It’s a Thing: MIT x HCC

Honor Code Creative

We’re glad to have you, entrepreneurs. And we want to #GetEducated on the special sauce.

Photo by Meriç Dağlı

A growing number of our clients these days have logged time at MIT. It’s not as if that’s the only great school in Boston, though. So what’s the deal? In honor of #GetEducated month, we finally asked a couple of them.

Let’s start with Gihan Amarasiriwardena, Founder, Ministry of Supply.

HCC: What is it about MIT and founding a business?

Gihan: MIT has a strong culture of “making” or “hacking” — it’s about quickly getting new ideas into something tangible that can be tested quickly — so you start to get market validation a lot sooner than a business plan alone. The school also has a great cross-campus collaboration, nestled between the Engineering School, The Media Lab (Design) and Sloan (Business) — is the entrepreneurship center, that brings the trifecta together. Most recently, there’s been an accelerator called Delta V (acceleration in physics-speak) that has been encouraging students to launch their ideas over the summer as fast and soundly as possible.

HCC: When and how did you realize you wanted to be a founder?

Gihan: It was less about a “startup” and more about a love for designing, making and selling products — and for a new category, inevitably a startup is the form it takes. While entrepreneurship is more socially acceptable now — it’s less about cool offices and funding — but more about building a sound business and or product from scratch.

The “hacking” culture lends itself to maker spaces — the real “work” would happen in the lab or the workshop.

HCC: Where did the most exciting ideas take shape? I’m picturing some sort of Bond-ian underground space.

Gihan: The “hacking” culture lends itself to maker spaces — while studying might have happened in the reading room or library, the real “work” would happen in the lab or the workshop. My favorite times were spent in a class called “How to Make (Almost) Anything” — a crash course in digital and physical fabrication that required more than a few all-nighters, not because of procrastination but everyone was so enthralled with what they were learning and their projects — they would get into “the flow.”

HCC: Finish this sentence: I knew MIT would teach me X. But I was surprised that it was where I learned Y. The solid engineering background is always helpful, but most of the tests are open-book, just like in the real world — the challenging parts were always the projects (and the most fun parts), where you learned by motivation to solve a problem, and that process is one we’ve taken to MoS.

And here’s Kale Rogers, founder, Spyce. (Yes, that’s his name. We wondered, too.)

HCC: What’s MIT’s secret entrepreneur sauce?

Kale: MIT has recently been putting a lot of emphasis on entrepreneurship. Programs like the Martin Trust Center, the Venture Mentorship Services, MIT 100K, Sandbox — these are all different ways to get access to mentorship and non-equity capital to really analyze if your business has legs.

I think MIT does a great job at forming hustlers.

Outside of the actual programs, I think MIT does a great job at forming hustlers. It’s pretty necessary to get through school, there are a lot of long hours and times when you aren’t really sure what the answer will be. These situations are faced by entrepreneurs all the time and MIT really teaches (forces) you to learn how to get through them. Additionally, there is undoubtedly some incredible technological advancements going on and if you can create those with a customer in mind special things can happen.

What MIT could use a little work on (in my opinion) is teaching brand building. We need to teach the importance of understanding what emotional triggers really reach our customers and the importance of design and storytelling in the things we create (Ed note: We love this part, Kale.) It’s often difficult for engineers to think in this fashion, so teaching it early is important.

HCC: When and how did you realize you wanted to be a founder?

Kale: I had always envied my parents for effectively being their own bosses (they work in non-profit housing in Oregon) and with being a founder I found the ability to be challenged on something new each day. I love not knowing and needing to figure things out. It’s invigorating and simply fun!

HCC: Where did you get your best work done at MIT?

Kale: Brady (one of my co-founders) and I often rocked out some serious work late night in unused classrooms. You’d have all the chalkboard space you needed and MIT did a good job leaving the sound systems on so we could bump tunes. My best creative thinking often wasn’t done at MIT. It was walking home across the bridge to my place in Boston late at night or early mornings. Something about crisp air coming off the Charles woke up the creative in me. And for us, we obviously had a lot of good ideas while dining at the student center — sitting just craving it to be better.

HCC: Finish this sentence: I knew MIT would teach me X. But I was surprised that it was where I learned Y.

Kale: At MIT I think we all learned one of our favorite company values which is to Venture Beyond. To push past the status quo it takes a little bit of imagination and a lot of grit to keep churning even when you don’t think you can do it. MIT taught me to embrace insecurity and gave me confidence that growth will come. I knew MIT would teach me math and science. But I was surprised that it was where I learned how to be a problem solver and how to dream.

At Honor Code Creative, we love supporting great founders and dreamers like these. Especially when they’re smart, and when they #standforsomething.

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