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MIT Sloan Student Blog Archive

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"Come in with a Purpose" and other advice from the Class of 2013



How will you get the most out of your MIT Sloan experience? The Admissions Office asked seven MBA members of the Class of 2013 whether they had any advice for incoming MIT Sloan MBA students.  As you will see, the comments vary somewhat, but the graduates all have insightful thoughts on the subject.

Here’s what they said:

-- Keep your mind open but don’t necessarily try to do everything.  Be selective and make choices with purpose. If you tried to take advantage of every opportunity at MIT Sloan, you’d be here for a decade!

-- Come in with a purpose and stay true to it while simultaneously being flexible.  There is so much opportunity here and so many directions that there is no way to do everything.  Think carefully about what you want to do in the future and choose courses to take accordingly. Don’t join too many clubs. Keep your eyes on the prize.  Prioritize.  Don’t be skeptical about soft skills. As the head of Nokia said,  “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” 

-- Get to know your classmates. I was genuinely surprised at the variety of work and cultural experiences of my fellow students. Everyone has a unique and interesting background. The diversity this presents in class significantly enhances one’s learning experience.

-- A good friend of mine gave me this advice: You can assume that your first year will be very busy. You will want to do everything and get overextended. It helps to have a good sense ahead of time of what you want to get out of business school. But don’t get stuck.  Keep your eyes open. Stay hungry. Experience all you can and get involved across MIT, not just at MIT Sloan. Go to the Infinite Corridor and read the bulletin boards. 

-- First, the most valuable assets you will leave here with are the relationships that you build. Prioritize first the formation of bonds with your classmates. Second, get the most out of every class, but do not focus exclusively on grades. Finally, force yourself on a weekly if not daily basis to venture far outside of your comfort zone where you will most efficiently and impactfully develop both personally and professionally.

-- Before you arrive on campus, think seriously about what you want to walk away with from MIT Sloan. Know that once you will arrive it will be crazy and hectic and there will be many possibilities that entice you. Don’t follow the herd. Stay true to what you want to do. Find ways to make it work for you.

-- Be open. You can meet every single person at the school. It will take a little effort but you can do it. And I assure you that you will be blown away. Be genuine. Even if you have an unpopular view that challenges people to think differently, that’s a valuable asset. Keep your feet on the ground. Take time to reflect. Try new things but realize that you can’t do everything. You may not ever have two years like this to explore. Soak it all up and realize how fortunate you are.

-- Harriet Barnett, Admissions Advisor


Brief Thoughts on Leaving MIT Sloan After Two Years

  1. The people, like all great schools, are what makes this place special.
  2. Entrepreneurship at this school has a more hard-technology focus than Stanford. The existing ecosystem reflects this slightly with more robots and medical companies than Silicon Valley, but software still rules the day in Kendall/Cambridge.
  3. Boston weather actually stinks. People here just find different ways of dealing with it. 
  4. Shoulda saved more money before starting school. They’re just too many awesome ways to spend.
  5. Pick a specialty and run with it. You’re a sports guy? Go hardcore. You’re a marketing expert? Sure thing. You’re the best investor since Warren Buffet? Go prove it. Make sure that people other than your classmates are convinced of this as well by the time you leave.


A Working Hypothesis for The 3 Most Important Elements of Building Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

This past Thursday, I, along with Bill Aulet, was invited by my thesis advisor, Scott Stern, to talk the the Entrepreneurship Lab (E-Lab) course that he teaches. E-Lab is one of the oldest "action learning" classes at MIT that pre-dates all entrepreneurship courses and most other entrepreneurial efforts (e.g., the Martin Trust Center) at MIT. The class is a mix of graduate, undergraduate, and non-MIT students organized into teams that do consulting-style projects with host companies over the course of the semester.

I was invited to talk about my experience with the Regional Entrepreneruship Acceleration Program (REAP) and, accordingaly, my thesis which will assess the REAP program against the success of the regions involved, attempting to accelerate entrepreneurship in their home regions.

As part of my brief talk , I decided that I would give a working hypothesis of what, according to my research and analysis, what were they three most important elements to buidling an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Here they are:

  1. "Setting the table" to allow for entrepreneurship to begin and flourish
  2. Sustained and deliberate leadership in the entrepreneurial community
  3. A shared and publicly available system of measurement

"Setting the table" is perhaps the most obvious, but also, most impactful lesson from Josh Lerner's Boulevard of Broken Dreams. It involves setting up legal and cultural norms that allow and reward entrepreneurial risk-taking.

