A Sandbox for Student Entrepreneurs

The MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program connects students with tailored educational experiences, mentoring, and up to $25,000 in seed money to help qualified students and teams nurture their ideas and creativity. Launched in January 2016, MIT Sandbox is an Institute-wide program led by the School of Engineering in partnership with the MIT Innovation Initiative. “The primary aim of MIT Sandbox is to develop people, not startups or products,” says MIT Vice Chancellor Ian A. Waitz, the Jerome C. Hunsaker Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and faculty director of MIT Sandbox. “We want to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be more effective when they go off into the world.”

MIT Sandbox is designed to integrate with all aspects of the MIT educational experience, helping students pursue entrepreneurial ideas without disrupting their classwork and research activities. It is conceived as an opportunity, and not a competition, accessible to all 11,000 MIT graduate and undergraduate students. The program offers a flexible model anchored by mentorship—from within MIT, as well as from a broad network of committed partners—that can support student innovation on their own schedules.

MIT Sandbox also bridges other existing campus programs, including StartMIT, the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, Beaver Works, the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, the Venture Mentoring Service, and the MIT $100K Competition.

“Students should be able to play with standing up an idea,” says Jinane Abounadi, SM ’90, PhD ’98, a veteran of Boston-based startups ITA and Kayak who now serves as executive director of the MIT Sandbox program. “The program can meet the growing interest among students looking for a better way to engage with the MIT innovation ecosystem, at all levels, and thereby create a more diverse population of innovators and entrepreneurs.”