Exonians learn the essentials of entrepreneurship

During an intensive two-week summer session at the MIT Innovation Academy in Hong Kong, students build and pitch products that solve real-world problems.

January 14, 2019
Exeter students at the MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node.

Uppers Billy Menken, Avery Clowes, Benjamin Cai and Miguel Shetreet were among the 12 Exonians who attended the MIT Innovation Academy in Hong Kong this summer. 

Is it possible to change the world with technology?

That’s the question a small group of entrepreneurial students set out to answer this summer. During a two-week program at the MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node, students worked in teams to identify real-world problems. Guided by experienced mentors, they then collaborated to design, build and market a wired device that could improve the lives of those around them.

MIT Innovation Academy

Established in 2016 to cultivate the next generation of global innovators, the "Node" established its MIT Innovation Academy for high schoolers the following year. Designed to inspire and propel young people along their entrepreneurial journeys, the program uses project-based learning to guide students through MIT’s disciplined entrepreneurship principles.

From building prototypes to testing markets and practicing the art of the elevator pitch, students at the Innovation Academy gain a better understanding of fabrication technologies and the design process — and learn just what it takes to launch a successful business venture.

The experience culminates in a final pitch, with teams presenting their viable business ideas and working prototypes to a panel that features venture capitalists, industry professional and academics. Following the presentation, the panelists engage in an interactive feedback session in front of a live audience.

Taking it all in

Visits to venture capital firms, start-ups, innovation labs and established companies were on the docket, as were meetings with Exeter alumni who have started their own companies.

Accompanied by Director of Service Learning Liz Reyes and Computer Science Instructor Colleen Brockmyre, the Exeter students engaged in cultural learning as well, as they toured Hong Kong and Shenzen and interacted with peers from around the globe.

Below, two participants reflect on their experiences.

Authentic learning

“Tim, do you ever feel like electronics just aren’t made for humans?” I fumed. “I’ve been trying to solder to the charging board for the last 40 minutes. Every time I get the wire in just the right place, I bring in the soldering iron and it all [falls to pieces]! I think my fingers are too fat.”

Tim nodded. “Take a breather, stretch your legs a bit.” He patted me on the back. A few minutes later I found myself outside, strolling through the humid Hong Kong air. ...

I walked a few hundred meters (yes, meters!) towards a black marble building and pulled open the glass doors. ... The mall was built of all glass and metal, with tiled marble floors and high open spaces throughout the length of the building. In each open space, polished silver escalators seemed to go up forever. Lines of people filed in and out of shops and stores throughout each level. ...

Eventually I found myself back outside the Innovation Node. The doors had a layer of condensation dripping down the glass front, but I could still see myself in the reflection. Lanyard around my neck, wearing polo shirt and khaki shorts. I realized, even when I was 7,903 miles away, I was still an Exeter student at heart...

Despite its challenges, the trip was an amazing one. Meeting new people, experiencing the Hong Kong culture and environment, and learning fascinating things about business models, entrepreneurship, and how to structure a presentation was truly awesome.

—Avery ’20

Anna Yung, Chris Law, Justin Psaris, Joy Liu and Claudia Sanchez with their prototype.

Lessons in business and living

A natural introvert, public speaking has always been a challenge for me. At MIT Innovation Academy, the opportunities were many. From my elevator pitch to the final presentation, I have grown much more comfortable with speaking to an audience. I feel that I have ideas worth sharing, and the past weeks have helped me develop my voice. I prefer being a follower over a leader ...  but eventually I fulfilled a leadership role in my team. I acted as a mediator in conflicts and tried to maximize each member’s contributions. ... I’ve become more familiar with my abilities and ready to leave my comfort zone.

Shenzhen was my favorite part of the trip. Through the border check, the familiar abundance of hammers and sickles revealed an abrupt shift towards mainland culture. Since I lived here five years ago, Shenzhen has become unrecognizable. The sleepy seaside town has developed into the global center of innovation. A week here is a month anywhere else: We visit venture capital funds, innovation labs, startups, and the electronics market Hua Qiang Bei, witnessing the different phases of entrepreneurship all in one place. ...

Civilization blooms around the manufacturing powerhouse. Cracked asphalt roads line workers’ residences, dotted with fruit vendors and merchants. We see the entire design thinking process condensed, paralleling our own work, both inspirational and daunting.

—Joy ’20