Inside View of the MIT 100K Competition—How One Team Got to Tonight’s Finals
We were checking in at the front desk for one of the $100K events, and the security guard asked me, “So, the 100K—the ‘K’ is for kilometers? It’s some sort of race?”
No, it’s not a race, it’s MIT’s entrepreneurship competition. We’re the Web/IT track winner, and tonight we’ll be competing for the $100K grand prize in Kresge Auditorium at MIT. Rodney Brooks (co-founder and former CTO of iRobot and the founder and CTO of Heartland Robotics) will be giving a keynote, each of the track winners will give a three-minute pitch, and one lucky team will take home a giant check. It’s also the 20th anniversary of the competition, and they’ve promised to put on quite a show.
Getting this far has required some endurance, though, so maybe the guard wasn’t so wrong after all. Our company, Ksplice, has developed technology that can install software updates while applications are running, without a system restart. You know those annoying, “You must reboot to install new updates” pop-ups? We make those obsolete.
World domination scheme? We plan to license this technology directly to vendors. Your SAN, routers, virtualization layer, OS, database, ERP, and mail server are all critical to your business—and all need rebootless updates. It’s basically impossible to find a piece of audio equipment without a Dolby logo on it. Similarly, any self-respecting application or device will be Ksplice-enabled.
So who is Ksplice? Jeff Arnold, Tim Abbott, Anders Kaseorg, Nelson Elhage, and Waseem Daher (me). We’re all MIT engineers (four recent graduates and one, Nelson, still in school), and we’ve been working together on challenging software projects for quite some time now.
In fact, the initial spark that led to Ksplice came in 2006, from a problem Jeff encountered while maintaining servers at MIT. A new security update came out in the middle of the week, over the summer. Jeff was working a summer job at the time, so he decided to put it off until the middle of the night on the weekend, since the systems’ many users would not appreciate an outage during the day. Of course, this decision proved painful—the machine was compromised mid-week, and everything had to be wiped and reinstalled.
Naturally, Jeff cursed the powers that be, shook his fist at the cloudy sky, and vowed revenge as the rain came pouring down on him. But he was vindicated: his award-winning master’s thesis at MIT introduced new techniques for applying software updates—techniques that make rebootless updates practical.
Jeff, Tim, Anders, and I finished our degrees at MIT in June 2008, and we knew that we had to run with this technology. So we incorporated Ksplice in July, and have been working on it full-time ever since. Nelson remains involved in an advisory capacity until he finishes his degree this June, at which point he’ll join us full time.
So where does the magic happen? Ksplice World Headquarters, of course. Conveniently located in our apartment in Cambridge, Ksplice HQ offers a hard-to-beat commute, and unparalleled dining facilities. When I’m not helping customers, I’m frying up some pretty serious cheeseburgers. I like to think of myself as the Chef Executive Officer. No, that’s not a typo.
One interesting aspect of the $100K is that it’s really a year-long experience, rather than a single contest. Like a long-distance race, you can’t just run it on your first day. First, there’s the warmup: the Elevator Pitch Contest in October. Then, in December, there’s the Executive Summary Contest, where we won the Web/IT track, and where our one-minute elevator pitch claimed the Audience Choice Award.
The Business Plan Competition is, of course, the marathon. Fortunately, we’ve had some training. Back in February, the $100K organizers assigned mentors to each of the teams, and since then, we’ve had the benefit of working with two top-notch mentors: William Frezza of Adams Capital Management, and Steven Henry of Wolf Greenfield. These guys do the business plan equivalent of making you jog by the river at the crack of dawn (with the “Rocky” theme playing in the background, of course).
Regardless of tonight’s outcome, tomorrow we’ll be back at our desks, writing code, delivering rebootless updates to our customers, and pursuing new opportunities. Tonight, though, we’re in the final lap of the $100K, and I intend to enjoy it.
That said, I’m not going to wear running shoes with my suit. Check back tomorrow for a follow-up post with my thoughts on the contest results.