her commitment paid off. By 2014, Marcus had a growing customer base and a strong business model based on recurring revenue from large customer accounts. Alchemista soon expanded to Washington and New York City.</p> <p>Last year, the company brought on a culinary team and opened its own kitchens. It also expanded its services to commercial property owners and managers who don’t want to give up leasing space for a traditional cafeteria or don’t have restaurants nearby.</p> <p>Marcus has also incorporated her passion for sustainability into Alchemista’s operations. After using palm leaf plates for years, the company recently switched over to reusable plates and utensils, saving over 100,000 tons of waste annually, she says.</p> <p>Ultimately, Marcus thinks Alchemista’s success is a result of its human-centered approach to helping customers.</p> <p>“It’s not this massive website where you place an order and have no contact,” Marcus says. “We’re the opposite of that. We’re high-touch because everyone else is a website or app. Simply put, we take all the headaches away from ordering for hundreds of people. Food is very personal; breaking bread is one of the most fundamental ways to connect with others. We provide that experience in a premium, elevated way.”</p> Alchemista co-founder and CEO Christine Marcus MBA ’12 says she sold her house and dipped into her retirement savings to get the company off the ground.Image courtesy of AlchemistaMartin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Food, Startups, Sloan School of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Business and management, Alumni/ae, Profile Accelerating the pace of engineering The 2019-20 School of Engineering MathWorks Fellows are using MATLAB and Simulink to advance discovery and innovation across disciplines. Tue, 28 Jan 2020 17:00:01 -0500 Lori LoTurco | School of Engineering <p>Founded in 1984 by Jack Little ’78 and Cleve Moler, MathWorks was built on the premise of providing engineers and scientists with more powerful and productive computation environments. In 1985, the company sold its very first order&nbsp;— 10 copies of its first product, MATLAB — to MIT.</p> <p>Decades later, engineers across MIT and around the world consistently rely on MathWorks products to accelerate the pace of discovery, innovation, and development in automotive, aerospace, electronics, biotech-pharmaceutical, and other industries.&nbsp;MathWorks’ products and support have had a significant impact on <em>MITx,</em> OpenCourseWare, and MIT’s digital learning efforts across campus, including the Department of Mathematics, one of the School of Engineering’s closest collaborators in the use of digital learning tools and educational technologies.</p> <p>“We have a strong belief in the importance of engineers and scientists,” says Little. “They act to increase human knowledge and profoundly improve our standard of living. We create products like MATLAB and Simulink to help them do their best work.”</p> <p>As the language of technical computing, MATLAB is a programming environment for algorithm development, data analysis, visualization, and numeric computation. It is used extensively by faculty, students, and researchers across MIT and by over 4 million users in industry, government, and academia in 185 countries.</p> <p>Simulink is a block diagram environment for simulation and model-based design of multidomain and embedded engineering systems, including automatic code generation, verification, and validation. It is used heavily in automotive, aerospace, and other applications that design complex real-time systems.</p> <p>This past summer, MathWorks celebrated 35 years of accelerating the pace of engineering and science. Shortly following this milestone, MathWorks awarded 11 engineering fellowships to graduate students within the School of Engineering who are active users of MATLAB or Simulink. The fellows are using the programs to advance discovery and innovation across disciplines.</p> <p>“PhD fellowships are an investment in the world’s long-term future, and there are few investments more valuable than that,” says Little.</p> <p>The 2019-20 MathWorks fellows are:</p> <p><a href="">Pasquale Antonante</a> is a PhD student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He uses MATLAB and Simulink to build tools that make robots more accurate.</p> <p><a href="">Alireza Fallah</a> is a PhD student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He uses Matlab and Symbolic Math Toolbox to develop better machine-learning algorithms.</p> <p><a href="">James Gabbard</a> is a SM/PhD student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He uses MATLAB to model fluids and materials.</p> <p><a href="">Nicolas Meirhaeghe</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in medical engineering and medical physics in the Bioastronautics Training Program at Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. He uses MATLAB to visualize activity in the brain and understand how it is related to an individual’s behavior.</p> <p><a href="">Caroline Nielsen</a> is a PhD student in the Department of Chemical Engineering. She uses MATLAB to implement and test new applications of non-smooth analysis. She also intends to use MATLAB to in the next phase of her research, developing methods to simultaneously optimize for minimal resource use and operating costs.</p> <p><a href="">Bauyrzhan Primkulov</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He uses MATLAB to build computational models and explore how fluids interact in porous materials.</p> <p><a href="">Kate Reidy</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. She studies how 2D materials — only a single atom thick — can be combined with 3D materials, and uses MATLAB to analyze the properties of different materials.</p> <p><a href="">Isabelle Su</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in civil and environmental engineering. She builds computational models with MATLAB to understand the mechanical properties of spider webs.</p> <p><a href="">Joy Zeng</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in chemical engineering. Her research is focused on the electrochemical transformation of carbon dioxide to fuels and commodity chemicals. She uses MATLAB to model chemical reactions.</p> <p><a href="">Benjamin "Jiahong" Zhang</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in computational science and engineering. He uses MATLAB to prototype new methods for rare event simulation, finding new methods by leveraging mathematical principles used in proofs and re-purposing them for computation.</p> <p><a href="">Paul Zhang</a><strong> </strong>is a PhD student in electrical engineering and computer science. He uses MATLAB to develop algorithms with applications in meshing — the use of simple shapes to study complex ones.</p> <p>For MathWorks, fostering engineering education is a priority, so when deciding where to focus philanthropic support, MIT — its very first customer — was an obvious choice.</p> <p>“We are so humbled by MathWorks' generosity, and their continued support of our engineering students through these fellowships,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering. “Our relationship with MathWorks is one that we revere — they have developed products that foster research and advancement across many disciplines, and through their support our students launch discoveries and innovation that align with MathWorks’ mission.”</p> MathWorks fellows with Anantha Chandrakasan (back row, center), dean of the MIT School of Engineering. Not pictured: Fellows Pasquale Antonante, Alireza Fallah, and Kate Reidy.Photo: David DegnerSchool of Engineering, MITx, OpenCourseWare, Mathematics, Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), Mechanical engineering, Chemical engineering, Civil and environmental engineering, Awards, honors and fellowships, Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology, Alumni/ae, Startups, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, DMSE, Computer science and technology, School of Science Helping military veterans nail that interview Interview coaching startup Candorful helps veterans transitioning to civilian life prepare for job interviews. Tue, 28 Jan 2020 00:00:00 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>The military is great at teaching soldiers to accomplish objectives under stressful conditions, work as part of a team, and lead groups of people. Those skills are useful in business as well as combat, but many veterans lack experience communicating their skills to recruiters or hiring managers in job interviews.</p> <p>As a result, many veterans struggle to land a good job after their service — a critical factor for a successful transition into civilian life. Now the startup Candorful is working to change that. The nonprofit facilitates video mock interviews for veterans with volunteer coaches to help them put their best foot forward with employers.</p> <p>“Veterans rapidly gain experience managing teams and projects, making an impact, working with minimal resources,” says Candorful co-founder and executive director Pat Hubbell SM ’91. When competing with civilians during the interview process, veterans “may be better prepared for a job, but civilians typically know how to talk about their experience and personal impact more effectively,” she adds. “In the military, it’s all about the team, so veterans are not comfortable talking about their individual impact. They often talk about what their team did instead.”</p> <p>Thinking about their accomplishments at the individual level is just one of the many mental pivots veterans must make as they learn to sell themselves to hiring managers. Candorful aids in that process through live interview simulations and feedback. Veterans accessing the company’s platform choose three coaches from Candorful’s pool of experienced interviewers. They then conduct three one-on-one mock interviews via a video conferencing platform, each lasting about 30 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of verbal feedback. After the session, veterans receive a full report on their performance from each coach.</p> <p>The company was started in 2017 by Hubbell and co-founder Peter Sukits, who served in the U.S. Army for five years. The founders celebrated their 1,000th training session in November and are planning to dramatically increase the number of veterans coming through their platform this year.</p> <p>“Our clients can be actively deployed or in a transition program,” Hubbell says, noting Candorful has even helped a soldier serving in a war zone. “They can be anywhere in the world.”</p> <p><strong>Giving back</strong></p> <p>As a captain in the Army, Sukits served as a platoon leader and head planning officer for a 400-soldier battalion in Afghanistan. He decided it was time to pursue a civilian career in 2011.</p> <p>At the time, Hubbell was working as a consultant and advisor at Cornell University, where she was running mock job interviews with students and alumni. That’s where she met Sukits.</p> <p>Sukits had attended Carnegie Mellon University as an undergraduate prior to commissioning as an Army officer, and Hubbell was impressed with his qualifications and charisma. But she also noticed his discomfort with elaborating on his personal experience.</p> <p>“Veterans have amazing skills, [such as] leadership skills, and rich experience, but the experience of selling yourself during a job interview doesn’t exist in the military.”</p> <p>Sukits was accepted into Cornell University’s MBA program and went on to land a great job at Procter and Gamble. But his desire to help others drove him to call Hubbell in 2016 to brainstorm business ideas around offering career services. It didn’t take long for them to focus on conducting mock job interviews for veterans transitioning back to civilian life.</p> <p>Hubbell had already measured the impact of mock interviews at Cornell. She found that students who participated in the interviews were twice as likely to land their desired job, and they did so sooner than students who hadn’t done the practice interviews.</p> <p>Although it had been 20 years since Hubbell was a student at MIT, she had kept in touch with fellow alumni and staff members. The founders received support from MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service early on, which Hubbell says gave the business legitimacy and helped them hone their story. Three of Hubbell’s former classmates at the MIT Sloan School of Management began serving on Candorful’s board of directors, and when it came time for the newly formed board to meet, Rod Garcia, the assistant dean of admissions at MIT Sloan, set them up with a conference room on campus.</p> <p>The startup began as a for-profit venture, but it became clear that securing nonprofit status was essential to gain the trust of partners like Hiring Our Heroes and the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program. Hubbel says being a nonprofit changed the founders’ approach to fundraising, and it took about 18 months to be granted nonprofit status, but the founders didn’t let the wait prevent them from helping veterans.</p> <p><strong>Easing the transition</strong></p> <p>In the summer of 2017, relying on volunteers, the founders began coaching a small number of veterans. By 2018, they had partnered with veteran transition assistance programs and had a steady stream of veterans using their service.</p> <p>Hubbell credits a few large companies for providing assistance early on, including Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Amazon, PWC, Keystone Strategy, East Boston Savings Bank, and Ernst and Young. Some of those companies put Candorful on their internal volunteer opportunities lists, which helped establish a pool of highly qualified coaches. Volunteers come from a variety of fields, the one unifying factor being that they have extensive experience conducting job interviews.</p> <p>“Our volunteers are people who want to give back to veterans,” Hubbell says. “And it’s easy for them; they’re able to do it from their desk at lunch or dining room table after dinner.”</p> <p>Following the interview and verbal feedback, each volunteer fills out a scorecard that provides the veterans with grades on everything from their physical appearance to their response structure. Veterans, in turn, rate their coaches.</p> <p>Of the people who have gone through the Candorful process and left the military, Hubbell says 98 percent had landed their desired job as of the third quarter of 2019.</p> <p>As the founders work to update their numbers, Hubbell can happily report that Candorful has helped almost 500 veterans prepare for and land jobs, some of whom have even returned to Candorful as volunteer coaches.</p> <p>“The vast majority of our clients have worked in the military for 10 to 20 years,” Hubbell says. “By the time civilians are reaching the 10-year point of their career, they’ve had experience with interviews, learned, and gotten feedback. The military community &nbsp;doesn’t have the same experience, so we want to close that gap. Not to mention, if they’re eight to 20 years out of high school, they probably have kids. There’s a lot on the line when it’s time to get a good job.”</p> Candorful uses video conferencing to facilitate mock job interviews between volunteer coaches and military personnel to help prepare them for civilian job interviews.Image: CandorfulInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Jobs, Venture Mentoring Service, Alumni/ae, Social entrepreneurship, Security studies and military, Startups, MIT Sloan School of Management Health care innovators strive to make a difference A week of learning with MIT Bootcamps sparked ideas that Jal Panchal and Maria Hahn are taking forward to solve problems in health care. Thu, 23 Jan 2020 15:00:01 -0500 Stefanie Koperniak | MIT Open Learning <p>While the mission of working on a team to start a new venture in a single week may sound daunting, many bold innovators have embraced this opportunity through MIT Bootcamps. These intense, weeklong educational programs accelerate the progression from idea to action.</p> <p>For Jal Panchal, an engineer in Boston, Massachusetts, and Maria Hahn, an entrepreneur in Basel, Switzerland, the weeklong setting offered the perfect opportunity to hone their ideas for making a difference in a space they felt very passionate about: medical devices.</p> <p><strong>Improving physical therapy compliance for children with cerebral palsy</strong></p> <p>Growing up with cerebral palsy in India, Panchal noticed an unmet need. Physical therapy can be critical for individuals with cerebral palsy in helping them to maintain and develop their motor skills. But the challenge is that it can be hard to stay motivated to do repetitive exercises. The exercises can quickly become tedious, and the equipment involved can be expensive. Panchal identified a great need for children to have an easy, fun way to practice physical therapy.</p> <p>Panchal transformed this unmet need into a new opportunity at the MIT-Harvard Medical School Healthcare Innovation Bootcamp last year. The program included a three-day trek to Boston-area health care companies and organizations, including Boston Children’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals.</p> <p>“Visiting the different organizations showed me how important it is to understand the whole system,” says Panchal. “You can’t just have a solution to a particular problem that doesn’t consider the whole system. A solution doesn’t work unless you know the people involved, the stakeholders. There is already an existing, elaborate health care system — and any solution has to fit within it.”</p> <p>The project developed by Panchal and his team seeks to better enable children with cerebral palsy to do the physical therapy needed to develop their muscles and bones. They developed a wearable sensor with a feedback mechanism. The team members, who originate from five different countries, worked closely with Boston Children’s Hospital. One approach they’ve explored is making the physical therapy into a game by having the children select a favorite character, such as a superhero, and have the children’s movements also done, simultaneously, by the character on a screen. Panchal used similar games as a child.</p> <p>“The focus on ‘user innovation’ was especially important and eye-opening to me,” Panchal said. “When you focus on solving a problem you face yourself, you have this insight that no one else can have.”</p> <p>Panchal says that while working on the bootcamp project is still very much in the discovery phase, he sees great potential in it, as well as in the problem-solving approaches he learned at the bootcamp.</p> <p>His team is still together and working on their device. Given the momentum of the project, the team now receives faculty mentoring from the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care.</p> <p><strong>Detecting glucose levels for diabetes patients with a non-invasive sensor</strong></p> <p>For Hahn, MIT Bootcamps was the beginning of an award-winning startup.</p> <p>In November, Hahn accepted an award on behalf of the Nutrix team at the PITCH competition for early-stage startups at the 2019 Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal —&nbsp;one of the largest annual conferences for the technology industry in the world.</p> <p>The idea behind Nutrix began through conversations between Hahn and a friend with diabetes. Hahn listened to her friend’s struggles with the condition, stressing the need for affordable, easy-to-use technology to monitor the condition.</p> <p>Hahn, who holds an MBA and has worked in the medical device industry for 10 years, brought this insight with her to the MIT Technology and Innovation Bootcamp held in Tokyo, Japan last year, where her bootcamp team began their brainstorming with an inexpensive sensor to monitor caloric intake.</p> <p>Upon returning to Switzerland, Hahn continued to work on the idea, bringing what she learned from the bootcamp to a new team, who together evolved the project to a nanosensor designed solely for glucose monitoring. The sensor is non-invasive, placed on the user’s tooth, and detects glucose levels in saliva, delivering the information through an external app.</p> <p>Hahn sees Nutrix as being able to provide many diabetes patients worldwide with an affordable option for monitoring their glucose levels — including people in developing countries, as well as patients with Type 2 diabetes (for whom monitoring systems are often not covered by insurance).</p> <p>“Before you focus on the product, you focus on the patient,” says Hahn. “We talked with diabetes patients and asked them about the pain points of the existing monitoring systems.”</p> <p>Hahn says that one of the most valuable things gained from her bootcamp experience was developing a forward-thinking approach to problems, thinking beyond current realities and limitations.</p> <p>“We were encouraged to think in the long term,” says Hahn. “Think not about today, but think about tomorrow.”</p> An award-winning startup founded by Maria Hahn (second from right) got its start at an MIT Technology and Innovation Bootcamp.Photo: MIT BootcampsHealth care, Health sciences and technology, Medical devices, Sensors, Diabetes, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Office of Open Learning, Disease MIT Sloan launches MITx MicroMasters Program in Finance Taught by faculty in the MIT Sloan School of Management, MIT’s fifth MicroMasters program offers learners an opportunity to enhance their financial skill set. Wed, 15 Jan 2020 08:00:00 -0500 MIT Open Learning <p>The skills and expertise required for a career in finance are in high demand across industries and the world. To address this need, MIT recently launched the <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters Program in Finance, an online program taught by faculty in the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Institute’s fifth MicroMasters Program to date. Available on the edX platform, the program offers recent graduates, early- to mid-stage professionals, and other individuals interested in or already pursuing a career in finance an opportunity to enhance their financial skill set or to fast-track a master’s degree in finance from MIT Sloan.</p> <p>“The <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters Program in Finance is part of MIT’s mission to make high-quality education accessible around the world. A pioneer and leader in the field of finance, MIT Sloan is uniquely positioned to drive awareness about financial issues, increase interest, and build skills,” says David Schmittlein, the John C Head III Dean of MIT Sloan. “This program is an exciting opportunity to give learners who cannot come to campus the knowledge, models, and tools needed to advance their careers.”</p> <p>The <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters&nbsp;Program in Finance includes a bundle of five online courses in finance taught by MIT Sloan faculty on the edX platform. Drawn from the STEM-based curriculum taught on campus, all five courses mirror on-campus, graduate-level MIT coursework and cover topics such as modern finance, financial accounting, mathematical methods for quantitative finance, and derivative markets. Learners will gain a comprehensive understanding of global markets and learn to apply critical financial theories, models, and frameworks across all areas of finance.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p>MIT Sloan Professor Leonid Kogan, who teaches in the <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters&nbsp;Program in Finance, says, “Finance can fuel progress in the way people live, the health of our world, and the integrity of our global financial systems. MIT Sloan is a robust ecosystem of finance educators, research innovators, and industry practitioners with diverse and accomplished students and alumni working at the forefront of the field to solve high-impact problems and drive progress. The MicroMasters&nbsp;program enables students around the world to engage in this ecosystem and learn how to make a positive difference in finance.”</p> <p>Heidi Pickett, assistant dean of the Master of Finance Program, agrees. “Finance is the backbone of how economies and companies operate. It is necessary in virtually every part of the world in both the private and public sectors. This program will help meet the growing and evolving needs of finance by training professionals and helping qualified individuals to fast-track their MIT master’s degree in finance.”</p> <p>Learners who complete and pass each course in the program may apply to the MIT Sloan Master of Finance Program and, upon acceptance, earn credit for the work performed online. This educational pathway allows learners to complete the master’s degree quicker, with only two terms spent on campus at MIT.</p> <p>The first available course in the <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters Program in Finance starts April 1; enrollment is open now.</p> <p>“We are proud to launch our fifth <em>MITx</em> MicroMasters program for learners around the globe in collaboration with MIT Sloan,” says MIT Dean for Digital Learning Krishna Rajagopal. “MicroMasters programs unlock the potential of learners with the drive and capability to tackle MIT courses, advancing their careers without interrupting their careers.”</p> Available on the edX platform, the MITx MicroMasters Program in Finance offers recent graduates, early- to mid-stage professionals, and others interested in or already pursuing a career in finance an opportunity to enhance their financial skill set or to fast-track a master’s degree in finance from MIT Sloan.Image: Office of Open LearningSloan School of Management, MITx, EdX, online learning, Massive open online courses (MOOCs), OpenCourseWare, Office of Digital Learning, Office of Open Learning, Classes and programs, Technology and society, Graduate, postdoctoral, Business and management A new way to irrigate crops year-round Startup Khethworks is deploying solar-powered pumps to help poor farmers in India irrigate crops all year long. Fri, 10 Jan 2020 15:04:12 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Toward the end of 2019, startup Khethworks began selling what the team refers to internally as “version one” of its 320-watt solar-powered water pump. The pump allows farmers in India who rely on crop harvests to feed their families to farm year-round instead of being limited to the four-month monsoon season. In just a couple of months, the product has started to change the fortunes of underserved farmers in India, lifting up families and impacting entire villages.</p> <p>But getting to version one was neither quick nor easy. For Khethworks co-founder and CEO Katie Taylor SM ’15, the first product release is the culmination of an uncompromising journey, begun in 2014, to create a product that fits the lifestyles of farmers and minimizes risk for vulnerable communities.</p> <p>That approach has forced Khethworks to reject easier paths to commercialization. But now that the pump is available and production processes are in place, the founders, which also include Kevin Simon SM ’15 PhD ’19 and Victor Lesniewski SM ’15, are excited to scale the deployment of a product they know can change lives.</p> <p><strong>A long journey</strong></p> <p>Many farmers in rural areas of eastern India have limited access to electricity, making it difficult to use the groundwater they need to grow crops outside of monsoon season, which runs from June to September. One way to farm during dry months is to rent pumps that run on diesel or kerosene, but Taylor says that option leaves farmers with hardly any profit after the high costs of the rental and fuel.</p> <p>The situation forces many farmers to leave their villages each year to pursue physically demanding migrant work after monsoon season — separating families at a time when crop prices are at their highest because supply is lower.</p> <p>Taylor learned all of this during trips to eastern India as an MIT graduate student and Tata Fellow in 2013. At the time, she was working with smallholder farmers to design an inexpensive, low-pressure drip irrigation system. She quickly learned the bigger problem was accessing groundwater, so she partnered with Simon, Lesniewski, and Marcos Esparza ’15 (a co-founder who is no longer with the company), who were classmates in of hers in 2.760 (Global Engineering). The students began working nights and weekends to develop a groundwater pump that ran on the most reliable, abundant resource available to farmers during dry months: the sun.</p> <p>From the start, the founders made a point of becoming intimately familiar with the existing practices and preferences of smallholder farmers.</p> <p><strong>“</strong>We didn’t create this fancy technology at MIT and then think about where it was applicable,” Taylor says. “We were taking input from farmers from day one.”</p> <p>Taylor estimates she traveled to India eight times while attending classes at MIT and credits GEAR Lab Director Amos Winter, the Robert N. Noyce Career Development Assistant Professor at MIT, for encouraging students to pursue ideas outside of the classroom.</p> <p>The trips made for some insightful, if difficult, moments for the founders. Taylor remembers putting the final touches on a prototype at MIT in the middle of a blizzard with a flight scheduled for later that day. The typical route to the villages where the founders conducted testing included a flight to Mumbai, another flight to Kolkata, a seven-hour train ride, and a two-hour car ride. Things rarely went as planned.</p> <p>“Kevin and I had worked nights and weekends for years leading up to a launch [in February 2015],” Taylor remembers. “We’d spent so much time in the machine shop … and we finally get to this village, all the farmers are very excited — and it didn’t work the whole first day. I remember that hour-and-a-half jeep ride back from the village to our hotel being the most sad and angry I’ve ever been in my life. Since then I’ve had plenty of those ‘fun’ moments.”</p> <p>From then on, the founders traveled prepared. On another occasion, when they needed to make a change to their pump, they set up a soldering machine in their hotel room with an open door for ventilation. The hotel staff, perplexed, simply pulled up chairs and watched.</p> <p><br /> After going through delta v, the summer accelerator run out of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Taylor and Lesniewski moved to India in the beginning of 2016, while Simon stayed at MIT to pursue his PhD. Although the challenges didn’t stop when they got to India, Taylor thinks moving was a hugely beneficial decision for the company.</p> <p>“The whole point of moving to India was so we could spend more time with farmers, get more feedback, manufacture in the country, build up a local team,” Taylor says. “It would be shortsighted to do all that from afar.”</p> <p>Indeed, the founders have achieved a series of key milestones since moving, including securing early funding, obtaining a patent from the Indian government for their pump design, and setting up a manufacturing base in the west Indian city of Pune. Khethworks is also planning to raise more funding this year.</p> <p>As the founders prepared to start selling their product, they were careful to go to market in a way that aligns with the company’s mission.</p> <p>“We’ve had organizations over the years say, ‘This sounds good, give me 10,000 pumps and we’ll take care of the rest,’” Taylor says. “But sometimes, people willing to do that might not care about the execution or the follow up for repairs and things like that. We care so much about it being done responsibly that we refuse to have any risks we take fall upon the backs of the farmers. Perhaps we could have gone faster, but I’m glad we’re proceeding ethically.”</p> <p><strong>A tool for impact</strong></p> <p>From a distance, you might guess someone carrying Khethworks’ pump is going to the beach. Up closer, you’d see a farmer with a small tote bag, a controller that looks like a lunch box, and two solar panels, each roughly a quarter of a ping pong table in size.</p> <p>The tote bag holds what is called a submersible centrifugal solar pump — the key to the system’s portability, low price point, and efficiency. Solar power drives the rotation of the pump’s curved, triangular channels. When the pump is dropped into water, fluid is pushed from the center axis to the ends of the channels, driving water above ground. Compared to other locally available pumps, Taylor says Khethworks’ solution is two to three times more efficient, allowing it to work with smaller, less expensive solar panels.</p> <p>To get the pump running, farmers connect the panels, pump, and controller, then connect the pump to the piping in the field, drop the pump into the water, and flip the on switch.</p> <p>The pump weighs under 10 pounds, and Taylor has seen elderly women carrying the solar panels with ease. Portability is essential because, in many villages, farmers sleep with their valuables to avoid theft.</p> <p>About 60 farmers used the pump during trials, and Khethworks is on track to sell 100 pumps to farmers in the states of Jharkhand and West Bengal by the end of the first quarter of 2020.</p> <p>For now, the company is only selling to farmers in a few areas of eastern India, where Taylor says early adopters are using the pumps to make thousands more rupees each year, a transformative amount of money for many families. Farmers also often split the cost of the pump with neighbors and share it throughout the dry season, multiplying Khethworks’ impact.</p> <p>Not bad for version one. The truth is Taylor has lost track of how many versions her team has designed, but puts it somewhere in the 30 to 40 range. Even while acknowledging the hard times, she wouldn’t have it any other way.</p> <p>“We’ve always had more demand than we could handle, so it’s been exciting getting this to people who have been asking for it for years,” Taylor says. “We just want to help farmers make more money. It’s simple. Now we want to make that happen at greater scales.”</p> A woman carrying a Khethworks solar panel. The efficiency of Khethworks' groundwater pump enables it to be powered by smaller panels, making the system portable.Image courtesy of KhethworksIndia, Startups, Alumni/ae, Farming, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Agriculture, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Social entrepreneurship, Developing countries, Poverty, Business and management Business lessons from “Ford v. Ferrari” A look at the popular film through a lens of systems thinking and process improvement. Tue, 07 Jan 2020 13:55:01 -0500 MIT Sloan Executive Education <p>The new feature film&nbsp;“<a href="">Ford v. Ferrari</a>,” starring&nbsp;Matt Damon and Christian Bale, recreates Henry Ford II’s scheme to reinvent the Ford Motor Company while simultaneously avenging a bitter rivalry between himself and Enzo Ferrari. Adhering closely to A.J. Baime’s 2009 book “Go Like Hell,” the movie chronicles the company’s outrageous pursuit of designing, building, and racing a car that could beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the most prestigious and brutal race in the world.</p> <p>Initially the herculean task was assigned to Ford's Advanced Vehicles Group in the U.K., but the team couldn’t figure out how to make the first batch of GT40s stay firmly on the tarmac or run continuously for 24 hours. After consecutive losses to Ferrari at Le Mans in 1964 and 1965, Ford enlisted legendary Los Angeles car designer Carroll Shelby — one of the only American drivers to ever win at Le Mans — to run race operations. Rather than starting from scratch, Shelby and his go-to test driver and engineering specialist Ken Miles collaborated with Advanced Vehicle Group and Ford's experimental engine group to reinvent the GT40.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">John Carrier</a> leads the MIT Sloan Executive Education program <a href="">Implementing Industry 4.0: Leading Change in Manufacturing and Operations</a>. He also teaches in the F1&nbsp;Extreme Innovation&nbsp;series, a collaboration between Formula One and MIT Sloan Executive Education. A native Detroiter who sees the world through a lens of systems thinking, Carrier recently watched the film (twice) with process improvement in mind. Here are three business lessons that “Ford v. Ferrari” demonstrates with historical accuracy and a touch of Hollywood flair.</p> <p><strong>Lesson 1: </strong><strong>Don’t adopt new tech until you know what problem you are trying to solve.</strong></p> <p>In racing, understanding aerodynamic resistance is key. The better a car cuts through the air, the less power and fuel is required. Optimizing aerodynamics can also prevent undesired lift forces, increasing stability at high speeds. To test the aerodynamics of the GT40 prototype, the original Ford engineers put a large, heavy computer with attached sensors into the car. The Shelby team ripped out the computer and instead taped strings over the surface of the car, then observed the exterior of the car to see how air traveled over and around the vehicle. "Often the best model of the system is the system itself," Carrier says.</p> <p>Another takeaway from this example is that the strings make the issue observable<em>, </em>something discussed at length in Carrier's <a href="">MIT Sloan Executive Education program</a>. Unlike a computer printout, the streamers provided direct and immediate visual measurement of the entire system. Indeed, the very presence of the computer in the car distorted the performance of the system, as it significantly increased the weight of the car. “How many times have we witnessed a new technology producing the exact opposite of its intended effect?” Carrier asks. “From Roger Smith’s 'Lights Out' factory to Elon Musk’s flirtation with excess automation at the Tesla facility, the 'shiny new toy' technology fallacy seems to be one mistake most companies will continue repeating.”</p> <p><strong>Lesson 2: </strong><strong>Flatten your decision-making.</strong></p> <p>In the movie, Ford’s decision on the Shelby program went through the classic “15 middle managers,” visualized by a red folder circulating the Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters, known as the Glass House. The red folder is the perfect analogy for the “hidden factory” of middle management. (A “hidden factory” is any activity or set of activities that reduce the quality or efficiency of operations but are not initially known to managers or others seeking to improve the process.)</p> <p>Shelby eventually shortens the feedback loop by insisting he report directly to Henry Ford II. Similarly, Carrier explains that organizations should flatten decision-making as much as possible to ensure that decision makers have actually seen what’s in the folder. “Paraphrasing a conversation I once had with Jay Forrester, the father of system dynamics, the purpose of middle management seems to be to turn the message 180 degrees while adding a time delay — the absolutely optimal way to destroy the performance of any system,” Carrier says.