Encourage the participation of industry mentors from sponsoring firms.

Enrique Shadah
January 25, 2017
I have seen first-hand how valuable a rightly timed advice from a seasoned industry participant can have on a venture's path to success. One one occasion, it led to funding and in other to a pivot away from the established path. Given The Engine's focus on hard-tech, which requires longer development cycles and more capital than apps or software-based startups, adding corporate partners would give startups access to knowledge about markets and business operations that may accelerate product-market fit or failure. The general idea is to create a large portfolio of corporate partners, each of which would assign individuals who have responsibility to identify talent and innovative ideas on behalf of the corporate business units. If my experience is any guide, these people often know how to navigate internal corporate networks and can quickly identify the right person for startups seeking to validate or invalidate business hypothesis. Corporate partners would join a membership-style program for an annual fee that generates discretionary funds to The Engine. The difference between this kind of membership and other accelerator sponsorships is that it's process would be structured to focus on helping the startups find contacts at the company to validate the business hypothesis. The company commits to helping the startups following a disciplined process. Why would companies join? Three reasons: a) The Engine is investing and de-risking the companies. These are not R&D projects. These are teams seeking to change the world through a new venture founded on applied science and engineering principles; b) The Engine's portfolio fits better with industry because of startups' focus on solving hard-problems. This affords companies access to innovative startups in a wide-range of industries and applications that are solving real problems and not just riding a fast money-making wave; and c) it's another vehicle for engaging with MIT and the broader innovation ecosystem. Many corporations want to engage with the Boston community of innovators. They visit CIC, MIT's ILP, Deshpande, etc. but none of these centers offer capital, equipment and mentoring that combined offer the opportunity to lower capital costs of starting and de-risking hard-tech ventures. This de-risking would make corporate partners eager to engage.
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