— written by Mark Legare
“This one is simple — it just makes sense.”
At Innospark Ventures, we invest in early stage companies within our local ecosystem who leverage advanced Artificial Intelligence to solve complex but important challenges. Our team is, therefore, quite accustomed to dedicating the necessary amount of time to grappling with intricate solutions to difficult problems; whether it be pioneering metabolomic research for identifying unique biomarkers; employing drones to generate precise aerial data to map construction sites; or utilizing AI to anticipate WiFi networking failures. In each instance, we expect to thoroughly study the complex technical and business adoption issues by proceeding with deep research and intensive diligence which (hopefully) culminates into a compelling investment thesis. When the prospect of partnering with MIT Solve presented itself, however, to quote our Managing Director, Venkat Srinivasan, “This one is simple — it just makes sense.”
What is MIT Solve?
Started as a mandate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology President, Rafel Reif, MIT Solve was established in 2015 with the mission to “ensure that everybody has a place at the problem-solving table”. Since that time, and without reflecting this year’s participants, 99 Solver Teams (40% of which are not-for-profit entities) have spanned operations across 32 countries. So, how do they do it?
Each year, MIT Solve announces Global Challenges for tech innovators to tackle through an application process open to all, regardless of academic affiliation, level of education attainment, location of business, or profit-seeking motives. Examples of Global Challenges in previous years include, “Work of the Future”, “Coastal Communities”, “Brain Health”, and “Women and Technology”. The application specifically asks would-be applicants to provide a detailed outline of solutions to the problems that the Solve Community is seeking to address.
Innospark Ventures & MIT Solve
In our pursuit of meeting with founders and startups who fit the mold of small teams trying to tackle large problems, we have had the privilege of meeting with many “Solvers”. EducatedModified, for example, is a company led by Melissa Corto, a former New York City high school teacher, who is on the mission to “leverage technology to provide educators with job-embedded, research-based professional development that increases collaboration and ultimately improves the outcomes for students with diverse needs”. Another example would be Digital Cognition Therapies, a Boston-based startup providing the first AI solution in the field of cognitive assessment, by developing a “digital pen” that can detect early signs of neurodegeneration. This device could potentially address a critical need of being able to diagnose neurological disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s at an earlier stage compared to today’s current practices. A third example would be two former college roommates, Tyler Mantel and Dr. You Wu of WatchTower Robotics, who have built a soft water robot that can be inserted into fire hydrants to “swim” along water pipelines detecting small cracks thereby potentially preventing major pipe bursts for municipalities.
Why is it a good fit for Innospark?
At Innospark Ventures we believe in creating “value” through the application of advanced AI to real-world problems. We do not, however, limit our definition of value to merely reflect fund performance metrics or to what can be revealed in a spreadsheet. Instead, we believe our true potential for creating value lies in combining our decades of expertise in scaling businesses, our experiences founding companies, our deep understanding of artificial intelligence, the relationships we have cultivated in the metro Boston area, and our desire to have positive social impact. We also believe that that the next generation of startups will have the ability to use AI to bring about transformational change in addressing some of the most challenging issues faced by our shared humanity today. In essence, we believe in “AI for Good” and feel we must play our part in making it a reality.
MIT Solve on its new partnership with Innospark Ventures:
“At MIT Solve we know that no one person nor organization can solve the world’s most pressing challenges alone. It must be done in partnership. That’s why we value working with mission-aligned partners such as Innospark Ventures. Through the Innospark Ventures Prize, Solver teams will gain unparalleled access to artificial intelligence experts and investment support to help scale up their solutions.
Prize partnerships such as the Innospark Ventures Prize help MIT Solve in not only incentivizing quality submissions to Solve’s Global Challenges, but they also help to create a more robust social impact marketplace. Innospark’s extensive AI expertise and focus on early-stage investment makes them an ideal partner for Solver teams who are leveraging technology to solve complex global challenges.
MIT Solve is delighted to be working with Innospark Ventures, and we are excited to see what partnerships emerge through the Innospark Ventures Prize.”
The Innospark Ventures Prize
Given this, we did not just want to be casual observers of MIT Solve, but rather, join as active supporters and collaborators. As such, in May of this year, Innospark Ventures announced the “Innospark Ventures Prize”. The Prize, awarded annually, is open to U.S. based teams developing AI-based solutions from across the cybersecurity, education, healthcare, life sciences, and business services sectors. Up to $100,000 will be granted to up to four eligible Solver teams. Winners will also have the opportunity to apply to Innospark for seed funding upon successful completion of the Solve program. In addition, members from the Innospark team will participate as judges in the competition, attend Solve-hosted events, and fully integrate into the Solve ecosystem as friends and mentors.
2019 MIT Solve Global Challenges
The partnership between Innospark Ventures and MIT Solve is off and rolling! This May, the Innospark team participated in the Solve at MIT Conference, where over 550 leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs from more than 28 countries descended on the MIT campus to participate in five plenary sessions. We learned from speakers such as Tristan Harris, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Humane Technology, who spoke of the current climate of social media today. He warned of its negative consequences when users over-indulge and spoke to the roles and responsibilities large technology companies have in offering products that do not just grab our attention but improve our well-being — something we think we can all agree with.
We at Innospark are pumped to be partnering with MIT Solve and are looking forward to continuously finding new and meaningful ways to interact with and support change-makers in our local ecosystem.
We encourage all those who share the conviction that AI is a powerful and scalable tool that can be used for social impact, to apply to become Solver teams. For current Solvers utilizing AI, we encourage you to apply to the Innospark Ventures Prize and we look forward to receiving your applications.
Please see the Innospark Ventures website for additional information on our fund, our team, and the companies we have invested in.
For additional information on MIT Solve, please visit the site.