This past weekend students from MIT battled freezing temperatures and snow to bring ideas to life at the first inaugural 3 Day Startup MIT program. 3 Day Startup’s mission is to build entrepreneurial capabilities in students and universities through experiential learning programs, and this weekend was no different — we took a diverse group of participants that included computer science undergrads, MIT fellows, a visiting artist, and even seasoned entrepreneurs and put them through the 3DS “learning by doing” model.

Diverse backgrounds, tons of ideas Drawing from all walks of life, these highly motivated, bright-eyed students kicked off day one with an intense brainstorming session. As you can imagine, the business ideas that emerged from these teams were anything but typical — ranging from a complex solution for robotic inspection in space to a prior-knowledge based language learning platform. Students pitched a total of 11 ideas to each other and chose five to pursue during the course of the weekend. Some of these ideas included:

  • Grouper, a mobile app that bridges the gap in group communication for both small and large groups by allowing people to easily connect with each other without having to exchange contact info
  • Teach2Me, an in class tool that lets students give real time feedback to professors
  • Living on a Prayer (LOAP), a crowdfunding platform that provides transparency during the donation process by allowing donors to give funds directly to businesses that provide services to those in need.

Sprinting through the weekend Students running on as little as 30 minutes of sleep cross-collaborated with their teams. Some students wrote code while others developed business models. Most importantly, all students engaged in customer discovery. On day two, organizers kicked participants out of the building and onto the sub-zero streets to validate their markets and talk to customers. Participants tapped into their own contacts as well as other 3DS alumni and mentors in the 3DS global network beyond MIT: Teams such as LOAP — who could not access all of their customers in-person — went up the ladder to make phone calls to executives from Wendy’s and Amnesty International to validate their crowdfunding model.  As always, the process of talking to customers proved immensely valuable — teams such as LOAP found potential customers and users from hitting the streets. Aided by mentors, students took customer feedback and began to iterate and further improve upon the viability of their startup ideas. In fact, after day two, several teams had to pivot their original ideas to meet the needs of different customer segments, and in more extreme cases, scrap their prototypes entirely to go back to the drawing board to search for more viable options. For example, after market validation, Grouper fine-tuned their customer segment to tour groups, and realized they had to change some of the functionality and features of their mobile app to meet the needs of their core customer. Speaking to the variable nature of real startups, these teams got to experience more than your average classroom work week — the rollercoaster that is entrepreneurship — in just a period of a few days. 3 Day Startup’s “learning by doing model”, built around intelligent trial and error, creates this type of impactful learning experience at universities around the world.

After the weekend and beyond On day three, students took center stage to present compelling business pitches and working prototypes to a distinguished panel of judges, which included Christina Chase, Entrepreneur in Residence at the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship at MIT and Neil Chheda, Managing Partner at Romulus Capital. This panel gave insightful feedback and advice for the road ahead. Christina comments on LOAP’s compelling pitch and recommends they connect with a similar crowdfunding platform: Day three may seem like the conclusion of the 3DS MIT program, but it surely does not mean the end of an entrepreneurial journey — rather just the beginning of a long and exciting venture for these students. One team in particular captured the essence of this sentiment — 30 minutes after the final pitches and the formal end of the weekend program, Grouper sat down and went back to work on their prototype. Coupled with the enthusiasm of mentors, who caught the bug and wanted to participate in a future 3DS program themselves, 3DS MIT surely strengthened the already burgeoning startup community at MIT and the greater city of Boston. Bruno Faviero and Eric Bakan from Grouper are still smiling and coding hours after the end of the program:

Grouper Coding

3DS has been successful in building strong startup ecosystems along with the next generation of student entrepreneurs because of the hands-on startup experience we provide, along with connections to a powerful network of mentors, investors, and talent. 33 companies have come out of 3DS to raise $8.5 million in capital and more than a dozen have been accepted to prestigious incubators and accelerators, such as Y Combinator and TechStars. 3DS already has recurring programs at Harvard, Cornell, and UT Austin to name a few — and looks forward to coming back to MIT next year.