Leadership is an important element popularized by Brad Feld in his "Boulder Thesis" for building entrepenerial communities. While I agree strongly with the need for sustained and deliberate leadership to drive the community (as Feld himself did in Boulder), I disagree that this needs to come from an entrepreneur directly, perhaps benefiting from government and corporate roots as well. 

Sharing measurement and making it available is a concept being advocated by Mark Kramer in his article "Channeling change: Making collective impact work." Measurement and accountability is a familiar concept in management and individual performance, however, the practice has been conspicuously absent from efforts of collective action.

What do you think? I would love to hear any comments/reactions to my list here. I also hope to add/remove from this list as I complete my thesis over the next moth.


Korea Trek: Spring break and the turning point in 2nd semester

First off, congrats to the new 2nd round Admits! You've all worked so hard to get here and we hope you join us at MIT! 

Korea Trek

Each at year MIT Sloan, we have a tradition of going on one of several spring break excursions around the world. The big ones in our program are Japan, Israel, India (a newbie), and Korea. 

Korea Trek has a reputation for being among the most fun of any of the trips and this is in large part due to the strong Korean student body on campus. They are the most fun, polished, and interesting of any our classmates and they know how to show us a good time on their home turf. 

If you had to conceptualize an MBA spring break trip, I would liken it to a tour group vacation you might observe while traveling on your own. Now there's some variables to change with that equation though. First off, you're traveling with your best friends. Second, substitute in the premeir hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, access to business and political leaders, and lucky opportunities to tour special places. 

It's a great way to get to know your classmates and see them in a different light. Often times there's adventures and great stories. It's an unsung part(y) of the MBA that you talk about all the time once you're here, but rarely think about before you get in. 

The highlight of this trip for me was visiting the Joint Security Area and stepping foot in North Korea. I'm deliberately not going to post any pictures for personal security reasons, but it was a great to be in a historic place and to see and talk about North Korea with our Korean classmates, our US Army escorts, and with each other. We ended the day by sharing dinner with the Korean Alumni association who are a ton of fun and big movers and shakers in Korea, followed by hip-hop nightclubbing in Gangnam, dancing to music on stage. 

During our time we also stayed at Buddhist monastery in silence and woke up at 3am to meditate (a voluntary activity). In the same day, we took an executive tour of Hyundai Heavy Industries, the largest shipyard in the world and walked the floors as they put together boats 3x+ the length of a football field. We also toured YG Entertainment, the talent agency and record label for PSY among others (where fans were eagerly outside just snapping photos of the building and anyone who was coming and going). 

We don't say it enough, but sometimes if you look around during one of these days, you'll see your classmate's eyes glaze over for a second. They'll then look at you and say, 3 years ago, would you have imagined you would be here today, doing what we just did with people we are with? I've had more of these moments than I can count at MIT Sloan. Beyond all of the textbook reasons why you might get an MBA, these are the moments that make the MBA worth it. 


Launching A Startup At MIT Sloan: What Resources Exist?

If you're like me, you want to go to Sloan to get a startup off the ground.  You might have a project that you are already working on or one that you will not hatch until this coming fall. So what is available at Sloan that will help your startup succeed? 


While there are dozens of courses at MIT Sloan that have to do with entrepreneurship, I am heavily biased towards courses that have a ton of hands-on, practical application rather than the more academic approach to learning that doesn't get your hands dirty.  Here are a few classes that I found very useful:

15.391 Early Stage Capital - A half semester course that provides a first-rate understanding of the world of angel investors, venture capitalists and teaches you to become proficient in the lingo of the term sheet (participating preferred is NOT a good thing!).  You get to do two "real world" simulations where you meet with actual lawyers and discuss a term sheet and also do a mock negotation with a real VC.  

GSD (aka Get Stuff Done) - Ok, so the official name of this class is actually 15.S17 Applications in Advanced Entrepreneurial Techniques, but I had to look that up because everyone calls it GSD.  This class is much less structured than most classes and gives a phenomenal opportunity to make progress on a project you are already working on and to meet people who are not from Sloan. You have to apply to get into this class of about 25 students, half of whom are those amazing Course 6 (Computer Science) undergrads that you hear about but never meet.  To get credit for the course you must make progress on a startup project during the semester-- typically with a deliverable of a beta version of your product or, in some invaluable cases, evidence that your idea won't actually work.  Lean startup iteration!

