Long an entrepreneurial powerhouse, MIT is dedicated to ensuring that innovations developed across the Institute reach their highest potential: providing service to humanity. Thanks to the MIT Campaign for a Better World, the Institute has been able to accelerate efforts to identify problems, create effective solutions, and launch businesses that can address the most daunting challenges of our time—from health care to climate change.
Over the years, MIT students and researchers have developed a wide range of technologies, from chemical separation tools to robotic wastewater testing for pathogens and from new biologics to computational tools for reducing congestion in shipping lanes. The MIT Innovation Initiative (MITii) helps such innovators to build up their entrepreneurial muscles through programming, mentorship, and financial support.
The new MIT InnovationHQ in Kendall Square features 25,000 square feet of open innovation space.
MITii connects varied pathways and networks within the MIT community and among its partners to foster entrepreneurship and, ultimately, to steward the innovation process from ideas to impact. Several of MIT’s entrepreneurial offices, such as the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program, the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, MITdesignX, and the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship at MIT, work in conjunction with MITii to ensure MIT researchers and startup founders have the tools they need to succeed in today’s world. Many of these offices reside in the new MIT InnovationHQ (iHQ) in Kendall Square.
Watch: MIT iHQ Open House
Here are just a few success stories.
Newsha Ghaeli, former MIT research fellow
Mariana G. Matus PhD ’18
City sewer pipes carry microscopic information on residents’ health in the form of gut microbes, human viruses, and chemical compounds—traces of food, disease, and drugs. Biobot Analytics seeks to harness this data stream by deploying robots that sample the sewage of a city to monitor its health. “We see wastewater as being such a rich resource—and it’s currently untapped,” says cofounder Mariana G. Matus PhD ’18. “Our vision and our mission is to promote a more data-driven response to public health and government policy making.”
As the Covid-19 pandemic spread around the world, Biobot rolled out an unprecedented campaign to test wastewater for SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19, in wastewater treatment facilities across North America. In May 2021, the Somerville, Massachusetts-based company was selected by the US Department of Health & Human Services to establish a national disease surveillance program, leveraging wastewater epidemiology.
The startup began in 2014 as a research project, the brainchild of MIT faculty members Eric Alm of the Department of Biological Engineering and Carlo Ratti of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Matus, then a graduate student in Alm’s lab, and Newsha Ghaeli, a research fellow in Ratti’s group, led the interdisciplinary project, which garnered a $4 million grant from the Kuwait-MIT Center for Natural Resources and the Environment and grew to include 20 researchers from six different labs across MIT.
En route to launch, Biobot participated in numerous MIT programs, including the MIT $100K Competition, MIT fuse, designX, the Sandbox Innovation Fund Program, MIT IDEAS Global Challenge, MIT Water Innovation Prize, and the delta v accelerator at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.
“Take advantage of all the resources on campus. They help you think and refine your ideas, and along the way, you’ll meet people you’ll stay connected with through your entire entrepreneurial journey,” says Matus.
Walker Chan ’08, MNG ’10, PhD ’15
Veronika Stelmakh SM ’12, PhD ’17
Mesodyne is developing a new kind of power generator that converts fuel to electricity via light: The generator has no moving parts, operates on any fuel, and has 10 times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries. Developed at MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, incubated at Chain Reaction Innovations at Argonne National Lab, and accelerated by Techstars, Mesodyne’s patented Light-Cell technology is designed to enable long-endurance, reliable, efficient, silent power for remote unmanned sites and systems, drones and robots, warfighters and emergency responders, serving industrial, scientific, and defense sectors.
Founded in 2018, Mesodyne has been awarded grants and prizes from numerous government agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the US Air Force, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Mesodyne produces prototypes in its Somerville, Massachusetts, labs and has received $3.5 million in grants. The company currently employs nine people.
Mesodyne was spun out of the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies after the founders took Energy Ventures, a popular class at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. Mesodyne’s cofounders Veronika Stelmakh SM ’12, PhD ’17 and Walker Chan ’08, MNG ’10, PhD ’15, both from MIT’s electrical engineering program, shared their idea with MBA students from the MIT Sloan School of Management and together the group created a business plan.
They started with a short accelerator program called MIT Fuse and went on to participate in the delta v accelerator program at the Trust Center the following summer. They then participated in several other entrepreneurial programs at MIT, including the Sandbox Innovation Fund Program and the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. The cofounders credit MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service with helping Mesodyne to obtain its first Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation.
Mesodyne is currently participating in MIT’s newest program for startups, START.nano, which provides access to cleanrooms, characterization tools, and other laboratories for prototyping and other technology development needs.
“Take advantage of all the opportunities available to you at MIT. MBA students at the Sloan School can help you develop your business plan, and MIT professors and mentors can offer you invaluable advice on how to proceed. Innovation takes time, but the resources at MIT will help you take your idea to the next level,” says Stelmakh.
Luis R. Soenksen PhD ’20
TOCI develops state-of-the-art AI tools that help time-constrained doctors and caregivers to build human connections with their patients. The company’s app enables patients to share the information that matters to them with their providers—building trust and fostering meaningful connections. Named for an Aztec goddess of kindness and healing, TOCI aims to support patient-centered care.
Founder Luis R. Soenksen PhD ’20 tapped many MIT resources to create TOCI, including MITii, the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Clinic for Machine Learning in Health, MIT Solve, the Venture Mentoring Service, and MIT Sandbox.
With support and funding from the Jameel Clinic, he has also become MIT’s first Venture Builder in Artificial Intelligence and Healthcare, working to identify MIT researchers and technologies that are ready to launch innovative companies.
TOCI was incorporated in October 2020 and is currently fundraising with the goal of launching full-time by mid-2022.
“Don’t be afraid. Use the resources at MIT to guide you. The MIT innovation guide at MITii was extremely helpful to me,” says Soenksen.
This article was originally published in July 2021.