</p> <p><strong>Lesson 3: Learn from others.</strong></p> <p>In the Daytona race, Shelby bet his company to the Ford Motor Company on his driver, Ken Miles, winning — even against another Ford team in the race. Meanwhile, the Shelby team observed that the second Ford team in the next pit bay was having much faster pit stops. Shelby discovered they were utilizing NASCAR pit crew members.</p> <p>“The lesson here is simple,” Carrier explains. “Look outside your own team, company, and/or industry for better ways of doing what you’re doing.”</p> <p>“There are a great many parallels between business and racing, from the importance of your team, the capital required, significant investments in technology, and the goal of winning in a short period of time,” Carrier adds. “If anything slows you down, you will lose.”</p> <p>Spoiler alert: In the case of Ford, all their hard work and lessons learned paid off. The GT40 MK II defeated Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966, capturing first, second, and third places. And they won again the following year.</p> Slot car model of the Ford GT40Photo: MIT Sloan Executive EducationBusiness and management, Systems design, Film and Television, Engineering Systems, Sloan School of Management, Sloan Executive Education Tracking emissions in China Evaluating a 2014 policy change yields some good news and some concerns. Mon, 30 Dec 2019 11:10:01 -0500 Nancy W. Stauffer | MIT Energy Initiative <p>In January 2013, many people in Beijing experienced a multiweek period of severely degraded air, known colloquially as the “Airpocalypse,” which made them sick and kept them indoors. As part of its response, the central Chinese government accelerated implementation of tougher air pollution standards for power plants, with limits to take effect in July 2014. One key standard limited emissions of <span class="st">sulfur dioxide (</span>SO<sub>2</sub>), which contributes to the formation of airborne particulate pollution and can cause serious lung and heart problems. The limits were introduced nationwide, but varied by location. Restrictions were especially stringent in certain “key” regions, defined as highly polluted and populous areas in Greater Beijing, the Pearl River Delta, and the Yangtze River Delta.</p> <p>All power plants had to meet the new standards by July 2014. So how did they do? “In most developing countries, there are policies on the books that look very similar to policies elsewhere in the world,” says&nbsp;<a href="">Valerie J. Karplus</a>, an assistant professor of global economics and management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “But there have been few attempts to look systematically at plants’ compliance with environmental regulation. We wanted to understand whether policy actually changes behavior.”</p> <p><strong>Focus on power plants</strong></p> <p>For China, focusing environmental policies on power plants makes sense. Fully 60 percent of the country’s primary energy use is coal, and about half of it is used to generate electricity. With that use comes a range of pollutant emissions. In 2007, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection required thousands of power plants to install continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMS) on their exhaust stacks and to upload hourly, pollutant-specific concentration data to a publicly available website.</p> <p>Among the pollutants tracked on the website was SO<sub>2</sub>. To Karplus and two colleagues — Shuang Zhang, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Douglas Almond, a professor in the School of International and Public Affairs and the Department of Economics at Columbia University — the CEMS data on SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions were an as-yet-untapped resource for exploring the on-the-ground impacts of the 2014 emissions standards, over time and plant-by-plant.</p> <p>To begin their study, Karplus, Zhang, and Almond examined changes in the CEMS data around July 2014, when the new regulations went into effect. Their study sample included 256 power plants in four provinces, among them 43 that they deemed “large,” with a generating capacity greater than 1,000 megawatts (MW). They examined the average monthly SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;concentrations reported by each plant starting in November 2013, eight months before the July 2014 policy deadline.</p> <p>Emissions levels from the 256 plants varied considerably. The researchers were interested in relative changes within individual facilities before and after the policy, so they determined changes relative to each plant’s average emissions — a calculation known as demeaning. For each plant, they calculated the average emissions level over the whole time period being considered. They then calculated how much that plant’s reading for each month was above or below that baseline. By taking the averages of those changes-from-baseline numbers at all plants in each month, they could see how much emissions from the group of plants changed over time.</p> <p>The demeaned CEMS concentrations are plotted in the first accompanying graph, labeled “SO<sub>2</sub> concentrations (demeaned).” At zero on the Y axis in Figure 1 in the slideshow above, levels at all plants — big emitters and small — are on average equal to their baseline. Accordingly, in January 2014 plants were well above their baseline, and by July 2016 they were well below it. So average plant-level SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;concentrations were declining slightly before the July 2014 compliance deadline, but they dropped far more dramatically after it.</p> <p><strong>Checking the reported data</strong></p> <p>Based on the CEMS data from all the plants, the researchers calculated that total SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions fell by 13.9 percent in response to the imposition of the policy in 2014. “That’s a substantial reduction,” notes Karplus. “But are those reported CEMS readings accurate?”</p> <p>To find out, she, Zhang, and Almond compared the measured CEMS concentrations with SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;concentrations detected in the atmosphere by NASA’s Ozone Monitoring Instrument. “We believed that the satellite data could provide a kind of independent check on the policy response as captured by the CEMS measurements,” she says.</p> <p>For the comparison, they limited the analysis to their 43 1,000-MW power plants — large plants that should generate the strongest signal in the satellite observations. Figure 2 in the slideshow above shows data from both the CEMS and the satellite sources. Patterns in the two measures are similar, with substantial declines in the months just before and after July 2014. That general agreement suggests that the CEMS measurements can serve as a good proxy for atmospheric concentrations of SO<sub>2</sub>.</p> <p>To double-check that outcome, the researchers selected 35 relatively isolated power plants whose capacity makes up at least half of the total capacity of all plants within a 35-kilometer radius. Using that restricted sample, they again compared the CEMS measurements and the satellite data. They found that the new emissions standards reduced both SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;measures. However, the SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;concentrations in the CEMS data fell by 36.8 percent after the policy, while concentrations in the satellite data fell by only 18.3 percent. So the CEMS measurements showed twice as great a reduction as the satellite data did. Further restricting the sample to isolated power plants with capacity larger than 1,000 MW produced similar results.</p> <p><strong>Key versus non-key regions</strong></p> <p>One possible explanation for the mismatch between the two datasets is that some firms overstated the reductions in their CEMS measurements. The researchers hypothesized that the difficulty of meeting targets would be higher in key regions, which faced the biggest cuts. In non-key regions, the limit fell from 400 to 200 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m<sup>3</sup>). But in key regions, the limit went from 400 to 50 mg/m<sup>3</sup>. Firms may have been unable to make such a dramatic reduction in so short a time, so the incentive to manipulate their CEMS readings may have increased. For example, they may have put monitors on only a few of all their exhaust stacks, or turned monitors off during periods of high emissions.</p> <p>Figure 3 in the slideshow above shows results from analyzing non-key and key regions separately. At large, isolated plants in non-key regions, the CEMS measurements show a 29.3 percent reduction in SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;and the satellite data a 22.7 percent reduction. The ratio of the estimated post-policy declines is 77 percent — not too far out of line.</p> <p>But a comparable analysis of large, isolated plants in key regions produced very different results. The CEMS measurements showed a 53.6 percent reduction in SO<sub>2</sub>, while the satellite data showed no statistically significant change at all.</p> <p>One possible explanation is that power plants actually did decrease their SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions after 2014, but at the same time nearby industrial facilities or other sources increased theirs, with the net effect being that the satellite data showed little or no change. However, the researchers examined emissions from neighboring high-emitting facilities during the same time period and found no contemporaneous jump in their SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emissions. With that possibility dismissed, they concluded that manipulation of the CEMS data in regions facing the toughest emissions standards was “plausible,” says Karplus.</p> <p><strong>Compliance with the new standards</strong></p> <p>Another interesting question was how often the reported CEMS emissions levels were within the regulated limits. The researchers calculated the compliance rate at individual plants — that is, the fraction of time their emissions were at or below their limits — in non-key and key regions, based on their reported CEMS measurements. The results appear in Figure 4 in the slideshow above. In non-key regions, the compliance rate at all plants was about 90 percent in early 2014. It dropped a little in July 2014, when plants had to meet their (somewhat) stricter limits, and then went back up to almost 100 percent. In contrast, the compliance rate in key regions was almost 100 percent in early 2014 and then plummeted to about 50 percent at and after July 2014.</p> <p>Karplus, Zhang, and Almond interpret that result as an indication of the toughness of complying with the stringent new standards. “If you think about it from the plant’s perspective, complying with tighter standards is a lot harder than complying with more lenient standards, especially if plants have recently made investments to comply with prior standards, but those changes are no longer adequate,” she says. “So in these key regions, many plants fell out of compliance.”</p> <p>She makes another interesting observation. Their analyses had already produced evidence that firms in key areas may have falsified their reported CEMS measurements. “So that means they could be both manipulating their data and complying less,” she says.</p> <p><strong>Encouraging results plus insights for policymaking</strong></p> <p>Karplus stresses the positive outcomes of their study. She’s encouraged that the CEMS and satellite data both show emission levels dropping at most plants. Compliance rates were down at some plants in key regions, but that’s not surprising when the required cuts were large. And she notes that even though firms may not have complied, they still reduced their emissions to some extent as a result of the new standard.</p> <p>She also observes that, for the most part, there’s close correlation between the CEMS and satellite data. So the quality of the CEMS data isn’t all bad. And where it’s bad — where firms may have manipulated their measurements — it may have been because they’d been set a seemingly impossible task and timeline. “At some point, plant managers might just throw up their hands,” says Karplus. The lesson for policymakers may be to set emissions-reduction goals that are deep but long-term so that firms have enough time to make the necessary investment and infrastructure adjustments.</p> <p>To Karplus, an important practical implication of the study is “demonstrating that you can look at the alignment between ground and remote data sources to evaluate the impact of specific policies.” A series of tests confirmed the validity of their method and the robustness of their results. For example, they performed a comparable analysis focusing on July 2015, when there was no change in emissions standards. There was no evidence of the same effects. They accounted for SO<sub>2</sub>&nbsp;emitted by manufacturing facilities and other sources, and their results were unaffected. And they demonstrated that when clouds or other obstructions interfered with satellite observations, the resulting data gap had no impact on their results.</p> <p>The researchers note that their approach can be used for other short-lived industrial air pollutants and by any country seeking low-cost tools to improve data quality and policy compliance, especially when plants’ emissions are high to begin with. “Our work provides an illustration of how you can use satellite data to obtain an independent check on emissions from pretty much any high-emitting facility,” says Karplus. “And, over time, NASA will have instruments that can take measurements that are even more temporally and spatially resolved, which I think is quite exciting for environmental protection agencies and for those who would seek to improve the environmental performance of their energy assets.”</p> <p>This research was supported by a seed grant from the Samuel Tak Lee Real Estate Entrepreneurship Laboratory at MIT and by the U.S. National Science Foundation.</p> <div> <p><em>This article appears in the <a class="Hyperlink SCXW206095923 BCX0" href="" rel="noreferrer" style="margin: 0px; padding: 0px; user-select: text; -webkit-user-drag: none; -webkit-tap-highlight-color: transparent; text-decoration-line: none; color: inherit;" target="_blank">Autumn 2019 issue</a> of&nbsp;</em>Energy Futures<em>, the magazine of the MIT Energy Initiative.&nbsp;</em></p> </div> Assistant Professor Valerie Karplus and her collaborators have demonstrated that measurements of air pollutants taken by NASA satellites are often a good indicator of emissions on the ground. Their approach provides regulators with a low-cost tool to ensure that industrial firms are complying with emissions standards.Photo: Kelley TraversMIT Energy Initiative, Sloan School of Management, Energy, China, Emissions, Economics, Policy, Pollution, Research, Government, Business and management When machine learning packs an economic punch Study: After eBay improved its translation software, international commerce increased sharply. Fri, 20 Dec 2019 10:04:08 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>A new study co-authored by an MIT economist shows that improved translation software can significantly boost international trade online — a notable case of machine learning having a clear impact on economic activity.</p> <p>The research finds that after eBay improved its automatic translation program in 2014, commerce shot up by 10.9 percent among pairs of countries where people could use the new system.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>“That’s a striking number. To have it be so clear in such a short amount of time really says a lot about the power of this technology,” says Erik Brynjolfsson, an MIT economist and co-author of a new paper detailing the results.</p> <p>To put the results in perspective, he adds, consider that physical distance is, by itself, also a significant barrier to global commerce. The 10.9 percent change generated by eBay’s new translation software increases trade by the same amount as “making the world 26 percent smaller, in terms of its impact on the goods that we studied,” he says.</p> <p>The paper, “Does Machine Translation Affect International Trade? Evidence from a Large Digital Platform,” appears in the December issue of <em>Management Science</em>. The authors are Brynjolfsson, who is the Schussel Family Professor of Management Science at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Xiang Hui and Meng Liu, who are both assistant professors in the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.</p> <p><strong>Just cause</strong></p> <p>To conduct the study, the scholars examined what happened after eBay, in 2014, introduced its new eBay Machine Translation (eMT) system — a proprietary machine-learning program that, by several objective measures, significantly improved translation quality on eBay’s site. The new system initially was focused on English-Spanish translations, to facilitate trade between the United States and Latin America</p> <p>Previously, eBay had used Bing Translator to render the titles of objects for sale. By one evaluation measure, called the Human Acceptance Rate (HAR), in which three experts accept or reject translations, the eMT system increased the number of acceptable Spanish-language item titles on eBay from 82 percent to 90 percent.</p> <p>Using administrative data from eBay, the researchers then examined the volume of trade on the platform, within countries, after the eMT system went into use. Other factors being equal, the study showed that the new translation system not only had an effect on sales, but that trade increased by 1.06 percent for each additional word in the titles of items on eBay.</p> <p>That is a substantial change for a commerce platform on which, as the paper notes, items for sale often have long, descriptive titles such as “Diamond-Cut Stackable Thin Wedding Ring New .925 Sterling Silver Band Sizes 4-12,” or “Alpine Swiss Keira Women’s Trench Coast Double Breasted Wool Jacket Belted.” In those cases, making the translation clearer helps potential buyers understand exactly what they might be purchasing.</p> <p>Given the study’s level of specificity, Brynjolfsson calls it “a really fortunate natural experiment, with a before-and-after that sharply distinguished what happened when you had machine translation and when you didn’t.”</p> <p>The structure of the study, he adds, has enabled the researchers to say with confidence that the new eBay program, and not outside factors, directly generated the change in trade volume among affected countries.</p> <p>“In economics, it’s often hard to do causal analyses and prove that A caused B, not just that A was associated with B,” says Brynjolfsson. “But in this case, I feel very comfortable using causal language and saying that improvement in machine translation caused the increase in international trade.”</p> <p><strong>Larger puzzle: The productivity issue</strong></p> <p>The genesis of the paper stems from an ongoing question about new technology and economic productivity. While many forms of artificial intelligence have been developed and expanded in the last couple of decades, the impact of AI, including things like machine-translation systems, has not been obvious in economics statistics.</p> <p>“There’s definitely some amazing progress in the core technologies, including in things like natural language processing and translation,” Brynjolfsson says. “But what’s been lacking has been evidence of an economic impact, or business impact. So that’s a bit of a puzzle.”</p> <p>When looking to see if an economic impact for various forms of AI could be measured, Brynjolfsson, Hui, and Liu thought machine translation “made sense, because it’s a relatively straightforward implementation,” Brynjolfsson adds. That is, better translations could influence economic activity, at least on eBay, without any other changes in technology occurring.</p> <p>In this vein, the findings fit with a larger postulation Brynjolfsson has developed in recent years — that the adoption of AI technologies produces a “J-curve” in productivity. As Brynjolfsson has previously written, broad-ranging AI technologies nonetheless “require significant complementary investments, including business process redesign, co-invention of new products and business models, and investments in human capital” to have a large economic impact.</p> <p>As a result, when AI technologies are introduced, productivity may appear to slow down, and when the complementary technologies are developed, productivity may appear to take off — in the “J-curve” shape.</p> <p>So while Brynjolfsson believes the results of this study are clear, he warns against generalizing too much on the basis of this finding about the impact of machine learning and other forms of AI on economic activity. Every case is different, and AI will not always produce such notable changes by itself.</p> <p>“This was a case where not a lot of other changes had to happen in order for the technology to benefit the company,” Brynjolfsson says. “But in many other cases, much more complicated, complementary changes are needed. That’s why, in most cases with machine learning, it takes longer for the benefits to be delivered.”</p> A study co-authored by an MIT economist shows that an improved, automated language-translation system significantly boosted commerce on eBay’s website.Sloan School of Management, Business and management, Machine learning, Artificial intelligence, Economics, Technology and society, Social sciences, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E) An engine for game-changing innovation The Engine, a venture firm built by MIT, is investing in companies tackling the world&#039;s most urgent problems. Fri, 13 Dec 2019 09:34:13 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>In 2016, MIT launched The Engine as a new way to fund and support Boston-area entrepreneurs who are using transformative technologies to address the world’s most pressing problems.</p> <p>By definition, these entrepreneurs’ plans for impact were as ambitious as they were uncertain; each would need to overcome fundamental technical and business challenges as they readied their breakthrough innovations to compete with legacy systems and technologies.</p> <p>Such uncertainty is often a deal breaker for venture capitalists, who prefer to invest in companies with easier paths to profitability than many startups working with cutting-edge technologies can promise. But The Engine, as MIT President L. Rafael Reif <a href="">announced</a>, would prioritize “breakthrough ideas over early profit, helping to shorten the time it takes these startups to become ‘VC-ready,’ providing comprehensive support in the meantime, and creating an enthusiastic community of inventors and supporters who share a focus on making a better world.”</p> <p>In the three years since its inception, The Engine has bridged the gap between “tough tech” companies and venture capital with remarkable success. It has invested in 20 startups to date — companies working on quantum computing, long-term energy storage, cancer therapies, nuclear fusion, and more. Those companies have raised more than $300 million in total venture capital to date and collectively employ more than 280 people.</p> <p>And much of The Engine’s early success lies beyond the&nbsp;numbers. Even as the firm’s team immerses itself in some of the hardest problems of science and engineering, its main focus remains on people. A core tenet of The Engine’s mission is to turn technical pioneers into leaders. Its emphasis on community and networking is also reflected in the Tough Tech Summit it hosts each year.</p> <p>Consequently, The Engine’s footprints are all over the world-changing paths its founders are traveling. Now, with its <a href="">recently announced</a> plans to add 200,000 square feet of work and lab space — enough to accommodate 1,000 entrepreneurs — that footprint is about to get a lot bigger.</p> <p>“It’s so inspiring to see the transformational innovations coming out of The Engine,” says MIT Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz, who also serves as chair of The Engine’s board of directors. “We’re all excited to see the original expansion plans come to reality, and I can’t wait to see how The Engine and its portfolio companies impact the region and the world.”</p> <p><strong>Founded around a mission</strong></p> <p>The Engine provides “patient” funding, mentoring, work and lab space, specialized equipment, and an extensive network to entrepreneurs working on transformative technologies. As a for-profit, public-benefit corporation, it has a unique structure, particularly in academia. But its creation didn’t surprise Katie Rae, who became its CEO and managing partner in 2017.</p> <p>“MIT is very willing to break new ground and try something unusual if it will tackle a big problem or impact the world,” Rae says.</p> <p>From the beginning, The Engine has sought out radically different approaches to some of the world’s most intractable problems — the kinds of ideas that might send more risk-averse investors running.</p> <p>Among the first seven startups The Engine invested in were Form Energy, which is using inexpensive alternatives to lithium to develop a new battery capable of storing energy from renewable sources for months at a time; Analytical Space, which is deploying a network of small satellites in low Earth orbit to improve the tracking of things like agricultural production, industrial assets, and weather; and Kytopen, which is developing an electric cell-engineering tool capable of delivering DNA to bacterial cells up to 10,000 times faster than current methods.</p> <p>“We want to create really important, breakthrough companies that last 100 years,” Rae says. “They have to be going after really big change, really big markets, and we want to give them an advantage; that’s our infrastructure, that’s our network.”</p> <p>The approach has allowed many innovators in the Boston area to pursue the full potential of their technologies in an environment that keeps them focused on the real-world problems they’re trying to solve.</p> <p>“I think a lot of the companies The Engine has invested in would not have been funded, or teams wouldn’t have formed, without significant pre-seed or seed capital,” says Adam Behrens, the CEO of Cambridge Crops, which has developed a natural, edible coating capable of dramatically extending the shelf life of food.</p> <p>When The Engine made its first financial commitment to the company in 2018, Cambridge Crops consisted of Behrens and co-founder Sezin Yigit dipping pineapples into its coating in the back of a warehouse. This summer, the company raised a $4 million seed round and hopes to earn approvals from the Food and Drug Administration next year.</p> <p>Cambridge Crops’ progress is not unique. In fact, all seven of The Engine’s first investments have raised additional funding in the form of investments or grants since The Engine’s early support. The companies have used that money to move into their own work spaces, hire local talent, and deploy their technologies in the areas that need them most.</p> <p>Those technologies are not limited to the physical realm. New approaches in artificial intelligence and other kinds of “deep software” have also featured prominently in The Engine’s investment strategy.</p> <p>Another one of The Engine’s early investments was iSee, which is developing humanistic AI to advance the capabilities of autonomous vehicles. Co-founders Yibiao Zhao and Chris Baker based the technology on theory of mind, or the ability to infer the intents and beliefs of others. The technology enables vehicles to deal with uncertainty by considering context and discerning the intentions of other drivers.</p> <p>Zhao, fresh off a postdoctoral research stint in the lab of MIT Professor Josh Tenenbaum, faced a steep learning curve when he began serving as the company’s chief executive in 2017. Since then, iSee has recruited a team of full stack engineers, deployed iSee’s software on roads in pilots with Fortune 400 companies, and, most recently, raised a $15 million funding round led by the well-known VC firm Founders Fund.</p> <p>Rae thinks the success of The Engine’s portfolio has made tough tech companies more attractive investments for corporations and venture capitalists.</p> <p>“We've uncovered many very important companies and brought them to market,” Rae says. “We've gathered a phenomenal group of founders, and I think we've excited a lot of people about this area of investment.”</p> <p>Leveraging its ties across industry, academia, and government, The Engine has also helped facilitate entirely new kinds of collaborations, like the one that formed around Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), a company pursuing what has been called the holy grail of energy.</p> <p>The company is working to develop a potentially unlimited, carbon-free energy source based on nuclear fusion, the reaction that powers stars like our sun. CFS was <u><a href="">launched</a></u> as part of a collaboration with MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center and with funding from the Italian energy corporation Eni.</p> <p>“In the very beginning of CFS, there were a lot of people around who really loved the idea and wanted to see it happen, but didn't really want to take the first steps,” CFS co-founder and CEO Bob Mumgaard SM ’15 PhD ’15 says of early 2018, before his company had raised funding. “Those first steps are really hard to get when the idea is really big. It's sort of a standoff; everyone's ready to go, but who will be the first person to move? The Engine was really the first one to say, ‘We're going to jump in,’ and as soon as they did that, it broke the ice. It was so important to have The Engine in the room.”</p> <p><strong>A pillar for progress</strong></p> <p>The Engine’s expansion plans, <a href="">announced in August</a>, will increase its space sevenfold and place it squarely between Kendall Square and MIT’s campus. That should only enhance what is already a deeply collaborative environment.</p> <p>“It’s a like-minded community that expects excellence from one another,” Behrens says. “We’re all doing really good things, and trying to do big things; that takes diligence and execution, but it also takes support.”</p> <p>And as The Engine’s companies grow, Rae hopes they’ll become pillars in the greater Boston area’s innovation ecosystem similar to the local biotech industry.</p> <p>“Sometimes, entrepreneurs’ first decision when they start a company is to move to the [San Francisco] Bay Area,” Zhao says. “The Engine is the type of investor that wants to provide an environment for the founders from Boston to stay here and grow their team here. It’s working hard to be the influencer that makes the Boston area really tech friendly.”</p> The Engine’s team of 21 full time employees helps the entrepreneurs it invests in commercialize their transformative technologies.Courtesy of The EngineInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Industry, Business and management, Alumni/ae, President L. Rafael Reif, Cambridge, Boston and region Planning for death, as a way to improve life Startup co-founded by alumna Suelin Chen helps people share their end-of-life wishes with loved ones. Fri, 06 Dec 2019 12:58:14 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Losing a loved one is always hard, but honoring their final wishes can provide a sense of fulfillment in the midst of grief. However, many people avoid thinking about their own death, even if they believe it’s a long way off, and thus don’t share their posthumous preferences with friends and family.</p> <p>End-of-life planning startup Cake is trying to change that. The company is borne out of the idea that planning for death now can make things a lot easier for loved ones down the line.</p> <p>Cake breaks down what can be an overwhelming process into a series of simple questions to help people make decisions around health care treatments, funeral arrangements, estate planning, and how they want to be remembered after they’re gone.</p> <p>“Ignoring the fact that we’re all mortal is not helping anyone, and you can actually use the fact that life is finite as a positive and motivating force, and as a way to cultivate gratitude,” says Cake co-founder and CEO Suelin Chen ’03 SM ’07 PhD ’10.</p> <p>Most people agree that the questions Cake asks have important answers, but those questions are often left to family and friends who must try their best to honor a loved one’s wishes. Among the many options Cake offers, users can decide who can make care decisions on their behalf, whether or not to get life insurance, what to do with their social media accounts after they’re gone, and who they want (or don’t want) at their funeral.</p> <p>“The space and services are very fragmented, so we bring it all together in one place,” Chen says. “We say ‘Here are all the areas you want to think about,’ because people don’t know what they don’t know. We then guide you on the things you should be doing, store all of that online securely in your profile, and enable you to share it with the important people in your life.”</p> <p>Chen says using Cake is a simple and thought-provoking experience that can give people peace of mind.</p> <p>“People are really surprised that you can make a topic like death interesting and reflective, and also illuminating and positive,” Chen says. “What you want for end-of-life is actually just what is important to you in life. With the name Cake, we’re really trying to emphasize the fact that end-of-life planning is a positive act, a gift. You want to honor your life and the life of those you love. Cake is a symbol of celebrating life milestones, and even though losing someone is always hard, thinking about death in and of itself is not inherently negative.”</p> <p>Cake has already partnered with life insurance companies, health care organizations, and financial institutions to offer its services to their customers. Now, it’s expanding to help individuals with their end-of-life plans. The progress is exciting for Chen, whose commitment to impact has led her down an unconventional path to entrepreneurship.</p> <p><strong>A researcher with a mission</strong></p> <p>In the 2000s, Chen spent nearly a decade at MIT earning her degrees, studying biology and biomedical engineering as an undergraduate before earning her master’s and PhD in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. During that time, Chen never once took a business or entrepreneurship class.</p> <p>“I had no aspirations to be an entrepreneur, but I wanted to have a positive impact on the world, and I thought health care was the best way to do that,” Chen says. “I also liked engineering, so I felt like the best way to use my skills was not to be a doctor, but to use engineering to solve problems in health care.”</p> <p>After completing her PhD in 2010, Chen became the director of The Laboratory at Harvard, an interdisciplinary program that emphasizes learning through real-world experimentation, where she says she “caught the business bug.”</p> <p>“Business is how you get these ideas into the world to touch real people and have a real impact,” Chen says.</p> <p>In 2014, Chen decided to attend the MIT Hacking Medicine Grand Hack. When she registered for the event, she shared her idea of using technology to improve people’s circumstances around the end of their life. Also attending the event that day was Mark Zhang, a palliative care physician and technologist, who suggested to Chen they team up. The pair ended up winning first place, and continued researching ways to address people’s anxiety about planning for the end of life.</p> <p>“Eventually we all die, and it didn’t really seem like anyone was paying attention to that,” Chen says. “It’s a part of the human experience that every single person goes through. Everyone experiences loss in their life, and I just kept coming back to, ‘Why is that experience still so bad even though we’re pouring so much money into the end of life, especially from a health care perspective?’”</p> <p>Chen returned to MIT occasionally to get guidance from the Venture Mentoring Service, and she says her MIT ties have helped immensely in her transition from a researcher to a founder.</p> <p>“I’ve emailed MIT [VMS] mailing lists many times, and I’m constantly talking to friends from MIT who are entrepreneurs,” Chen says. “So many of my classmates have started companies. When you’re an entrepreneur, having the MIT network is incredible.”</p> <p><strong>Thinking about life to plan for death</strong></p> <p>Chen and Zhang initially thought their service would be most useful for people closer to the end of their lives, but their early testing dispelled that idea.</p> <p>“There’s really complex psychology about how people engage with their mortality, and just because you are close to death doesn’t mean you’re going to be amenable to thinking about it,” Chen says. “Conversely, young, healthy people were really interested in what we were doing.”</p> <p>Chen says millennials are Cake’s second-biggest customer demographic. She guesses that’s because they are starting families, worried about aging parents, or are simply pragmatic and curious about their mortality. Also, instead of doing planning solely on paper, they may be expecting technology to help them with this task.</p> <p>Indeed, Cake’s questions address major concerns, like ensuring protection for planners’ dependents, and matters that have more to do with personal taste, like whether or not loved ones should plant a tree in the planner’s memory. (Sixty-seven percent of respondents say yes.) Chen says one of the most popular topics is the kind of music planners’ want played at their funeral.</p> <p>“We absolutely understand this is a hard topic for most people, so we are focused on getting the barrier to entry as low as possible, and getting people normalized to even thinking about death and dying,” Chen says. “What we’re trying to do is make it easier for people to think about what they’d want for end-of-life and to share that information with their loved ones, and also make it easier to know what their loved ones want.”</p> <p>Chen did not disclose information on Cake’s enterprise customers or the number of people using its services, but she says someone answers a question about their end-of-life preferences every five minutes on Cake’s platform, which is free for users.