15.280 Communications For Leaders - This core class is a requirement for all MBA students, and it's chock full of opportunities to practice one of the most important aspects of launching a company: communicating your vision.  Between speaking, memo writing, emailing and giving constructive feedback to a team, this class will make you a better communicator.  Don't like speaking in front of people? This class helps you to get over that mortal fear, and you'll need to if you're going to convince anyone to work with you or invest in your company.

15.S16 Entrepreneurial Product Development and Marketing - This is a half semester class that is co-taught by Brian Halligan, co-founder of Hubspot, an inbound marketing software company that came out of MIT Sloan 6 years ago and is expected to go public soon. Brian challenges you to use inbound marketing tactics to grow your site traffic and get more customers.  I believe this class now includes teams receiving a small amount of money (like $2,000) that they are required to use to test different marketing channels.  Pretty cool, huh?


The MIT $100K is a year-long series of competitions that track the "lifecycle" of a startup, from idea inception in September to presenting a formulated and vetted business to prospective investors in April. There are several different competitions that run independently of each other, but the purpose is that if you had a great idea at the beginning of the school year you would pitch it at the t=0 event, then present your 1 minute pitch at the Elevator Pitch Competition, then prototype during the Accelerate Competition in Dec-Jan, then compete in the Business Plan Competition in the spring. 

I've participated in several of the events and found them to be helpful for several reasons: 

1. You practice your pitch. It's much better the 50th time you say it.

2. You get the attention of future team members and investors, especially if you are a finalist in any of the events.

3. It forces you to make progress and the competition aspects pushes you to stand out, which is much more "real world" than any multiple choice test in class.



One of the biggest challenges facing any startup is finding the right people to get the startup off the ground. I found this task impossible in my previous role as an investment professional-- I only knew other analytical, consultant-types of people who didn't have any different skills than I had.  While being at MIT makes the process of meeting people with skills complementary to my own easier, you still have to go out there and actually meet them. 

Call it networking. Call it team building. Call it self-discovery.  As long as you work on a bunch of different projects, don't half-ass what you contribute to the group and treat people well, you'll have a list of people who you want to call up when you've closed that first round of funding and need to hire someone from MIT.


I am @dlrdaniel on Twitter. I post about startups, content marketing, and good food and wine. 



Top 3 Things I've Learned At MIT Sloan

Dlrod3-11-50f9ba0be3686I'm a second year MIT Sloan student who has focused heavily on the E&I Track, pursued multiple startup projects, sings in two cover bands and will have my second child before I graduate this June.  Currently, I'm the co-founder of Indivly Magic, a content marketing agency that helps businesses tell more engaging stories through images.

1. You Can Reinvent Yourself At 30

A lot of people come to business school to switch their career and you shouldn't be shy about admitting that if you're one of those people. Not sure where exactly that switch will lead you? That's alright. But be prepared to feel pressured into figuring that out within the first 10 weeks on campus. Resist the pressure. Embrace the uncertainty.  Consulting and banking dominate the formal recruiting efforts and begin earlier than industry recruiting.  I had a background in consulting and investment management, so it was easy for me to skip out on attending info sessions-- I knew there was no way I was going back to those professions. If you are on the fence, be prepared to get sucked in.  But don't let anyone tell you that you can't get a job in a career that you don't have previous experience working in.  

2. Finding A Startup Co-Founder Is Hard

If you're like me, you had the "startup itch" before even arriving at Sloan.  I was working with a wine startup, Drync, as a side project while doing my full time job in the 8 months heading into Sloan.  It gave me the urge to strike out on my own, but all of my ideas seemed to have a technology component.  Just because you're at MIT doesn't mean it's that much easier to meet that technical co-founder-- it's something you really have to earn.  If you waltz around with a good idea and expect some brilliant CS major (Course 6 at MIT) to follow you ( especially without pay), you might be waltzing around for a long time.  You'd be surprised, though, at the progress you can make toward proving if an idea is a good one if you get some external validation.  I wrote a blog post about this a few months ago, (5 Things I've Learned About Entrepreneurship at Sloan), but the general idea is: Ideas Are Cheap.  Showing what you bring to the table and how you can move along a process of bringing money in the door (by raising it or generating revenue) makes a non-technical co-founder valuable.  After all, "You're either building it, selling it, or getting in the way."

