MIT alumni launch over 900 companies each year worldwide. That is in part because MIT has created an ecosystem of innovation—an environment that provides entrepreneurs-in-training with a community of innovators who push each other to take the risks necessary to learn and grow.
Bill Aulet, MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer, says that while entrepreneurship can be taught, what is more important is the “innovation hotbed” where entrepreneurs (and intrapreneurs: those who are entrepreneurs within established, often large corporations) develop their skills. In his MIT Sloan webinar, “Understanding and Unlocking the Potential of Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Intrapreneurship,” Aulet claims that in addition to the required skill set entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs require a holistic approach to long-term success in an environment that supports innovation. He believes that MIT alumni are successful because they have learned to recreate and sustain the conditions for innovation in their ventures.
Top Six Ingredients of an Innovation Hotbed
- Vision: The entrepreneurial adventure begins with a team of individuals with unique backgrounds and talents who meet to achieve a common goal. Everyone must share the same vision at all times no matter what role they play on the team.
- Play the long game: Implementation of a great idea requires patience and a disciplined, holistic, long-term approach to success. New elements should to be added or subtracted slowly over time to achieve a balance that works for the team.
- Breed curiosity-driven education: Creating an environment that encourages individual growth, risk, and discovery—such as “hackathons,” Friday “tinkering sessions,” and allotted days for individual passion projects—is helpful.
- Experiment: Learning to ask the right questions at the right time is a skill. In order to find the answers, it’s necessary to create a space that allows for experimentation. Build time and space into scheduled operations to ask questions and experiment with products and projects.
- Balance innovation strategies: While disruptive technology is all the rage now, successful innovation-driven entrepreneurship balances all three main types of innovation—disruptive, technical, and incremental—to consistently improve a product or service and add value to the market.
- Embrace failure: Teach the team to fail fast, keep calm, and carry on. A successful innovation ecosystem will encourage the survival of the fittest ideas, understanding that sometimes it’s necessary to risk failure to succeed. Encourage the team to fail fast, learn specifically how and why the failure occurred, then quickly apply that knowledge to the next goal.
Bill Aulet leads the Entrepreneurship Development Program and the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP). His webinar, “Understanding and Unlocking the Potential of Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Intrapreneurship,” is viewable on the MIT Sloan Executive Education website.