</p> <p>The momentum is a form of vindication for Chen, who as CEO has spent the last four years raising awareness of a topic that many people would prefer to ignore. In the midst of building Cake’s solution and securing early customers, with Chen immersed in the details of death, she also received a crash course in life, having two children who are both still under the age of three. She sees many parallels between how people enter and exit life, and believes that the same amount of thought and consideration should go into both events.</p> <p>“[Cake] is about people getting a sense for what’s important to them in life and communicating that to their loved ones,” Chen says. “That’s what it’s all about.”</p> Cake's end of life planning service breaks down what can be an overwhelming process into a series of simple questions to help people make decisions around health care treatments, funeral arrangements, estate planning, and how they want to be remembered after they’re gone.Courtesy of CakeInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, School of Engineering, DMSE, Materials Science and Engineering, Health care, Hackathon, Alumni/ae The impatient pursuit of progress Patrick Collison returns to MIT to speak to students about the challenges and possibilities of entrepreneurship. Thu, 05 Dec 2019 14:45:01 -0500 Lori LoTurco | Zain Humayun | School of Engineering <p>With the Cambridge, Massachusetts, skyline visible behind him and before a room full of students, Patrick Collison asked for a show of hands. “Who’s here because you’re interested in starting a company at some point?” About half the room raised their hands. “And who’s interested in going and working at a technology company?” Some more hands went up. “And [those] just here for the free food?” The students laughed.&nbsp;</p> <p>On Nov. 14, the School of Engineering and the Sloan School of Management co-organized an event for students with Patrick Collison, CEO of internet payment company Stripe. Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, opened the event, appropriately entitled “The Impatient Pursuit of Progress,” by first introducing Collison, followed by the discussion’s moderator, Eric Grimson, MIT Chancellor for Academic Advancement and Bernard M. Gordon Professor of Medical Engineering.<br /> <br /> At the age of 16, Collison started at MIT to study math. Six months later, he left to start his first company, Auctomatic, with his brother John, who was attending Harvard University at that time. Auctomatic was acquired by LiveMedia in March 2008, after which Collison returned to MIT to pursue degrees in math and physics. After a year, he took a second leave of absence and co-founded Stripe with his brother John.</p> <p>Today, organizations of all sizes, from startups to public companies like Salesforce and Amazon, use Stripe's software to accept online payments. More than 80 percent of people across the country made a purchase using Stripe in the past year. As of September, Stripe was valued at $35 billion. In 2016, Collison and his brother John became the world’s youngest self-made billionaires.</p> <p>At the event, Collison spoke to many aspects of his journey, including the most important skills for students to develop, and the challenges of entrepreneurship.</p> <p>When a first-year sought advice on exploring her interests with confidence, Collison acknowledged the uncertainty inherent in the endeavor, but said he believed that it was important to focus on one’s own interests, rather than “following train tracks laid by others.”</p> <p>Throughout, Collison’s advice for students was marked by a combination of acuity and candor. One student asked Collison what he wished he’d done more of at MIT, and Collison said he would have liked to do more experimental work, expressing that it’s simpler to continue to study theory when you leave MIT, but more challenging and costly to experiment.</p> <p>In sharing a characterization of Collison’s work ethic, Grimson concluded the event by noting, “That’s what MIT is about — challenge, question, don’t be afraid to take some risks, and look broadly at what you’re doing, because you never know where that big opportunity is going to be.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Following the event, Chandrakasan expressed his enthusiasm in finding opportunities to share industry experience with students through events such as this, “We were thrilled to partner with MIT Sloan School of Management to jointly host this event, and to provide a forum for Patrick to share his experience with students who are interested in exploring the possibility of entrepreneurship.”&nbsp;</p> On Nov. 14, the School of Engineering and the Sloan School of Management co-organized an event for students with Patrick Collison (right), the CEO of internet payment company Stripe.Photo: Lillie Paquette/School of EngineeringSchool of Engineering, Sloan School of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Special events and guest speakers, Startups, Business and management Inclusive Innovation Challenge recognizes startups improving the future of work Competition awards entrepreneurs from around the world working to ensure technological progress brings greater prosperity. Fri, 22 Nov 2019 16:44:19 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Startups working to broaden economic opportunities around the world were awarded $1.6 million in prizes at the MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC) yesterday.</p> <p>The $250,000 grand prize winners were JobGet, a mobile platform that matches&nbsp;low-income job seekers with employers; Agros, a company using remote sensing and precision agriculture to assist small farmers in Latin America; Reaktor Education, which uses online courses to teach people about artificial intelligence; and TiendaPago, an online lender giving small, mom-and-pop stores in Latin America short-term loans.</p> <p>“The conversation about technology, we feel, has been too pessimistic, too focused on the possible downsides, too focused on automation taking everyone’s jobs away,” said Andrew McAfee, a principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management who co-founded the IIC with Erik Brynjolfsson, an MIT Sloan professor. “We think that’s wrong, so we try to shift the conversation and recognize the people and groups doing exactly the opposite — using technology to bring economic opportunity to people.”</p> <p>The winners were chosen from a pool of 20 finalists from around the world. Each of the finalists had been vetted and selected by judges at five regional events hosted by the IIC and its partner organizations, who considered more than 1,500 registrants this year.</p> <p>“It’s too bad people always say this, because in this case it’s true: They’re all amazing,” said Brynjolfsson. “These applications just blow you away. The organizations that didn’t win are incredibly impressive as well. I would’ve been proud if any one of them had won. It’s a real cause for optimism. … We’ve picked out a few of them tonight, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.”</p> <p>The solutions were put into categories such as financial inclusion, income growth and job creation, technology access, and skills development and opportunity matching.</p> <p><a href="">JobGet</a>, which earned the top spot in the income and job creation category, has been onboarding job seekers and employers to its mobile app for about eight months. In that time, the company has helped nearly 10,000 people, primarily in blue-collar fields, improve their employment options and job security.</p> <p>“[JobGet] is a mobile app; there’s no resumes required, no cover letters, no interview questions,” Director of Community Caroline Forrest said. “All you need to do is set up a profile, which takes anywhere from two to five minutes. After you have that profile, you can apply to hundreds of jobs.”</p> <p><a href="">TiendaPago</a>, the winner of the financial inclusion category, has created a lending tool that helps small stores in Latin America maintain inventory without relying on informal loan sharks that demand high interest rates. The company’s short-term credit can be accessed with cell phones through WhatsApp, SMS messaging, or the company’s mobile app. TiendaPago has already enrolled more than 27,000 store owners in Mexico and Peru, and it aims to help more than 150,000 families around Latin American in the next two years.</p> <p><a href="">Agros</a>, the winner in the technology access category, uses precision agriculture technologies like satellite images, weather data, and georeferenced information to improve yield for family farmers across Latin America. The information collected is also shared with financial institutions to help farmers get loans with lower interest rates.</p> <p>“Now these farmers have the opportunity to access technology in their own language, leaving all the complicated aspects to us, so they can focus on what they do best: feed the world,” said Agros founder Robinson Lopez.</p> <p><a href="">Reaktor Education</a>, the winner of the skills development and opportunity matching category, builds its online educational content with focus groups to ensure the programs about AI are easy to navigate, empowering, and fun.</p> <p>“We believe there’s a better way to educate, across demographics and at scale, using our combination of humanist copyediting, design, and technology,” Reaktor chief operating officer Megan Schaible said.</p> <p>The company partnered with the University of Helsinki in Finland to create its first free online course, Elements of AI, which launched in 2018 and has attracted more than 230,000 registrants. The company says more than 40 percent of the people who signed up for the class are women, while more than a quarter of registrants are over the age of 45. The company is now expanding around the world, working with governments and universities to replicate its early success.</p> <p>The lively event, held at MIT’s Samberg Conference Center, also featured an audience choice award, which went to Nairobi-based child care startup Tiny Totos. The company offers loans for daycare centers, training for care givers, and a mobile app that allows daycare managers to track attendance, income, and expenses.</p> <p>For all of the finalists, the event marked an opportunity to celebrate their progress so far and socialize with other people committed to improving the future of work.</p> <p>“[Finalists] are meeting people they wouldn’t normally connect with, and they have so much in common that they can learn from each other, so it’s exciting that they can leave with takeaways besides money,” said Devin Cook, the executive producer of the IIC. “Finalists also have an opportunity to meet with the MIT community more broadly, so they get these connections that can help them continue to scale when they go home.”</p> <p>This was the fourth annual Inclusive Innovation Challenge. For the MIT team that put it together, the goal was to go beyond researching the impact of technology on the global economy and to empower the entrepreneurs who are making the economy work for more people.</p> <p>“Like a lot of academics, we’ve been diagnosing the problem and talking about it, but we wanted to actually move the dial and change things by recognizing all these organizations that are doing amazing things, and give them the resources to thrive,” Brynjolfsson said, noting that there’s still much work to be done to ensure technological progress brings greater prosperity. “There’s no one silver bullet. We want to push all fronts. But if we can help some of these startups change the world, that would be awesome.”</p> The fourth annual Inclusive Innovation Challenge (IIC) featured four grand prize winners. Here members of all the winning organizations pose with IIC organizers.Images courtesy of the Inclusive Innovation ChallengeInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Sloan School of Management, Africa, Contests and academic competions, Jobs, Developing countries, Technology and society MIT conference focuses on preparing workers for the era of artificial intelligence As automation rises in the workplace, speakers explore ways to train students and reskill workers. Fri, 22 Nov 2019 16:35:55 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office <p>In opening yesterday’s AI and the Work of the Future Congress, MIT Professor Daniela Rus presented diverging views of how artificial intelligence will impact jobs worldwide.</p> <p>By automating certain menial tasks, experts think AI is poised to improve human quality of life, boost profits, and create jobs, said Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.</p> <p>Rus then quoted a World Economic Forum study estimating AI could help create 133 million new jobs worldwide over the next five years. Juxtaposing this optimistic view, however, she noted a recent survey that found about two-thirds of Americans believe machines will soon rob humans of their careers. “So, who is right? The economists, who predict greater productivity and new jobs? The technologists, who dream of creating better lives? Or the factory line workers who worry about unemployment?” Rus asked. “The answer is, probably all of them.”</p> <p>Her remarks kicked off an all-day conference in Kresge Auditorium that convened experts from industry and academia for panel discussions and informal talks about preparing humans of all ages and backgrounds for a future of AI automation in the workplace. The event was co-sponsored by CSAIL, the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE), and the MIT Work of the Future Task Force, an Institute-wide effort launched in 2018 that aims to understand and shape the evolution of jobs during an age of innovation.</p> <p>Presenters were billed as “leaders and visionaries” rigorously measuring technological impact on enterprise, government, and society, and generating solutions. Apart from Rus, who also moderated a panel on dispelling AI myths, speakers included Chief Technology Officer of the United States Michael Kratsios; executives from Amazon, Nissan, Liberty Mutual, IBM, Ford, and Adobe; venture capitalists and tech entrepreneurs; representatives of nonprofits and colleges; journalists who cover AI issues; and several MIT professors and researchers.</p> <p>Rus, a self-described “technology optimist,” drove home a point that echoed throughout all discussions of the day: AI doesn’t automate jobs<em>,&nbsp;</em>it automates tasks. Rus quoted a recent McKinsey Global Institute study that estimated 45 percent of tasks that humans are paid to do can now be automated. But, she said, humans can adapt to work in concert with AI —&nbsp;meaning job tasks may change dramatically, but jobs may not disappear entirely. “If we make the right choices and the right investments, we can ensure that those benefits get distributed widely across our workforce and our planet,” Rus said.</p> <p><strong>Avoiding the “job-pocalypse”</strong></p> <p>Common topics throughout the day included reskilling veteran employees to use AI technologies; investing heavily in training young students in AI through tech apprenticeships, vocational programs, and other education initiatives; ensuring workers can make livable incomes; and promoting greater inclusivity in tech-based careers. The hope is to avoid, as one speaker put it, a “job-pocalypse,” where most humans will lose their jobs to machines.</p> <p>A panel moderated by David Mindell, the Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing and a professor of aeronautics and astronautics, focused on how AI technologies are changing workflow and skills, especially within sectors resistant to change. Mindell asked panelists for specific examples of implementing AI technologies into their companies.</p> <p>In response, David Johnson, vice president of production and engineering at Nissan, shared an anecdote about pairing an MIT student with a 20-year employee in developing AI methods to autonomously predict car-part quality. In the end, the veteran employee became immersed in the technology and is now using his seasoned expertise to deploy it in other areas, while the student learned more about the technology’s real-world applications. “Only through this synergy, when you purposely pair these people with a common goal, can you really drive the skills forward … for mass new technology adoption and deployment,” Johnson said.</p> <p>In a panel about shaping public policies to ensure technology benefits society — which included U.S. CTO Kratsios — moderator Erik Brynjolfsson, director of IDE and a professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management, got straight to the point: “People have been dancing around this question: Will AI destroy jobs?”</p> <p>“Yes, it will — but not to the extent that people presume,” replied MIT Institute Professor Daron Acemoglu. AI, he said, will mostly automate mundane operations in white-collar jobs, which will free up humans to refine their creative, interpersonal, and other high-level skills for new roles. Humans, he noted, also won’t be stuck doing low-paying jobs, such as labeling data for machine-learning algorithms.</p> <p>“That’s not the future of work,” he said. “The hope is we use our amazing creativity and all these wonderful and technological platforms to create meaningful jobs in which humans can use their flexibility, creativity, and all the things … machines won’t be able to do — at least in the next 100 years.”</p> <p>Kratsios emphasized a need for public and private sectors to collaborate to reskill workers. Specifically, he pointed to the Pledge to the America’s Worker, the federal initiative that now has 370 U.S. companies committed to retraining roughly 4 million American workers for tech-based jobs over the next five years.</p> <p>Responding to an audience question about potential public policy changes, Kratsios echoed sentiments of many panelists, saying education policy should focus on all levels of education, not just college degrees. “A vast majority of our policies, and most of our departments and agencies, are targeted toward coaxing people toward a four-year degree,” Kratsios said. “There are incredible opportunities for Americans to live and work and do fantastic jobs that don’t require four-year degrees. So, [a change is] thinking about using the same pool of resources to reskill, or retrain, or [help students] go to vocational schools.”</p> <p><strong>Inclusivity and underserved populations</strong></p> <p>Entrepreneurs at the event explained how AI can help create diverse workforces. For instance, a panel about creating economically and geographically diverse workforces, moderated by Devin Cook, executive producer of IDE’s Inclusive Innovation Challenge, included Radha Basu, who founded Hewlett Packard’s operations in India in the 1970s. In 2012, Basu founded iMerit, which hires employees — half are young women and more than 80 percent come from underserved populations —&nbsp;to provide AI services for computer vision, machine learning, and other applications.</p> <p>A panel hosted by Paul Osterman, co-director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research and an MIT Sloan professor, explored how labor markets are changing in the face of technological innovations. Panelist Jacob Hsu is CEO of Catalyte, which uses an AI-powered assessment test to predict a candidate’s ability to succeed as a software engineer, and hires and trains those who are most successful. Many of their employees don’t have four-year degrees, and their ages range from anywhere from 17 to 72.</p> <p>A “media spotlight” session, in which journalists discussed their reporting on the impact of AI on the workplace and the world, included David Fanning, founder and producer of the investigative documentary series FRONTLINE, which recently ran a documentary titled “In the Era of AI.” Fanning briefly discussed how, during his investigations, he learned about the profound effect AI is having on workplaces in the developing world, which rely heavily on manual labor, such as manufacturing lines.</p> <p>“What happens as automation expands, the manufacturing ladder that was opened to people in developing countries to work their way out of rural poverty — all that manufacturing gets replaced by machines,” Fanning said. “Will we end up across the world with people who have nowhere to go? Will they become the new economic migrants we have to deal with in the age of AI?”</p> <p><strong>Education: The great counterbalance</strong></p> <p>Elisabeth Reynolds, executive director for the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future and of the MIT Industrial Performance Center, and Andrew McAfee, co-director of IDE and a principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management, closed out the conference and discussed next steps.</p> <p>Reynolds said the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future, over the next year, will further study how AI is being adopted, diffused, and implemented across the U.S., as well as issues of race and gender bias in AI. In closing, she charged the audience with helping tackle the issues: “I would challenge everybody here to say, ‘What on Monday morning is [our] organization doing in respect to this agenda?’”&nbsp;</p> <p>In paraphrasing economist Robert Gordon, McAfee reemphasized the shifting nature of jobs in the era of AI: “We don’t have a job quantity problem, we have a job quality problem.”</p> <p>AI may generate more jobs and company profits, but it may also have numerous negative effects on employees. Proper education and training are keys to ensuring the future workforce is paid well and enjoys a high quality of life, he said: “Tech progress, we’ve known for a long time, is an engine of inequality. The great counterbalancing force is education.”</p> Daniela Rus (far right), director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), moderated a panel on dispelling the myths of AI technologies in the workplace. The AI and the Work of the Future Congress was co-organized by CSAIL, the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, and the MIT Work of the Future Task Force.Image: Andrew KubicaResearch, Computer science and technology, Algorithms, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Sloan School of Management, Technology and society, Jobs, Economics, Policy, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Business and management, Manufacturing, Careers, Special events and guest speakers Times Higher Education ranks MIT No. 1 university worldwide for economics and business for 2020 Top honors awarded to fields in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and in the MIT Sloan School of Management for a second year in a row. Thu, 14 Nov 2019 22:55:01 -0500 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences <p>For the second year in a row, MIT has achieved the top ranking globally for the Business and Economics subject category in the 2020 Times Higher Education World University Rankings.<br /> <br /> MIT has also been ranked No. 1 in the world for the Social Science fields for 2020 by <em>Times Higher Education (THE),</em> a leading British education magazine.<br /> <br /> AT MIT, business and economic studies are housed in the Department of Economics, within the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) and in the MIT Sloan School of Management.<br /> <br /> Using a set of 13 rigorous performance indicators, <em>THE</em> compiles and publishes its annual World University Rankings. These rankings evaluate schools as a whole and within individual fields.&nbsp;<em>THE</em> discerns a university’s quality in a given subject area through five area metrics: the learning environment; the&nbsp;volume, income, and reputation of its research; the influence of its citations&nbsp;in other research; the&nbsp;international&nbsp;outlook of its staff, students, and research; and&nbsp;its knowledge transfer to various industries.<br /> <br /> “The work of both MIT SHASS and MIT Sloan continues to advance the highest areas of scholarship and practical application,” says Melissa Nobles, the Kenan Sahin Dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. "MIT's longstanding commitment to cross-disciplinary thinking and collaboration fosters the strength of the collective business and economics programs across the Institute.<br /> <br /> We warmly congratulate our colleagues in MIT Sloan with whom we share this honor.&nbsp;From poverty alleviation to the future of work, the combined knowledge and experience of MIT’s experts helps shape economic policy, drive business growth, and prepare future leaders."<br /> &nbsp;<br /> <strong>The MIT Sloan School of Management</strong></p> <p>The MIT Sloan School of Management, which evolved out of Course XV/Engineering Administration, is a powerful force within MIT’s entrepreneurial environment, training alumni whose businesses — which include HubSpot, ZipCar, Akamai, and E*Trade — have created millions of jobs and generate nearly $2 trillion a year in revenue.&nbsp;At the intersection of business and technology, MIT Sloan is exploring the future of work and launching companies that kick-start local economies in the developing world. The school is retooling systems to make health care work better and to engage people around the world in addressing climate change. For&nbsp;students, this means different kinds of opportunities, hands-on learning, global experience — and a relentless focus on impact.<br /> <br /> “We are thrilled to share the honors of being first in business and management for the second year in a row with our colleagues in the MIT Department of Economics and MIT SHASS,” says David Schmittlein, dean of MIT Sloan.<br /> &nbsp;<br /> <strong>The MIT Department of Economics</strong></p> <p>For more than a century, MIT’s Department of Economics has been at the forefront of economics education, research, and public service. Its master's and doctoral programs are renowned worldwide, and graduates of the department are well-represented on the faculties of virtually all leading economics departments.<br /> <br /> “We’re proud of this recognition of the contributions of MIT Economics” says Nancy L. Rose, department head and the Charlies P. Kindleberger Professor of Applied Economics. “MIT Economics continues to play a key role in advancing the frontier in economics research and education, with four of our faculty recognized with Nobel Prizes over just the past decade, and eight more of our graduate alumni among the Nobel ranks since 2001.&nbsp;Our undergraduate and graduate alumni amplify the reach of our research and education program,” adds Rose, “through their impact on industry, public policy, and the economics profession.”<br /> <br /> Last month, faculty in the department were honored with two new Nobel Prizes, awarded to professors&nbsp;Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, who lead the department’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, for their transformative work in poverty alleviation and development economics.</p> "The work of both MIT SHASS and MIT Sloan continues to advance the highest areas of scholarship and practical application," says SHASS Dean Melissa Nobles. "From poverty alleviation to the future of work, the combined knowledge and experience of MIT’s experts helps shape economic policy, drive business growth, and prepare future leaders."Photo: Evan LiebermanBusiness and management, Economics, Rankings, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Sloan School of Management Reaching the C-suite: no shortcuts, yet many paths New MIT Sloan Executive Education program offers practical guidance for charting your path to the C-suite. Thu, 14 Nov 2019 09:45:01 -0500 MIT Sloan Executive Education <p>For many, reaching the C-suite for senior executive officers may seem like the pinnacle of success. Power, prestige, the opportunity to make a lasting impact — not to mention that spacious corner office. But how do executives arrive at those top spots? What does it take to stay and thrive in the role? And what can we learn from the experience of others that can be applied to our own career paths?</p> <p>Just as there are many incentives that drive an executive’s desire to land in the C-suite, so are there many potential paths to get there. That is especially true in today’s dynamic business environment, which demands that leaders be comfortable managing a state of nearly constant change. &nbsp;</p> <p>Veteran executive advisor and coach <a href="">Cassandra Frangos</a> spent her career helping Fortune 500 companies assess and select C-suite executives. She shares her experiences and expertise with those seeking leadership positions in her recent book, “<a href="">Crack the C-Suite Code: How Successful Leaders Make It to the Top</a>.” The book includes interviews with dozens of CEOs and other C-suite executives from a broad range of companies and industries, as well as hundreds of executives who are likely to be C-suite candidates in the future. Frangos also interviewed the topmost experts in executive recruiting, leadership development, and management academia.</p> <p>“I talked to as many C-suite executives as I could, across industries over a multi-year period — at conferences, networking events, and over the course of my everyday job. I got in the habit of asking them to tell me their stories,” Frangos shared in a <a href=";list=PLKaF-rnKfpxODFknQsd8UVCeBYP5w3ZGS&amp;index=2&amp;t=0s">recent webinar</a> for MIT Sloan Executive Education. “Suddenly, I was the one asking the question: 'So, what did you do to reach C-suite?'”</p> <p>With this research and inquiry as the backdrop — along with her keen interest in the intersection of psychology and business — Frangos offers a practical framework for how leaders can prepare for and achieve the corner office. This work has also informed a new program at MIT Sloan Executive Education, <a href="">Strategies for Career Development: Charting Your Path to the C-Suite</a>. The inaugural session of the program was held in September and received great reviews from participants who appreciated the insights, interactivity, and 360-degree assessments the program provides. Frangos teaches the program alongside MIT Sloan Professor <a href="">Roberto Fernandez</a>.</p> <p><strong>Trends to watch </strong></p> <p>“It’s an exciting time be in in the C-suite — and with it comes a lot of pressure,” says Frangos. “The digital economy changes everything; most CEOs have never before seen this much transformation.” &nbsp;</p> <p>To manage this kind of change, today’s CEO needs to be both strategic and operational. They need to have a keen understanding of the current and future impact of technology on their business. And they need to be willing to recognize the areas of expertise they need to shore up. Frangos illustrates her points by sharing examples of specific strategies that real executives — including some household names — have used to ascend to the top of their organizations. Her experience offers a glimpse into the real work of succession and offers both inspiration and practical advice. &nbsp;</p> <p>Another key trend for aspiring executives to watch is the move toward flatter organizational structures. This removes layers of management that can act as a barrier to change, and in turn puts the CEO in charge of more direct reports, making it easier for him or her to get a pulse on the business and act quickly and decisively based on this information.</p> <p>Within this type of organizational structure, communication is key. The successful CEO needs to be able to clearly communicate their vision clearly to their colleagues, customers, investors, and, perhaps most importantly, to themselves. It is this last audience — understanding one’s own motivations for reaching the C-suite — that is at the core of Frangos’ research and recommendations.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Charting your path</strong><em> </em></p> <p>Leaders who have their eye on the C-suite have likely already proven themselves as capable within their organization and in their field. Frangos offers ways to leverage this momentum to help these executives accelerate to the top. From the tenure track to the “leapfrog” path and options in-between, she offers a framework for advancement that is suited to an individual’s goals and strengths.</p> <p>“When I assess executives who are getting ready to be promoted, I’m often surprised at how many don’t understand what their brand is within the organization,” she says. “For example, they may be very good operationally but need to be seen as more strategic to get to the next level.”</p> <p>Frangos’ work explores ways leaders can evolve to better align with their leadership goals, as well as zeroing in on other factors that enhance or detract from a chance of success in the C-suite. She also offers proven career development strategies, regardless of where a person is in their organization. Importantly, her approach stresses the need for leaders to cultivate both professional and personal support networks.&nbsp;</p> <p>Embarking on a path to the C-suite isn’t for the faint of heart, which is why it’s just as important for leaders to assess whether they truly have the appetite and determination to do the work and stay the course.</p> <p>“Only you can control your destiny,” says Frangos. “No one is doing this for you. You have to chart your own path.”</p> <p>Strategies for Career Development: Charting Your Path to the C-Suite will be held again in July and October 2020.</p> “It’s an exciting time be in in the C-suite — and with it comes a lot of pressure,” says Cassandra Frangos of MIT Sloan Executive Education. “The digital economy changes everything.” Sloan School of Management, Careers, Business and management, Classes and programs, Staff, Sloan Executive Education Creating a network of drivers to lift a community With a focus on driver and passenger safety, startup Max NG provides delivery and transportation services in West Africa. Thu, 14 Nov 2019 00:00:00 -0500 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Finding success in a big, informal market of a developing country is a tall task for any new company — which makes Nigerian mobility startup Max NG’s success all the more distinctive. The company is currently disrupting not just one huge market of West Africa, but two.</p> <p>In the four years since its founding, Max NG has created a network of motorcycle drivers — currently 1,500 and projected to double by year’s end — that perform both package deliveries and transportation services for residents in cities including Lagos, the Nigerian metropolis with nearly three times as many people as New York City.</p> <p>By the end of next year, Max NG’s founders hope to be operating in three or four countries, with about 20,000 drivers on their platform. To help realize its ambitious projections, the company has already secured partnerships with the likes of Yamaha, Mastercard, and the e-commerce giant Jumia.</p> <p>“The mototaxi industry and the tuk tuk industry are extremely popular, but they’re informal in the West Africa region,” co-founder Adetayo Bamiduro MBA ’15 says, referring to the three-wheeled, hooded rickshaws known as tuk tuks that Max NG drivers have also begun using. “Across West Africa, there’s about 12 million to 15 million mototaxi drivers, so Max has a huge opportunity to formalize this industry.”</p> <p>Max NG is also pushing the delivery and transportation industries forward as it seeks to stand out amid increasing competition. Bamiduro, who founded the company with Chinedu Azodoh MFin ’15, says Max NG recently developed the first locally assembled electric motorcycle in West Africa and will be deploying 500 such vehicles, along with charging stations, next year.</p> <p>The initiative to electrify comes on top of the founders’ core commitment to make the industries safer, part of a wider emphasis on looking beyond the business opportunity and focusing on the impact the company has on the tens of thousands of people who benefit from its services.</p> <p>Bamiduro thinks a lot about the woman working late who is now able to use a vetted, trained driver with an extra helmet to get home. He also thinks a lot about Max NG’s drivers — the company refers to them as champions — who he says experience an improved standing in their communities to go along with a bigger paycheck.</p> <p>“A huge chunk of the population relies on this industry to get by, so it’s really important just from the sense of jobs,” Bamiduro says. “But it’s also a dangerous industry because of the lack of structure. It’s a big economic opportunity, but also a big opportunity for impact.”</p> <p><strong>Reshaping transportation</strong></p> <p>The coastal city of Lagos, Nigeria, with its burgeoning skyline and rapidly growing economy, is home to more than 21 million people. The city is also one of the most congested in the world, with commuters spending an average of 30 hours per week stuck in traffic. Bamiduro says some people spend up to 70 percent of their work hours trapped in the city’s gridlocked, underdeveloped roadways.</p> <p>In response to this problem, people rely on informal mototaxis that come with their own problems. The vast majority of these informal drivers — Bamiduro says 98 percent — don’t wear helmets or provide them to passengers. Someone getting onto the back of a bike can’t tell if a driver is well-trained or if they will even obey traffic rules. Riders also risk being kidnapped or becoming the victim of some other crime in the city, a large chunk of which is perpetuated by people on motorcycles.</p> <p>Max NG provides its drivers with a pair of high-quality helmets, distinctive yellow jackets, and new bikes, which it can loan drivers who enter one-year repayment plans. Each driver goes through extensive training on basic traffic rules, strategies for driving in inclement weather, and defensive driving tactics. They also must pass a background check, and every bike is tracked to deter crime and poor driving.</p> <p>To order a ride, users can go through Max NG’s app, call the company’s service center, or simply flag down a free driver on the street. Cash and credit cards are accepted so people without smartphones or bank accounts can also benefit from the service.</p> <p>“Max makes it super easy to dash across town very quickly in a safe, affordable, and efficient way,” Bamiduro says.</p> <p><strong>Finding a business model</strong></p> <p>Bamiduro and Azodoh, who are both from Nigeria, entered MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 2013 and 2014, respectively. They started Max NG as a motorcycle delivery company in the beginning of 2015, participating in MIT’s IDEAS Global Challenge, the MIT $100K pitch competition,&nbsp;the Venture Mentoring Service, and receiving extensive support from the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. Bamiduro was also a fellow at the Legatum Center at MIT.</p> <p>“We took full advantage of the MIT entrepreneurship ecosystem and resources that were available while we were there,” Bamiduro recalls.