Campus Life innovation nation

A week of innovation

t=0 conference features startups solving the world’s problems

Robotic cheetahs, body-heat fueled technology, cameras that operate at the speed of light, and a potential cure for HIV? This compilation of fascinating topics at the cutting edge of research led the conversation at MIT’s t=0 week. Students filled rooms until it was standing room only as some of MIT’s leading professors presented state-of-the-art technologies, ideas, and businesses during this week to kick off entrepreneurship at MIT.

t=0 stands for “the time is now.” It’s a concentrated week jam-packed with innovation and entrepreneurship, hosted by The Martin Center for Entrepreneurship at MIT. t=0 was inspired by MIT alumni who have started companies and report the same thing over and over: “I wish we started sooner while at MIT.” The goal of t=0 is to help all MIT students kick off the year with cross-campus collaboration and accelerated idea generation. Hackers, artists, designers, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and inventors united to get inspired and get started on solving important problems, developing sustainable, high-impact companies together. As someone completely new to the MIT community, I was so excited to get the chance to hear from professors and students from all across campus within the first few weeks of school.

Monday: Energy and Innovation Night

How can we bring more energy efficient solutions into consumer’s lifestyles and into the market? Professor Yet-Ming Chiang, the youngest tenured professor in MIT’s Materials Science and Engineering Department, opened the night with examples of the use of energy efficient solutions in Hawaii. Then, he launched into a discussion of the development of a groundbreaking new invention from his lab.

Professor Eugene Fitzgerald took the stage next to discuss how to bring innovation to the market, leading the way into MIT student pitches. Trends in MIT student energy startups fell into a few categories:

Clean energy for humans: From the energizing and healthy ReVivo Energy Chews to sustainable, social-impact driven Love Grain, a focus on clean energy for humans was a clear trend in startups on Energy Night.

Sustainable, renewable energy: Nobody likes desperately seeking wall sockets to plug their electronics into. Thankfully, some exciting startups at MIT, such as the fashion-meets-technology company JonLou that makes purses with fuel cell chargers, are finding ways to develop plug-free, sustainable and efficient energy solutions.

Smart energy: Systems that can learn your behaviors and needs to dynamically adjust to be more efficient are on the rise, as analytics improve and better integrated home solutions are developed.

Tuesday: Digital and Software Night

How fast can you visualize the world? How about at one trillion frames per second? MIT Media Lab’s Professor Ramesh Raskar invented a camera that moves nearly as fast as light itself and kicked off Digital and Software Night. Professor Erik Brynjolfsson of Information Technology and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business discussed how to create shared prosperity by racing with machines instead of against them.

Trends in student startups in the digital area fell into the following categories:

Streamlining data: Everyone is suffering from information overload these days, and a host of MIT startups are looking to fix that problem with intelligent interfaces that make it easier for users to find the information they need when they need it. is a service that lets you keep up with the real world. Users can share, upvote, and discuss important activities with anyone in a community.

Collaboration tools: To boost sharing in knowledge, photography, and video, several MIT startups are developing specific solutions for user needs. For example, Glyph is a unique picture-messaging platform whose mission is to democratize creativity by giving regular consumers access to high-quality visual design customized for their words, message or expression.

Wednesday: Hardware and Device Night

Hardware and Device Night kicked off with Professor Anantha Chandrakasan, the mastermind running EECS, the largest course at MIT. Innovator of MIT’s Robotic Cheetah and designer of the 1st legged, glass wall-climbing robot, Professor Sangbae Kim showed students the strategic efficiency behind his inventions.

Student startups in hardware varied in subject. NVbots offers a simple to use 3D printer and cloud interface that enables 24-7 printing, remote control from any device, and easy sharing between many users. In an entirely different realm, AvaTech develops state-of-the-art, proactive avalanche safety devices that help backcountry adventurers and professionals avoid life-threatening avalanches.

Thursday: Healthcare Innovation Night

MIT Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, Christopher Love inspired students on Thursday night by presenting the complex problem of finding more efficient ways of getting treatments to patients as well as encouraged students to discover ways of improving drug discovery and development. Meanwhile, inventor, co-founder, and board member of three venture-funded companies Professor Hart discussed the process of becoming an entrepreneur and the development of a 3D scanner that will streamline the generation of earphones and hearing aids by more accurately fitting them to the dimensions of the ear canal.

Students then had the treat of hearing from several local physicians. Dr. Sachin Jain from the Merck Institute challenged students to find ways to promote medication adherence, given the detrimental impact it has on patients. Dr. Michael Docktor, who specializes in pediatrics and is on the executive team of Hacking Pediatrics, discussed the frustration and inefficiencies doctors face with the lack of digital software solutions for streamlining their practices. Students broke off into teams to ideate and brainstorm around these pain points.

The week of t=0 culminated in a weekend long hackathon where students worked together to build companies and hack together prototypes of their products. Having just joined the MIT community a few weeks ago, I felt inspired by the breadth of innovation across campus. Even more inspiring was how incredibly down-to-earth, accessible, humble, and collaborative everyone was at each of these events as people from across courses mingled and learned about each other’s backgrounds and interests. To me, t=0 was the perfect way to kick off the semester at MIT and expose me to a variety of exciting ideas and people at a rigorous MIT pace.