3. Don't Be Afraid To Fail

Business school is unlike any work environment that you are currently in. Why? Because it's consequence-free.  For instance, do you feel like whenever you're working on a small team that you are the scribe and someone else is divvying up the work? You can get practice in that new role with your Core Team.  Want to give entrepreneurship a try but never had the space or resources to try something at your current job? Business school (and MIT Sloan, specifically) are perfect for that.  Stink at speaking in front of groups? You'll get plenty of opportunities to improve on that invaluable skill.  

I've put myself outside of my comfort zone constantly over the past 16 months. You know what's happened? I've grown. It's almost impossible not to. And when you grow you gain more confidence in your ability to achieve your goals. You get more comfortable in your own skin.

Whether you know for sure if you're attending Sloan or not, I'd love to see what you're up to. Follow me on Twitter and I'll follow you back!


2012 Ghanaian Elections, Sloan Students, and Poultry

5000 miles away from MIT Sloan's Cambridge home, Ghana's 14 million voters have been heading to the polls to elect a new president and parliament. The last elections in 2008 were decided by just 42,000 votes (0.46%), and the authorities have been at pains to ensure the transparency and integrity of the process, with voter-led initiatives such as Ghana Decides  providing detailed insight and commentary on the process, and the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers providing updates and even webinars explaining their work. 

Back home in Cambridge, MA, the 12 MIT Sloan students who will be travelling to Ghana in January as part of the school's 'Global Entrepeneurship Lab' action learning class are keeping a keen eye on the election proceedings and eventual outcome. The election has particular importance for my team's G-Lab project on the Ghanaian poultry industry - a topic that has bubbled up over the election cycle.

Ghana currently imports 90% of its chicken meat, primarily from Brazil, the EU and US, with frozen imported meat selling for approximately 60% of the price of domestically produced meat. This creates issues both for food security and employment in Ghana, becoming a politically contentious issue as politicians seek to balance the trade-off between providing cheap poultry meat to consumers vs increasing import tariffs, driving up prices and and sheltering domestic producers. 

Ghana Poultry

Working with a local entrepreneur, we are exploring a 'third way' - helping the domestic industry to lower its costs, to be able to more effectively compete with imports. Examining the value chain for poultry in Ghana reveals that 82% of the variable production cost of chicken is associated with the cost of feed, and it is here that we are further investigating opportunities to lower its cost through improved agricultural yields and production techniques. Success would mean that chicken could be produced domestically for a lower cost, and could compete more effectively with imported meat - helping to re-kindle a dwindling industry and build the nation's food security.  

And so, back to the election. The two major Ghanaian political parties, the New Patriotic Party and National Democratic Congress both make manifesto commitments to the poultry sector. When we hit the ground in Accra in January, we could be facing a new administration, with new commitments - and have to interpret what that means for the poultry industry, the level of funding and support that it may receive, and the impetus for change. Latest reports indicate another close election campaign - whatever the election outcome, we face exciting times ahead. 


Sloan Students and the 2012 Election

As an international student, it's been fascinating to be in the US during the 2012 presidential campaign. Over the past few weeks, barely a day has passed without campaign material arriving in my letterbox, canvassers stopping me outside the subway station, and election-related banner ads persistently appearing in my browser. 

Sloan has been a hive of activity - with Sloan faculty organising debate viewing parties, Sloan/HKS dual degree students hosting fellow Sloanies at Harvard Kennedy School events, and for the particularly motivated members of the class, campaigning trips to the swing states of New Hampshire and Ohio. Finally, as the results rolled in on Tuesday night, the MIT Sloan Policy Forum hosted a nonpartisan election night party in a nearby bar, in an event that could lovingly be described as "Superbowl for nerds."  

But what if Sloan students had been able to cast the deciding vote in the presidency? The MIT Sloan Policy Forum sought to answer this question, surveying students in the three days running up to Election Day, to try and determine the political makeup of the class, producing the below results:

MBA Political Preference Survey 2012

The results proved to be very interesting reading - but before jumping to any big conclusions, it's worth recalling our Data, Models and Decisions class from the core:

Was the sample big? Sure - we had 111 responses. However, was the sample random? Not exactly - the survey was advertised through the class Facebook group, so arguably that core "Facebook procrastinators" demographic may have been over-represented, and equally the self-selection of participants means that those who are more politically active are similarly likely to be over-represented. 

