MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program (Sandbox), an Institute-wide program that will support student-initiated ideas, launched today. The endeavor opens more pathways for all types of student innovators — whether they have a seed of an idea, a nascent technology, a specific startup in mind, or are planning the next moonshot. Sandbox will connect students with tailored educational experiences, mentoring, and up to $25,000 to help qualified students and teams nurture their creative brainstorms.
“The primary aim of Sandbox is to develop people, not necessarily startups or products, but the learning will be in the context of advancing an entrepreneurial venture or innovative idea — one that serves an important market or social need,” says Ian A. Waitz, dean of MIT’s School of Engineering and the originator of the program. “It is designed to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be more effective when they go off in the world and practice MIT’s brand of deep scientific and technological innovation.”
Connected and integrative
Led by the School of Engineering in partnership with the MIT Innovation Initiative, Sandbox will collaborate with existing campus organizations, such as Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, the Venture Mentoring Service, and the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program. Initial participants in Sandbox are being drawn from StartMIT, a two-week entrepreneurship bootcamp, but proposals are encouraged from any MIT graduate or undergraduate student or team.
Jinane Abounadi SM '90 PhD '98, who previously worked at two Boston-based startups, ITA and Kayak, and who conducted systems research as a PhD student and lecturer at MIT in the 1990s, will serve as the executive director of the Sandbox program. “Students should be able to play with standing up an idea,” says Abounadi, who served as a housemaster of MIT’s MacGregor dormitory for 20 years.
“We expect Sandbox to grow with participants as their ideas take shape, helping with resources, mentors, teammates, guidance as to next steps, and connecting them with educational opportunities to advance their ideas. The program can meet the growing interest among students looking for a better way to engage with the MIT innovation ecosystem, at all levels, and thereby create a more diverse population of innovators and entrepreneurs.”
Educational inside and out
Designed to be flexible and synergistic with MIT classwork and research, Sandbox will support students throughout their time on campus. Accepted proposals will be accompanied by milestones and/or co-curricular requirements tailored to the needs of the individual student or team. All participants will be matched with mentors leveraging the alumni and non-alumni networks in the area.
Founding contributors to Sandbox include people and organizations from around the world spanning the range of pathways through which MIT students and alumni may have an impact: foundations, large companies, small companies, individual entrepreneurs, investors, and government laboratories. Pending final review, the supporters who have committed to the program include: Amazon; Danaher; General Catalyst Partners; GETTYLAB; MIT Lincoln Laboratory; OCP; Philips; Picoco; Polaris Partners; Tata group; Xerox Foundation; and individual donors (Noubar B. Afeyan PhD '87; Haejin Baek '86; Peter C. Farrell SM '67; Daniel A. Gilbert '91; Jamie Goldstein '89; Paul S. Mashikian '95, MNG ’97; Mick Mountz '87; Hans N. Robertson '99, MNG '03; Frank G. Slaughter ’84; Emilie "Mimi" I. Slaughter '87, SM '88; Peter Levine; and Jeremy M. Wertheimer SM '89, PhD '96). They will provide guidance and feedback to the students and make recommendations on which projects to fund and at what level.
“We are thrilled to be part of this new endeavor,” says Amir Nashat ScD '03, managing partner at Polaris Partners who received his doctorate from MIT and is a mentor/Catalyst at the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation. “It’s great for MIT and the local Cambridge-Boston innovation economy; and it offers tremendous promise for a world that is looking for innovative thinkers and solutions to substantial, challenging problems. By exposing students to market realities, and how to strategize about them, we are providing a critical and instructive part of the entrepreneurial journey.”
Through the efforts of Nashat and Partner Emeritus Alan Spoon SB ’73, SM ’73 who is a member of the MIT Corporation, Polaris is one of the initial partners who helped conceive the program. To help sustain the program, students who find later success are encouraged to contribute to Sandbox, and/or MIT, and/or the organizations that have provided support for Sandbox. Waitz adds that he has been gratified by the positive response to the program’s aims by contributors, alumni, and most important, current students.
“Sandbox will give our students an opportunity to explore their entrepreneurial passions,” MIT Provost Martin Schmidt says. “Through the generous contributors to Sandbox, student teams will be provided with the resources to bring their ideas into reality.’”