For the past some 15 years, Robert Metcalfe ’68, co-inventor of Ethernet and founder of the digital electronics manufacturer 3Com, has invited finalists in MIT’s iconic $100K entrepreneurship competition into his historic Boston home — settled quaintly in the Back Bay among rows of picturesque brownstones — for his traditional dinner with the competition’s remaining team members.
The event, he said, is meant to promote friendly networking among teams, celebrate the success they have achieved so far, and provide a chance from him to offer his own humor-ridden advice to students before the last round of competition begins.
This year was no exception.
“You’re all winners for getting this far,” he told the crowd of finalists, standing several steps up his entry-way stairs.
“Just remember, often times the team that gets first place isn’t always the one that goes out into the world and is the most successful,” he said, commencing this year’s round of cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, dinner, and dessert.
“I want to get them all together while they all are still winners,” he later told The Tech.
After graduating from MIT in 1969 with dual degrees in Course VI (Electrical Engineering & Computer Science) and Course 15 (Management), Metcalfe began his career in electrical engineering, co-inventing Ethernet while working with the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in 1973. He received the National Medal of Technology in 2003 for his work on the invention. He currently works as an early-stage venture capitalist as a General Partner in Polaris Venture Partners, while dabbling in journalism on the side.
In addition to this work, Metcalfe remains highly involved with MIT and is a member of the MIT Corporation, EECS Visiting Committee, the MIT Energy Initiative External Advisory, the School of Science Dean’s Advisory Council, and the School of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council.
Throughout the night, he asked team members hard questions about their ideas and reminded teams over and over again to network with other groups.
In a joking but earnest tone, at the end of the night, he shook each team member’s hand, saying “Your team is going to win.”
Seven teams remain as finalists in MIT’s $100K competition an annual competition has run for 20 years and began this year during the fall with the October Elevator Pitch Contest. Each of the remaining finalist teams will receive $20,000.
The final presentations and judging session will occur this Wednesday, and the first place $100,000 cash prize winner will be announced at 7 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium.
Each of the remaining teams is a finalist in a specific subfield — development, life sciences, mobile, products and services, web/IT, or clean energy—but will compete with one another for the grand $100K prize.
Overviews of the seven remaining team’s projects are presented below.
SolSource 3-in-1 (Development)
SolSource is engineering “a novel device that harnesses solar energy for portable cooking, heating and electricity generation” using only sustainable and locally available materials, according to the 100K Competition’s website. The team is comprised entirely of MIT students.
Team member Scot Frank G explained that their design is unique because it uses a distinct parabolic shape to reflect sunlight and produce energy, which is 1.4 meters in diameter when completely unfolded.
“This is something that we’ve already been working on for four years in Western China,” he said.
“We’ve been piloting in communities, and when we go and present it, test it, they don’t let us leave without telling us when they can buy one and where they can buy it,” Frank said.
The team says that it has gained the attention of numerous international institutions, saying “we’ve already been contacted by Sudan, South Africa, Peru, and other international governments,” Frank said.
Their device could save lives, he said.
Aukera Therapeutics (Life Sciences)
As the life sciences finalist, Aukera Therapeutics is at the cutting edge of new treatments for the neurodegerative disease amytrophic lateral sclerosis — more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — by isolating a specific protein that may drastically slow symptoms of the disease when administered systemically.
“Researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland discovered that there’s a naturally occurring protein called Angiogenin that is central to neurogenesis,” said team member Meridith Unger, a Harvard Busisness School student. “The protein is abundant in healthy humans but is deficient in ALS patients,” she said.
“The systemic replacement of that protein has been shown to prolong survival, improve motor function, and has a neuro-protective effect as well,” she said.
“There’s only one FDA approved drug on the market that is only modestly effective, so our team and board are very excited to take this protein into the clinic and see what it can do for human patients,” Unger said.
Lark Technologies (Mobile Tech)
Lark Technologies has developed “a silent waking system for busy professionals with different sleep schedules,” as described on the $100K webiste.
The team designed a vibrating wristband for users to wear during the night, which, with the help of a free iPhone application, will activate at the desired wake-up time without waking other sleepers in the room.
Wake-up is guaranteed, according to Lark team members.
Team members suspect that the device will cost roughly $60 when it premieres, but the iPhone application will be free.
According to the event website, the team says that the device will “provide compelling nonmedical solutions around optimizing sleep to make both people happier, healthier, smarter, and empowered to demonstrate their respect for each other.”
The product, they say, is named after the lark that sings in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet.
Insulin Chewing Gum (Products and Services)
Insulin Chewing Gum team member Manijeh Goldberg said that “as the name says, it’s a simple concept: we take insulin, put it inside nanoparticles, and then into chewing gum.”
Inspired to move the invention forward, she said, “A friend of mine, a Sloan Fellow, came back from her home in Nigeria, just in January. When I saw her, she had tears in her eyes, because she saw six people in her village die of diabetes. She was at six funerals during Christmas break.”
“What we’re trying to do is to replace [less effective, more complicated treatments] with a very simple concept: insulin chewing gum. Where you don’t need to open something and read complicated instructions,” said Goldberg.
According to Goldberg, insulin chewing gum is estimated to have a shelf-life of roughly 2 years unrefrigerated — far exceeding the shelf-life of systemic drugs, which requires refrigeration.
“[W]e believe our technology with the help of our advisors such as Dr. Langer is going to make this problem go away and revolutionize how this problem is treated,” she said.
KarDo has created development software which “reduces the cost of IT support” by “eliminating the wasted effort of repetitive tasks by allowing IT staff to easily produce configuration-independent automation,” the event website states.
“Companies today spend $100 billion annually on the IT support alone for desktops alone,” said team member Hariharan Rahul G. “Today, we don’t have technology that can allow IT workers to automate a task across the variety of computer setups that we already have, for example, across different operating systems, or different applications even with the same operating system.”
“KarDo has a technology that can basically look at an IT worker performing a task on one computer and automatically translate it into a set of actions and perform the same tasks on any computer, even a computer of a different set up,” he said.
“We built a prototype which has succeeded in hundreds of task-related combinations. Our basic predictions show that Kardo can reduce the cost of desktop support by at least 20 percent. That’s an annual saving of 20 billion dollars.”
C-Crete Technologies (Energy)
“Our idea is about concrete, the most widely used manufacturing material on the planet,” said finalist Rouzbeh Shahsavari G of the one of the two clean energy teams remaining in the competition.
By developing a “nanoengineered concrete” which not only reduces CO2 emissions but is also much stronger than typical concrete,” the team is hoping to address both the problems of mitigating climate change and making construction materials more durable.
“On average, each person uses more than 3 tons of concrete per year. Unfortunately, concrete manufacturing and consumption accounts for 5 to 10 percent of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide,” he said.
“Our design is unique because we have a way that very gently changed the nanostructure of the material. At the same time it reduces the cost of concrete manufacturing.”
OsComp Systems (Energy)
OsComp Systems, the second finalist in the clean energy category, is trying to promote the use of natural gas with energy-collecting technology.
“We came together last year and looked at a huge market need of the natural gas industry,” said one of the team members. “The revolution is built around a rotary compressor, using new materials and a new design,” that comes at only a fraction of the current cost of other compressors, the team member said.
“91 percent of wells today are marginal, and if we’re able to put a fraction of these wells on line with a cheaper compression solution, the gas price can be made much cheaper, potentially replacing the widespread usage of coal,” he said.
“Natural gas is cleaner than coal,” he pointed out.