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$50K Competition Gets Started

By May K. Tse
Associate News Editor

Budding entrepreneurs are gearing up for this year's $50K competition, with starter $1Kcompetition entries deadlines and lectures and workshops for participants taking place in coming weeks.

The $50K competition officially kicked off on Oct. 24 with a speech by Bob Swanson '69, one of the co-founders of Genentech, Inc.

An "Ideas Generation Workshop"will be held Thursday in 3-370 at 6 p.m. This workshop will focus on helping contestants develop some ideas to market and evaluate the feasibility of their ideas.

"The ideas seminar is a way for people to find team members, evaluate ideas, and get feedback to get started to enter the $1K,"said Barbara B. Barotti '98, lead evangelist of the $50Korganizing team.

The $1K competition is a precursor to the main competition in the spring. "The $1K is a warm-up to get people to start thinking about a high-quality business idea,"said Joost P. Bonsen '92, lead organizer of the 1994 and 1995 competitions.

"$50K entries are totally independent from $1K entries; if you're not in the $1K you can still enter the $50K, but you're just starting that much earlier for the $1K, and it always helps,"said Will N. Clurman G, lead organizer of this year's contest.

Entries for the $1K competition are due on Nov. 26, and the winners will be announced on Dec. 10. The contestants will then have a chance to further develop their business plans at special classes during Independent Activities Period and refine their plans by the deadline for the $50K entries on Feb. 26.

"The best teams have a good mix of technological and business talent and experience coming together in a team to complement each other with both undergraduate and graduate students,"Bonsen said.

Currently, there are over 400 people on the $50K competition mailing list with 200 expected team entries. About 35 people are also involved in the organizing team, working on coordinating events, reaching out to sponsors, and publicizing and running the contest.

$50Kgives businesses a good start

In the eight-year history of the $50K contest, over $100,000 in cash and business start-up services have been awarded to winners.

Many local start-up companies have been spawned from $50K entries, both from overall winners and from entrants who were eliminated as early as the first round of the contest.

One 1991 team which went on to become Stylus Innovations licensed its original technology for roughly $8 million and is now a sponsor of the competition that was responsible for its genesis.

"The contest is an excellent motivator to get a team of people to think through all the important parts of a business plan," said Peter H. Schmidt '88, cofounder of Midnight Networks, who was involved with the 1991-92 contest and made the decision to start a business while he was an undergraduate.

Many believe the contest is particularly well-suited for MIT. "MITfundamentally is about pioneering and creating new and better things. Entrepreneurship is an important component of it, plus invention and scientific discovery," Bonsen said. "Our goal is to increase the total number of people who start companies and to increase the percentage that succeed."

"This is a magnet for people doing entrepreneurial things at MIT. It's good to work on this and learn from judges and sponsors, get advice, and get exposed to powerful networking from people with lots of experience who know all sorts of venture capitalists who can help with connections,"Clurman said.

"The prize money itself is small potatoes. The big value of the competition is the amazing network of resources you tap into,"Clurman said.