David Cameron stops at Media Lab on US tour British PM speaks with researchers, meets with students to discuss entrepreneurship

Last month, British Prime Minister David Cameron paid a visit to the MIT Media Lab as a part of his weeklong tour of the U.S. to promote the United Kingdom with Prince Harry. Cameron was welcomed by Media Lab director Joichi Ito and MIT president L. Rafael Reif. Policemen stood guard outside the Media Lab throughout Cameron’s visit, with at least one sniper on the roof of Senior House.

In his tour of the Media Lab, Cameron met with Media Lab faculty members and researchers. Cynthia L. Breazeal ScD ’00, director of the Media Lab’s Personal Robots group, had a chance to demonstrate her group’s human-interacting robots, while Hugh M. Herr, who leads the Media Lab’s Biomechatronics research group, gave Cameron a demonstration of his own advanced prosthetics that he wears as a double amputee.

Because Cameron’s visit was kept low-key for security reasons, only a few students were invited.

No student knew until the morning of his visit who the VIP would be, although some guessed that it would be David Cameron based upon the news reports of the two British dignitaries’ U.S. tour. The students present included a few MIT tour guides given the chance to help out on the ground floor, and a group of seven student entrepreneurs, composed mostly of graduate students, who were invited to speak with David Cameron.

“We were invited by Professor Fiona Murray and were recommended to her by the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship,” said Akshar Wunnava ’13, one of the entrepreneurs. Murray, the Faculty Director of the Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, led the student entrepreneurs’ discussion with Cameron.

“I thought that at MIT we had some important lessons for the U.K. and for his particular entrepreneurship project in London (TechCity) about being part of an effective entrepreneurial ecosystem,” explained Murray. Tech City, similar to Silicon Valley, is a region in East London in which many technology companies and universities are located.

Bridget A. Akinc G added that “the discussion was about our own entrepreneurial ventures, and lessons we had learned about creating a collaborative space for entrepreneurial companies at MIT, as the Prime Minister considers how the U.K. might replicate the entrepreneurial ecosystem of London.”

The student entrepreneurs were invited the Saturday before Cameron’s Tuesday visit, as “I think Cameron wanted to meet with MIT students who were involved with fostering entrepreneurship on campus, and were pursuing their own entrepreneurial interests,” said Wunnava.

Danielle Zurovcik PhD ’12, who pursued mechanical engineering at MIT and is also an entrepreneur, spoke fondly of Cameron after the visit.

“He was very organic and genuine. You can tell that [entrepreneurship] was a topic that he really cares about,” said Zurovcik. Cameron also asked one student about supporting herself while working on a startup. “I thought that it was very interesting that he recognized that many of us do not take salaries and have to make ends meet however we can,” said Zurovcik. “Most people do not recognize that sacrifice (at least at the beginning stages) and see entrepreneurship as this glamorous thing. It shows that he understands the passion, ecosystem, and support that are needed to drive/sustain young entrepreneurs.”