Still not all the way through its first year, the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program (MIT Sandbox) is continuing to invent itself as it goes along. Launched in January, the campus-wide innovation, education, and funding endeavor has added a range of new partners and put nearly $450,000 in the hands of MIT students who are eager to do something completely different.
All the MIT Sandbox asks of students is to think big — with no prior experience required. Students can apply for between $1,000 and $25,000 for an idea they think could change an issue, an industry, or even the world. Successful applicants are connected, coached, and supported through a process that allows them to identify and validate key assumptions behind their ideas, develop skills, and move them a few steps down the road to becoming experienced innovators and entrepreneurs.
Support for the endeavor comes via organizations from around the world spanning the range of pathways through which MIT students and alumni may have an impact. Over the past few months, MIT Sandbox has welcomed new sponsors and funding board members: Sameer Gandhi ’87 MS ’88, in conjunction with firm-level support from Accel; Chris Schaepe ’85 of Lightspeed Ventures; Rajat Bhargava ’94 of JumpCloud; Antonio Ruiz Galindo of General de Grupo IGS in Mexico; Ramzi Youssef Rishani ’87 of Longview Partners in the U.K.; and Carlos Villarreal of Grupo VITRI in Mexico.
Firms like Accel, a premier global venture capital firm, are eager to create stronger links with MIT’s entrepreneurship community. “Building a company sounds exciting in the abstract,” says Gandhi. “And it is exciting in practice. But it’s also a marathon with many highs and lows. The way to have more highs than lows is to put oneself in a position to learn everything it takes to build a durable business: strategic planning, product development, recruiting, go-to-market, sales, marketing. We believe it’s our responsibility to help entrepreneurs be successful however we can and that’s why we want to support the program. We really look forward to helping develop the next generation of game-changing entrepreneurs.”
Jinane Abounadi SM '90 PhD '98, executive director of MIT Sandbox, is pleased by the educational emphasis of the new partners and is eager to see how “participants will benefit from such collective and deep expertise and global perspective.”
To date, 250 students making up 112 teams have already engaged with MIT Sandbox and its mentors, including affiliated sponsors, and educators. Drawing students from every school at MIT (and some from beyond), some of the inaugural participants include: MultiplyLabs, a startup developing a personalized supplement pill; ReviveMed, a biotech looking to find new uses for existing, safe, and already approved drugs; and dueminuti, the creator of a science-based approach to a healthier pasta that is opening its first restaurant/retail location in Seattle. Moreover, reflecting the geographical diversity of the participants, many of the student startups are also thinking globally, with, for example, ventures aimed at improving agriculture and improving local banking in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
During this fall semester MIT Sandbox will welcome a new cohort of 100-plus teams and is committing to about $600,000 in funding.