</p> <p>While still pursuing their degrees, they developed a mobile software tool that let people enter their pickup and drop off points and connect with drivers. Working on the project in Sloan's New Enterprises course, the founders&nbsp;were able to get three e-commerce companies, including Jumia, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange earlier this year, to commit to using their service.</p> <p>By the summer of 2017, the company was helping a network of motorcycle drivers complete 500 deliveries per day throughout Lagos, enabling customers to receive same-day delivery. That’s when the company began piloting its transportation solution.</p> <p>Today, Max NG’s employees are benefiting from the company’s success as much as its customers. Bamiduro says drivers make three times more money driving for Max NG compared to working as independent drivers. They also get access to high quality equipment, accident insurance, and the backing of an organized community.</p> <p>“In a market like Nigeria, where there are not a lot of protection systems built for the lower class, driving for Max is their ticket out of the wild wild west, where no one is looking out for you and you don’t belong to any organized system,” Bamiduro says. “You also ride a plaid motorcycle and you wear a plaid jacket, and that improves the level of dignity you enjoy out there, because then people know you are part of a formal organization committed to quality. One of the things drivers tell us they like most often is the dignity of the work.”</p> <p>Earlier this year, Max NG made a splash when it raised $7 million in a funding round that included motorcycle manufacturer Yamaha. But Bamiduro says the company is already in talks to raise another, much larger funding round by the middle of next year.</p> <p>The money will help the company build out charging infrastructure for its new electric fleet and help finance motorcycle purchasing agreements for a growing pool of drivers. The plan is to not only lift up the company, but also to improve West Africa’s infrastructure in the process.</p> <p>“We’re building infrastructure to provide energy and mobility in West African cities, and we’re also partnering with established players like local banks and Mastercard to build more robust payment infrastructure for that mobility,” Bamiduro says. “We and other startups are at the forefront of building basic infrastructure that’s required to deliver critical services in mobility, financial services, energy, agriculture, health care in the region today.”</p> Nigerian mobility startup Max NG is trying to formalize the delivery and transportation industries of West Africa. Each of the company's mototaxi drivers go through extensive training on basic traffic rules, strategies for driving in inclement weather, and defensive driving tactics. They also must pass a background check, and every bike is tracked to deter crime and poor driving.Courtesy of Max NGInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Electric vehicles, Transportation, Sloan School of Management, Africa, Alumni/ae, Cities Learning about China by learning its language MIT senior&#039;s longstanding passion for Mandarin leads to a hands-on taste of the complexities of functioning in a Chinese business context. Fri, 11 Oct 2019 10:20:01 -0400 Lisa Hickler | MIT Global Languages <p>Among MIT students who didn’t grow up speaking Chinese, few are able to discuss “machine learning models” in passable Mandarin. But that is just what computer science and engineering senior Max Allen is able to do, and this ability comes as a result of academic work, stints abroad, an internship, and also just having the passion to learn Chinese.</p> <p>With China a growing economic powerhouse and leader in STEM, it is no wonder that more and more students are attracted to studying Chinese. Nationally, enrollments in Chinese classes are up, as they are at MIT.</p> <p>But for Max Allen, his interest was first piqued by a teacher’s visit to his eighth-grade class. Intrigued by the sound of the language and structure of the writing system, Allen started taking Chinese classes in high school. To him, learning the language was akin to a big puzzle whose solution is slowly revealed. And since Allen has always been fond of puzzles, he wanted to pursue this.</p> <p>After only two years of high-school language study, Allen spent his 11th-grade year living with a host family in Beijing and attending school through a program called School Year Abroad. Allen returned to the United States able to converse in Mandarin, and also more adept at fitting in culturally. He found that living with a family gives you a level of familiarity with people that is hard to achieve otherwise.</p> <p>Chinese has gradually occupied a greater and greater area of interest for Allen. Upon entering MIT, he decided to pursue a major in computer science and engineering (Course 6-3). After discovering that he could take Chinese to fulfill his humanities concentration requirements, Allen took Chinese V and VI, building on the work he did in high school. Even among MIT students who are known for high academic achievement, Chinese Lecturer Tong Chen noted that Allen stood out for his effort and seriousness.</p> <p>The more classes he took, and the more time he invested, the more Allen began to consider how Chinese might be part of his future academic and career paths.</p> <p>In spring 2018, Allen took “Business Chinese” as an elective concentration subject. Business Chinese helped Allen understand social dynamics and subtleties of social relations in a business setting in China, including how these express themselves in language. As Panpan Gao, the instructor of Business Chinese, explains, the pedagogical approach of the class emphasizes case studies: “Through case studies of multinational companies and introductions to crucial business issues in China, we try to help students better understand Chinese business culture and trends, and expand their language skills so that they can communicate effectively and professionally with Chinese speakers in the workplace.”</p> <p>The class really got Allen thinking about whether he might want to pursue jobs that would employ his knowledge of Chinese.</p> <p>Allen put his Chinese skills to good use the following summer. He took an engineering internship with Airbnb — on a team with a special focus on mitigating financial fraud coming from China. The team was mostly made up of Chinese nationals, and team members generally discussed work matters in Mandarin. To do business in China, the team would need to understand how to market the product to Chinese customers; how to build a secure platform; and how to build payment applications that are in line with expectations of Chinese consumer. This experience gave Allen a hands-on taste of the complexities of functioning in a Chinese business context.</p> <p>After the internship, Allen realized that to take his Chinese to the next level, he would need to put aside other academic pursuits for a period and spend more time studying the language in an immersive Chinese-speaking setting. He spent academic year 2018-2019 abroad studying Chinese: the fall in Taipei at the <a href="">International Chinese Language Program</a> of National Taiwan University, and the spring in Beijing at the <a href="">Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies</a> at Tsinghua University. Both programs are top Chinese language centers in the world and are intensive instructional programs with hours of work a day devoted to learning Mandarin. He particularly appreciated the intensive focus on conversation.</p> <p>While abroad, Allen found that when he ventured to out-of-the-way spots, he encountered curiosity from strangers who were less accustomed to seeing tourists. But when he demonstrated he could speak Chinese, people warmed up. “Speaking their native language helps to establish trust and rapport, which is important when they see you as just another outsider. But once a certain level of trust is established, people become more comfortable talking about meaningful things. And that's where the time investment of learning the language really pays off.”</p> <p>Now back at MIT for his senior year, Allen is considering how his multiple interests in computer science, international business, Chinese language, and cross-cultural communication skills might combine into a career path. The answer will take some time to untangle, but Allen is always up for the challenge of a big puzzle, and will remain open to the possibilities as he heads toward graduation.</p> MIT senior Max Allen (right) stands with Tsinghua University student Sean Chua in Beijing.Computer science and technology, China, Language, Students, Global Studies and Languages, Global, Profile, Business and management, Careers, School of Engineering, Classes and programs, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs) MIT alumna addresses the world’s mounting plastic waste problem Renewlogy’s system is converting plastic waste from cities and rivers into fuel. Wed, 09 Oct 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>It’s been nearly 10 years since Priyanka Bakaya MBA ’11 founded Renewlogy to develop a system that converts plastic waste into fuel. Today, that system is being used to profitably turn even nonrecyclable plastic into high-value fuels like diesel, as well as&nbsp;the precursors to new plastics.</p> <p>Since its inception, Bakaya has guided Renewlogy through multiple business and product transformations to maximize its impact. During the company’s evolution from a garage-based startup to a global driver of sustainability, it has licensed its technology to&nbsp;waste management companies in the U.S. and Canada, created community-driven supply chains for processing nonrecycled plastic, and started a nonprofit, Renew Oceans, to reduce the flow of plastic into the world’s oceans.</p> <p>The latter project has brought Bakaya and her team to one of the most polluted rivers in the world, the Ganges. With an effort based in Varanasi, a city of much religious, political, and cultural significance in India, Renew Oceans hopes to transform the river basin by incentivizing residents to dispose of omnipresent plastic waste in its “reverse vending machines,” which provide coupons in exchange for certain plastics.</p> <p>Each of Renewlogy’s initiatives has brought challenges Bakaya never could have imagined during her early days tinkering with the system. But she’s approached those hurdles with a creative determination, driven by her belief in the transformative power of the company.</p> <p>“It’s important to focus on big problems you’re really passionate about,” Bakaya says. “The only reason we’ve stuck with it over the years is because it’s extremely meaningful, and I couldn’t imagine working this hard and long on something if it wasn’t deeply meaningful.”</p> <p><strong>A system for sustainability</strong></p> <p>Bakaya began working on a plastic-conversion system with Renewlogy co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Benjamin Coates after coming to MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 2009. While pursuing his PhD at the University of Utah, Coates had been developing continuously operating systems to create fuels from things like wood waste and algae conversion.</p> <p>One of Renewlogy’s key innovations is using a continuous system on plastics, which saves energy by eliminating the need to reheat the system to the high temperatures necessary for conversion.</p> <p>Today, plastics entering Renewlogy’s system are first shredded, then put through a chemical reformer, where a catalyst degrades their long carbon chains.</p> <p>Roughly 15 to 20 percent of those chains are converted into hydrocarbon gas that Renewlogy recycles to heat the system. Five percent turns into char, and the remaining 75 percent is converted into high-value fuels. Bakaya says the system can create about 60 barrels of fuel for every 10 tons of plastic it processes, and it has a 75 percent lower carbon footprint when compared to traditional methods for extracting and distilling diesel fuel.</p> <p>In 2014, the company began running a large-scale plant in Salt Lake City, where it continues to iterate its processes and hold demonstrations.</p> <p>Since then, Renewlogy has set up another commercial-scale facility in Nova Scotia, Canada, where the waste management company Sustane uses it to process about 10 tons of plastic a day, representing 5 percent of the total amount of solid waste the company collects. Renewlogy is also building a similar-sized facility in Phoenix, Arizona, that will be breaking ground next year. That project focuses on processing specific types of plastics (identified by international <a href="" target="_blank">resin codes</a> 3 through 7) that are less easily recycled.</p> <p>In addition to its licensing strategy, the company is spearheading grassroots efforts to gather and process plastic that’s not normally collected for recycling, as part of the Hefty Energy Bag Program.</p> <p>Through the program, residents in cities including Boise, Idaho, Omaha, Nebraska, and Lincoln, Nebraska, can put plastics numbered 4 through 6 into their regular recycling bins using special orange bags. The bags are separated at the recycling facility and sent to Renewlogy’s Salt Lake City plant for processing.</p> <p>The projects have positioned Renewlogy to continue scaling and have earned Bakaya entrepreneurial honors from the likes of <em>Forbes</em>, <em>Fortune</em>, and the World Economic Forum. But a growing crisis in the world’s oceans has drawn her halfway across the world, to the site of the company’s most ambitious project yet.</p> <p><strong>Renewing the planet’s oceans</strong></p> <p>Of the millions of tons of plastic waste flowing through rivers into the world’s oceans each year, roughly 90 percent <a href="" target="_blank">comes from just 10 rivers</a>. The worsening environmental conditions of these rivers represents a growing global crisis that state governments have put billions of dollars toward, often with discouraging results.</p> <p>Bakaya believes she can help.</p> <p>“Most of these plastics tend to be what are referred to as soft plastics, which are typically much more challenging to recycle, but are a good feedstock for Renewlogy’s process,” she says.</p> <p>Bakaya started Renew Oceans as a separate, nonprofit arm of Renewlogy last year. Since then, Renew Oceans has designed fence-like structures to collect river waste that can then be brought to its scaled down machines for processing. These machines can process between 0.1 and 1 ton of plastic a day.</p> <p>Renew Oceans has already built its first machine, and Bakaya says deciding where to put it was easy.</p> <p>From its origins in the Himalayas, the Ganges River flows over 1,500 miles through India and Bangladesh, serving as a means of transportation, irrigation, energy, and as a sacred monument to millions of people who refer to it as Mother Ganges.</p> <p>Renewlogy’s first machine is currently undergoing local commissioning in the Indian city of Varanasi. Bakaya says the project is designed to scale.</p> <p>“The aim is to take this to other major polluted rivers where we can have maximum impact,” Bakaya says. “We’ve started with the Ganges, but we want to go to other regions, especially around Asia, and find circular economies that can support this in the long term so locals can derive value from these plastics.”</p> <p>Scaling down their system was another unforeseen project for Bakaya and Coates, who remember scaling up prototypes during the early days of the company. Throughout the years, Renewlogy has also adjusted its chemical processes in response to changing markets, having begun by producing crude oil, then moving to diesel as oil prices plummeted, and now exploring ways to create high-value petrochemicals like naphtha, which can be used to make new plastics.</p> <p>Indeed, the company’s approach has featured almost as many twists and turns as the Ganges itself. Bakaya says she wouldn’t have it any other way.</p> <p>“I’d really encourage entrepreneurs to not just go down that easy road but to really challenge themselves and try to solve big problems — especially students from MIT. The world is kind of depending on MIT students to push us forward and challenge the realm of possibility. We all should feel that sense of responsibility to solve bigger problems.”</p> Renewlogy co-founder and CEO Priyanka Bakaya inside one of the company's commercial plants, which are capable of processing ten tons of plastic each day to create about 60 barrels of fuel.Image courtesy of RenewlogyInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Chemistry, Sloan School of Management, Environment, Pollution, Oceanography and ocean engineering, Social entrepreneurship, Alumni/ae, Recycling, Sustainability An interdisciplinary approach to accelerating human-machine collaboration Professor’s startup brings millimeter-scale location tracking to factories, ports, and other industrial environments. Wed, 02 Oct 2019 00:00:01 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>David Mindell has spent his career defying traditional distinctions between disciplines. His work has explored the ways humans interact with machines, drive innovation, and maintain societal well-being as technology transforms our economy.</p> <p>And, Mindell says, he couldn’t have done it anywhere but MIT. He joined MIT’s faculty 23 years ago after completing his PhD in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and he currently holds a dual appointment in engineering and humanities as the Frances and David Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and professor of aeronautics and astronautics.</p> <p>Mindell’s experience combining fields of study has shaped his ideas about the relationship between humans and machines. Those ideas are what led him to found Humatics — a startup named from the merger of “human” and “robotics.”</p> <p>Humatics is trying to change the way humans work alongside machines, by enabling location tracking and navigation indoors, underground, and in other areas where technologies like GPS are limited. It accomplishes this by using radio frequencies to track things at the millimeter scale — unlocking what Mindell calls microlocation technology.</p> <p>The company’s solution is already being used in places like shipping ports and factories, where humans work alongside cranes, industrial tools, automated guided vehicles (AGVs), and other machines. These businesses often lack consistent location data for their machines and are forced to adopt inflexible routes for their mobile robots.</p> <p>“One of the holy grails is to have humans and robots share the same space and collaborate, and we’re enabling mobile robots to work in human environments safely and on a large scale,” Mindell says. “Safety is a critical first form of collaboration, but beyond that, we’re just beginning to learn how to work [in settings] where robots and people are exquisitely aware of where they are.”</p> <p><strong>A company decades in the making</strong></p> <p>MIT has a long history of transcending research fields to improve our understanding of the world. Take, for example, Norbert Wiener, who served on MIT’s faculty in the Department of Mathematics between 1919 and his death in 1964.</p> <p>Wiener is credited with formalizing the field of cybernetics, which is an approach to understanding feedback systems he defined as “the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine." Cybernetics can be applied to mechanical, biological, cognitive, and social systems, among others, and it sparked a frenzy of interdisciplinary study and scientific collaboration.</p> <p>In 2002, Mindell wrote a book exploring the history of cybernetics before Wiener and its emergence at the intersection of a range of disciplines during World War II. It is one of several books Mindell has written that deal with interdisciplinary responses to complex problems, particularly in extreme environments like lunar landings and the deep sea.</p> <p>The interdisciplinary perspective Mindell forged at MIT has helped him identify the limitations of technology that prevent machines and humans from working together seamlessly.</p> <p>One particular shortcoming that Mindell has thought about for years is the lack of precise location data in places like warehouses, subway systems, and shipping ports.</p> <p>“In five years, we’ll look back at 2019 and say, ‘I can’t believe we didn’t know where anything was,’” Mindell says. “We’ve got so much data floating around, but the link between the actual physical world we all inhabit and move around in and the digital world that’s exploding is really still very poor.”</p> <p>In 2014, Mindell partnered with Humatics co-founder Gary Cohen, who has worked as an intellectual property strategist for biotech companies in the Kendall Square area, to solve the problem.</p> <p>In the beginning of 2015, Mindell collaborated with Lincoln Laboratory alumnus and radar expert Greg Charvat; the two built a prototype navigation system and started the company two weeks later. Charvat became Humatics’ CTO and first employee.</p> <p>“It was clear there was about to be this huge flowering of robotics and autonomous systems and AI, and I thought the things we learned in extreme environments, notably under sea and in aviation, had an enormous amount of application to industrial environments,” Mindell says. “The company is about bringing insights from years of experience with remote and autonomous systems in extreme environments into transit, logistics, e-commerce, and manufacturing.”</p> <p><strong>Bringing microlocation to industry</strong></p> <p>Factories, ports, and other locations where GPS data is unworkable or insufficient adopt a variety of solutions to meet their tracking and navigation needs. But each workaround has its drawbacks.</p> <p>RFID and Bluetooth technologies, for instance, can track assets but have short ranges and are expensive to deploy across large areas.</p> <p>Cameras and sensing methods like LIDAR can be used to help machines see their environment, but they struggle with things like rain and different lighting conditions. Floor tape embedded with wires or magnets is also often used to guide machines through fixed routes, but it isn’t well-suited for today’s increasingly dynamic warehouses and production lines.</p> <p>Humatics has focused on making the capabilities of its microlocation location system as easy to leverage as possible. The location and tracking data it collects can be integrated into whatever warehouse management system or “internet of things” (IoT) platforms customers are already using.</p> <p>Its radio frequency beacons have a range of up to 500 meters and, when installed as part of a constellation, can pinpoint three dimensional locations to within 2 centimeters, creating a virtual grid of the surrounding environment.</p> <p>The beacons can be combined with an onboard navigation hub that helps mobile robots move around dynamic environments. Humatics’ system also gathers location data from multiple points at once, monitoring the speed of a forklift, helping a crane operator place a shipping crate, and guiding a robot around obstacles simultaneously.</p> <p>The data Humatics collects don’t just help customers improve their processes; they can also transform the way workers and machines share space and work together. Indeed, with a new chip just emerging from its labs, Mindell says Humatics is moving industries such as manufacturing and logistics into “the world of ubiquitous, millimeter-accurate positioning.”</p> <p>It’s all possible because of the company’s holistic approach to the age-old problem of human-machine interaction.</p> <p>“Humatics is an example of what can happen when we think about technology in a unique, broader context,” Mindell says. “It’s an example of what MIT can accomplish when it pays serious attention to these two ways [from humanities and engineering] of looking at the world.”</p> Humatics co-founder and CEO David Mindell at Humatics headquarters in Waltham, MA.Image: Allegra BovermanInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, human-robot interaction, Robotics, Robots, Manufacturing, Future of Manufacturing, Autonmous vehicles, Faculty, Program in STS, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences MIT Solve selects 2019 cohort of tech entrepreneurs At Solve Challenge Finals in New York, judges selected 32 innovators, and Solve announces $1.5 million in prize funding. Tue, 01 Oct 2019 17:00:01 -0400 Claire Crowther | MIT Solve <p>On Sept. 22, 61 entrepreneurs traveled from 22 countries around the world to attend <a href="" target="_blank">Solve Challenge Finals</a> in New York and pitch their solutions to Solve’s 2019 Global Challenges: Circular Economy, Community-Driven Innovation, Early Childhood Development, and Healthy Cities.&nbsp;</p> <p>These innovators pitched everything from a compact waste-evaporating toilet to an online marketplace for businesses to buy and sell unused textiles. After a busy day packed with pitches and hours of deliberation, judges selected eight from each challenge to form the 2019 Solver Class, including:</p> <ul> <li><a href="">Circular Economy Solver teams</a>;</li> <li><a href="">Community-Driven Innovation Solver teams</a>;</li> <li><a href="">Early Childhood Development Solver teams</a>; and</li> <li><a href="">Healthy Cities Solver teams</a>.</li> </ul> <p>Solve also announced <a href="">$1.5 million in prize funding</a> for these Solver teams. A selection of highlights follows, and an <a href="" target="_blank">archived livestream</a> is available.</p> <p>In the opening plenary session, “Bridging the SDG Innovation Gap,” XPRIZE CEO Anousheh Ansari and Conservation International CEO M. Sanjayan spoke about sourcing, supporting, and scaling innovation to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs).&nbsp;</p> <p>Ansari explained that some solutions can be more relevant in certain geographies and contexts. Sanjayan agreed, saying, “While we have ever-more information and access to amazing individuals and a diversity of ideas, there is still a strong bias toward a single solution.”&nbsp;</p> <p>He described a meeting he once facilitated with a group of young people from the United States and top leaders dealing with elephant ivory poaching in Africa. “We were meeting with people who had spent their entire lives protecting elephants,” he said. “This young group was telling those folks how they should do things. It was astonishing to watch. Not that their ideas were bad, but at least have the humility to say, there’s context here.” Without that context, he added, these solutions are unlikely to work.</p> <p>Both Ansari and Sanjayan agreed that to achieve the SDGs by 2030, we’ll need context-focused tech breakthroughs, and both behavioral and policy changes.</p> <p>To kick off the closing plenary, “Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” artist Zaria Forman wowed the audience with stunning photographs of her pastel drawings. By capturing glaciers and other natural wonders in the wake of climate change, she seeks to “convey the beauty of these places instead of the devastation.” Forman prefers to focus on positive change. And with all the negative news around climate change, she “celebrates what is still here.”&nbsp;</p> <p>This optimistic presentation provided an excellent introduction to a conversation around corporate social and environmental responsibility. Vijay Vaitheeswaran '90 of <em>The Economist</em> and Jesper Brodin, president and CEO of Ingka Group (IKEA), discussed IKEA’s mission to “create a better daily life for the people.”&nbsp;</p> <p>IKEA is at the forefront of innovation for sustainability, and much of the conversation focused on the company’s commitment to climate action. Brodin explained that IKEA products now require sustainable design principles, ensuring they can be broken down into raw materials.&nbsp;</p> <p>Bringing the conversation back to technology, Emi Mahmoud, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees goodwill ambassador and award-winning slam poet, performed a powerful poem about access to technology. She emphasized that access to technology is no longer a privilege — it is a right.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Technology can restore the dignity of people. It changes our approach to aid and change-making so that it’s more about upward mobility, giving people something that they can run with — not just depend on.”</p> <p>The final discussion of the closing plenary featured Fred Swaniker, founder of the African Leadership Group, and Monique Idlett, founder and managing partner of Reign Ventures, and centered on building a more inclusive innovation ecosystem.</p> <p>Swaniker, whose programs develop emerging leaders in Africa, reflected on his time studying at Stanford University. He wondered, “Was there anything special about the air or water in Silicon Valley? Why is it that all this innovation comes out of there?”</p> <p>“The only difference is that they give a 16-year-old kid with an idea a chance,” Swaniker says. “The same brilliant kids with game-changing ideas are in Africa. The only difference is that no one is giving them a chance.” This, he says, is the goal of the African Leadership Academy.</p> <p>At Reign Ventures, Idlett takes this chance on promising startups. She aims to build a portfolio that “reflects the world,” ensuring that it has gender, racial, and industry diversity. When it comes to scaling these startups, Idlett says the art of collaboration is undervalued.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We don’t have to do this alone,” she explains. “As a founder, CEO, or investor, it’s really important that you find a community that can support you and that you can build together with.”</p> <p>Swaniker says the African Leadership Academy offers this support to its emerging leaders. Its learning model is very hands-on and emphasizes “learning by doing.” The academy then connects talent to opportunity — the networks, partnerships, and investment they need. “That’s the ecosystem,” he says. “Select the top talent, develop it, and then connect it.”</p> <p>The 2019 Solver Class will spend the next nine months working closely with Solve to scale their solutions through partnerships built with the Solve community.</p> <div></div> Solve Challenge Finals took place in New York City Image: Matt Mateiescu/MIT SolveSolve, Environment, Health, Learning, Community, Global, International development, Special events and guest speakers, Startups Helping lower-income households reap the benefits of solar energy Solstice makes community solar projects more accessible for people unable to invest in rooftop panels. Thu, 26 Sep 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Rooftop solar panels are a great way for people to invest in renewable energy while saving money on electricity. Unfortunately, the rooftop solar industry only serves a fraction of society.</p> <p>Many Americans are unable to invest in rooftop solar; they may be renters or lack the upfront money required for installations or live in locations that don’t get enough sun. Some states have tried to address these limitations with community solar programs, which allow residents to invest in portions of large, remote solar projects and enjoy savings on their electricity bills each month.</p> <p>But as community solar projects have exploded in popularity in the last few years, higher-income households have been the main beneficiaries. That’s because most developers of community solar arrays require residents to have high credit scores and sign long-term contracts.</p> <p>Now the community solar startup Solstice is changing the system. The company recruits and manages customers for community solar projects while pushing developers for simpler, more inclusive contract terms. Solstice has also developed the EnergyScore, a proprietary customer qualification metric that approves a wider pool of residents for participation in community solar projects, compared to the credit scores typically used by developers.</p> <p><strong>“</strong>We’re always pushing our developer partners to be more inclusive and customer-friendly,” says Solstice co-founder Sandhya Murali MBA ’15, who co-founded the company with Stephanie Speirs MBA ’17. “We want them to design contracts that will be appealing to the customer and kind of a no-brainer.”</p> <p>To date, Solstice has helped about 6,400 households sign up for community solar projects. The founders say involving a more diverse pool of residents will be essential to continue the industry’s breakneck growth.</p> <p>“We think it’s imperative that we figure out how to make this model of residential solar, which can save people money and has the power to impact millions of people across the country, scale quickly,” Murali says.</p> <p><strong>A more inclusive system</strong></p> <p>In 2014, Speirs had been working on improving access to solar energy in Pakistan and India as part of a fellowship with the global investment firm Acumen. But she realized developing countries weren’t the only areas that dealt with energy inequalities.</p> <p>“There are problems with solar in America,” Speirs says. “Eighty percent of people are locked out of the solar market because they can’t put solar on their rooftop. People who need solar savings the most in this country, low- to moderate-income Americans, are the least likely to get it.”</p> <p>Speirs was planning to come to MIT’s Sloan School of Management to pursue her MBA the following year, so she used a Sloan email list to see if anyone was interested in joining the early-stage venture. Murali agreed to volunteer, and although she graduated in 2015 as Speirs entered Sloan, Murali spent a lot of time on campus helping Speirs get the company off the ground. Speirs also received a fellowship from MIT's Legatum Center.</p> <p><strong>“</strong>Steph’s time at Sloan was focused on Solstice, so we kind of became an MIT startup,” Murali says. “I would say MIT sort of adopted Solstice, and we’ve grown since then with support from the school.”</p> <p>Community solar is an effective way to include residents in solar projects who might not have the resources to invest in traditional rooftop solar panels. Speirs says there are no upfront costs associated with community solar projects, and residents can participate by investing in a portion of the planned solar array whether they own a home or not.</p> <p>When a developer has enough resident commitments for a project, they build a solar array in another location and the electricity it generates is sent to the grid. Residents receive a credit on their monthly electric bills for the solar power produced by their portion of the project.</p> <p>Still, there are aspects of the community solar industry that discourage many lower-income residents from participating. Solar array developers have traditionally required qualified customers to sign long contracts, sometimes lasting 30 years, and to agree to cancellation fees if they leave the contract prematurely.</p> <p>Solstice, which began as a nonprofit to improve access to solar energy for low-income Americans, advocates for customers, working with developers to reduce contract lengths, lower credit requirements, and eliminate cancellation fees.</p> <p>As they engaged with developers, Solstice’s founders realized the challenges associated with recruiting and managing customers for community solar projects were holding the industry back, so they decided to start a for-profit arm of the company to work with customers of all backgrounds and income levels.</p> <p>“Solstice’s obsession is how do we make it so easy and affordable to sign up for community solar such that everyone does it,” Speirs says.&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2016, Solstice was accepted into The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship’s delta v accelerator, where the founders began helping developers find customers for large solar projects. The founders also began developing a web-based customer portal to make participation in projects as seamless as possible.</p> <p>But they realized those solutions didn’t directly address the biggest factor preventing lower-income Americans from investing in solar power.</p> <p>“To get solar in this country, you either have to be able to afford to put solar on your rooftop, which costs $10,000 to $30,000, or you have to have the right FICO score for community solar,” Speirs says, referring to a credit score used by community solar developers to qualify customers. “Your FICO score is your destiny in this country, yet FICO doesn’t measure whether you pay your utility bills on time, or your cell phone bills, or rental bills.”</p> <p>With this in mind, the founders teamed up with data scientists from MIT and Stanford University, including Christopher Knittle, the George P. Shultz Professor at MIT Sloan, to create a new qualification metric, the EnergyScore. The EnergyScore uses a machine learning system trained on data from nearly 875,000 consumer records, including things like utility payments, to predict payment behavior in community solar contracts. Solstice says it predicts future payment behavior more accurately than FICO credit scores, and it qualifies a larger portion of low-to-moderate income customers for projects.</p> <p><strong>Driving change</strong></p> <p>Last year, Solstice began handling the entire customer experience, from the initial education and sales to ongoing support during the life of contracts. To date, the company has helped find customers for solar projects that have a combined output of 100 megawatts of electricity in New York and Massachusetts.</p> <p>And later this year, Solstice will begin qualifying customers with its EnergyScore, enabling a whole new class of Americans to participate in community solar projects. One of the projects using the EnergyScore will put solar arrays on the rooftops of public housing buildings in New York City in partnership with the NYC Housing Authority.</p> <p>Ultimately, the founders believe including a broader swath of American households in community solar projects isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also an essential part of the fight against climate change.</p> <p>“[Community solar] is a huge, untapped market, and we’re unnecessarily restricting ourselves by creating some of these contract barriers that make community solar remain in the hands of the wealthy,” Murali says. “We’re never going to scale community solar and make the impact on climate change we need to make if we don’t figure out how to make this form of solar work for everyone.”