A stellar list of who's who in electronic commerce, including industry leaders and MIT faculty, gathered last week in Wong Auditorium to recognize innovative business models and technologies at the first annual MIT Sloan E-Commerce Awards.
Most striking was the cross-section of winners; some companies reinvented an industry, while others created new paradigms. MP3.com was awarded the Re-Inventor Award for playing an intricate role in changing the way the music industry operates. The San Diego firm upheld its irreverent image by having its award accepted by a local band that can distribute music because of MP3.
"Since we play R&B, blues and swing, record companies keep telling us we're all over the map and to pick one style. But our fans love our music; they just can't buy it in record stores," said one of the Buck Dewey Band members. "By distributing our music, MP3.com is at the forefront of what can perhaps allow us to become the next Duran Duran."
Egghead.com of Spokane, WA, won the Web Transformation Award for most effectively transforming an established brick-and-mortar retailer into a web-based business. Egghead Software closed its stores and now operates as egghead.com, an exclusively online retailer that sells more than 40,000 hardware and software products and accessories.
WORLD WIDE WINNER
The Internationalist Award went to Austin, TX-based Dell Computer Corp., which has online stores that are customized for 44 countries and cover 21 languages.
"Four years ago, Michael [Dell] said the Internet will change business. I was not as convinced as he was and thought, 'How could you sell computers on the web when you need a computer to buy a computer?'" said Richard Owen, vice president of Dell Online Worldwide. "Once again he was correct."
Net Perceptions from Minneapolis received the Technology Innovator Award for its real-time recommendation technology -- software that gathers information about individual users and then allows companies to personalize their offerings to each online customer.
Akamai (Hawaiian for intelligent, clever and cool), an Internet content distribution service in Cambridge, captured the Rookie of the Year Award for showing the greatest potential to dominate new industries. Founded in 1998 at MIT and opened for business last spring, Akamai's FreeFlow service speeds up the delivery of content-rich web pages and helps solve congestion problems facing popular e-commerce sites.
Keeping in mind that e-commerce is also a vehicle for social change, the awards ceremony rewarded a company or organization that has most effectively shown the potential to improve people's lives. Impact Online of Palo Alto, CA, won the Socially Responsible Award for its web-based service VolunteerMatch, which pairs volunteers with nonprofit organizations. To date, more than 4,000 nonprofit organizations have used VolunteerMatch to recruit approximately 1,000 volunteers per week.
The concept of an awards program developed after Sloan became the first top-10 business school to launch an electronic commerce andmarketing program. Three months ago, the awards ceremony was merely an idea proposed by a few Sloan MBAs. Since then, nearly a dozen corporate sponsors signed on and at least 35 students became involved.
In his opening remarks, Sloan Dean Richard Schmalensee said, "I am deeply impressed with your expertise and experience and particularly with the innovation many of the companies represented here this evening have displayed in exploiting this exciting new channel: the Internet and the World Wide Web."
Assistant Professor Nader Tavassoli, co-director of Sloan's electronic commerce and marketing track, commended both students and guests for being part of such an extraordinary event. "Instead of merely recognizing web pages, we are honoring companies who have successfully implemented their business models through the web. We are talking about the way the web is used to best serve the customer," he said.
The e-commerce track, which will begin in fall 1999, is already expected to be the largest track at Sloan. Of the 350 MBA students, 70 will be in that track next year, with 140 expected for the following year.
Entries (more than 200 in the six categories) were accepted exclusively via the awards web site. The list of five finalists in each category, along with a comprehensive research report on each company, was submitted to a jury that included e-commerce company founders Bill Porter of E*Trade and Shikhar Ghosh of Open Market.
Before the presentation, David Berlind, editorial director of Business Computing at ZDNet, led a panel discussion examining "Brick and Mortar Versus Web-based Commerce."
Panelist Jared Schultz, executive director of Blue Mountain Arts, Inc., said, "Blue Mountain has been an offline company for 30 years. As an online venue, we are the number-one force in electronic greeting cards with 80 percent of the market. Companies that see the Internet as a threat and not as a new channel will be sorely disappointed."
A version of this article appeared in the May 19, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 31).