In today’s digital age, everyone wants to be an entrepreneur—to start their own business instead of working for someone else. It’s cool. It’s appealing, and according to Bill Aulet, Managing Director, of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, it takes a tremendous amount of hard work and discipline.
Entrepreneurship was a key topic discussed at the recent Second Machine Age Conference hosted by the MIT Industrial Liaison Program earlier this month. University administrators, researchers and faculty—including Aulet, and his MIT colleagues--are taking seriously the predictions in the recent book,The Second Machine Age, by MIT's Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. In fact, the Sloan business school, as well as other MIT centers and programs, are exploring new ways to train future leaders for the disruptions that automation and digitization are already causing. They're reexamining their fundamental educational role in fostering innovation and responding to global economic challenges--and in some cases, they want industry collaboration to jump-start the efforts.
The Rise of Innovation-driven Enterprises
At the conference, Fiona Murray, Associate Dean for Innovation, Sloan School, and Co-Director of the MIT Innovation Initiative, said that the “rise of the innovation-driven enterprise” means that MIT graduates need to adapt to global market shifts, to problem-solve at scale, and to help employers re-tool their organizations and policies.
“Is this code for entrepreneurship?” she asked. Perhaps. It clearly requires people who have a “problem-solving portfolio” to show an employer before landing a job.
Job-seekers need demonstrated project experience on the local and global level. They must initiate, and then be prepared to execute these ideas quickly, Murray said. In short, they need entrepreneurial mindsets--whether they work for themselves or for others.
For his part, Aulet wants to make sure MIT grads have the right skill sets to meet demands. “Increasingly, recent graduates and other young people entering the workforce want to start companies of their own, rather than find one to work for,” he said. “As the economic and technological landscape continues to shift in the wake of the digital revolution,” we can help them cultivate new capabilities.
Entrepreneurship With Discipline
The MIT Center for Entrepreneurship offers student clubs, conferences, competitions, networking events, awards, hackathons, trips, and most recently, accelerators, to keep the ideas—and the business plans--flowing. Last year, Aulet won the Adolf F. Monosson Prize for Entrepreneurial Mentoring at MIT. His latest book Disciplined Entrepreneurship (Wiley, 2013), describes 24 steps that can lead to a successful startup. Clearly, he believes that entrepreneurs are taught, not born. With a 25-year track record of launching and funding new businesses, Aulet has raised more than $100 million, creating hundreds of millions of dollars in market value in the companies he founded.
Other universities are realizing that they have a big role to play in shaping digital leaders, too. For instance, last week the University of California last week approved a venture-capital fund of up to $250 million, called UC Ventures, that will invest in “UC research-fueled enterprises.” The purpose is to “generate attractive, risk-adjusted returns,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. She also sees this fund as “a potential vehicle for providing resources to support the basic research and talent.”
MIT’s Murray said that designing an “innovation-centric campus” includes changing the pedagogy so that teams of students can attack unstructured problems with measurable outcomes. Murray would like businesses to become stakeholders in MIT programs to solve their real-world problems using MIT student and research resources.
Aulet said that innovation will spur new jobs and create new markets, and he sees MIT as the prime place to think outside traditional boxes. Nevertheless, he described a gap in entrepreneurial education today--even at quality universities such as MIT.
Overall, the spirit and desire to succeed are ready, Aulet said, but execution is lagging. He wants to further develop the skills, the support and rigor that often impede success. “Jobs will be entrepreneurial in the future,” he said. “It’s not a fad,”
and those companies that 'get it' will learn from, and buy, the small guys, and will thrive. Others will be left behind. “Starting a business is easy,” he said, “success is much more difficult.”