DesignX: A New Kind of Accelerator

The founders of Biobot Labs, one of eight projects in the first cohort of DesignX, are looking to the sewers to gather and map data on the health and well-being of cities—for example, quantifying at neighborhood level the consumption of opiates. Another DesignX venture, Nesterly, makes better use of existing housing stock with a platform that connects aging homeowners with young apartment seekers willing to help around the house in exchange for affordable rent. Yet another project, Kumej, has created a lightweight, collapsible table-and-chair combo to address the needs of children in India who lack viable study spaces at rural schools or at their parents’ worksites.

Launched in 2016 by the School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P), DesignX is an entrepreneurship accelerator for design and the built environment. “Our students and alumni are passionate. Each of them wants to make the world better, more functional, but also more just and equitable,” says Class of 1922 Professor of Urban Design and Planning Dennis Frenchman MAA ’76, MCP ’76, who serves as the accelerator’s faculty director.

SA+P students and alumni have founded more than 1,200 innovative firms to date. DesignX builds on that tradition by providing tools, capital, studio space, skills, mentors, and networks. The program centers around a four-month, for-credit workshop in the spring, following a fall-semester application process and a boot camp during January’s Independent Activities Period. Accepted projects receive $15,000 in seed funding and their founders conclude the course with a pitch to outside investors or partners. The program is made possible by a generous founding gift from the Class of 1960, and is open to participants across MIT, though teams must include at least one SA+P grad student.

“Housing, infrastructure, and education affect us all, and they are often underserved by innovation,” says DesignX executive director Gilad Rosenzweig MCP ’13. “We are not only serving the demand of our community of aspiring entrepreneurs, but also addressing critical needs of cities, society, and industry by helping launch new companies focused on these pressing issues.”