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Biotech Companies Excel in $50K Competition

By Kristen Landino

MolecularWare, a software start-up company launched to help researchers develop drugs, was awarded the grand prize in this year’s $50K Competition Tuesday night in Kresge Auditorium.

Runners-up in the competition were Just-in-Zyme, a biotechnology company, and Crosskate, which manufactures all-terrain skates for extreme sports enthusiasts.

MolecularWare, Inc. was founded by Seth Taylor MBA ’97 and Ngon D. Dao G. The company is on its way to closing a deal with a prominent biotechnology firm and hopes to release a product as soon as possible.

“It’s a great experience. The $50K Competition gives graduate students the opportunity to see their ideas and research applied to the real world,” said Eudean W. Shaw G, a member of the Just-in-Zyme Team with partner Andrew Sarquharson of Harvard Business School.

Kenan Sahin, Founder of Kenan Systems and Vice-President of Software Technology at Bell Laboratories, gave the Keynote Address at the awards ceremony. His company was recently acquired by Lucent Technologies and boasts a net worth over $3 billion.

“The second telecommunication revolution has come: a computer-mediated communication revolution,” Sahin said.

Preparation for the competition started in the fall with the $1K Competition. This warm-up for the $50K Competition began in October and winners were announced in early December.

$50K Competition heading into 10th year

The MIT $50K Competition is an annual event which began in 1990 with a $10K Competition and evolved into its current form through increased sponsorship. It was founded by the MIT Entrepreneurs Club and the Sloan New Ventures Association to “take advantage of the winning combination of engineers and business students.”

Over 150 teams submitted entries in the 1999 competition. The field was narrowed to 39 semi-finalist teams in March and these remaining teams developed business plans for their ventures. Of those, seven finalists were selected to present their plans at the Awards Ceremony.

Organizers for the 1999 event included Lead Organizer Heather J. Wilding G; Sachin G. Divecha ’00, communications; Charles K. Sestok G, events; Ilya B. Mirman G, sponsor relations; Michael A. Schulman G, alumni mentor; and Cayce Denton ’00, Institute liaison.

Sponsors this year included Motorola, Fidelity Capital, Morgenthaler Ventures, Highland Capital Partners, and Intel Corporation.

Endowment for $50K established

A special change in the proceedings included the establishment of an endowment fund to ensure ongoing support for the competition. The inaugural contribution was made by the family of Robert P. Goldberg ’65; the organizers for the $50K have subsequently named the Grand Prize Award in his honor.

Past winners of the $50K Competition have gone on to found over 40 companies which have accumulated a total market value of $500 million. Direct Hit, the Co-Grand Prize Winner in 1998, is a search engine company which has secured partnership agreements with HotBot, Apple, LinkExchange/Microsoft, Lycos, ICQ/AOL, ADNet, and LookSmart.

The $50K Competition seeks to foster the entrepreneurial spirit not only at MIT, but across the world through their global network program.

During Independent Activities Period, the MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition travels to Singapore to present a conference to promote discussion with government, education, and business leaders in the area. The conference is hosted by the Center for Management of Technology at the National University of Singapore and draws leaders in management technology from all over the continent.