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Ksplice software update project wins $100K competition

Global Cycle bike adapter is audience pick
Ksplice's new technology may help eliminate the need to reboot when you update software on your computer.
Ksplice's new technology may help eliminate the need to reboot when you update software on your computer.

Top honors this year in the 20th annual MIT $100k Entrepreneurship Competition went to Ksplice, a system that promises to end the annoyance and delays of having to reboot a computer every time a new update is installed. The $100,000 award was made, to thunderous applause, in a presentation at Kresge Auditorium on Wednesday evening.

In addition to the top prize, audience members voted for their top pick among the six finalists (selected from a record-breaking 260 initial entries) by texting their choice using their cell phones. The winner by a wide margin, announced just minutes after the voting, was a team called Global Cycle Solutions, which has devised a set of attachments that can be bolted onto an ordinary bicycle to perform useful tasks and earn money for farmers and village-level entrepreneurs in developing nations. The team received a $10,000 Audience Choice prize.

The Ksplice project, which the five-member team incorporated as a business last summer, had its roots nearly three years ago when team member Jeff Arnold '07, MEng '08 was working on MIT's servers and had to deal with a security update that arrived midweek. He decided to delay installing it until the weekend to avoid downtime while the servers were in heavy use. Unfortunately, the delay resulted in a security breach that required reinstalling all the system software.

Team member Waseem Daher '07, MEng '08, co-founder and COO of Ksplice, described the evolution of the company in a column posted May 13 on the Boston business news web site Xconomy. After the unfortunate experience, Daher wrote, Arnold worked on developing a solution to the problem, which became the basis for his award-winning master's degree thesis. While rebooting after every update is an annoyance for individual computer users, it can have a significant impact in lost time for those operating large server farms or for corporate or institutional IT departments, where hundreds or thousands of computers need to be updated at a time. "The need is ubiquitous," Daher said.

While the Ksplice updating system is currently only available for computers running Linux, Daher said the code is written in a way that should make it very easy to transfer to Mac and Windows operating systems. The company also includes Tim Abbott '07, SM '08, Anders Kaseorg '08, and current graduate student Nelson Elhage '09.

Global Bicycle Solutions, winner of the audience choice award, has developed a simple system that can be attached to an ordinary bicycle to enable its pedal power to be used for other functions, such as removing kernels from corn, grinding grain or charging cell phones. Team member Jodie Wu, a senior in mechanical engineering, started working on the idea during work in villages in Tanzania last summer, and developed it further last fall in an MIT class called Development Ventures, where the team came together.

By allowing a corn crop to be processed 40 times faster than with conventional hand shelling, the device can pay for itself within just two weeks. The system allows local entrepreneurs to make money in three different ways: Making and selling the add-on attachments for bicycles, using those attachments to go from village to village selling services, or renting out the specially equipped bicycles to farmers to use for processing their own crops. Besides Wu, the team includes Semyon Dukach SM '93, Caroline Hane-Weijman '11, Lisa Tacoronte '10, and graduate students Javier Lozano and Alex Shih.

Over the 20 years of its existence, the MIT $100k Competition (which started as a $5,000 contest and has grown over the years) has led to the creation of more than 120 companies with $12.5 billion in market value, and created 2,500 jobs, the organizers say.

More than 900 people participated in this year's teams, and the winners garnered a total of $265,000 in unrestricted prize money.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 20, 2009 (download PDF).

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