Economic and Community Development
Lessons on Entrepreneurship from MIT
The highlight of last month’s Metro Council CEO roundtable in Boston for me was our trip over the Charles River to MIT. Thanks to Paul Guzzi and the Greater Boston Chamber, our group met with Lita Nelsen, Director of MIT’s Technology Licensing Office to discuss tech transfer and the university’s role in supporting a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. When I say robust, I mean robust. One recent study found 25,800 active companies founded by MIT grads employing 3.3 million people with annual worldwide sales of $2 trillion. At least a million of those jobs are in Massachusetts.
From Lita’s enlightening presentation I took away 3 key points:
- Real estate doesn’t matter that much. Dozens of successful companies were founded in grubby basements around Cambridge. And despite high commercial rent, starts ups still flourish (and mostly stay) in greater Boston. This is not to say that helping provide affordable, conducive space won’t help startup ventures… but a shiny new incubator building does not guarantee any success.
- You don't need a Czar. MIT has successfully maintained a flourishing start up environment without anyone “in charge.” The Tech Licensing Office helps with patents and investment, Sloan Management School has an entrepreneurship track, alumni group runs mentoring, the School of Engineering has shared lab space, the Deshpande Center for Tech Innovation provides grants… but there is no “czar” of entrepreneurship. There is lots of coordination, but faculty and staff have fought all attempts to centralize.
- Successful startup executives matter. Accomplished business builders, marketers and operators - are as important to a robust ecosystem as inventors, research and patents. This is the often overlooked element of MIT’s success and an area where all chambers can add value.
For more on MIT’s support for startups, check out Kauffman Foundation’s report – Entrepreneurial Impact: The Role of MIT.