MIT’s $100K Business Plan Prize, $200K Energy Prize Up for Grabs on Wednesday; A Look at the Finalists
[Corrected, 1:40 p.m. May 10, 2010] For teams of student entrepreneurs in Boston, early May means one thing: the culmination of the year-long MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, the country’s oldest and most prestigious business plan contest for young startups, and of its even more lucrative spinoff, the $200,000 MIT Clean Energy Prize. Last week, judges chose finalists in each of the five tracks of the $100K competition and narrowed down the clean energy contenders to just five remaining teams. The big winners will be announced at a public finale event at 7:00 p.m. this Wednesday, May 12, at MIT’s Kresge auditorium.
I got to speak with all but one of the final $100K teams (KarDo) and both of the MIT teams vying for the clean energy prize at a cocktail reception and dinner last Friday at the Beacon Street townhouse of Bob Metcalfe, a general partner at Polaris Venture Partners and one of the $100K judges. My big takeaway was that there are no duds among this year’s finalists. In every case I was impressed by the ingenuity and audacity of the teams’ business ideas and the poise and enthusiasm of their members. While the reception wasn’t technically part of the competition, there were judges, VCs, and journalists such as myself on hand—so the teams, mostly composed of graduate students and business school students, knew they were on stage, and breezed through the speeches and networking with professional aplomb.
Below is a quick rundown of the teams and their concepts. One of the five energy contestants will win the $200,000 clean energy prize after one more round of judging on May 11, and if that team is from MIT, it will be back on May 12 to compete with the five track winners for the final $100,000 prize. (No team has ever won both prizes.) The cash for the prizes comes from a group of sponsors including leading technology companies, investment firms, and service providers.
Aukera Therapeutics—finalist, Life Sciences Track. Team leader Meredith Unger, who will finish her MBA at Harvard Business School this year, said Aukera hopes to treat the devastating neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, using a form of angiogenin, a naturally occurring protein that stimulates nerve growth. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have shown that the protein is effective against an ALS-like condition in mice (although the big caveat there is that mouse models of human ALS aren’t especially accurate—the only existing drug for ALS, Sanofi Aventis’s riluzole, doesn’t work on mice at all). Aukera hopes to raise money to take the molecule into human clinical trials. She says the good news is that there’s lots of non-dilutive capital available for such a venture, since a number of foundations and government agencies are interested in finding ALS treatments. Aukera plans to stay small and virtual, outsourcing nearly all of its lab and clinical activities.
Insulin Chewing Gum—finalist, Product and Services Track. Every year, the complexity of existing methods for getting insulin into the body lead to complications or death for millions of people with Type 2 diabetes, according to Manijeh Goldberg, a Sloan Fellow at MIT and Harvard Medical School. Her company has a simple concept: put insulin molecules into chewing gum, attached to nano-particles that promote absorption through the tissues of the mouth and throat. Goldberg is getting help with the technology from Praveen Vemula, a postdoc in the laboratory of Robert Langer protege Jeffrey Karp in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology. (I first met Vemula at a Kauffman Foundation reception in Kansas City last fall, where he was being honored as one of the first Entrepreneur Postdoctoral Fellows selected by the foundation.) Goldberg says the company’s platform could also be used to deliver energy supplements or painkillers.
KarDo—finalist, Web/IT Track. Co-founder Hariharan Shankar Rahul says big companies with lots of PCs waste billions of dollars in IT administrators’ time every year on repetitive tasks like configuring laptops to operate within virtual private networks. KarDo aims to solve this problem using compiler analysis and machine learning algorithms developed at MIT. The software … Next Page »