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Sharma Kicks Off $50K Competition

By Mike Hall

NEWS EDITOR

Rohit Sharma, founder and chief technology officer of ONI Systems, encouraged MIT entrepreneurs to combine innovation with business sensibility in a keynote address at the $50K Competition Fall Kick-Off.

The annual competition begins this fall with the $1K Warm-Up, in which teams of student entrepreneurs learn organizational skills while preparing to submit drafts of business proposals. Promising proposals are eligible to win up to $30,000 in venture capital when the competition ends in May.

In front of a standing-room only crowd in 10-250, Sharma said that founders of successful technology ventures are able to “get past ideas and get to networking.”

Many technologically-minded entrepreneurs have difficulty relinquishing control of their ideas to business-savvy associates, which can hurt a startup down the line, he said. “You need to be firmly focused ... on how to make money,” Sharma said.

Additionally, Sharma emphasized the importance of recruiting to the continuing success of a business. He advised the audience to make “absolutely no compromises” when recruiting, from aggressively pursuing contacts to enticing talented employees of other companies with lucrative offers of employment.

Sharma also cautioned the audience to hire the smartest people available, regardless of personal pride or egotism. Some entrepreneurs resist hiring or listening to employees smarter than they are for fear of losing supremacy in the company, Sharma said.

“Put your ego aside [when hiring],” he warned. “If you don’t hire everyone smarter than you, you’ll lose.”

At the end of his speech, Sharma predicted that biotechnology would continue a rapid rise as the market switched from emphasizing “technology for technology’s sake” to emphasizing human benefit in innovation. “Anything that benefits humans will be successful,” he concluded.

The $50K Competition began in 1990 as a $10K Competition organized by the MIT Entrepreneurs Club and the Sloan New Ventures Association. The contest now awards $30,000 to the winning entry, with $10,000 each going to two runners-up. Over fifty companies have been formed through the contest, with a total estimated market value of over $15 billion. Successful entries include Akamai Technologies, Virtual Ink, and WebLine Communications.

Founded in 1997, ONI Systems specializes in developing optical networking equipment for regional networks. Before founding ONI Systems, Sharma worked in the networks and systems research group at Telecom Research Labs, developing applications for broadband switches. He received a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Alberta, where he was recipient of multiple scholarships.