Nearly 300 students clad in everything from suits for the office to T-shirts for the lab attended last week's The Business of Inventing workshop, an event designed to bridge the gap between inventors and business people.
The six panelists at the event, sponsored by the Lemelson-MIT Awards Program, shared their experiences and expertise in topics including product development, patent law, building and selling companies, and raising capital.
"A company is the vehicle for bringing ideas to fruition. Business is important," said Anthony Jules (SB '92, SM), co-founder of Sapient Corp. "It's one way you can have a real impact on the world."
"Marketing is a big, big part of your success," said Robert Rines (SB '42), a patent attorney and lecturer in patents and entrepreneurship. "We need teams with interdisciplinary experience to make the entrepreneurial system work."
"Capital is the gas that makes your company go. You must determine what your needs are," said Marcia Hooper, partner in Advent International, the world's largest venture capital firm.
Other panelists included David Levy (PhD '97), winner of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize in 1996 and founder of TH, Inc.; Krisztina Holly, 1991 winner of the $10K (now $50K) entrepreneurial competition as co-founder of Stylus Innovations; and Jack Turner, assistant director of the Technology Licensing Office. Professor Lester Thurow made opening remarks and Professor Ed Roberts moderated.
Kenneth Morse, managing director of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center and senior lecturer at the Sloan School, brought several students from his Entrepreneurship Lab class (15.399) to the event.
"The advantage to coming to things like this is having exposure to different sides that you don't get over in engineering," said Brian Warshawsky, a graduate student in materials science engineering. "For example, once you have the technology, where do you go from there?"
"It was interesting watching the dawning awareness among engineering students that the idea, the invention, is only the first step in a very long journey. They tend to think the technology, the product is the end of the road. It's really the beginning," said Robert Poor, a Media Laboratory graduate student who was once a recording engineer for the Grateful Dead.
"This was a great balance of all aspects of the process from inventing to protecting your ideas, managing a company and exiting," said Scott Shane, the Leghorn Career Development Assistant Professor of Management. "Technology students often forget it's not all just networking."
Annemarie Amparo, director of the Lemelson-MIT Awards Program, plans to make the workshop an annual event. "We hope the workshops will provide practical advice and networking opportunities to students across the Institute so various disciplines will interact and work together," she said.
OTHER FIELDS ENCOURAGED
Ms. Amparo also sees the workshops as a way to encourage more diversity in applications for the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. Previous winners have included Mr. Levy; Thomas Massie, founder of SensAble Technologies; and Nathan Kane, who holds several successful patents of his own for a variety of inventions from children's toys to classically engineered hardware.
"We've been delighted to have awarded the prize to three exceptional students from the mechanical engineering department," Ms. Amparo said. "This year we are making an effort to reach out to a broad spectrum of students in various departments. We want to encourage non-ME students to consider themselves inventors as well."
The Lemelson-MIT Awards Program awards $30,000 annually to an MIT student for outstanding innovation and inventiveness. The application deadline for the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize is December 19. For more information, send e-mail to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 26, 1997.