Entering its 18th year, the Global Startup Labs (GSL) program from MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) continues to recruit undergrads and graduate students across the Institute to teach entrepreneurship around the world.
Initially launched as a pilot program in Kenya, MISTI GSL now offers projects in 10 countries: Azerbaijan, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Mauritius, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Rwanda, and South Africa. Working in teams of three to four, MIT students travel abroad to help other students launch tech-based companies.
“Most MIT student instructors, when they land in a country, instantly become that country's foremost experts in entrepreneurship,” says Professor Saman Amarasinghe, the associate department head for the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and faculty co-director for MISTI GSL. “It is not uncommon for a prominent CEO to consult them on how to take advantage of entrepreneurship, or senior university professors to sit in their classrooms. I have seen a vice chancellor of a leading university invite the MIT students to explain how flipped classrooms work, and an MIT freshman, who was the entrepreneurship assistant, calmly explain to a very attentive VC and his leadership team how her freshman classes at MIT worked.”
For the first time this year MISTI GSL is formally partnering with the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT and Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship. The Legatum Center will help map the strategic direction of the program and the Martin Trust Center will provide the students with predeparture trainings.
“GSL is an exciting opportunity for our students to teach and learn from entrepreneurs across the world,” says Legatum Center Executive Director Georgina Campbell Flatter, a senior lecturer in technological innovation, entrepreneurship, and strategic management at MIT Sloan and a MISTI GSL faculty advisor. “Through our workshop, we’re excited to share MIT best practice in entrepreneurship education with the students, and for them to make it their own and take it to the field.”
This past summer 25 MIT students traveled to Brazil, Germany, Mauritius, Peru, Russia, and South Africa as part of the GSL program. The GSL-Peru group comprised entrepreneurship co-lead April Baker MBA '17, entrepreneurship co-lead Sandhya Bhagwandin MBA '17, technical assistant and EECS undergrad Alexa Jan, and technical lead Dalitso Banda, a master's candidate in EECS. Hosted by the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC), the student team led their Peruvian peers in discussions, hands-on workshops, and a demo day — the final day of the course during which the UTEC teams pitched their new startups to experts in the field.
“We were not sure what to expect. We planned out the curriculum for the first week, but we had been warned that we had to be prepared to be flexible,” the group says in a co-written report of their experiences “Through the use of technology and with the help of teammates and the UTEC contacts, we found it fairly easy to adapt to the new environment. We gained confidence in our ability to navigate foreign cultures, and we left feeling intellectually enriched.”
While more than 200 MIT students have benefitted from the “learning by teaching” technique of GSL, the program’s success can also be measured by the impact it’s had on foreign students.
“I wouldn’t have had the courage and determination to start my own business without the GSL program,” shares Lashan Silva, a 2013 GSL alumnus from Sri Lanka and the CEO and founder of Enhanzer. Enhanzer is a product development company focused on enhancing the efficiency of other businesses via cloud data storage, automated processes, and ERP consulting services. Founded in 2013, the company boasts over 11,000 transactions a day. Silva attributes his success to the GSL incubator hosted by MIT students five years ago. As part of the seven-week course, MIT GSL instructors showed Silva and his peers how to think like entrepreneurs and introduced them to various startup CEOs, senior staff, and IT experts. “At that time we didn’t have any entrepreneurship-related programs in our country. The GSL program helped me a lot to change my track from a traditional engineer to an entrepreneur,” Silva says.
The MISTI GSL program annually trains and funds top MIT students to mentor international peers, network with entrepreneurs, and teach real-world mobile app development. GSL has launched 68 programs in 22 countries: Algeria, Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Germany, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Zambia.
“It is so amazing to see some of the early GSL alumni who got to know about entrepreneurship through the program completely change their professional outlook and become successful entrepreneurs in their country,” Amarasinghe says. “Some are now leading companies with million dollar revenue and hundreds of employees.”
MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives is a program of the Center for International Studies within the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. Students who would like to apply to MISTI GSL can do so online before Feb. 15. Students with questions can submit them to firstname.lastname@example.org.