Whilst the survey may not quite be as rigorous as those used by pollsters inside the Beltway, stacking up the results of the Sloan survey with some of our peer schools - who conducted similar studies, with varying levels of rigor - shows our results broadly in line with the MBA community, providing a fascinating and somewhat unexpected insight into the political makeup of business school.  


Thoughts on Community

I met with a prospective student recently who said MIT Sloan was his first choice because of the sense of community. I told him it was a great choice in that light, though I had never considered it as a deciding criterion. Following our conversation, I've taken note of some of the small but demonstrable acts of community that make me proud to be a Sloanie. 

For instance, watching our message boards, I see alumni in NYC coordinating accomodations for Sloanies who have lost power in their own homes. 

Yesterday during the Hurricane, I had Sloanies welcome me into their home and cook food for our entire community in our building. 

Our "old" second year students (Class of 2012) still write us to see how we're doing, offer their help, and meet up if they're passing through any town in the world that we'll be too. 

It's sometimes the small things we don't notice at first that make MIT Sloan special.


From Hype to Rigor: MIT's New Workshop Builds Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Worldwide

This article origianlly ran October 8th, 2012 on Brad Feld's Startup Revolution.

This past weekend, seven teams from regions across the world met in Edinburgh, Scotland to continue on a two-year journey to develop strategies and implement plans to build startup communities in their regions. Delegations from Scotland, Finland, Hangzhou (China), Turkey, Andalucia (Spain), Veracruz (Mexico), and New Zealand were all taking part in the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP) organized and run by the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.

The teams were led through this three-day workshop by MIT Sloan faculty whose research has contributed significantly to the academic understanding of the drivers and impact of innovation-driven entrepreneurial ecosystems and startup communities. The program originated as a response to frequent requests of faculty to give brief talks on the subject and consult to regions around the globe; the desire to take a deeper look at how to better examine and accelerate these entrepreneurial ecosystems and a commitment to driving towards impact resulted in the MIT REAP program. They formed MIT REAP as part of an comprehensive effort to engage all stakeholders in a regional strategy, putting their research into practice.

One part of the MIT REAP curriculum is to assemble a task force of key players across the ecosystem to form a strong and defensible strategy for building an entrepreneurial community within a given region. Having a strategy for your community follows from the findings from Professors Scott Stern and Fiona Murray who have dedicated their careers to studying entrepreneurship and innovation. This past week in Edinburgh, MIT REAP members were able to closely examine one cluster emerging in Scotland by touring sites across the wave energy ecosystem. In addition to hosting many leading wave energy companies born out of Scottish universities, including Pelamis and AWS, Scotland is home to the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), a third-party certification center for new technologies. Scotland is geographically located in one of the five regions in the world with consistent and strong wave and tidal activity. The region’s leadership and drive in this area now mean that other regions are unlikely to overtake its position as wave energy leader. MIT REAP members examined the unique characteristics of the region that enable this position and how the public and private sector actors contribute to its competitiveness.

The MIT REAP teams also covered the hot topic of accelerators and their recent proliferation across the globe. Bill Aulet, one of the three core MIT REAP faculty members, even wrote a small write-up in Startup Communities about the MIT Founders’ Skills Accelerator which gave 10 student-entrepreneur teams up to $20K to found a company this past summer. The MIT REAP teams were aware of accelerator’s potential to fulfill part four of the Boulder thesis: to engage the entrepreneurial stack. However, with that awareness also came a reluctance to simply launch copy-cat accelerators with low value to entrepreneurs and other participants. Yet the appetite remains strong for knowledge and transferable take-aways from accelerators such as TechStars, as regions around the world continue to search for sparks to flame full-fledged startup communities.

This first cohort of regions will complete the MIT REAP program in late 2013, coinciding with the launch of a second cohort. To learn more about becoming an MIT REAP member or how to put your own region’s initiatives and innovation-driven entrepreneurial activity on the map, you can visit

About the author:
Beto Juárez III is a second-year MBA student at MIT Sloan and a Springworks scholar. In addition to helping administer the MIT REAP program, he is also writing a thesis on the formation of entrepreneurial communities, and is the co-founder of SpokeSwap, a peer-to-peer rental marketplace.