MIT $100K entrepreneurship contest

Posted May 19, 2006

Yesterday was the final award ceremony for the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, wherein teams of students compete based on the viability of their business plans for a new start-up company. The classic approach takes an invention developed at an MIT lab and runs with it, but there are other choices too, especially since this year's contest was expanded to include ideas for non-profit (but sustainable) businesses to help the developing world. It's a great opportunity for all concerned, since even beyond the prize money, there are a lot of big players in the Boston venture-capital community who pay close attention to the teams.

An early favorite of mine, Avanti, ended up as a runner-up, getting edged out by a very strong-looking biotech company. They were a favorite based on two factors: a clear technological advantage (the ability to smelt titanium using a cheaper, easier, less-polluting process), and a kick-ass spokesman (really, he gave a very memorable pitch at the semifinals). The latter shouldn't really have been a factor, per se, but beyond the strength of the business plan and the technology, the strength of the team members is also being judged, and the ability to communicate your vision clearly and memorably is a skill worth some major points, both in the contest and in the business world.

I didn't realize until the end that the smelting process had originally been developed for another purpose: extracting oxygen from lunar soil. It just so happened to produce titanium as a by-product, and the Avanti team decided to pursue that more mundane application here on the ground. Yet another example of "one person's noise is another person's data", I guess. In any case, I wish them luck with their new business, and hope they can gather as much capital as they need to get up and running.