</p> Solstice works with solar developers to fund large, remote solar farms that communities can invest in.Image courtesy of SolsticeInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Alumni/ae, Technology and society, Depression, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Sloan School of Management, Energy, Solar, Renewable energy Game changer: How Christopher Weaver helped to transform video games and game studies at MIT Revolutionizing video games with physics, Weaver has also influenced MIT students with lessons on design, virtual reality, storytelling, and games for social change. Wed, 25 Sep 2019 13:40:01 -0400 Comparative Media Studies/Writing <p>In the mid-1980s, an electrical engineer and avid sports fan named Ed Fletcher approached his boss with a simple question: The communications consultancy firm Fletcher worked for had just acquired a <a href="">Commodore Amiga</a> computer. Could he use it to build a football-themed video game? Christopher Weaver SM ’85, the company’s founder and president, had a background in physics, mechanical engineering, and computer science but had spent most of his professional life in broadcast television. He had never played a sports video game before, but he agreed, and months later saw Fletcher’s work.</p> <p>“It was really very boring. He put in the same inputs and got the same outputs,” Weaver explains. “I said, look, let’s build a <a href="">physics engine</a> bounded by the rules of football and see what it looks like. It will be a hell of a lot more dynamic.”</p> <p>The result was <a href="">Gridiron!</a>, the first sports game to incorporate real physics into gameplay. While the game’s graphics were primitive, Gridiron!’s pixelated players were modeled off of statistics from real-life football stars, giving players different masses and accelerations. Players with larger masses could block and break tackles, but speedier players could beeline to the end zone, adding a never-before-seen layer of reality-based strategy to sports simulators. Weaver formed <a href="">Bethesda Softworks</a>, released Gridiron! as the company’s first title in 1986, and watched as the game captured attention from football and video game fans as well as Electronic Arts, then a goliath game company that hired Weaver’s team and used Gridiron!’s engine as the basis for the original Madden game series. Suddenly, Weaver was a game pioneer entirely by accident.</p> <p>“Sometimes not having a lot of knowledge about an area can be a good very useful thing,” he says. “It forces you to look at it with untutored or naive eyes.”</p> <p>After more than 30 years in the game industry, Weaver still tries to approach the field from new angles, and he encourages his MIT students to do the same. A longtime research scientist and lecturer in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program (now Comparative Media Studies/Writing), Weaver spent nearly two decades at Bethesda, overseeing seminal titles including the massively popular Elder Scrolls role-playing game series, before co-founding the multimedia development company <a href="">ZeniMax Media</a>. Weaver returned to his alma mater in 1998 to teach courses in game theory and development, as well as media systems.</p> <p>Weaver’s work, both as an instructor and in bolstering MIT’s game studies curriculum, has rippled through the industry. Started informally in the late 1990s by Henry Jenkins and William Uricchio, the flexible curriculum originally centered largely on game design and research. Weaver brought a much-needed industry perspective and as game engines like Unity and Flash enabled small teams to make interesting projects, he began to teach an always-popular game industry course. Since its inception, the MIT games curriculum has transformed to include both game studies and design courses as well as coursework in virtual reality, data storytelling, and games for social change.</p> <p>Doris C. Rusch, a game designer and founder of the Play for Change lab at DePaul University, connected with Weaver after taking his class in 2006.</p> <p>In that class, “I learned that all my lofty, artsy ambitions, they have to measure up to reality,” Rusch said in a CMS/W interview. “If the game is not entertaining, then nobody’s going to care about all of the positive stuff you’re trying to put into it. It’s about keeping that engagement and the game play front and center.”</p> <p>Troy Ko, who graduated from the MIT Sloan School of Management in 2011, recalls Weaver challenging existing paradigms.</p> <p>“When you meet him, just be prepared to think critically,” Ko says. “Be prepared to come in with an open mind, because he’s going to just introduce all of these ideas and try to push you and nudge you in different directions to really question the norm and how things are done.”</p> <p>Today, Weaver splits his time between teaching in Comparative Media Studies/Writing — he has long taught <a href="">CMS.610 Media Industries and Systems: The Art, Science and Business of Games</a> — and the MIT Microphotonics Center. He also teaches STEM development at Wesleyan University and co-directs the <a href="">Videogame Pioneers Initiative</a> in the Lemelson Center for the Study of Innovation and Invention at the National Museum of American History. His goal is to broaden the reach of games and help students understand how to apply the power of game tools to break ground in areas ranging from education to medicine to senior care.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of research now that is demonstrating that if you want to teach, simulate, or train, if you’re capable of using some of these tools, you’ll have a much higher success ratio than standard methodology that’s been developed during the Industrial Revolution,” Weaver says. “We have a whole 21st century to bring students into.”</p> Christopher Weaver, research scientist and lecturer at MIT Comparative Media Studies/WritingImage courtesy of Christopher WeaverComparative Media Studies/Writing, Staff, Video games, Mechanical engineering, Technology and society, Industry, Alumni/ae, Startups, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Physics, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Engineering, Sloan School of Management, DMSE, Microphotonics Center Machine learning you can dance to MIT grad student startup Samply uses algorithms to help music producers find the perfect sound. Wed, 18 Sep 2019 13:50:01 -0400 Office of the Vice Chancellor <p>Rhythmic flashes from a computer screen illuminate a dark room as sounds fill the air. The snare drum sample comes out crisp and clean by itself, but turns muddy in the mix, no matter how the levels are set. Welcome to the world of modern music-making — and its discontents.</p> <p>Today’s digital music producers face a common dilemma: how to mesh samples that may sound great on their own but do not necessarily fit into a song like they originally imagined. One solution is to find and audit dozens of different samples, a tedious process that can take time to finesse.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of manual searching to get the right musical result, which can be distracting and time-consuming,” says Justin Swaney, a PhD student in the MIT Department of Chemical Engineering, a music producer, and co-creator of a new tool that uses machine learning to help producers find just the perfect sound.</p> <p>Called Samply, Swaney’s visual sample-library explorer combines music and machine learning into a new technology for producers. The top winner at the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing Machine Learning Across Disciplines Challenge at the Hello World celebration last winter, the tool uses a convolutional neural network to analyze audio waveforms.</p> <p>“Samply organizes samples based on their sonic characteristics,” explains Swaney. “The result is an interactive plot where similar sounds are closer together and different sounds are farther apart. Samply allows multiple sample libraries to be visualized simultaneously, shortening the lag between imagining a sound in your head and finding it.”</p> <p>For Swaney, the development of Samply drew on both his research expertise and personal life. Before coming to MIT, he had produced albums with indie musicians including Eric Schirtzinger, a drummer and co-creator of the tool. The two recorded drums in a basement and tried to improvise with cheap hardware and hacks — like hanging rugs from the ceiling to dampen reverberation. “The constraints made us get creative,” says Schirtzinger, who is now a computer science major at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.</p> <p>That creativity was further honed after Swaney completed 6.862 (Applied Machine Learning). He saw an opportunity to rekindle his music production hobby by applying what he had learned from the project-based course, devising a way to automate the search for the right samples when producing a new song.</p> <p>“I figured the computer could listen to samples much faster than I could,” he says. Beyond the clever use of machine learning, the real magic of Samply is that conceptually, it is founded on a deep understanding of what it takes to make music. “We aren’t just AI enthusiasts applying machine learning to music,” says Schirtzinger. “We are musicians who want better tools for making music.”</p> <p>It turns out that at MIT, they aren’t the only ones with a song in their hearts. While presenting Samply at the Schwarzman College of Computing exposition last winter, dozens of faculty, staff, and students gathered around Swaney’s poster and live demonstration to exchange ideas. Some had years of experience producing music with professional software, while others simply appreciated the visualizations and sounds in the demo.</p> <p>Spurred by the interest in Samply at the exposition, Swaney and Shirtzinger are in the process of turning their project into a startup company. As a first step, the two reached out to the Technology Licensing Office (TLO) for advice, which referred them to the Venture Mentoring Service (VMS).</p> <p>Samply joined VMS in April and was paired with two MIT-affiliated mentors and entrepreneurs, Stephen Bayle and John Stempeck. After pitching Samply to his mentors, Swaney received sage advice on a crafting a business plan and sales strategy, and then began making connections with others interested in music technology as a business.</p> <p>Samply has since been accepted into the ELEVATE accelerator, sponsored by the local digital marketing firm HubSpot, and Swaney is applying for seed funding through the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund.</p> <p>“Starting a company as a student can be daunting, but the MIT community gives us confidence,” he says. “If we can’t do it at MIT, then where can we?”</p> <p>In fact, the time and attention he has spent on Samply has had an “almost paradoxical” benefit to his academic life as a graduate student. “I was spending all of my time in the lab,” he says. “When I took a step back to make Samply, I could see the forest from the trees in my research.”</p> <p>Swaney found that focusing on his love of music served as an “emotional outlet,” helping to mitigate intellectual burnout. Although Samply may have taken him away from the lab bench, it has also ended up informing his research. The original idea of visualizing samples, he says, stemmed from “my work on single-cell analysis.” Applying the method to the tool clarified his thinking in the biological realm, leading to a new method to produce better&nbsp;clustering, or a way to better sort, recognize, and visualize groups of cells. “It was a bit like a&nbsp;musical&nbsp;theme and variation, but&nbsp;with&nbsp;my research,” Swaney says.</p> <p>As for Samply, there will be a free beta version of the app launching in September, and a Kickstarter campaign is due in the coming year to fuel future developments.</p> <p>“We want to&nbsp;get Samply&nbsp;into the hands of more producers&nbsp;and content creators&nbsp;so that we can&nbsp;establish a&nbsp;feedback loop&nbsp;that guides&nbsp;our priorities,” he says. “Our technology may&nbsp;also&nbsp;have&nbsp;applications in live&nbsp;music performance, instrumentation, and in film and videography. We are excited to&nbsp;explore those possibilities.”</p> Chemical engineering graduate student Justin Swaney is applying machine learning to music production. “There’s a lot of manual searching to get the right musical result, which can be distracting and time-consuming,” says the co-creator of a new tool to help producers find just the perfect sound.Photo: Lillie PaquetteVice Chancellor, Chemical engineering, Venture Mentoring Service, School of Engineering, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Machine learning, Startups, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, Technology and society, Students, Undergraduate, Music Startup uses virtual reality to help seniors re-engage with the world Rendever’s VR platform brings new experiences and fond memories to aging adults in nursing homes. Thu, 12 Sep 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Reed Hayes MBA ’17 wasn’t quite sure what to expect. He stood inside an assisted living facility in front of an elderly man struggling with dementia. The man sat slouched in his wheelchair, unmoving, his eyes barely open. Hayes had enrolled in MIT’s Sloan School of Management with the idea of helping older adults overcome depression and isolation through the immersive world of virtual reality. Now he needed to test his idea.</p> <p>Hayes turned on a virtual reality experience featuring a three-dimensional painting by Vincent Van Gogh and a classical piano playing in the background. Nervously, he placed the headset on the man. What happened next stunned everyone in the room.</p> <p>“He just came alive,” Hayes remembers. “He started moving around, tapping his feet, laughing. He was all of a sudden much more engaged in the world, and this from someone who was slouched over, to now kind of bouncing around. [My classmate] Dennis and I looked at each other like, ‘Holy cow, we might be onto something.’ It was remarkable.”</p> <p>It would not be the last time Hayes and Dennis Lally MBA ’17 saw the transformative impact of virtual reality (VR). Their startup, Rendever, which they founded with Kyle Rand and Thomas Neumann, has since brought its VR experiences to more than 100 senior living communities, and has launched in hospitals to extend the enthralling world of VR to patients of all ages.</p> <p>“Starting Rendever was one of the most important things I’ve done in my life,” Hayes says. “It holds a special place in my heart, and it’s probably the most material impact I’ll have in my life.”</p> <p>Rendever’s main product is its resident engagement platform, which offers users a variety of games and activities like virtual scuba diving and hiking, and includes content from diverse sources that let users travel almost anywhere in the world. One of the most important features of the platform, though, is its ability to sync to multiple headsets at once, prompting social group activities.</p> <p>“It’s amazing to see them point things out to each other and engage with one another, yelling ‘Look left!’ Or ‘There’s a puppy at our feet!’” says Grace Andruszkiewicz, Rendever’s director of marketing and partnerships. “Or, if they’re in Paris, someone might say, ‘I was in Paris in 1955 and there was this cute café,’ and people start adding details and telling their own stories. That’s where the magic happens.”</p> <p>The company, which uses off-the-shelf headsets, also offers a family engagement portal so relatives can upload personal content like photos or videos that let users relive fond memories or be present in places they can’t physically be in. For example, family members can borrow a 360-degree camera, or purchase their own, to take to weddings or on family vacations.</p> <p>The idea for the company was first sketched out by Hayes on a napkin at MIT’s Muddy Charles Pub as part of a pitch to Lally shortly after they’d come to MIT. The co-founders brought on Rand and Neumann during the delta v summer accelerator, which is run out of the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship. They officially launched the company in the fall of 2016.</p> <p>Since then, everyone at the company has racked up a series of unforgettable memories watching older adults use the platform. Lally remembers one early test when they gave an older woman the experience of seeing the Notre-Dame cathedral in France.</p> <p>“She was so ecstatic to be able to see this church from the inside, something she had dreamt about, and we were able to kind of fulfill a lifelong dream of hers,” Lally says. Indeed, the company says it specializes in helping seniors cross items off their bucket list.</p> <p>Rendever’s team adds original content to its platform twice a month, much of it based on feedback from residents at the communities that subscribe to the service. Subscriptions include headsets, a control tablet, a large content library, training, support, and warranties.</p> <p>The company also helps nursing homes deliver personalized content to their residents, which makes for some of the most powerful experiences.</p> <p>“Once there was an older adult who just kept saying ‘I want to go home,’ but she was in an assisted living community because she was showing signs of dementia,” Hayes remembers. “With the technology that we’d built, we were able to type in the address of her home and take her there. And she started crying tears of joy. She kept saying, ‘This is the most beautiful place in the world.’”</p> <p>Now the company is working to reproduce in clinical trials the results they’ve seen with individual clients.</p> <p>A <u><a href="" target="_blank">study</a></u> performed in conjunction with the MIT AgeLab and presented at the 2018 International Conference on Human Aspects of IT for the Aged Population compared social VR experiences for older adults with watching the same scenes on a television. The researchers found that the people who had shared these experiences through VR were significantly less likely to report depression or social isolation and more likely to feel better about their overall well-being.</p> <p>“To this day, the power of the shared experience remains at the heart of our philosophy, and we owe much of that to our roots at MIT and ongoing collaboration with the MIT AgeLab,” says Rendever CEO Kyle Rand.</p> <p>Rendever is also deploying its system outside of senior living communities. A study with UCHealth in Colorado used Rendever’s VR as a distraction for patients undergoing unpleasant treatments such as chemotherapy. After the program, 88 percent of participants said they’d use VR again.</p> <p>The system has worked so well that many of Rendever’s employees have used it with their own aging relatives. Before Andruszkiewicz accepted a job at the company, she asked if she could take a demo set to her 89-year-old grandmother.</p> <p>“She started telling me stories that I’d never heard before, and she and I have a really close relationship, so it was surprising that some of her memories had come back,” Andruszkiewicz says. “That sealed the deal for me.”</p> <p>Factors such as quality of life and mental stimulation have long been suspected to influence impairments related to aging. Rendever’s team is hoping the transformations they’ve seen can be replicated through peer-reviewed research. One particular transformation sticks with everyone.</p> <p>For years, an elderly woman named Mickey was the most outgoing and friendly person in her Connecticut assisted living community. She knew everyone’s name, was a regular at community events, and always had a smile on her face.</p> <p>Then she was diagnosed with dementia. One of her first symptoms was expressive aphasia, a disorder that robbed her of her ability to speak. Mickey’s silence left a void in the community and saddened residents and staff members.</p> <p>Then Rendever’s team came in to do training. A staff member, with tears in his eyes, told the team about Mickey, so they cued up a scene of golden retriever puppies and put the headset on her.</p> <p>“She completely lights up,” Andruszkiewicz recalls. “Mickey was trying to pet the puppies, and calling them over, and she was talking throughout the experience.”</p> <p>From a clinical perspective, it’s too early to say that VR improves symptoms related to aging, but when Rendever followed up with the Connecticut community six months later, they learned something interesting: Mickey had continued using Rendever, and continued communicating with old friends who never thought they’d hear from her again.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> The startup Rendever uses virtual reality to help aging adults overcome widespread problems like depression and social isolation.Courtesy of RendeverInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Augmented and virtual reality, Digital technology, Health sciences and technology, Technology and society, Depression, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Sloan School of Management, Aging, Memory, Alumni/ae, AgeLab Demo Day celebrates student entrepreneurship MIT’s delta v accelerator concludes with presentations from participants and encouragement for all students. Tue, 10 Sep 2019 11:07:37 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>On Friday, student startups from this year’s MIT delta v accelerator presented their companies to a packed audience at Kresge Auditorium, in a celebration of entrepreneurship.</p> <p>The entrepreneurs still have much work to do, and they each took very different paths to the stage, but the event, known as delta v’s Demo Day, was an opportunity to recognize the progress they’ve made so far.</p> <p>“Today is my favorite day of the year,” said Bill Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, in his opening remarks. “This is a culmination of what happens at MIT in the field of entrepreneurship. There’s so many different resources and things going on, but today you see the best of the best from all those different places. You should celebrate the people, and you should save the programs you have, because these companies are going to do amazing things.”</p> <p>In total, students from 23&nbsp;startups made presentations, noting key milestones toward business growth to boisterous applause. This summer’s <a href="" target="_blank">delta v</a> program included 100 entrepreneurs who worked on their startups full time between June and September from either the Trust Center on campus or the MIT New York City Startup Studio. In addition to work and lab space, the startups also received equity-free funding, coaching and mentorship, and other support from the Institute.</p> <p>This year’s group of startups included a virtual care clinic to help patients manage chronic conditions; an online community to help landlords and tenants fill apartment rentals; a “smart” inhaler that helps users improve adherence and their technique when using the device; a sewage treatment provider with a system that turns fecal sludge into electricity while cleaning the water; an online platform to match parents with underutilized childcare centers for last minute placements; an app that lets fans play fantasy sports during games; a robotic bartender for work functions; and many others.</p> <p>Most of the startups have already begun working with customers, and all of them have tested their ideas outside of the lab. Aulet noted that several delta v startups have gone on to become foundational companies with huge valuations, or been acquired by leaders in their industry, though he said he’s most proud of the learning and impact that comes from the program.</p> <p>“But it’s not just about the exits; it’s about the way [these companies] impact the world,” Aulet told the audience. “Changing agriculture, changing health care, changing urban environments. That’s what we’re here to celebrate: these 100 people that will change the world and set a gold standard.”</p> <p><strong>A growing educational footprint</strong></p> <p>Now in its eighth year, delta v has&nbsp;supported 125&nbsp;startups, many of which are still in operation. By pushing startup teams to learn from their target customers and build companies around those insights, the program aims to equip participants with entrepreneurial skills they can use throughout their careers. Indeed, even as it forces students out of the classroom, at its core delta v is an educational program.</p> <p>“Delta v is a teaching apparatus around entrepreneurship, so that’s embedded in the scheduled activities every week,” says Rachel Basch, director of content for Abound Parenting, a startup with an app for parents to improve their children’s reading levels. “I don’t have a business background, so this has been really educational.”</p> <p>Abound has already begun a pilot trial with more than 100 parents and is expecting a wider public launch later this month.</p> <p>Karina Akib, co-founder of CaroCare, which provides in-home and virtual care to new families in the eight weeks postpartum, said the mock boards that delta v assigns to each startup helped her founding team test its ideas and prioritize each step toward building a customer base.</p> <p>“Every month our board was super critical on what we needed to do next, what traction they wanted to see, and because our board was made up of people from the health care space and venture capital space — people who had done this before — they really pushed us to get more traction every month. They also forced us to focus. You needed to prove there was action and you could only do that by focusing on one thing.”</p> <p>The guidance helped CaroCare launch a paid pilot in June. The company has delivered more than 50 hours of care to date and is hoping to expand in the coming months.</p> <p>This was the third year the program included a group of startups from New York City, hosted by the venture capital firm Two Sigma Ventures. Seven teams worked from New York, creating an intimate environment that gave the entrepreneurs a close look at their peer startups.</p> <p>“[The New York cohort] was super small, so we got to know each other really well,” says Andrey Biryuchinskiy, the co-founder of the online community for blue-collar workers called Hardworkers. “It was cool because a lot of the startups in NYC have already raised money, so it was amazing to learn from them and see different stages of startup life.”</p> <p>Biryuchinskiy and his co-founder Vlad Shraybman have already conducted more than 100 interviews for market research, and Biryuchinskiy says the Hardworkers platform is adding more than 300 new members every month.</p> <p><strong>“A blessing to mankind”</strong></p> <p>This year’s event also featured a talk by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. Baker applauded the entrepreneurs and audience members for their passion and enthusiasm, and pointed out the great resources Massachusetts has to offer new companies, urging entrepreneurs to keep their businesses in the commonwealth.</p> <p>“I’d be nuts if I stood in front of this audience and did not say that at some point!” Baker said to laughter.</p> <p>In a more serious tone, Baker, who has attended several MIT events since becoming governor in 2015, emphasized the important role the Institute plays in translating innovation into impactful companies.</p> <p>“MIT is a really blessing, and it’s not just a blessing to Cambridge, it’s not just a blessing to Massachusetts, it’s a blessing to mankind,” Baker said.</p> <p>Overall, the event let participants celebrate the progress they’ve made so far and provided an example for other students considering embarking on their own entrepreneurial journeys. This year’s Demo Day kicked off MIT’s annual festival of entrepreneurship and innovation, <a href="" target="_blank">t=0</a>, which features entrepreneurial events for students across campus all week.</p> <p>Aulet encouraged the students in the audience to believe in themselves and take the plunge into MIT’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.</p> <p>“Tonight is not just about the people presenting,” Aulet said. “It’s about you students. Because you have to be motivated and believe that you can be up on this stage. Because these people were in the audience one year ago.”</p> This year's Demo Day for the MIT delta v summer accelerator gave entrepreneurs a chance to celebrate the progress they've made so far.Image: Justin KnightInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Students, Special events and guest speakers, Undergraduate, Graduate, postdoctoral, School of Engineering, Sloan School of Management, Business and management, Apps, Childcare, Health care, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship MIT named No. 3 university by US News for 2020 Undergraduate engineering program is No. 1; undergraduate business program is No. 2. Mon, 09 Sep 2019 00:01:00 -0400 MIT News Office <p>For a second year in a row, <em>U.S. News and World Report </em>has placed MIT third in its annual rankings of the nation’s best colleges and universities, which were announced today. Columbia University and Yale University also share the No. 3 ranking.</p> <p>MIT’s engineering program continues to top the magazine’s list of undergraduate engineering programs at a doctoral institution. The Institute also placed first in six out of 12 engineering disciplines. No other institution is No. 1 in more than two disciplines.</p> <p>MIT also remains the No. 2 undergraduate business program. Among business subfields, MIT is ranked No. 1 in two specialties.</p> <p>In the overall institutional rankings, <em>U.S. News</em> placed Princeton University in the No. 1 spot, followed by Harvard University.</p> <p>MIT ranks as the third most innovative university in the nation, according to the <em>U.S. News</em> peer assessment survey of top academics. And it’s fourth on the magazine’s list of national universities that offer students the best value, based on the school’s ranking and the net cost of attendance for a student who received the average level of need-based financial aid, and other variables.</p> <p>MIT placed first in six engineering specialties: aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical engineering; chemical engineering; computer engineering; electrical/electronic/communication engineering; materials engineering; and mechanical engineering. It placed second in biomedical engineering.</p> <p>Other schools in the top five overall for undergraduate engineering programs are Stanford University,&nbsp;University of California at Berkeley, Caltech, and Georgia Tech.</p> <p>Among undergraduate business specialties, the MIT Sloan School of Management leads in production/operations management and in quantitative analysis/methods. It ranks second in entrepreneurship and in management information systems.</p> <p>The No. 1-ranked undergraduate business program overall is at the University of Pennsylvania; other schools ranking in the top five include Berkeley, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, New York University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Texas at Austin.</p> Image: Dominick ReuterRankings, Business and management, Undergraduate, Education, teaching, academics, School of Engineering, Sloan School of Management Cleaning up hydrogen peroxide production Solugen’s engineered enzymes offer a biologically-inspired method for producing the chemical. Thu, 05 Sep 2019 13:31:42 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>The large factories that have historically manufactured all of the world’s hydrogen peroxide have new, microscopic competitors: altered protein molecules called enzymes.</p> <p>Certain enzymes, which quicken the pace of chemical reactions, have long been known to work with hydrogen peroxide in various biological systems. But translating that knowledge into a biological-based way to create hydrogen peroxide has proven difficult — until recently.</p> <p>For the past few years, the startup Solugen, which was co-founded by an MIT alumnus, has been producing hydrogen peroxide by combining genetically modified enzymes with organic compounds like plant sugars. The reaction creates bio-based hydrogen peroxide as well as organic acids, and the company says this method is cheaper, safer, and less toxic than traditional processes.</p> <p>Solugen currently has two pilot facilities in Texas that produce more than 10 tons of hydrogen peroxide per month, with a much larger site opening next summer. The technology has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of an extremely common chemical used for a host of consumer and industrial applications.</p> <p>Science companies like Solugen are often started by researchers who have spent years studying a specific problem. Their success often hinges on securing government grants or corporate partnerships. But Solugen has a much more colorful history.</p> <p>The company can attribute its success to research into pancreatic cancer, a Facebook group of float spa enthusiasts, a fruitful splurge at Home Depot, and the emergence of several fields that make Solugen’s solution possible.</p> <p><strong>Getting by with help from Facebook friends</strong></p> <p>Solugen co-founder Gaurab Chakrabarti was in medical school studying pancreatic cancer in 2015 when he discovered an enzyme in cancer cells that could function in extremely high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide.</p> <p>The enzyme required another expensive chemical to be useful in reactions, so Chakrabarti partnered with Sean Hunt SM ’13 PhD ’16, whom he’d befriended while attending medical school with Hunt’ wife. Hunt was studying more traditional chemical processing methods for his PhD when Chakrabarti showed him the enzyme.</p> <p>“My background is not in biotech, so I’m kind of the recovering biotech skeptic,” Hunt says. “I learned about enzymes in school, and everyone knew how active and selective they were, but they were just so unstable and hard to manufacture.”</p> <p>Using computational protein design methods, Hunt and Chakrabarti were able to genetically modify the enzyme to make it produce hydrogen peroxide at room temperature when combined with cheap organic compounds like sugar.</p> <p>Soon after, the founders were finalists in the 2016 MIT $100K pitch competition, earning $10,000. But they still weren’t sure the technology was worth pursuing.</p> <p>Then they were contacted by a Facebook group of float spa enthusiasts. Float spas suspend people in salty waters while shutting out all noise and light to help them achieve sensory deprivation. Hydrogen peroxide is used to keep float spa waters clean.</p> <p>“There’s about 400 float spas in the U.S., and they’re all on one Facebook group, and one owner saw our MIT $100K pitch video and shared it to the Facebook group,” Hunt explains. “That’s really what made us continue Solugen that summer. Because we were contacted by these float spa owners saying, ‘This is how much we pay for peroxide. If you guys can make it, we’ll buy it.’”</p> <p>Emboldened, the founders rented cheap lab space in Dallas and sent one of their early enzyme designs to a protein manufacturer in China. Then Hunt spent $7,000 at Home Depot to create a pilot reactor he describes as “this little PVC bubble column.”</p> <p>Running out of money, the founders bought 55 gallon drums of sugar and ran them through the reactor with their enzyme, watching triumphantly as organic acids and hydrogen peroxide came out the other end. The founders began selling all the peroxide they could produce, sometimes sleeping on the floor to keep the reactor running through the night. By December of 2016, they were making $10,000 a month selling pails of peroxide to the float spa community.</p> <p>The company used its PVC bubble reactor until the summer of 2017, when they built a fully automated reactor capable of producing 10 times more hydrogen peroxide. That’s when they moved into the oil and gas industry.</p> <p><strong>A big, toxic problem</strong></p> <p>As companies pump oil and gas out of the ground, they generate large amounts of contaminated salt water that needs to be treated or disposed of. Billions of gallons of such water are produced each month in the U.S. alone. Hydrogen peroxide can be used in the treatment process, but Hunt says the traditional methods for creating hydrogen peroxide leave a large carbon footprint associated with the constant venting of the working solution.</p> <p>“What I really love about this is it’s a true environmental crisis that I think we’re making a big difference on,” Hunt says, noting other chemicals used to treat wastewater are extremely toxic.</p> <p>Solugen’s current production facilities ship concentrated forms of hydrogen peroxide, but the founders plan on building “minimills” next to oil and gas plants that don’t require concentration and dilution to further reduce costs and improve sustainability.</p> <p>“When we were building these things out, we realized that because we’re doing all this chemistry with enzymes where it’s room temperature, in water, and low pressure, it’s very safe, and as a result we can build these small plants,” Hunt says. “That’s really exciting for us. … For instance, you can sell hydrogen peroxide for $2 a gallon. It costs $1.50 a gallon just to ship it to the customer. The freight is almost the price of the chemical. And in some instances, it’s more than the chemical itself.”</p> <p>Solugen’s solution is also intriguing because it couldn’t have existed until recently. To make its proprietary enzymes, the company says it’s leveraging new methods for computational protein design and genetic engineering. It also relies on an industry of protein contract manufacturers that can produce large amounts of the enzymes less expensively than what would have been possible even five years ago.</p> <p>Looking forward, Hunt says Solugen’s infrastructure could be used to co-produce hundreds of different organic acids by changing the enzymes and compounds being mixed. One of the co-products he’s most excited about is acetic acid, which is used to make vinegar. Acetic acid is also used in the production of important materials like polyester fiber and plastic.</p> <p>“Hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid are fundamental building blocks for our economy,” Hunt says. “We see Solugen as a platform [for other solutions]. In the long term, that’s what really excites us.”</p> <p><em>This story has been revised to more accurately depict traditional hydrogen peroxide production processes</em>.</p> Solugen's proprietary process for producing hydrogen peroxide uses modified enzymes and inexpensive compounds like sugar. It is currently being used in two pilot facilities that create more than 10 tons of the chemical every day.Image courtesy of SolugenInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, School of Engineering, Chemical engeering, Proteins, Emissions, Climate change, Safety, Pollution, Computational biology, Alumni/ae, Sustainability MIT report examines how to make technology work for society Task force calls for bold public and private action to harness technology for shared prosperity. Wed, 04 Sep 2019 08:59:59 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office <p>Automation is not likely to eliminate millions of jobs any time soon — but the U.S. still needs vastly improved policies if Americans are to build better careers and share prosperity as technological changes occur, according to a new MIT report about the workplace.