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MSMS student taps MIT Sloan to power energy research

As a student in the Master of Science in Management Studies program, Vikalp Sabhlok examines ways to improve energy distribution systems in developing countries.
Vikalp Sabhlok MSMS ’13
Vikalp Sabhlok MSMS ’13

Vikalp Sabhlok MSMS ’13, grew up in a small city in India where the electricity supply was notoriously unreliable. Now, as a student in MIT Sloan’s Master of Science in Management Studies (MSMS) program, he is exploring ways to improve the energy distribution system for the next generation.

“I have always had an interest in going back to India to make things better,” he says. “If you provide electricity, productivity levels go up, and incomes increase.”

A mechanical engineering graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology with several years of experience in sales and marketing, Sabhlok says his interest in energy crystallized when he was an MBA student at the Indian School of Business-Hyderabad, and while spending time as an exchange student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. There, during a course on alternative sources of energy, he learned about smart grids, which use information technology to match energy supply with demand.

While most developing countries don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate large-scale smart grids, Sabhlok said he became intrigued by the idea that small-scale versions, called microgrids, could help India. Rather than one large generating plant with long, vulnerable power lines, microgrids could supply electricity to perhaps 200 people through a small system consisting of, for example, a diesel generator, a few solar panels and some batteries.

“In developing countries, [microgrids could provide] access to electricity in remote areas,” Sabhlok says.

Ultimately, Sabhlok plans to pursue a career in socially responsible investing. But in the short term, he is exploring the challenges of microgrid implementation for his thesis — a key component of the MSMS program, which enables top master’s degree students from non-U.S. business schools to earn a Master of Science from MIT Sloan in two semesters.

Sabhlok said he was drawn to the MSMS program because “it’s so very, very flexible.” MSMS students can tailor their coursework — and their thesis — to meet their specific needs.

“I see my peers, and all of them are pursuing something of their own interest. That’s so fascinating,” he says. “This gives an exceptional breadth to one’s learning experience at MIT Sloan.”

Sabhlok arrived in September planning to make the most of his nine months at MIT, and he has certainly kept busy. In addition to taking classes at MIT and Harvard Business School, he serves as finance director of the MIT Energy Club and plays on MIT’s badminton team. He is also working as a research assistant, traveled to China over spring break and was recently named a semifinalist (along with MIT Sloan teammates) in MIT’s $100K Entrepreneurship Competition.

“If you come to MIT with an open mind, there are so many things you can do,” says Sabhlok, noting he particularly enjoyed a course called Strategic Opportunities in Energy, which led to his work researching biofuels for Senior Lecturer Henry Weil and Professor Charles Cooney of Chemical Engineering.

Sabhlok also gained hands-on experience through China Lab, partnering with Huiqin Wang MFin ’13 and Chinese business students to provide assistance to a Chinese information technology startup. When he returned from China in early April, he learned that Unnati, a startup venture undertaken with MIT Sloan colleagues, had advanced in the $100K Competition.

Unnati’s goal is to take discarded goods from wealthy urban areas of India and funnel them to poorer regions, providing affordable products while reducing waste. The project emerged from work begun by Hrishikesh Trivedi MSMS ’13 in the MIT Sloan Leadership Lab. Other team members are Anand Kumar MSMS ’13 and Satish Sahadevappa SF ’13. This venture is just one of the many benefits of the close-knit MSMS program.

“In comparison to other programs at Sloan, we are just 35 people in the MSMS program and so we’re really tight,” Sabhlok says. “We are living the Sloan value of collaboration every day!”

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