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50 startups, five days, one bootcamp to change the world

MIT hosts a unique experiment in blended learning.
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Participants in the <i>MITx</i> Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp
Participants in the <i>MITx</i> Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp
In class at the <i>MITx</i> Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp
In class at the <i>MITx</i> Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp

MIT has just concluded an experiment in blended learning that could reshape existing educational paradigms. A unique program held on campus Aug. 18-22 brought together students from around the world who had taken an online course in entrepreneurship and then immersed themselves at MIT — to learn how to create a startup.

The Institute brought 47 out of 54,856 students enrolled in the MITx on edX course 15.390x Entrepreneurship 101: Who is Your Customer? to campus for the inaugural MITx Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. The bootcamp was an experiment by MIT to help edX students further their online education, to learn not only from MIT professors but also from like-minded people from around the world.

“You take a course. You learn the material. Then, you come here and you participate in the magical experience, and you get value out of it," says Sanjay Sarma, director of the Office of Digital Learning at MIT. “I’m over the moon to see that we can actually share this experience [with people] who might not have that opportunity.”

The 47 people who reported for bootcamp — including a medical doctor, a technical director of Halo 4, and an Olympian — hailed from 22 countries. Their educational backgrounds ranged from a man who never attended college to a Harvard Law School graduate. Half of the inaugural bootcamp class met each other over Facebook before the bootcamp started and launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the bootcamp. One participant even sold his car so he wouldn’t miss the opportunity. For three students, MIT awarded full scholarships that covered the bootcamp's tuition, travel, and accommodations.

Iman Urooj traveled thousands of miles from Pakistan to attend the bootcamp. She said the event was one of the most memorable experiences of her life: “This bootcamp gave me the necessary injection of inspiration to go back to Pakistan with newfound enthusiasm and energy and a desire for change.”

“It was an incredibly creative and a remarkable experience not just for the students but for all of us involved at MITx and edX,” said Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX. “We had an amazing group of students. They were extraordinarily inspiring. They are what make us want to get up in the morning and do what we’re doing.”

After taking the 15.390x online course taught by Bill Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, the bootcamp participants were challenged to start a company in one week at MIT. On Aug. 22, nine teams pitched their startup ideas before a panel of judges. UpLook, a startup aimed at turning fashion blogs into retail outlets, won first place. ONBO, a personal consulting startup, came in second and was followed by Elio, a startup to sell data collected by drones to Brazilian farmers. Right after the bootcamp ended, two teams indicated that they would continue working on their startups that were incubated at the bootcamp.

“It was truly eye opening that you can run an online course, get 55,000 people to take it, and then bring the best of them to MIT to have a residential experience – in such short period of time,” says Aulet. “The funnel was so big and so fast that you had to be both good and willing to hustle to make it. As such, it was a complete meritocracy. This is what led to the amazing talent and energy in the class, which created the spectacular results. It was a real honor to teach this group and be involved in this successful experiment.”

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