</p> <p><a href="">The report</a>, which represents the initial findings of MIT’s Task Force on the Work of the Future, punctures some conventional wisdom and builds a nuanced picture of the evolution of technology and jobs, the subject of much fraught public discussion.</p> <p>The likelihood of robots, automation, and artificial intelligence (AI) wiping out huge sectors of the workforce in the near future is exaggerated, the task force concludes — but there is reason for concern about the impact of new technology on the labor market. In recent decades, technology has contributed to the polarization of employment, disproportionately helping high-skilled professionals while reducing opportunities for many other workers, and new technologies could exacerbate this trend.</p> <p>Moreover, the report emphasizes, at a time of historic income inequality, a critical challenge is not necessarily a lack of jobs, but the low quality of many jobs and the resulting lack of viable careers for many people, particularly workers without college degrees. With this in mind, the work of the future can be shaped beneficially by new policies, renewed support for labor, and reformed institutions, not just new technologies. Broadly, the task force concludes, capitalism in the U.S. must address the interests of workers as well as shareholders.</p> <p>“At MIT, we are inspired by the idea that technology can be a force for good. But if as a nation we want to make sure that today’s new technologies evolve in ways that help build a healthier, more equitable society, we need to move quickly to develop and implement strong, enlightened policy responses,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif, who called for the creation of the Task Force on the Work of the Future in 2017.</p> <p>“Fortunately, the harsh societal consequences that concern us all are not inevitable,” Reif adds. “Technologies embody the values of those who make them, and the policies we build around them can profoundly shape their impact. Whether the outcome is inclusive or exclusive, fair or laissez-faire, is therefore up to all of us. I am deeply grateful to the task force members for their latest findings and their ongoing efforts to pave an upward path.”</p> <p>“There is a lot of alarmist rhetoric about how the robots are coming,” adds Elisabeth Beck Reynolds, executive director of the task force, as well as executive director of the MIT Industrial Performance Center. “MIT’s job is to cut through some of this hype and bring some perspective to this discussion.”</p> <p>Reynolds also calls the task force’s interest in new policy directions “classically American in its willingness to consider innovation and experimentation.”</p> <p><strong>Anxiety and inequality</strong></p> <p>The core of the task force consists of a group of MIT scholars. Its research has drawn upon new data, expert knowledge of many technology sectors, and a close analysis of both technology-centered firms and economic data spanning the postwar era.</p> <p>The report addresses several workplace complexities. Unemployment in the U.S. is low, yet workers have considerable anxiety, from multiple sources. One is technology: A 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 65 to 90 percent of respondents in industrialized countries think computers and robots will take over many jobs done by humans, while less than a third think better-paying jobs will result from these technologies.</p> <p>Another concern for workers is income stagnation: Adjusted for inflation, 92 percent of Americans born in 1940 earned more money than their parents, but only about half of people born in 1980 can say that.</p> <p>“The persistent growth in the quantity of jobs has not been matched by an equivalent growth in job quality,” the task force report states.</p> <p>Applications of technology have fed inequality in recent decades. High-tech innovations have displaced “middle-skilled” workers who perform routine tasks, from office assistants to assembly-line workers, but these innovations have complemented the activities of many white-collar workers in medicine, science and engineering, finance, and other fields. Technology has also not displaced lower-skilled service workers, leading to a polarized workforce. Higher-skill and lower-skill jobs have grown, middle-skill jobs have shrunk, and increased earnings have been concentrated among white-collar workers.</p> <p>“Technological advances did deliver productivity growth over the last four decades,” the report states. “But productivity growth did not translate into shared prosperity.”</p> <p>Indeed, says David Autor, who is the Ford Professor of Economics at MIT, associate head of MIT’s Department of Economics, and a co-chair of the task force, “We think people are pessimistic because they’re on to something. Although there’s no shortage of jobs, the gains have been so unequally distributed that most people have not benefited much. If the next four decades of automation are going to look like the last four decades, people have reason to worry.”</p> <p><strong>Productive innovations versus “so-so technology”</strong></p> <p>A big question, then, is what the next decades of automation have in store. As the report explains, some technological innovations are broadly productive, while others are merely “so-so technologies” — a term coined by economists Daron Acemoglu of MIT and Pascual Restrepo of Boston University to describe technologies that replace workers without markedly improving services or increasing productivity.</p> <p>For instance, electricity and light bulbs were broadly productive, allowing the expansion of other types of work. But automated technology allowing for self-check-out at pharmacies or supermarkets merely replaces workers without notably increasing efficiency for the customer or productivity.</p> <p>“That’s a strong labor-displacing technology, but it has very modest productivity value,” Autor says of these automated systems. “That’s a ‘so-so technology.’ The digital era has had fabulous technologies for skill complementarity [for white-collar workers], but so-so technologies for everybody else. Not all innovations that raise productivity displace workers, and not all innovations that displace workers do much for productivity.”</p> <p>Several forces have contributed to this skew, according to the report. “Computers and the internet enabled a digitalization of work that made highly educated workers more productive and made less-educated workers easier to replace with machinery,” the authors write.</p> <p>Given the mixed record of the last four decades, does the advent of robotics and AI herald a brighter future, or a darker one? The task force suggests the answer depends on how humans shape that future. New and emerging technologies will raise aggregate economic output and boost wealth, and offer people the potential for higher living standards, better working conditions, greater economic security, and improved health and longevity. But whether society realizes this potential, the report notes, depends critically on the institutions that transform aggregate wealth into greater shared prosperity instead of rising inequality.</p> <p>One thing the task force does not foresee is a future where human expertise, judgment, and creativity are less essential than they are today. &nbsp;</p> <p>“Recent history shows that key advances in workplace robotics — those that radically increase productivity — depend on breakthroughs in work design that often take years or even decades to achieve,” the report states.</p> <p>As robots gain flexibility and situational adaptability, they will certainly take over a larger set of tasks in warehouses, hospitals, and retail stores — such as lifting, stocking, transporting, cleaning, as well as awkward physical tasks that require picking, harvesting, stooping, or crouching.</p> <p>The task force members believe such advances in robotics will displace relatively low-paid human tasks and boost the productivity of workers, whose attention will be freed to focus on higher-value-added work. The pace at which these tasks are delegated to machines will be hastened by slowing growth, tight labor markets, and the rapid aging of workforces in most industrialized countries, including the U.S.</p> <p>And while machine learning — image classification, real-time analytics, data forecasting, and more — has improved, it may just alter jobs, not eliminate them: Radiologists do much more than interpret X-rays, for instance. The task force also observes that developers of autonomous vehicles, another hot media topic, have been “ratcheting back” their timelines and ambitions over the last year.</p> <p>“The recent reset of expectations on driverless cars is a leading indicator for other types of AI-enabled systems as well,” says David A. Mindell, co-chair of the task force, professor of aeronautics and astronautics, and the Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing at MIT. “These technologies hold great promise, but it takes time to understand the optimal combination of people and machines. And the timing of adoption is crucial for understanding the impact on workers.”</p> <p><strong>Policy proposals for the future</strong></p> <p>Still, if the worst-case scenario of a “job apocalypse” is unlikely, the continued deployment of so-so technologies could make the future of work worse for many people.</p> <p>If people are worried that technologies could limit opportunity, social mobility, and shared prosperity, the report states, “Economic history confirms that this sentiment is neither ill-informed nor misguided. There is ample reason for concern about whether technological advances will improve or erode employment and earnings prospects for the bulk of the workforce.”</p> <p>At the same time, the task force report finds reason for “tempered optimism,” asserting that better policies can significantly improve tomorrow’s work.</p> <p>“Technology is a human product,” Mindell says. “We shape technological change through our choices of investments, incentives, cultural values, and political objectives.”</p> <p>To this end, the task force focuses on a few key policy areas. One is renewed investment in postsecondary workforce education outside of the four-year college system — and not just in the STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, math) but reading, writing, and the “social skills” of teamwork and judgment.</p> <p>Community colleges are the biggest training providers in the country, with 12 million for-credit and non-credit students, and are a natural location for bolstering workforce education. A wide range of new models for gaining educational credentials is also emerging, the task force notes. The report also emphasizes the value of multiple types of on-the-job training programs for workers.</p> <p>However, the report cautions, investments in education may be necessary but not sufficient for workers: “Hoping that ‘if we skill them, jobs will come,’ is an inadequate foundation for constructing a more productive and economically secure labor market.”</p> <p>More broadly, therefore, the report argues that the interests of capital and labor need to be rebalanced. The U.S., it notes, “is unique among market economies in venerating pure shareholder capitalism,” even though workers and communities are business stakeholders too.</p> <p>“Within this paradigm [of pure shareholder capitalism], the personal, social, and public costs of layoffs and plant closings should not play a critical role in firm decision-making,” the report states.</p> <p>The task force recommends greater recognition of workers as stakeholders in corporate decision making. Redressing the decades-long erosion of worker bargaining power will require new institutions that bend the arc of innovation toward making workers more productive rather than less necessary. The report holds that the adversarial system of collective bargaining, enshrined in U.S. labor law adopted during the Great Depression, is overdue for reform.</p> <p>The U.S. tax code can be altered to help workers as well. Right now, it favors investments in capital rather than labor — for instance, capital depreciation can be written off, and R&amp;D investment receives a tax credit, whereas investments in workers produce no such equivalent benefits. The task force recommends new tax policy that would also incentivize investments in human capital, through training programs, for instance.</p> <p>Additionally, the task force recommends restoring support for R&amp;D to past levels and rebuilding U.S. leadership in the development of new AI-related technologies, “not merely to win but to lead innovation in directions that will benefit the nation: complementing workers, boosting productivity, and strengthening the economic foundation for shared prosperity.”</p> <p>Ultimately the task force’s goal is to encourage investment in technologies that improve productivity, and to ensure that workers share in the prosperity that could result.</p> <p>“There’s no question technological progress that raises productivity creates opportunity,” Autor says. “It expands the set of possibilities that you can realize. But it doesn’t guarantee that you will make good choices.”</p> <p>Reynolds adds: “The question for firms going forward is: How are they going to improve their productivity in ways that can lead to greater quality and efficiency, and aren’t just about cutting costs and bringing in marginally better technology?”</p> <p><strong>Further research and analyses</strong></p> <p>In addition to Reynolds, Autor, and Mindell, the central group within MIT’s Task Force on the Work of the Future consists of 18 MIT professors representing all five Institute schools. Additionally, the project has a 22-person advisory board drawn from the ranks of industry leaders, former government officials, and academia; a 14-person research board of scholars; and eight graduate students. The task force also counsulted with business executives, labor leaders, and community college leaders, among others.</p> <p>The task force follows other influential MIT projects such as the Commission on Industrial Productivity, an intensive multiyear study of U.S. industry in the 1980s. That effort resulted in the widely read book, “Made in America,” as well as the creation of MIT’s Industrial Performance Center.</p> <p>The current task force taps into MIT’s depth of knowledge across a full range of technologies, as well as its strengths in the social sciences.</p> <p>“MIT is engaged in developing frontier technology,” Reynolds says. “Not necessarily what will be introduced tomorrow, but five, 10, or 25 years from now. We do see what’s on the horizon, and our researchers want to bring realism and context to the public discourse.”</p> <p>The current report is an interim finding from the task force; the group plans to conduct additional research over the next year, and then will issue a final version of the report.</p> <p>“What we’re trying to do with this work,” Reynolds concludes, “is to provide a holistic perspective, which is not just about the labor market and not just about technology, but brings it all together, for a more rational and productive discussion in the public sphere.”</p> MIT’s Task Force on the Work of the Future has released a report that punctures some conventional wisdom and builds a nuanced picture of the evolution of technology and jobs.School of Engineering, School of Architecture and Planning, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Science, Sloan School of Management, Jobs, Economics, Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Urban studies and planning, Program in STS, Industrial Performance Center, employment, Artificial intelligence, Industry, President L. Rafael Reif, Policy, Machine learning, Faculty, Technology and society, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Poverty, Business and management, Manufacturing, Careers, STEM education, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing The Engine expands, responding to rapid growth of “tough tech” New location will support growing innovation ecosystem; serve as hub for the region. Tue, 27 Aug 2019 00:01:01 -0400 MIT News Office <p><a href="" target="_blank">The Engine</a> announced today that it will create an additional 200,000 square feet of shared office, fabrication, and lab space in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to further foster “tough tech” — transformative technology that takes the long view, solving the world’s important challenges through the convergence of breakthrough science, engineering, and leadership.</p> <p>The Engine, built by MIT, <a href="" target="_blank">invests in early-stage tough-tech companies</a>. These companies have long been underserved by the traditional investment ecosystem, leaving many breakthrough ideas stuck in the lab. A new model of venture capital firm, The Engine has provided dozens of forward-looking entrepreneurs with critical access to capital, industry know-how, and specialized equipment through its 28,000-square-foot location at 501 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square, Cambridge.</p> <p>The expansion, in collaboration with MIT, will extend and amplify the progress of the thriving innovation ecosystem in Cambridge and the greater Boston region. Central to the effort will be the renovation of the existing building at 750 Main Street to serve as a new hub for tough-tech growth, with the capacity to accommodate approximately 100 companies and 800 entrepreneurs. The initiative will accelerate the development of next-generation technology by providing the vital infrastructure and resources necessary to accommodate fast-growing startups throughout the region.</p> <p>This new hub will provide a place for companies to put their ideas into action — helping them build transformative technologies as efficiently, economically, and effectively as possible. It will have a natural proximity to academic institutions; access to talent; flexible and affordable lab and fabrication facilities; and a network that will foster relationships for market readiness. It aims to connect the diverse tough-tech ecosystem — entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, leaders in academia and business, investors, and policymakers. The space will be specifically designed for companies at the convergence of technology disciplines across engineering and physical sciences, where access to diverse space and tools are essential for success. This expansion demonstrates MIT’s ongoing commitment to investing in and anchoring the evolving innovation ecosystem in and around Kendall Square.</p> <p>The Engine launched its portfolio in 2017 with investments in seven tough-tech companies. It has since invested in 12 additional tough-tech founding teams, bringing its current portfolio to 19 companies. Together, those companies have raised approximately $285 million in capital and employ more than 200 people.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We have a rare opportunity to help cultivate the next generation of leaders tackling the world’s most urgent, challenging problems,” says Katie Rae, CEO and managing partner of The Engine. “We also have the chance to forge a foundational infrastructure that can potentially change the geography of innovation. A thriving hub can propel the Boston region into the future as a magnet for world-changing companies in tough tech.”</p> <p>Since its <a href="">founding</a> in 2016, The Engine has pioneered a new framework for investing in and supporting tough tech startups working on transformative technologies — ranging from commercial fusion power and ultra-efficient semiconductors to next-generation cell therapies and new manufacturing methods for metals, among others. This framework clears a path to commercialization for companies by providing capital, infrastructure (labs, equipment, office space, and more), and a support network. In October 2018, hundreds of members of The Engine’s network of companies and supporters joined forces in the Boston area at the first annual <a href="" target="_blank">Tough Tech Summit</a>.</p> <p>“It’s thrilling to witness the revolutionary work coming out of The Engine,” says Israel Ruiz, executive vice president and treasurer at MIT. “The model appears to be working just as we had hoped: The direct access to key infrastructure, enabling investment, and support services is helping game-changing innovators to accelerate their work in order to more rapidly address consequential and challenging pursuits. The new expanded space will allow The Engine, and its companies, to significantly increase its local and global impact.”</p> <p>The design for the 750 Main Street building renovation is slated to be finalized in 2019, with construction scheduled to begin later this year. The Engine’s new space will be complemented by active ground floor uses that will contribute to a more animated streetscape.</p> <p>Once situated in its expanded location, The Engine will continue to invest in areas such as advanced manufacturing, advanced materials, energy, food and agriculture, space, semiconductors, the internet of things, quantum computing, biotech, artificial intelligence, robotics, and the intersection of new technologies.</p> <p>MIT continues to play a leading role in fostering innovation and research in and around the MIT campus through its Kendall Square Initiative, which will create a vibrant multiuse district with new buildings, open space, and gathering spaces, and will be home to innovative companies, retail, and restaurants. This tough-tech hub will be a new center for The Engine, and a focal point of the innovation ecosystem inspired and cultivated by MIT.</p> <p>For more information about The Engine, please see its first <a href="" target="_blank">report</a> for the period 2016 -2018.</p> Exterior view of the new home of The EngineImage courtesy of The EngineInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Funding, Invention, Industry, Business and management, Administration, Kendall Square, Facilities, Cambridge, Boston and region, The Engine Legatum Center announces 2019-20 fellowship class The fellowship is MIT’s capstone program for student-entrepreneurs seeking high impact in emerging markets. Fri, 23 Aug 2019 13:45:01 -0400 Jim Cooney | Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship <p>The Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT announced its fellowship class for the 2019-20 academic year. These 23 student-entrepreneurs are developing innovative business solutions for emerging markets across the globe, including 10 in Africa, six in Latin America, and seven in Asia. Solutions range from portable devices that protect newborns from hypothermia in India, to enhanced preservation of perishable products being shipped internationally from Colombia, to technology solutions that improve delivery of humanitarian aid for refugees in Kenya.</p> <p>The Legatum Center operates on the belief that entrepreneurial innovators and their market-driven solutions are critical to advancing a more inclusive, global prosperity. The center offers a range of programs for students, but its fellowship is reserved for those most committed to building and scaling ventures in the developing world. Besides tuition, travel, and prototyping support, fellows receive access to mentors and advisors, a targeted for-credit curriculum, and the peer support of an incubator-like community.</p> <p>Fellowships within the Legatum Center are supported by the Mastercard Foundation, as well as the Legatum Group and the Jacobs Foundation. Since its founding in 2007, the Legatum Center has supported 272 fellows, many of whom continue to lead and grow impactful ventures across the globe, while others have gone on to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem in their roles as investors, corporate/non-governmental organization executives, academics, and policymakers.</p> <p>“As always, our fellows represent the next generation of impact-driven entrepreneurial leaders, and we can’t wait to begin working with them,” says Megan Mitchell, director of fellowship and student programs. “And, of course, every cohort is unique. This year, many of our fellows are developing innovative solutions for education and financial services, but we also have ventures in health care, agriculture, media, consumer goods, energy, transportation, and more.”</p> <p>The 2019-20 fellows within the Legatum Center are:</p> <p><a href="">Larissa Bezerra Abreu</a> is an MBA student in the MIT Sloan School of Management. Abreu’s business, mxnMEDIA, is an above-the-line media platform which enables Brazilian companies of all sizes to get verifiable mass reach without significant advertising budgets.</p> <p><a href="">Nafees Ahmed</a> is an MBA student in MIT Sloan. Ahmed’s business, Usawa Investments, is a digital platform that cultivates the Pakistani startup ecosystem by connecting investors to entrepreneurs.</p> <p><a href="">Michael Joseph Bautista</a> is an MBA student in MIT Sloan. Bautista’s venture, TOCA, seeks to provide job opportunities in the Philippines while supplying technology firms with cheaper machine-learning data.</p> <p><a href="">Chinh Bui</a> is a master’s student in engineering and management within the Integrated Design and Management program. Bui’s venture, Learn-In-Context, leverages automation and artificial intelligence to revolutionize the way English is taught and learned in emerging markets like Vietnam.</p> <p><a href="">Fatima Diallo</a> is a master’s and MBA student in the interdisciplinary Leaders for Global Operations program within MIT Sloan and the School of Engineering. Diallo’s venture, Cadi, seeks to enhance the student learning experience in Guinea by providing primary school teachers access to curated curricula.</p> <p><a href="">Efewongbe Gboneme</a>&nbsp;is an MBA student in MIT Sloan. Gboneme’s venture, Sky High, is focused on reducing unemployment and underemployment in Nigeria by providing career exploration opportunities for students in secondary schools.</p> <p><a href="">Sahil Joshi</a> is an MBA student in MIT Sloan. Joshi’s venture RiskBoard, based in Mexico, uses machine learning to help multinational companies operate more sustainably.</p> <p><a href="">Nithin Kantareddy</a> is a PhD student in the Department of Mechnical Engineering. Kantareddy’s venture, Digilitics, helps factories in India reduce their monthly electricity bills and provides hospitals insights to better schedule their operations.</p> <p><a href="">Hugo Lopez Velarde Martinez</a> is an MBA student in MIT Sloan. Martinez’s venture DUO (cofounded with Fellow Luis Torres) is a challenger bank building the next generation of financial services, beginning with a management dashboard and corporate card, for small and medium businesses in Mexico.</p> <p><a href="">Sergio Medina</a> is an Executive MBA student in MIT Sloan. Medina’s venture, RISE, is deploying technology solutions to accelerate humanitarian aid for refugee children globally, starting in Kenya, with a particular focus on education, gender parity, and food security.</p> <p><a href="">Anatole Menon-Johansson</a> is an MBA student and Sloan Fellow in MIT Sloan. Menon-Johansson’s venture SXT, based in South Africa, is an anonymous and cost-effective way to inform sexual partners of their infection risk and digitally curate their journey to effective testing.</p> <p><a href="">David Miranda</a> is a PhD candidate in medical engineering within the Harvard-MIT Health Science and Technology Program. Miranda's venture, Floricola, aims to improve the quality of perishable products shipped from Colombia during long-range transport.</p> <p><a href="">Michel Mosse</a> is an MBA student in MIT Sloan. Mosse’s venture, Inlara, is an online marketplace for individuals and enterprises in Argentina to find the most convenient coaching experience to unlock their potential.</p> <p><a href="">Mercy Ndambuki</a> is an MBA student in MIT Sloan. Ndambuki’s venture, Mbavu, aims to help upskill local Kenyan talent in private mid-sized companies.</p> <p><a href="">Quadri Oguntade</a> is an MBA student in MIT Sloan. Oguntade’s venture, Bright Future, seeks to provide an alternative light source for Nigerian students who lack access to electricity.</p> <p><a href="">Joshua Reed-Diawuoh</a> is an MBA student in MIT Sloan. Reed-Diawuoh’s venture, GhanaMade Cashew Company, will focus on making and selling premium Ghanaian food and beverage products for specialty markets.</p> <p><a href="">Sebie Salim</a> is an Executive MBA student in MIT Sloan. Salim’s Kenya-based fintech venture, Tenakata, seeks to help small businesses keep better records and increase their borrowing power in order to grow their business.</p> <p><a href="">Pulkit Shamshery</a> is an MBA student in MIT Sloan. Shamshery’s venture, Illumina Africa, aims to use solar mini-grids to provide access to water, cold storage, and electricity in underdeveloped communities in Kenya.</p> <p><a href="">Sumit Sharma</a> is an MBA student in MIT Sloan. Sharma’s India-based venture, i^4, aims to develop a portable incubator that will minimize the more than two million neonatal deaths that occur annually due to hypothermia.</p> <p><a href="">Rodrick Tan</a> is an MBA student in MIT Sloan. Tan’s venture, Sakay, empowers lower- and middle-class Filipinos without a car to get around Metro Manila through information on their phones.</p> <p><a href="">Yih Lin Teh</a> is an MBA student in MIT Sloan. Teh’s venture, CapSphere, is Malaysia’s first asset-based financing peer-to-peer lending platform.</p> <p><a href="">Luis Torres</a> is an MBA student in MIT Sloan. Torres’ venture, DUO (cofounded with Fellow Hugo Lopez Velarde Martinez), is a challenger bank building the next generation of financial services, beginning with a management dashboard and corporate card, for small and medium businesses in Mexico.</p> <p><a href="">Ezinne Uzo-Okoro</a> is a master’s student in the Media Lab. Uzo-Okoro’s Nigeria-based venture, Terraformers, aims to grow fresh food everywhere.</p> Ezinne Uzo-Okoro (standing, center) is developing a venture that aims to grow fresh and affordable food everywhere.Photo courtesy of Ezinne Uzo-OkoroLegatum Center, Sloan School of Management, School of Engineering, Health sciences and technology, School of Architecture and Planning, Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Developing countries, Students, International development, Media Lab, Awards, honors and fellowships, Business and management, Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) A more intelligent system for the scooter wars MIT spinout Superpedestrian has developed a smart electric scooter to improve urban mobility. Thu, 22 Aug 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Startups racing to deploy rentable electric scooters around the world seem to be following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s famous motto for disruption: Move fast and break things. Unfortunately for those startups, the things that break most often are their scooters.</p> <p>Vehicle maintenance, repair, and turnover have forced scooter operators to stomach huge financial losses in their two-wheeled quest to rule the road.</p> <p>When the so-called “scooter wars” began a couple of years ago, MIT spinout Superpedestrian was enjoying strong sales of its first product, an adaptive, electric powertrain for bicycles called the <a href="" target="_blank">Copenhagen Wheel</a>.</p> <p>But the natural boost riders get as they pedal with the Copenhagen Wheel is only half the story. Within the wheel’s distinctive red hub are sensors and microcomputers that allow it to autonomously diagnose problems and even take steps to protect itself against common hazards in a matter of nanoseconds. If the system identifies an issue it can’t correct, it takes itself offline and reports back detailed information to scooter operators for quick repair.</p> <p>Superpedestrian calls the system its Vehicle Intelligence platform. As relatively low-tech scooters began appearing on street corners everywhere, the company saw an opportunity to partner with their operators. Now Superpedestrian has unveiled its new electric scooter designed for fleet operators. The scooter features Superpedestrian’s Vehicle Intelligence platform to improve safety and run time, and drastically reduce maintenance costs.</p> <p>“When this [micromobility] industry was born, we said ‘We have the perfect solution for optimizing safety while also completely transforming the economics of running these things,” founder and CEO Assaf Biderman ’05 says. “So instead of having vehicles that can run for a month or two, now you can have vehicles that can run for a year or longer, because they’re not damaged as much by things that damage other scooters, while the cost of charging and maintaining them is cut to a fraction.”</p> <p>Superpedestrian already has orders in the books for their new scooters and the data they produce. Within a matter of months, they will be whizzing down roads across North America, Europe, and parts of Asia.</p> <p><strong>From prototype to product</strong></p> <p>Since its inception in 2004, Biderman has served as the associate director of MIT’s <a href="" target="_blank">Senseable City Laboratory</a>. The group’s research identified several factors that are straining cities’ traditional transportation networks, including a growing global population, increased urbanization, and automakers’ incentives to sell larger cars even though most people commute to work alone.</p> <p>“All of this puts immense pressure on transportation,” Biderman says. “Your downtown street is not going to double in width anytime soon. … Most studies predict that by the middle of this century, we’ll have around three times more people wanting to move on urban roads. The only way we’re going to address this demand is by making smarter use of our existing roads.”</p> <p>In 2009, the lab started building a prototype electric bicycle that could help address some of those issues. The result was the Copenhagen Wheel. The wheel’s hub stores energy every time a rider brakes, then provides a power boost when they push down on the pedals. The wheel can also monitor the rider’s speed, torque, and calories burned, as well as an array of environmental parameters.</p> <p>In 2013, Biderman decided to start Superpedestrian, with the idea of combining intelligent software with all of the things that make electric vehicles go.</p> <p>The Vehicle Intelligence system the company eventually designed uses on-board microprocessors to monitor and control all the mechanical, electrical, and thermal aspects of the vehicle. It can also infer problems with the vehicle based on outliers in the data it collects — including higher temperatures in battery cells or slight changes in motor current. If such data appear, the system can take steps to compensate for the problem, protecting both the rider and vehicle within nanoseconds.</p> <p>For example, if a capacitor in one of Superpedestrian’s scooters is damaged as the result of a crash or fall, the Vehicle Intelligence system will detect the problem immediately. The vehicle will then measure how much capacitance is left in the system, and, if there’s enough capacitance to continue operating safely, it will simply reduce the scooter’s speed limit and send a nonurgent service request to the cloud that could be addressed the next time the vehicle is picked up for charging.</p> <p>The Copenhagen Wheel, the company’s first product to feature its Vehicle Intelligence system, was released at the beginning of 2017, quickly becoming one of the best selling e-bikes in the U.S, according to the company. As the system was used in various conditions and climates, Superpedestrian came to fully appreciate its power.</p> <p>“Because the vehicles communicate rich data about their own functionality in real-time to our servers, we realized in about a year that more than 55 percent of technical issues were addressed without human intervention,” Biderman says. “That’s got no parallels in the electric bike, micromobility, or automotive industries.”</p> <p><strong>Scooters come to town</strong></p> <p>As the Superpedestrian team was gearing up for a focused launch of the Copenhagen Wheel in Europe, rentable e-scooter companies like Bird and Lime started appearing in cities around the world. The scooters quickly became a popular — if controversial — way to get around.</p> <p>It soon became clear, however, that scooter operators had put more thought into finding new markets and attracting customers than designing sophisticated transportation vehicles. One common problem is that different scooter subsystems, such as batteries, motors, and controllers, are made by different manufacturers. That can negatively impact both performance and operators’ ability to gather higher-level insights into their vehicles. The dearth of self-protection and diagnostic capabilities in these vehicles, along with &nbsp;their nonconnected components, make maintenance and repair efforts so time consuming that many operators resort to throwing out damaged vehicles rather than repairing them.</p> <p>Superpedestrian, on the other hand, builds every component of its platform. Having anticipated building other vehicles in addition to bikes, the company designed its Vehicle Intelligence system to work with any vehicle that has a power output under 3 kilowatts.</p> <p>“When this [e-scooter] industry was born, we said, ‘Let’s pause; we’ll come back to the European consumer market, because we’re still bullish on that, but this industry is booming now. It’s here, it’s a large market, and it really needs what we have,” Biderman says.</p> <p>Now Superpedestrian is in the final stages of shipping its scooters to some of the largest operators in the world. Although Biderman cannot disclose specific partnerships, he says orders are currently being fulfilled and expects them to be on roads in the next few months.</p> <p>With a slightly wider platform and handlebar stem than other scooters, it feels and looks more rugged than what’s on the road today. The company also says the vehicles have a much longer range than other scooters thanks to “the industry’s most efficient powertrain.” And, with its Vehicle Intelligence system, the company says the scooters are safer and much cheaper to maintain than anything the industry has seen.</p> <p>Biderman believes e-scooters are just the beginning of a revolution in urban mobility, and thinks Superpedestrian has positioned itself well to accelerate that transformation: “We’ll see scooters and e-bikes and mopeds and enclosed vehicles and multiwheel vehicles. It’s about minimizing the number of miles that cars drive while maximizing access to mobility for people. That’s where we think we contribute.”