MIT's entrepreneurial community paid homage last Wednesday to the "better mousetrap" and all it represents at the awards ceremonies for the 10th annual student-run $50K Entrepreneurial Competition in Kresge Auditorium.
About 1,000 students, young patent-holders and penders, faculty, graduates, corporate sponsors and investors (many of them connectedto the Sloan School of Management) lurked like sports agents at the NFL draft. They cheered lustily for their teams and, at the end, for the winning corporate team from MolecularWare, Inc., led by Seth Taylor of Mamaroneck, NY. MolecularWare won the grand prize of $30,000 for a business plan to create, manufacture and market software that would assist pharmaceutical companies in speeding the availability of new and better drugs.
Dr. Taylor, 35, the company's founder, has degrees in biology from Cornell and finance from Sloan, as well as a PhD in molecular biology from the Johns Hopkins University. His team of MIT graduate and undergraduate corporate founders included Dr. Ngon Dao (SM 1998), junior Randy Milbert and sophomore David West of electrical engineering and computer science, and Kenneth Lee (SB 1973).
As a result of their achievement, not only will they have the first-place prize to help move their patented intellectual property to market, but, if tradition holds, they will enjoy the interest and likely support of venture capitalists as well.
One of the two $10,000 runners-up prizes was awarded for Just-in-Zyme, which created a modified gene that mixes with industrial starch to improve the manufactured end product. Just-in-Zyme plans to market its "value added" product to sectors of the chemical industry, including duPont and Monsanto.
The other runner-up was Crosskate, a piece of sports equipment that fuses the principles of roller-skating with skiing. The Crosskate has applications in the extreme sports and self-propelled travel sectors of the outdoor entertainment industry.
The president of Crosskate, James Page (SB 1993), entered stage right for his presentation, rolling along on prototype four-wheel Crosskates powered by ski poles. Mr. Page described his product as "a poor man's ticket to Chile."
The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Kenan Sahin (SB 1963, PhD), founder of Kenan Systems Corp., a software company that recently completed a $1 billion merger buyout with Lucent Technologies.
Entrepreneurship is "not about money," said Dr. Sahin, who taught in the Sloan Fellow's Executive Program from 1967-85. "It's about what money can do. [Entrepreneurship] is creating value for others."
MANY PAST STARTUPS
Over its first 10 years, the $50K Competition has helped launch more than 400 companies with an aggregate market value today of over $700 million that have created over 500 jobs. Past competitors include sucessful startups Direct Hit, Volunteer Solutions, Firefly Network (acquired by Microsoft), Lexicus (acquired by Motorola) and Stylus Innovations (acquired by Artisoft). Many of the most successful startups were not winners or even runners-up.
"Losers became winners," said Alex V. d'Arbeloff, chair of the MIT Corporation, who introduced Patrick J. McGovern (SB 1959). Mr. McGovern, founder and CEO of International Data Group, announced his sponsorship of the Patrick J. McGovern Jr. award to be granted annually. The award will be given to individuals or teams working closely with the MIT Entrepreneurship Center that make a significant impact on the quality and overall spirit of entrepreneurship at the Institute.
This year, a team of six graduating students received the award for their outstanding leadership of the MIT/Sloan Venture Capital Investing Club, which created the inaugural MIT/Sloan Venture Capital Conference in December 1998.
Each of the eight semifinalists made multimedia presentations before the Robert P. Goldberg Grand Prize was given to MolecularWare team. The award honors the late MIT professor and entrepreneurial business developer. Professor Goldberg's family announced the gift of an endowment to insure the competition is funded in the future.
The 24-person judging panel included venture capitalists, MIT faculty and entrepreneurs. In addition to the Sloan School, the event's sponsors are Motorola, the Boston law firm of Testa, Hurwitz and Thibeault, and Fidelity Capital.
A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 30).