</p> Superpedestrian says its vehicle intelligence system makes its scooters safer, more durable, and easier to maintain.Image: SuperpedestrianInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Transportation, cars, Senseable City Lab, Cities, human-robot interaction, Emissions, Sustainability, Urban studies and planning, Alumni/ae, School of Architecture and Planning Yearlong hackathon engages nano community around health issues Hacking Nanomedicine kicks off a series of events to develop an idea over time. Fri, 09 Aug 2019 11:45:01 -0400 MIT.nano <p>A traditional hackathon&nbsp;focuses on computer science and programming,&nbsp;attracts coders in droves, and spans an entire weekend with three stages: problem definition, solution development, and business formation.&nbsp;</p> <p>Hacking Nanomedicine, however, recently brought together graduate and postgraduate students for a single morning of hands-on problem solving and innovation in health care while offering networking opportunities across departments and research interests. Moreover, the July hackathon was the first in a series of three half-day events structured to allow ideas to develop over time.</p> <p>This deliberately deconstructed, yearlong process promotes necessary ebb and flow as teams shift in scope and recruit new members throughout each&nbsp;stage.&nbsp;“We believe this format is a powerful combination of intense, collaborative, multidisciplinary interactions, separated by restful research periods for reflecting on new ideas, allowing additional background research to take place and enabling additional people to be pulled into the fray as ideas take shape,” says&nbsp;Brian Anthony, associate director of MIT.nano and principal research scientist in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and Department of Mechanical Engineering.</p> <p>Organized by Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine Assistant Director Tarek Fadel, Foundation Medicine’s Michael Woonton, and MIT Hacking Medicine Co-Directors Freddy Nguyen and Kriti Subramanyam, the event was sponsored by IMES, the Koch Institute’s Marble Center for Cancer Nanomedicine, and MIT.nano, the new 200,000-square-foot nanoscale research center that launched at MIT last fall.</p> <p>Sangeeta Bhatia, director of the Marble Center, emphasizes the importance of creating these communication channels between community members working in tangentially-related research spheres. "The goal of the event is to galvanize the nanotechnology community around Boston — including MIT.nano, the Marble Center, and IMES — to leverage the unique opportunities&nbsp;presented by miniaturization and to answer critical questions impacting health care,” says Bhatia, who is also the John J. and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT.</p> <p>At the kickoff session, organizers sought to&nbsp;create a smaller, workshop-based event that would introduce students, medical residents, and trainees to the world of hacking and disruptive problem solving. Representatives from MIT Hacking Medicine started the day with a brief overview and case study on PillPack, a successful internet pharmacy startup&nbsp;created from a previous hackathon event.</p> <p>Participants then each had 30 seconds to develop and pitch problems highlighting critical health care industry shortcomings before forming into five teams based on shared interests. Groups pinpointed a wide array of timely topics, from the nation’s fight against obesity to minimizing vaccine pain. Each cohort had two hours to work through multifaceted, nanotechnology-based solutions.&nbsp;</p> <p>Mentors Cicely Fadel, a clinical researcher at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and neonatologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and David Chou, a hematopathologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and clinical fellow at the Wyss Institute, roamed the room during the solution phase, offering feedback on feasibility based on their own clinical experience.</p> <p>At the conclusion of the problem-solving block, each of the five teams presented their solution to a panel of expert judges: Imran Babar, chief business officer of Cydan; Adama Marie Sesay, senior staff engineer of the Wyss Institute; Craig Mak, director of strategy at Arbor Bio; Jaideep Dudani, associate director of Relay Therapeutics; and Zen Chu, senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and faculty director of MIT Hacking Medicine.&nbsp;</p> <p>Given the introductory nature of the event, judges opted to forego the traditional scoring rubric and instead paired with each team to offer individualized, qualitative feedback. Event sponsors note that the decision to steer away from a black-and-white, ranked-placing system encourages participants to continue thinking about the pain points of their problem in anticipation of the next hackathon in the series this fall.</p> <p>During this second phase, participants will further develop their solution and explore the issue’s competitive landscape. Organizers plan to bring together local business and management stakeholders for a final event in the spring that will allow participants to pitch their project for acquisition or initial seed funding.&nbsp;</p> <p>Founded in 2011, MIT Hacking Medicine consists of both students and community members and aims to promote medical innovation to benefit the health care community. The group recognizes that technological advancement is often born out of collaboration rather than isolation. Monday’s event accordingly encouraged networking among students and postdocs not just from MIT but institutions all around Boston, creating lasting relationships rooted in a commitment to deliver crucial health care solutions.</p> <p>Indeed, these events have proven successful in fostering connections and propelling innovation. According to MIT Hacking Medicine’s website, more than 50 companies with over $240 million in venture funding have been created since June 2018 thanks to their hackathons, workshops, and networking gatherings. The organization’s events across the globe have engaged nearly 22,000 hackers eager to disrupt the status quo and think critically about health systems in place.</p> <p>This past weekend, MIT Hacking Medicine hosted its flagship Grand Hack event in Washington. Over the course of a weekend, like-minded students and professionals across a range of industries will join forces to tackle issues related to health care access, mental health and professional burnout, rare diseases, and more.&nbsp;Sponsors hope that Monday’s shorter, intimate event will garner enthusiasm for larger hackathons like this one to sustain communication among a diverse community of experts in their respective fields.&nbsp;</p> Hacking Nanomedicine participantsPhoto: Thomas Gearty/MIT.nanoMIT.nano, Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), Mechanical engineering, School of Engineering, Koch Institute, Health sciences and technology, Medicine, Students, Graduate, postdoctoral, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Hackathon, Startups, Contests and academic competitions, Special events and guest speakers, Nanoscience and nanotechnology Optimus Ride’s autonomous system makes self-driving vehicles a reality MIT startup’s unique approach to improving human mobility is helping it gain traction in a competitive landscape. Fri, 09 Aug 2019 11:36:01 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Some of the biggest companies in the world are spending billions in the race to develop self-driving vehicles that can go anywhere. Meanwhile, Optimus Ride, a startup out of MIT, is already helping people get around by taking a different approach.</p> <p>The company’s autonomous vehicles only drive in areas it comprehensively maps, or geofences. Self-driving vehicles can safely move through these areas at about 25 miles per hour with today’s technology.</p> <p>“It’s important to realize there are multiple approaches, and multiple markets, to self-driving,” says Optimus Ride CEO Ryan Chin MA ’00, SM ’04, PhD ’12. “There’s no monolithic George Jetson kind of self-driving vehicle. You have robot trucks, you have self-driving taxis, self-driving pizza delivery machines, and each of these will have different time frames of technological development and different markets.”</p> <p>By partnering with developers, the Optimus team is currently focused on deploying its vehicles in communities with residential and commercial buildings, retirement communities, corporate and university campuses, airports, resorts, and smart cities. The founders estimate the combined value of transportation services in those markets to be over $600 billion.</p> <p>“We believe this is an important, huge business, but we also believe this is the first addressable market in the sense that we believe the first autonomous vehicles that will generate profits and make business sense will appear in these environments, because you can build the tech much more quickly,” says Chin, who co-founded the company with Albert Huang SM ’05, PhD ’10, Jenny Larios Berlin MCP ’14, MBA ’15, Ramiro Almeida, and Class of 1948 Career Development Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Sertac Karaman.</p> <p>Optimus Ride currently runs fleets of self-driving vehicles in the Seaport area of Boston, in a mixed-use development in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, and, as of this week, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a 300-acre industrial park that now hosts the first self-driving vehicle program in the state.</p> <p>Later this year, the company will also deploy its autonomous vehicles in a private community of Fairfield, California, and in a mixed-use development in Reston, Virginia.</p> <p>The early progress — and the valuable data that come with it — is the result of the company taking a holistic view of transportation. That perspective can be traced back to the founders’ diverse areas of focus at MIT.</p> <p><strong>A multidisciplinary team</strong></p> <p>Optimus Ride’s founders have worked across a wide array of departments, labs, and centers across MIT. The technical validation for the company began when Karaman participated in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Urban Challenge with a team including Huang in 2007. Both researchers had also worked in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory together.</p> <p>For the event, DARPA challenged 89 teams with creating a fully autonomous vehicle that could traverse a 60 mile course in under six hours. The vehicle from MIT was one of only six to complete the journey.</p> <p>Chin, who led a Media Lab project that developed a retractable electric vehicle in the Smart Cities group, met Karaman when both were PhD candidates in 2012. Almeida began working in the Media Lab as a visiting scholar a year later.</p> <p>As members of the group combined their expertise on both self-driving technology and the way people move around communities, they realized they needed help developing business models around their unique approach to improving transportation. Jenny Larios Berlin was introduced to the founders in 2015 after earning joint degrees from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Sloan School of Management. The team started Optimus Ride in August that year.</p> <p>“The company is really a melting pot of ideas from all of these schools and departments,” Karaman says. “When we met each other, there was the technology angle, but we also realized there’s an important business angle, and there’s also an interesting urban planning/media arts and sciences angle around thinking of the system as a whole. So when we formed the company we thought, not just how can we build fully autonomous vehicles, but also how can we make transportation in general more affordable, sustainable, equitable, accessible, and so on.”</p> <p>Karaman says the company’s approach could only have originated in a highly collaborative environment like MIT, and believes it gives the company a big advantage in the self-driving sector.</p> <p>“I knew how to build autonomous systems, but in interacting with Ryan and Ramiro and Jenny, I really got a better understanding of what the systems would look like, what the smart cities that utilize the systems would look like, what some of the business models would look like,” Karaman says. “That has a feedback on the technology. It allows you to build the right kind of technology very efficiently in order to go to these markets.”</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 500px; height: 281px;" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-size:10px;">Optimus Ride's self-driving vehicles already travel on many public roads. Courtesy of Optimus Ride</span></em></p> <p><strong>First mover advantage</strong></p> <p>Optimus Ride’s vehicles have a suite of cameras, lasers, and sensors similar to what other companies use to help autonomous vehicles navigate their environments. But Karaman says the company’s key technical differentiators are its machine vision system, which rapidly identifies objects, and its ability to fuse all those data sources together to make predictions, such as where an object is going and when it will get there.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-size:10px;">Optimus Ride's vehicles feature a range of cameras and sensors to help them&nbsp;navigate their&nbsp;environment. Courtesy of Optimus Ride</span></em></p> <p>The strictly defined areas where the vehicles drive help them learn what Karaman calls the “culture of driving” on different roads. Human drivers might subconsciously take a little longer at certain intersections. Commuters might drive much faster than the speed limit. Those and other location-specific details, like the turn radius of the Silver Line bus in the Seaport, are learned by the system through experience.</p> <p>“A lot of the well-funded autonomous driving projects out there try to capture everything at the same time and tackle every problem,” Karaman says. “But we operate the vehicle in places where it can learn very rapidly. If you go around, say, 10,000 miles in a small community, you end up seeing a certain intersection a hundred or a thousand times, so you learn the culture of driving through that intersection. But if you go 10,000 miles around the country, you’ll only see places once.”</p> <p>Safety drivers are still required to be behind the wheels of autonomous vehicles in the states Optimus Ride operates in, but the founders hope to soon be monitoring fleets with fewer people in a manner similar to an air traffic controller.</p> <p>For now, though, they’re focused on scaling their current model. The contract in Reston, Virginia is part of a strategic partnership with one of the largest real estate managers in the world, Brookfield Properties. Chin says Brookfield owns over 100 locations where Optimus Ride could deploy its system, and the company is aiming to be operating 10 or more fleets by the end of 2020.</p> <p>“Collectively, [the founders] probably have around three decades of experience in building self-driving vehicles, electric vehicles, shared vehicles, mobility transportation, on demand systems, and in looking at how you integrate new transportation systems into cities,” Chin says. “So that’s been the idea of the company: to marry together technical expertise with the right kind of policymaking, the right kind of business models, and to bring autonomy to the world as fast as possible.”</p> Optimus Ride has already deployed its autonomous transportation systems in the Seaport area of Boston, in a mixed-use development in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, and in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a 300-acre industrial park.Image: Courtesy of Optimus RideInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Autonomous vehicles, Electric vehicles, Transportation, cars, Media Lab, Urban studies and planning, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Sloan School of Management, Cambridge, Boston and region, School of Architecture and Planning Throwing lifelines to job seekers after incarceration Through her startup, MBA student Brooke Wages seeks to prepare people for high-skilled trade jobs after they’ve served time. Sat, 03 Aug 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Daysia Tolentino | MIT News correspondent <p>It’s Wednesday morning and Brooke Wages is standing in front of a whiteboard, bouncing ideas off her startup partner Sarika Ram, a rising junior at Boston University, and writing out a game plan for the rest of the day. It’s early, but Wages is focused and energetic about the work ahead of her. You can tell that she is, to use one of her favorite phrases, killing the game.</p> <p>Wages and her team have just finished interviewing formerly incarcerated individuals who are now seeking job training and placement through the team’s startup, <a href="">Surge Employment Solutions</a>, which aims to place people in well-paid, high-skilled trade jobs after they have served time in prison. Today Wages and Ram are planning out the next few months of their pilot program, during which they will start training their selected candidates for their future jobs. By November, the selected candidates will be working their new positions.</p> <p>Wages is in the dual-degree master’s of business administration and master’s of public administration program at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She founded Surge last year, along with Ram and rising Harvard University sophomore Amisha Kambath. The team has partnered with the Boston Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens, the Massachusetts Parole Board, Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, and Strive Boston in their outreach to formerly incarcerated citizens.</p> <p>Her interest in this area began when she was an undergraduate at North Carolina State University. A mechanical engineering major, she also began to study inequality and the discrimination faced by citizens returning to the workforce after incarceration. Wages was particularly influenced by the late sociologist Devah Pager, especially her book “Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration.” Pager’s research documents discrimination against ex-offenders in the job market and how this bias contributes to recidivism, particularly among black men.</p> <p>Upon learning about these injustices, “I felt moved,” Wages recalls. “I felt like there was a fire inside to do this work.”</p> <p><strong>Taking action</strong></p> <p>After graduating, Wages started working as an engineer in the oil and gas industry, but she still found time to work with former inmates seeking employment. She volunteered with the National Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated (NAEFI) and attended reentry circles, which welcome a returning citizen back into a community and establish a support system. Through this work, she got to know people coming out of the prison system.</p> <p>“[Discrimination against the formerly incarcerated] became more than just this appalling thing that I read about. It became someone’s life story. I really recognized how we had equal value, but I just, by the luck of the draw, happened to be born in a different place” than many of the former inmates she had been meeting through NAEFI, Wages says.</p> <p>In her engineering work, Wages was finding it difficult to find contractors for highly skilled trade jobs. Meanwhile, she was getting to know people having a hard time finding employment after their release. Taking these two contrasting experiences to heart, Wages founded Surge.</p> <p>Wages emphasizes that Surge should not be characterized as solely a staffing company or a workforce development company. Rather, the startup assesses a client’s staffing needs, trains returning citizens, and places them in specific roles in the client’s company. The organization does not start training people unless they have a job secured for them first.</p> <p>“We talk to the client, understand their needs and then develop a unique, personalized training program for that specific position,” she says. “That’s a business model that is not currently being used for the formerly incarcerated population.”</p> <p>The team currently works out of the Boston University BUild Lab IDG Capital Student Innovation Center as part of the university’s Summer Accelerator Program. Surge also recently won $10,000 from the IDEAS Global Challenge from MIT’s PKG Center, which has also been crucial in funding the startup.</p> <p>Among the classes in her Sloan program that have been particularly formative, Wages cites 15.S03 (Leading the Way: Perspectives on Advancing Equity and Inclusion), for giving her tools to create systems within her own business to promote equity and inclusion.</p> <p>“The course provided me with a startup reference guide. We read and discussed the leading evidence-based diversity and inclusion research on topics such as hiring, pay, performance evaluation, identity bias, and harassment, to name a few,” she says. “Just as we acknowledge and address the bias reentering people face in the job market, we need to acknowledge our brain’s proclivity toward bias and build systems that help eliminate that.”</p> <p><strong>Forging relationships</strong></p> <p>Wages says much of her success has resulted from connections she has made through her extracurricular activities, such as The Educational Justice Institute (<a href="">TEJI</a>) at MIT, where she is a graduate fellow. TEJI has provided significant mentorship and support to Wages and her team.</p> <p>Through TEJI, Wages was a teaching assistant for an “inside-out” class on nonviolent philosophy. The class, ES.114 (Non-violence as a Way of Life), taught by humanities lecturer Lee Perlman of the MIT Experimental Study Group,&nbsp;was based in a prison and comprised half undergraduate students and half incarcerated students. Because it was a discussion-based course, Wages says, all of the students in the class had the opportunity to share life experiences and understand different perspectives. She enjoyed facilitating that process and seeing the strong relationships it helped create among the students.</p> <p>Wages also serves as the events chair for MIT’s Black Business Students Association and is a fellow at the Forté Foundation, an organization that empowers women in business. She has also gone on the FoundHers retreat for female entrepreneurs, where she connected with other women who have founded startups.</p> <p>“[Brooke] is a great mentor,” Ram says. “She has lots of undergrads that she takes under her wing.”</p> <p>Wages has also formed a strong bond with her team and stresses that Surge would not be possible without Ram and Kambath. The trio’s personal relationship is important to Wages, and the group often spends time together outside of work. They take art and dance classes together, for example, and they are prepping for an upcoming Indian movie marathon.</p> <p>Wages can also be found at the dog park virtually every day, with her dog Grace. “She is the best. She is a chihuahua-heeler mix and all-black — all-black everything, that’s how we operate!” Wages jokes.</p> <p>Above all of the personal and professional relationships that Wages has created in Boston, her connection to her Christian faith remains as one of the most important things in her life. She is particularly driven by one piece of scripture, in Hebrew 13:3: “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”</p> Brooke WagesImage: Jared CharneyGraduate, postdoctoral, Profile, Sloan School of Management, Startups, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Diversity and inclusion, Students, Women, Social justice, Business and management, Jobs Software to empower workers on the factory floor Apps developed by MIT spinout Tulip help manufacturers augment employee production rather than automating it away. Wed, 31 Jul 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Manufacturers are constantly tweaking their processes to get rid of waste and improve productivity. As such, the software they use should be as nimble and responsive as the operations on their factory floors.</p> <p>Instead, much of the software in today’s factories is static. In many cases, it’s developed by an outside company to work in a broad range of factories, and implemented from the top down by executives who know software can help but don’t know how best to adopt it.</p> <p>That’s where MIT spinout Tulip comes in. The company has developed a customizable manufacturing app platform that connects people, machines, and sensors to help optimize processes on a shop floor. Tulip’s apps provide workers with interactive instructions, quality checks, and a way to easily communicate with managers if something is wrong.</p> <p>Managers, in turn, can make changes or additions to the apps in real-time and use Tulip’s analytics dashboard to pinpoint problems with machines and assembly processes.</p> <p>“With this notion of agile manufacturing [in which changes are constant], you need your software to match the philosophical process you’re using to improve your organization,” says Tulip co-founder and CTO Rony Kubat ’01, SM ’08, PhD ’12. “With our platform, we’re empowering the manufacturing engineers on the line to make changes themselves. That’s in contrast to the traditional way of making manufacturing software. It’s a bottom-up kind of thing.”</p> <p>Tulip, founded by Kubat and CEO Natan Linder SM ’11, PhD ’17, is currently working with multiple Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies operating in 13 different countries, including Bosch, Jabil, and Kohler. Tulip’s customers make everything from shoes to jewelry, medical devices, and consumer electronics.</p> <p>With the platform’s scalable design, Kubat says it can help factories of any size, as long as they employ people on the shop floor.</p> <p>In that way, Tulip’s tools are empowering workers in an industry that has historically trended toward automation. As the company continues building out its platform — including adding machine vision and machine learning capabilities — it hopes to continue encouraging manufacturers to see people as an indispensable resource.</p> <p><strong>A new approach to manufacturing software</strong></p> <p>In 2012, Kubat was pursuing his PhD in the MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group when he met Linder, then a graduate student. During their research, several Media Lab member companies gave the founders tours of their factory floors and introduced them to some of the production challenges they were grappling with.</p> <p>“The Media Lab is such a special place,” Kubat says. “You have this contrast of an antidisciplinary mentality, where you’re putting faculty from completely different walks of life in the same building, giving it this creative wildness that is really invigorating, plus this grounding in the real world that comes from the member organizations that are part of the Media Lab.”</p> <p>During those factory tours, the founders noticed similar problems across industries.</p> <p>“The typical way manufacturing software is deployed is in these multiyear cycles,” Kubat says. “You sign a multimillion dollar contract that’s going to overhaul everything, and you get three years to deploy it all, and you get your screens in the end that everyone isn’t really happy with because they solve yesterday’s problems. We’re bringing a more modern approach to software development for manufacturing.”</p> <p>In 2014, just as Linder completed his PhD research, the founders decided to start Tulip. (Linder would later return to MIT to defend his thesis.) Relying on their personal savings for funding, they recruited a team of students from MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and began building a prototype for New Balance, a Media Lab member company that has factories in New England.</p> <p>“We worked really closely with the first customers to do super fast iterations to make these proofs of concept that we’d try to deploy as quickly as possible,” Kubat says. “That approach isn’t new from a software perspective — deploy fast and iterate — but it is new for the manufacturing software world.”</p> <p><strong>An engine for manufacturing</strong></p> <p>The app-based platform the founders eventually built out has little in common with the sweeping software implementations that traditionally upend factory operations for better or worse. Tulip’s apps can be installed in just one workstation then scaled up as needed.</p> <p>The apps can also be designed by managers with no coding experience, over the course of an afternoon. Typically they can use Tulip’s app templates, which can be customized for common tasks like guiding a worker through an assembly process or completing a checklist.</p> <p>Workers using the apps on the shop floor can submit comments on their interactive screens to do things like point out defects. Those comments are sent directly to the manager, who can make changes to the apps remotely.</p> <p>“It’s a data-driven opportunity to engage the operators on the line, to gain some ownership over the process,” Kubat says.</p> <p>The apps are integrated with machines and tools on the factory floor through Tulip’s router-like gateways. Those gateways also sync with sensors and cameras to give managers data from both humans and machines. All that information helps managers find bottlenecks and other factors holding back productivity.</p> <p>Workers, meanwhile, are given real-time feedback on their actions from the cameras, which are usually trained on the part as it’s being assembled or on the bins the workers are reaching into. If a worker assembles a part improperly, for example, Tulip’s camera can detect the mistake, and its app can alert the worker to the error, presenting instructions on fixing it.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 500px; height: 281px;" /></p> <p><span style="font-size:10px;"><em>A demonstration of a worker assembling a part wrong, Tulip's sensors detecting the error, and then Tulip's app providing instructions for correcting the mistake.</em></span></p> <p>Such quality checks can be sprinkled throughout a production line. That’s a big upgrade over traditional methods for data collection in factories, which often include a stopwatch and a clipboard, the founders say.</p> <p>“That process is expensive,” Kubat says of traditional data collection methods. “It’s also biased, because when you’re being observed you might behave differently. It’s also a sampling of things, not the true picture. Our take is that all of that execution data should be something you get for free from a system that gives you additional value.”</p> <p>The data Tulip collects are channeled into its analytics dashboard, which can be used to make customized tables displaying certain metrics to managers and shop floor workers.</p> <p>In April, the company launched its first machine vision feature, which further helps workers minimize mistakes and improve productivity. Those objectives are in line with Tulip’s broader goal of empowering workers in factories rather than replacing them.</p> <p>“We’re helping companies launch products faster and improve efficiency,” Kubat says. “That means, because you can reduce the cost of making products with people, you push back the [pressure of] automation. You don’t need automation to give you quality at scale. This has the potential to really change the dynamics of how products are delivered to the public.”</p> MIT spinout Tulip offers customizable manufacturing apps (like the one on the screen) in addition to sensors, gateways, and analytics to improve human-based manufacturing processes.Image courtesy of TulipInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Media Lab, School of Architecture and Planning, Manufacturing, Jobs, Software, Alumni/ae E14 Fund helps Media Lab community deploy startups “First and foremost we’re a community-builder,” says Habib Haddad, a managing partner of the venture fund. Thu, 25 Jul 2019 12:04:19 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>The Media Lab has always been a place for students and researchers to work on building the future they want to live in. As such, many innovative companies have spun out of its multidisciplinary working spaces. Since 2013, however, the lab has taken a more deliberate approach to helping entrepreneurs create successful companies, with the E14 Fund.</p> <p>The fund is designed to supercharge the Media Lab’s impact in the world by supporting the imaginative people that have walked its hallways. That support can come in the form of early-stage investments and fellowships that give students, alumni, and researchers a “runway” to turn their ideas into businesses. But E14 — named after the location of the Media Lab building — is much more than an investment fund.</p> <p>“Even though the E14 Fund has the word ‘fund’ at the end of it, first and foremost we’re a community-builder,” Managing Partner Habib Haddad says. “When you put that first, you actually become a stronger venture fund by being an authentic community supporter.”</p> <p>Haddad, fellow Managing Partner Calvin Chin, and their team of venture partners and advisors believe their efforts help turn the innovative ideas of the Media Lab’s community into companies that benefit society.</p> <p>“I helped launch [E14] because I felt it addressed an important need in offering a runway to graduating students who wanted to deploy their research through a new company, and it's been successful at doing that,” Media Lab Director Joi Ito says. “But it's also become a really good community and a networking hub for Media Lab students, researchers, and alumni — not just ones working on building a company.”</p> <p><strong>A bold founding mission</strong></p> <p>The Media Lab is known for fostering a culture that blends future-focused research with current problems to inspire creative solutions. The lab’s community has also developed a reputation for pursuing bold, new ideas at rapid — some might say entrepreneurial — speed.</p> <p>Throughout 2013, Ito was looking for a way to help students continue following the Media Lab’s “deploy” mantra after graduation. Ito believed a venture fund, if structured correctly, could increase the Media Lab’s impact on the world while also furthering its academic mission, by helping students focus on their coursework without worrying about losing support when they graduate.</p> <p>In keeping with the lab’s experimental ethos, E14 began as what Haddad calls a “prototype fund” of $2 million in 2013. The money was used to provide both equity and nonequity funding and mentoring to recent graduates in the early stages of starting companies. Some of the carried interest from the fund would be donated back to MIT to support more research at the Media Lab (a practice that carries on today).</p> <p>A handful of the earliest investments went on to raise much larger funding rounds and find commercial success, including the manufacturing app platform Tulip, robotic furniture company Ori, and urban technology company Soofa. With an eye toward building a community, E14 also provided slightly later-stage funding to Media Lab spinouts Formlabs and Affectiva.</p> <p>Even as the early investments had success, it became clear the Media Lab would benefit from an even more involved investment team. E14’s next fund, launched at the end of 2017, raised $37 million.</p> <p>“As that prototype fund was evolving, it turned out some of these companies needed much more capital and support,” Haddad recalls. “We said, ‘These are all great companies, but for each one, there’s a few others that could have been great spinoffs that didn’t have the right funding or support.’”</p> <p>Since then, the E14 Fund has been advising everyone from Media Lab alumni starting their fourth company to current students nearing graduation. It’s also helped the lab’s member companies connect with researchers and created a more active community overall.</p> <p><strong>A pillar in the community</strong></p> <p>Today the E14 team regularly hosts events and gatherings for members of the Media Lab. The lab’s semiannual member week now includes a startup showcase, and alumni are becoming a more common sight in the hallways.</p> <p>E14 also works with the other entrepreneurial resources on campus, giving students advice on what programs are worth exploring depending on what stage their idea is in.</p> <p>The E14’s average funding is between $500,000 and $1 million, while its fellowship program offers a lower-risk way of pursuing the commercialization of an idea. Some of E14’s latest investments include ThruWave, a company using millimeter wave sensors to see through packaging; Figur8, which has developed a system that captures three-dimensional skeletal movement and muscle output; Wise Systems, which uses fleet dispatch and routing software to optimize deliveries; Canopy, which uses machine learning to preserve privacy on the internet; and Kiwi, which offers a robotic cropdusting system for distributing chemicals and seeds on precise plots of land.</p> <p>By investing exclusively in Media Lab founders with a new technology, the E14 team spends far more time with founders — sometimes years, as students work toward graduation or alumni consider starting companies — compared to traditional investment funds, and helps researchers and scientists develop a more entrepreneurial mindset over time.</p> <p>“We like to say we don’t have all the answers, but we ask a lot of questions,” Chin says. “It’s really just brainstorming and thinking about the kind of company they’re going to build, the way they’re going to build it, and the market they’re going to address. A lot of times in that process we’ll be making introductions. We’re trying to add value even if we’re not invested.”</p> <p>In fact, beyond making investments, the E14 Fund bears little resemblance to other venture capital funds, in which partners typically guard their time like gold and focus on narrow areas of industries. The members of E14, conversely, say their areas of investment are entirely dependent on the interests of members of the Media Lab.</p> <p>“Our model is serving the community, and then finding companies as a subset of that community,” Chin says. “We just always want to be listening to the community. If the community’s research interests or business interests go a certain way, we want to be there with the resources the community needs. That’s what we’re excited about going forward.”</p> The Media Lab is known for fostering a culture that blends future-focused research with current problems to inspire creative solutions. The E14 Fund helps get those solutions out into the world through impactful companies.Image: Andy RyanInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Social entrepreneurship, Media Lab, School of Architecture and Planning, Students, Alumni/ae, Faculty How does your productivity stack up? Survey results and research by MIT Sloan’s Bob Pozen reveal common habits and skills among highly productive managers. Tue, 16 Jul 2019 17:00:01 -0400 MIT Sloan Executive Education <p>You know that person who always seems to be ahead of their deadlines, despite being swamped? Do you look at them with envy and wonder how they do it?</p> <p>"Regardless of location, industry, or occupation, productivity is a challenge faced by every professional," says <a href="">Robert Pozen</a>, senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management.</p> <p>As part of his ongoing research and aided by&nbsp;MIT undergraduate Kevin Downey, Pozen surveyed 20,000 self-selected individuals in management from six continents to learn why some people are more productive than others.<br /> <br /> The survey tool, dubbed the Pozen Productivity Rating, consists of 21 questions divided into seven categories: planning your schedule, developing daily routines, coping with your messages, getting a lot done, improving your communication skills, running effective meetings, and delegating to others. These particular habits and skills are core to Pozen’s MIT Sloan Executive Education program, <a href="">Maximizing Your Productivity: How to Become an Efficient and Effective Executive</a>, and his bestselling book, "<a href=";sid=BNB_ADL+Marketplace+Generic+New+Books+-+Desktop+Medium&amp;sourceId=PLAGoNA&amp;dpid=tdtve346c&amp;2sid=Google_c&amp;gclid=EAIaIQobChMIk663lIrV4QIVTIezCh3O5wgsEAQYAiABEgKnr_D_BwE" target="_blank" title="(opens new window)">Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours</a><em>." </em></p> <p>After cleaning up the data, Pozen and Downey obtained a complete set of answers from 19,957 respondents. Roughly half were residents of North America; another 21 percent were residents of Europe, and 19 percent were residents of Asia. The remaining 10 percent included residents of Australia, South America, and Africa.</p> <p>They identified the groups of people with the highest productivity ratings and found that professionals with the highest scores tended to do well on the same clusters of habits:</p> <ul> <li>They planned their work based on their top priorities and then acted with a definite objective;</li> <li>they developed effective techniques for managing a high volume of information and tasks; and</li> <li>they understood the needs of their colleagues, enabling short meetings, responsive communications, and clear directions.</li> </ul> <p>The results were also interesting when parsed by the demographics of the survey participants.</p> <p>Geographically, the average productivity score for respondents from North America was in the middle of the pack, even though Americans tend to work longer hours. In fact, the North American score was significantly lower than the average productivity scores for respondents from Europe, Asia, and Australia.</p> <p>Age and seniority were highly correlated with personal productivity — older and more senior professionals recorded higher scores than younger and more junior colleagues.&nbsp;Habits of these more senior respondents included developing routines for low-value activities, managing message flow, running effective meetings, and delegating tasks to others.</p> <p>While the overall productivity scores of male and female professionals were almost the same, there&nbsp;were some noteworthy differences in how women and men managed to be so productive.&nbsp;For example, women tended to score particularly high when it came to running effective meetings — keeping meetings to less than 90 minutes and finishing with an agreement of next steps. By contrast, men did particularly well at coping with high message volume — not looking at their emails too frequently and skipping over the messages of low value.</p> <p><strong>Coping with your daily flood of messages</strong></p> <p>While it’s clear that the ability to deal with inbox overload is key to productivity, how that’s accomplished may be less clear to many of us who shudder at our continuous backlog of emails.</p> <p>“We all have so much small stuff, like email, that overwhelms us, and we wind up dedicating precious time to it,” says Pozen. “Most of us look at email every three to five minutes. Instead, look every hour or two, and when you do look, look only at subject matter and sender, and essentially skip over 60-80 percent of it, because most emails you get aren’t very useful.” Pozen also encourages answering important emails immediately instead of flagging them and then finding them again later (or forgetting altogether), as well as flagging important contacts and making ample use of email filters.</p> <p>However, Pozen stresses that managing incoming emails, while an important skill, needs to be paired with other, more big-picture habits in order to be effective, such as defining your highest priorities. He warns that without a specific set of goals to pursue — both personal and professional — many ambitious people devote insufficient time to activities that actually support their top goals.</p> <p><strong>More tips for maximizing your productivity</strong></p> <p>If you want to become more productive, try developing the “habit clusters” demonstrated in Pozen’s survey results and possessed by the most productive professionals. This includes:</p> <ul> <li>Focusing on your primary objectives: Every night, revise your next day’s schedule to stress your top priorities. Decide your purpose for reading any lengthy material, before you start.</li> <li>Managing your work overload: Skip over 50-80 percent of your emails based on the sender and the subject. Break large projects into small steps — and start with step one.</li> <li>Supporting your colleagues: Limit any meeting to 90 minutes or less and&nbsp;end each meeting with clearly defined next steps. Agree on success metrics with your team.</li> </ul> <p>Pozen's survey tool is <a href="">still available online</a>. Those completing it will receive a feedback report offering practical tips for improving productivity. You can also learn from Pozen firsthand in his MIT Executive Education program, <a href="">Maximizing Your Personal Productivity</a>.</p> "Regardless of location, industry, or occupation, productivity is a challenge faced by every professional," says MIT Sloan School of Management Senior Lecturer Bob Pozen.Sloan School of Management, Business and management, Sloan Executive Education, Research World-class diagnostics for low-income communities in sub-Saharan Africa MDaaS Global works to transform health care in Africa by bringing high-end medical diagnostics to low-income communities. Thu, 11 Jul 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Genevieve Barnard Oni’s iPhone lights up with the same notifications dozens of times each day — but they aren’t from a popular Instagram account or an overactive group chat. Instead, the notifications signal every time a patient is treated at MDaaS Global’s health clinic in Ibadan, Nigeria.</p> <p>Last month Barnard Oni MBA ’19, who co-founded the company with her husband, Oluwasoga (Soga) Oni SM ’16, as well as Joe McCord SM ’15 and Opeyemi Ologun, received 750 such notifications. If all goes according to plan, that number is about to multiply.</p> <p>Operating outside of the wealthier, well-resourced city center, the company’s clinic offers affordable diagnostic services, including ultrasounds, X-rays, malaria tests, and other lab services, that were previously inaccessible to many families in the area.</p> <p>MDaaS has accomplished this by building a supply chain that gets refurbished medical equipment into the African communities that need them most, and by leveraging technology to streamline clinic operations.</p> <p>By partnering with dozens of nearby hospitals and clinics to get patient referrals, the MDaaS clinic has diagnosed more than 10,000 patients since opening less than two years ago. Now, fresh off a $1 million funding round, the company is planning to export its model to other areas of Nigeria and West Africa, with the goal of operating 100 diagnostic centers in the next five years.</p> <p>“We’re trying to build four diagnostic centers [by early next year] and show that the new centers will have the same trajectory as our first,” Soga says. “After we’ve proven that, we can start building for scale, building maybe two or three centers a month all over Africa, the idea being we know exactly how things will go when you build them.”</p> <p><strong>A desperate situation</strong></p> <p>Soga’s father runs a private medical practice in Ikare-Akoko, Nigeria. Like many doctors in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa, he has long struggled to get reliable medical equipment at affordable prices. Negotiating to purchase used equipment from Europe or China requires expertise in the global equipment marketplace and also comes with risks, as most secondhand equipment lacks warranties and operating manuals.</p> <p>Genevieve, on the other hand, worked on public health initiatives in Malawi, Ghana, and Uganda before coming to MIT. During those experiences, she realized how useless donated medical equipment is without technicians trained to set up and maintain them, and without access to spare parts.</p> <p>“Countless times I saw rooms full of equipment that had never been set up or equipment that had been used for a few months before breaking down, with no hope of repair,” she says.</p> <p><strong>A common goal</strong></p> <p>Soga entered MIT’s system design and management graduate program in 2014 and met Genevieve later that year. The two quickly realized they shared a passion for improving health care in Africa. For their second date, Soga invited Genevieve to his development ventures class, where he pitched a rough idea for providing rural doctors like his father with high-quality, refurbished medical equipment and ongoing service support.</p> <p>MIT offered Soga and Genevieve tuition support and seed funding to further pursue the idea through the Legatum Center, the PKG Center, MIT IDEAS, and the Africa Business Club.</p> <p>McCord joined the team in the summer of 2016, and the co-founders were able to secure a partnership with Coast 2 Coast Medical in Massachusetts to begin buying refurbished medical equipment in bulk.</p> <p>But when they began selling the equipment in Nigeria, they realized their biggest customers were from hospitals and clinics in big cities that predominantly served high-income patients. These facilities already had access to many of the machines MDaaS was selling, but found they could save money through the startup.</p> <p>The founders faced a dilemma: They weren’t serving the people that needed them most, the low-income communities they’d dreamed of helping since their time in Africa, and yet, by the summer of 2017, the business was profitable — a difficult milestone for startups anywhere, let alone one in Nigeria. They tried different financing options to get their equipment to poorer clinics, including offering to lease or rent out the equipment, but clinics in rural and low-income areas still struggled to achieve the patient volumes necessary to make it work.</p> <p>“We weren’t reaching this really large market, the 130 million patients that live outside of the largest urban areas that have the biggest issues accessing medical equipment,” Soga says. “The market of high-end hospitals wasn’t exciting for us. … We’d be stuck in big cities, serving high-end clientele. That wasn’t what drove us.”</p> <p>Upending their business model, they decided to take on new costs and open their own diagnostic center in a low-income community in southwestern Nigeria. The people in this community had limited access to the high-quality diagnostic services enabled by the company’s machines. By centralizing diagnostic services, the founders could aggregate patient demand across dozens of hospitals and clinics, helping them keep prices low and scale faster than if they just sold equipment. This approach would also give the founders a chance to work directly with the patients they were trying to help.</p> <p>Even as they faced bigger challenges and risks associated with the new model, they never planned to stop at one clinic.</p> <p><br /> “We had to make the change,” Soga says. “We just kept following our north star, which is to improve health care outcomes. Anybody can build one clinic, but it gets really interesting when you’re building 20, 30, 40 clinics across the continent.”</p> <p>The MDaaS clinic has been up and running since November 2017. It features a digital X-ray machine, an electrocardiogram (ECG), an electroencephalogram (EEG), an ultrasound, and a full suite lab. For most tests, in-house physicians interpret the results. For others, results are sent to specialized clinicians in big cities.</p> <p>Today, MDaaS gets patient referrals from more than 60 hospitals and clinics in the region in addition to welcoming walk-ins and partnering with insurance companies. About 70 percent of the people MDaaS treats are women and children.</p> <p>The founders say they broke even on their operations in just five months and have been operating profitably ever since, proving the need for their services in the area. In fact, the number of patients seen per day at the center has grown by a factor of five since January 2018.</p> <p>Their dream of operating 100 diagnostic centers will begin by building a few more in Nigeria before they expand to nearby countries, including Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, possibly as early as next year.</p> <p>“Right now, we want to test replicating what we have and learn how to manage multiple facilities at once,” Soga says.</p> <p>As for Genevieve’s mounting phone notifications, she remains thrilled to get constant reminders of the impact the co-founders’ hard work is having. Still, with the ultimate goal of transforming care across sub-Saharan Africa, she admits she’ll have to turn them off at some point soon.</p> <p>“We’re trying to get to the point where it’s almost a diagnostic center in a box,” she says. “We can provide everything you’d need to go from zero patients to seeing 1,000 or 2,000 a month. We’re also getting so much data and information about the people we’re seeing, so we know the diseases they’re coming in for and the type of diagnostics they need. This information will become increasingly important as we look to build health care solutions for hundreds of thousands of patients instead of tens of thousands.”</p> A patient receives an ultrasound at MDaaS Global's clinic in Ibadan, Nigeria. MDaaS provides diagnostic services to low-income communities that were previously inaccessible.Image courtesy of MDaaS GlobalInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Africa, Health, Medicine, Health care, Public health, Social entrepreneurship, Legatum Center, IDEAS competition, Developing countries How Greentown Labs became the epicenter of clean tech The incubator’s winding journey to success helped its startup community grow closer while addressing environmental challenges. Tue, 25 Jun 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>Greentown Labs is the largest clean technology incubator in North America, a fact that’s easy to accept when you walk inside. The massive, open entrance of Greentown’s Somerville, Massachusetts, headquarters gives visitors the impression they’ve entered the office of one of Greater Boston’s most successful tech companies.</p> <p>Beyond the modern entryway are smaller working spaces — some cluttered with startup prototypes, others lined with orderly lab equipment — to enable foundational, company-building experiments.</p> <p>In addition to the space and equipment, Greentown offers startups equity-free legal, information technology, marketing, and sales support, and a coveted network of corporations and industry investors.</p> <p>But what many entrepreneurs say they like most about Greentown is the people.</p> <p>“Greentown offers a lot of different things, but first and foremost among them is a community of entrepreneurs who are striving to solve big challenges in climate, energy, and the environment,” says Greentown Labs CEO Emily Reichert MBA ’12.</p> <p>Greentown is full of stories of peers bumping into each other in the kitchen only to find they’re struggling with similar problems or, even better, that one of them already grappled with the problem and found a solution.</p> <p>MIT has played a pivotal role in Greentown’s success since its inception. Reichert estimates about 60 percent of all the companies that have come through Greentown have direct ties to MIT.</p> <p>The current version of Greentown looks like the result of some well-funded, grand vision set forth long ago. But Greentown’s rise was every bit as spontaneous — and tenuous — as the early days of any startup.</p> <p><strong>A space for building</strong></p> <p>In 2010, Sorin Grama SM ’07 and Sam White were looking for office space to work on a new chiller design for their startup, Promethean Power Systems, which still develops off-grid refrigeration systems in India. They needed a place to build the big, leaky refrigeration prototypes they’d thought up. It also needed to be close to MIT, where the company founders connected with advisors and interns.</p> <p>Eventually, White found “a dilapidated warehouse” on Charles Street in Cambridge for the right price. What the space lacked in beauty it made up for in size, so the founders decided to use an MIT email list to see if other founders would like to join them. Some founders building an app were first to respond. Their first reaction was to ask White and Grama to clean up a bit, and they were politely shown the door.</p> <p>Without exactly intending to, Grama and White had made their warehouse a builder space. Over the next week, a few more founders came in, including Jason Hanna, the co-founder of building efficiency company Embue; Jeremy Pitts SM ’10, MBA ’10, who was creating more efficient compressor systems for the oil and gas industry as the founder of Oscomp Systems; and Adam Rein MBA ’10 and Ben Glass ’07 SM ’10, whose company Altaeros was building airborne wind turbines. The warehouse looked perfect to them.</p> <p>“What we all had in common was we just needed a space to prototype and build stuff, where we could spill stuff, make noise, and share tools,” Grama says. “Pretty quickly it became a nice band of startups that appreciated the same thing.”</p> <p>The winter of 2010-2011 was a freezing one in the warehouse, made worse by icy cement floors, but the founders couldn’t help but notice the benefits of working together. Any time an intern or investor came to see one company, they were introduced to the others. Founders with expertise in areas like grant writing or funding rounds would give lunchtime presentations to help the others.</p> <p>Rein remembers thinking he was in the perfect environment to succeed despite the sometimes comical dysfunction of the space. One day an official with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) stopped by to evaluate one of the startups for a grant. The visit went well enough — until she got locked in the bathroom. The founders eventually got her out, but they didn’t think the incident boded for their chances of getting that grant.</p> <p>When the landlord kicked them out of Charles Street, they found a similar space in South Boston, recruiting friends and employees to help strip wires, scrape walls, and paint over the course of a week. Rein recalls his regular duties included ordering toilet paper for the building.</p> <p>The space was also twice as large as the one in Cambridge, so as Greentown’s reputation spread throughout 2011, five startups became 15, then 20.</p> <p>“It really took on a life of its own,” Grama says.</p> <p>Among the curious MIT students who journeyed to Greentown that year was Reichert. Having worked as a chemist for 10 years in spotless, safety-certified labs before coming to MIT, she was shocked to see the condition of Greentown.</p> <p>“The first time I walked in I had two gut reactions,” Reichert says. “The first was I felt this amazing energy and passion, and kind of a buzzing. If you walk into Greentown today you still feel those things. The second was, ‘Oh my god, this place is a death trap.’”</p> <p>After earning her MBA, Reichert initially helped out as a consultant at Greentown. By February of 2013, she joined Greentown to run it full time. It was a critical time for the growing co-op: White and Grama were getting ready to move to India to work on Promethean, and Hanna, who had primarily led Greentown to that point, was expecting the birth of his first child.</p> <p>At the same time, real estate prices in South Boston were skyrocketing, and Greentown was again being forced to move.</p> <p>Reichert, who worked as CEO without a salary for more than a year, remembers those first six months on the job as the most stressful of her life. With no money to put toward a new space, she was able to partner with the City of Somerville to secure some funding and find a new location. Reichert signed a construction contract to renovate the Somerville space before she knew where the money would come from, and began lobbying state and corporate officials for sponsorships.</p> <p>She still remembers the day Greentown was to be evicted from South Boston, with everyone scrambling to clean out the cluttered warehouse and a few determined founders running one last experiment until 7 p.m. before throwing the last of the equipment in a U-Haul truck and beginning the next phase of Greentown’s journey.</p> <p><strong>Growing up</strong></p> <p>Within 15 months of the move to Somerville, Greentown’s 40,000 square feet were completely filled and Reichert began the process of expanding the headquarters.</p> <p>Today, Greentown’s three buildings make up more than 100,000 square feet of prototyping, office, and event space and feature a wet lab, electronics lab, and machine shop.</p> <p>Since its inception, Greentown has supported more than 200 startups that have created around 2,800 jobs, many in the Boston area.</p> <p>The original founders still serve on Greentown’s board of directors, ensuring every dollar Greentown makes goes toward supporting startups.</p> <p>Of the founding companies, only Promethean and Altaeros are still housed in Greentown, although they’re all still operating in some form.</p> <p>“We probably should’ve moved out, but it’s important to work in a place you really enjoy,” Rein says of Altaeros.</p> <p>Grama, meanwhile, has come full circle. After ceding the reigns of Promethean and returning from India, last year he started another company, Transaera, that’s developing efficient, environmentally friendly cooling systems based on research from MIT.</p> <p>This time, it took him a lot less time to find office space.</p> Greentown Labs is the largest clean technology incubator in North America by both square feet and the number of member companies. The open layout of its entrance, shown here, is designed to host events and encourage collaboration.Images: Barry HetheringtonInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, Renewable energy, Solar, Wind, Climate change, Energy, Environment and energy, Alternative energy, Cambridge, Boston and region, Alumni/ae A data scientist dedicated to social change MBAn student Mason Grimshaw seeks to bring business solutions to overlooked communities. Sat, 22 Jun 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Daysia Tolentino | MIT News correspondent <p>Mason Grimshaw grew up on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota but moved to Rapid City during high school to pursue a better education. When it came time to apply to college, he hopped online, typed “best engineering schools” into Google, and applied to two places: MIT and his father’s alma mater, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. He was admitted to both, but when he got into the Institute, his father insisted that he go.</p> <p>It wasn’t an easy decision, however. Grimshaw felt guilt about leaving his community, where he says that everyone helps each other get by. The move to Rapid City had been difficult enough for him, given that 90 percent of his family lived back at the reservation. Coming to Cambridge was an even bigger step, but his family encouraged him to take the opportunity.</p> <p>“I didn’t really want to leave home, because that is such a strong community for me. I thought if I did leave, it was only going to be worth it if I could get the best education possible,” he says.</p> <p>Now a graduate student at the MIT Sloan School of Management working toward a Master of Business Analytics (MBAn) degree, Grimshaw hopes to eventually bring the skills and knowledge he acquires at MIT back home to the reservation.</p> <p>Looking at the big picture, Grimshaw has aspirations to bring programming to Rosebud. The ultimate dream would be to open a software or web development consulting firm where he could teach community members computer science skills that they could, in turn, teach others. He hopes that through this business, he can equip people in the community with enough technical skills to be able to sustain the company on their own without his help. It’s a long-term goal, but Grimshaw aims high.</p> <p><strong>Discovering data </strong></p> <p>After earning his bachelor’s in business analytics at MIT, Grimshaw saw the MBAn as a natural next step. The program teaches students to apply the techniques of data science, programming, machine learning, and optimization to come up with business solutions.</p> <p>“Because I did it as an undergrad, I thought this stuff was so cool. You can kind of predict the future and help anyone make a better decision. If I was going to be that person to help people make decisions that are important and change people’s lives, I wanted to make sure that I was as prepared as possible,” Grimshaw says.</p> <p>Surprisingly, Grimshaw did not touch a line of code before coming to MIT. In fact, he entered college intending to study mechanical engineering. But in his first year, his friend was having issues with an assignment for a computer science class, so he decided to help him take a crack at the problem.</p> <p>The work was fun, Grimshaw says, and coding came naturally for him. Eventually, he dropped his mechanical engineering pursuits and started studying computer science. He later switched majors and applied his computer science education to business analytics.</p> <p>As a part of his MBAn program, he must complete an analytics capstone project, in which students work with a sponsor organization to create data-driven solutions to specific problems. Grimshaw, along with his program partner Amal Rar, will be working with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) this summer to make The Ride, MBTA’s door-to-door paratransit service, more efficient.</p> <p><strong>Bringing business to invisible places</strong></p> <p>Supported by the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, Grimshaw is also currently assisting MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Anjali Sastry in writing a case study for South African nonprofit <u><a href="" target="_blank">RLabs</a></u>. RLabs seeks to inspire hope by providing business training and consulting to underprivileged South African communities. Grimshaw liked the organization’s mission, and he hopes that working on the RLabs case could give him some ideas about how to bring hope and innovation to his own community back home.</p> <p>The nonprofit has, in part, inspired some of Grimshaw’s future aspirations for Rosebud. It has also gotten him to think about alternative ways to invest in or give back to communities that don’t necessarily focus on money. Some people, he says, need a place to stay or food more immediately than they need money.</p> <p>Evaluating those circumstances and developing business models that address those more immediate needs as a form of payment can be a unique alternative to traditional compensation. Grimshaw stresses that monetary compensation is still important, but that being responsive to the specific areas of need within a community also has value.</p> <p>“There’s a fine line. You can’t just say, ‘These people have nothing so they should just be happy to have a roof over their heads.’ I’m certainly not trying to do that, but there’s a difference in values and in what people place value on. Using that to make your business a little more sustainable is interesting,” Grimshaw says.</p> <p>The reservation that Grimshaw is from lies within Todd County, an area that was previously <u><a href="" target="_blank">listed</a></u> as one of the poorest in America. He hopes to demonstrate to businesses that it is possible and worthwhile to invest in overlooked areas. He says that a lot of case studies in his field don’t feature stories from the emerging world or rural areas. He wants to show that through creative thinking and problem-solving, companies can work in these places, create jobs, and help lift people out of poverty.</p> <p><strong>Family forward</strong></p> <p>Outside of his studies, Grimshaw mostly spends time with his wife and 5-month-old son, Augustine. His face lights up as he speaks about them.</p> <p>His wife, Julia, also has a passion for helping people and works as the assistant activities director at Hale House, an assisted senior living facility in Boston. The two of them grew up together and hope to move their family closer to home after Grimshaw finishes his MBAn. For now, their favorite things to do in Boston are going to the Public Gardens (Augustine loves the grass, Grimshaw says), getting a bite at Tasty Burger in Fenway, and watching the “Great British Bake Off” at home.</p> <p>He also continues to participate in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), which he <a href="" target="_blank">joined as an undergraduate</a>. There were very few members when he arrived at MIT in 2014, and while the number is still small, Grimshaw is enthusiastic about its growth.</p> <p>“It was pretty cool because when I came here there were four, and on a good day five, of us. I still go to meetings. As I go now, there’s always 10 people, sometimes up to 12 or 15, and it’s awesome to see how much it’s growing,” he says.</p> <p>While most people going into his field may opt for Silicon Valley or somewhere else on the coasts, Grimshaw would rather take his skill set closer to home. He won’t necessarily move back to Rosebud itself; somewhere within a reasonable driving-distance is more likely. He’s thinking about Denver, with its up-and-coming tech scene, but nothing is set in stone. Wherever he ends up, if a company is interested in helping others through data, Mason Grimshaw is here to help.</p> Mason GrimshawImage: Jake BelcherProfile, Students, Graduate, postdoctoral, Sloan School of Management, Analytics, Business and management, Developing countries, Poverty, Diversity and inclusion, Legatum Center Creating 3-D images, with regular ink MIT startup Lumii helps manufacturers replicate the visual effects of holograms on their printed materials. Wed, 19 Jun 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Zach Winn | MIT News Office <p>This month, 5,000 distinctive cans of Fuzzy Logic beer will appear on local shelves as part of Massachusetts-based Portico Brewing’s attempt to stand out in the aesthetically competitive world of craft beer.</p> <p>The cans feature eye-catching arrays of holographic triangles that appear three dimensional at certain angles. Curious drinkers might twist the cans and guess how Portico achieved the varying, almost shining appearance. Were special lenses or foils used? Are the optical effects the result of an expensive, holographic film?</p> <p>It turns out it takes two MIT PhDs to fully explain the technology behind the can’s appearance. The design is the result of Portico’s collaboration with Lumii, a startup founded by Tom Baran SM ’07 PhD ’12 and Matt Hirsch SM ’09, PhD ’14.</p> <p>Lumii uses complex algorithms to precisely place tens of millions of dots of ink on two sides of clear film to create light fields that achieve the same visual effects as special films and lenses. The designs add depth, motion, and chromatic effect to packages, labels, IDs, and more.</p> <p>“We describe [the technology] differently to different crowds,” Baran says. “You can formulate this as a machine learning problem or a signal processing problem, but basically at the end of the day we think of it as an optimization problem. To produce a three-dimensional image, you could place dots of ink so that you get a perfect rendition of a three-dimensional image from one perspective. Then you could rotate the print and say, ‘Well now the perspective is off, so I need to readjust all of the dots,’ and that will mess things up from the first perspective. We make it possible to have a three-dimensional image using just two layers of ink from as many perspectives as possible.”</p> <p>Lumii does not operate its own printing presses. Instead the company is partnering with package manufacturers, who are often surprised to learn that the machines they’ve been operating for decades are capable of printing designs with such special effects.</p> <p>The Portico collaboration is Lumii’s first project in packaging, and the founders are hoping it serves as technical validation for the large manufacturers who create packages for the world’s biggest brands.</p> <p>“[The Portico label manufacturers] are using equipment that can start at 5,000 units and go up to hundreds of millions per year,” Baran says. “Our technology can blow people away, but the people who do package printing say, ‘This is beautiful; I just need to make sure I can make one hundred million of these if I have to.’ That’s what this project does.”</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p><strong>Tech for effects</strong></p> <p>Baran and Hirsch met as undergraduates at Tufts University and stayed in touch as they both came to MIT for their graduate degrees. Hirsch’s PhD work at the Media Lab focused on using algorithms to make something appear three-dimensional, without fancy cameras or display screens.</p> <p>“The challenge of making something look 3-D is about not just pixels on a screen but light rays in space,” Hirsch explains. “To have a quality 3-D image, for every pixel on your screen you have to have potentially hundreds of different viewpoints to replicate a reality, so the problem is more difficult than just using brute force to build a finer optical system to represent that.”</p> <p>Baran’s research into new classes of a field of mathematics called nonconvex optimization made it possible for Lumii to process trillions of light rays to create its designs.</p> <p>Hirsch knew he wanted to start a company around the technology he’d worked on for his PhD, and Lumii was officially incorporated in 2015 when Baran joined.</p> <p>The founders received support from MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service and the Media Lab-affiliated E14 Fund.</p> <p>In 2016, they entered MassChallenge, where they decided to move from digital displays to print, which represented a bigger market but a much more complex problem.</p> <p>“On a digital display, 8K [or 8,000 pixels wide] is high resolution,” Baran says. “But if I take a magazine and tear off one page from it, I’m probably holding several billion pixels on that one page.”</p> <p>Still, the size of the various commercial printing sectors made them worth the added complexity. For instance, Baran says consumer packaged goods alone represent a $200 billion industry.</p> <p>“When we first read some of the numbers for package printing, we thought, ‘This sounds crazy.’ But everything we buy, every product we consume, has some form of language or label on it,” Baran says. “It’s so pervasive people don’t even think about it.”</p> <p>One type of packaging the founders are especially focused on is the shrink sleeve — the ubiquitous plastic wrap that covers products from mouthwash to energy drinks and spray cleaners. Lumii has also attracted attention in the security sector for applications like ID cards, which often rely on expensive foils to achieve holographic effects.</p> <p>By charging a small fee for its designs, Hirsch says Lumii offers a significant cost savings for package manufacturers when compared with using holographic foils and lenses that can be impractical at the high volumes required for commercial packaging.</p> <p>“There aren’t very often direct competitors to what we’re doing,” Hirsch says. “We see our technology as more complementary. If you’re using something like a brightly colored ink, we can use that ink in conjunction with our technology.”</p> <p>Because Lumii’s algorithms replace foils and other label materials, they can also make bottles and cans recyclable that weren’t previously, a benefit that has resonated with many potential customers.</p> <p><img alt="" src="/sites/" style="width: 500px; height: 281px;" /></p> <p><em><span style="font-size:10px;">The Portico Fuzzy Logic can design created by Lumii. Courtesy of Lumii</span></em></p> <p><strong>An intoxicating milestone</strong></p> <p>Many consumer brands export the production of their packaging to a group of large manufacturers. Hirsch and Baran have impressed some of these manufacturers with their designs, but it’s been difficult getting incorporated into production lines.</p> <p>“One of the things we’ve realized is it’s really important to be able to prove to people that it will work on their assembly line, and there are significant challenges to getting people to reserve time to try your experiments on their line,” Baran says.</p> <p>That’s what makes the Portico project so significant for Lumii. Portico wanted an eye-catching design for its new Fuzzy Logic cans, but it couldn’t change the materials or equipment it was using. The cans use a 45-micron-thick shrink sleeve, a relatively thin material that would test Lumii’s technology.</p> <p>That material is also used by many large consumer brands and so represented a perfect way to demonstrate Lumii’s potential for large companies across industries.</p> <p>“The Portico project is verification that what we’re doing works with a material that can be applied across a broad range of different markets,” Baran says. “Just the fact that it’s working on those types of materials is a big deal for us.”</p> <p>Now that they’ve gotten their designs on shelves, the founders have to decide how to focus their efforts to spread Lumii’s technology onto packages and labels everywhere.</p> <p>“We’re thinking, ‘What are the industries where we can have the biggest impact?’” Baran says. “We get to see the reaction on people’s faces when they see their printing press printing out things that are 3-D. We want to deliver that to more places.”</p> MIT startup Lumii creates ink designs that make images appear three dimensional on packages, labels, IDs, and more.Courtesy of LumiiInnovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Startups, 3-D, 3-D imaging, Algorithms, Media Lab, Design, School of Architecture and Planning, Alumni/ae, Supply chains