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Inside MIT’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Bootcamp

A team celebrates the conclusion of the MIT Innovation & Entrepreneurship Bootcamp in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photos courtesy Christian Pierce

The word “bootcamp” brings to mind the strict and gritty reality that many people face when beginning their military career. For me, it is a reminder of my initial Cadet Summer Training at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The process of that training broke my classmates and me down, only to build and mold us into the cohesive and disciplined unit we needed to be to lead soldiers in a dynamic global environment. 

MIT’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Bootcamp uses the same approach when building future leaders, and in doing so, it is actively changing business education. There is no other program in the world that demands so much in such a short span of time, while accelerating both personal and professional growth. While our final pitches were only seven minutes long, the journey to get to that point was an arduous task. Over the course of one week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 122 people from 40 different countries worked roughly 150 hours to be investor pitch ready with a business that did not exist at the beginning of the week.

The ability for so many diverse people to come together is a testament to the innovative mind of Erdin Beshimov, creator of the bootcamp, and his team, who we immediately came to know on Day 1. 

BREAKING US DOWN & BUILDING US UP

“I don’t want people with passion, I want people with obsession.” — Bill Aulet, Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship

Day 1 started off with everyone full of energy. We were enjoying the good weather and positive vibes of the “Marvelous City,” and were excited about what was to come. The kick off of the Bootcamp started with an introduction to the MIT team. Erdin’s team and our coaches were alumni of either the Bootcamp or MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and were all successful entrepreneurs. Also keeping us loud and motivated for the week was Brian Subirana, Director of the MIT Auto-ID Lab. Once introductions were made, Bootcampers played an ice-breaker to figure out our teams (co-founders) for the week. After each of the 24 teams had been determined, we immediately had a class on the foundation for a successful venture: 1. The Value/problem 2. The Market 3. The Technology.

These three variables were all we were given prior to our first team task. We had to develop and pitch a brand-new business using limited information in under 30 minutes. In the military, I was accustomed to accomplishing objectives in subpar conditions with a team that I trusted, yet I had just met my MIT team members an hour before our task! This led to some confusion at the start, but we were able to successfully pitch. Surrounded by other teams during our pitch, most of us were able to humble ourselves for the constructive criticism from the coaches. However, one person from my team, while passionate and intelligent, was unable to let go of their ego. This led to that person quitting the Bootcamp. 

At the beginning of Day 2, my team was down to four members. We had been broken down and had gone through our first conflict. The ability to manage our conflict set the foundation for the rest of the week, as our loyalty to each other channeled into an obsession to find and create figuring out a successful venture. We had to develop a team charter, determine how to manage future conflicts, and set a rotating daily CEO schedule for the team – a similar procedure to the leader rotations experienced throughout military schools. The CEO for a day concept allowed all of us to test our leadership skills, leverage our strengths, and ultimately recognize areas of improvement as leaders. To truly understand the rapid changes our personalities were undergoing, we had nightly CEO check-ins with our coaches to discuss progress and tackle challenges together.

ONE TEAM, ONE FIGHT

“If you want to do the impossible, you have to have a team.” — Andrew Ngui, Bootcamp Senior Program Manager

Each day was broken down into a similar format. Learning sessions on business topics were conducted in the morning and afternoon, with project work through the evening and night. Days formally ended when deliverables were submitted at 3:00AM. Outside of the learning sessions teams were encouraged to talk and network. This competitive collaboration benefitted everyone, as the diverse perspectives allowed us to improve our individual teams’ Preliminary Market Research (PMR) and refine our business models. Coaches and staff became part of the teams as well.

Each night coaches would stay until the last Bootcamper left the facility, which demonstrated that we were all in this together. This care and dedication to duty created a cohesion that I have only seen in a few organizations. As the week progressed, our teams were inspired to tackle larger problems that just a few days earlier seemed impossible. At the conclusion of the camp, everyone was truly one team. 

Bill Aulet’s first day speaking to bootcampers

SPECIAL FORCES

“Entrepreneurship is a craft.” — Bill Aulet

In addition to our full-time coaches, we also had the opportunity to hear great keynote speakers and a special instructor. Each keynote speaker offered an amazing perspective as we developed our business plans. The first was Maurício Antonio Lopes, president of Brazilian Agricultural Corporation Embrapa. He mused about the early days of Embrapa and how it was able to scale to be one of the biggest corporations throughout Brazil. Later in the week we heard from Vitor Oliviero, partner at one of Brazil’s only Unicorns, Nubank, and concluded the week with a riveting talk from Stephen Wolfram- the Bill Gates of coding. 

The special instructor, who arrived from his flight like an operator expertly inserting into a mission, was Bill Aulet. Bill, the entrepreneurial guru and author of Disciplined Entrepreneurship, is a business catalyst. Throughout two days of the Bootcamp, he walked us through his 24-step process of taking a concept to execution and demonstrated how disciplined entrepreneurship equals freedom. The energy in the room as Bill spoke was unreal. His discussions, which flowed from market segmentation to beachhead market and concluded with a product plan, were as precise as an Army Operation Order. Bill’s final speech was on leadership, with an emphasis that each and every one of us can change the world. Simultaneously with a standing ovation, Bill expertly exfiltrated to the airport in order to prepare for his next mission.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

“Adults learn from reflection.” — Brian Subirana

The final day of the camp was a myriad of emotions. After all of the sweat, tears, and effort everyone had put into their businesses, we were all winners. Many of us hadn’t slept the night before (or any night really), yet supportive energy buzzed throughout the Bootcamp. I had been the CEO the night prior, and just like my time as an officer, I made it through because of the support of my team. The most difficult times brought out and strengthened each of our core values, and enhanced our pitch performance. 

Our hard work, team cohesion, and positive attitudes were showcased during Demo Day. Each Bootcamper had to pitch in front of our judges (potential investors), and every word uttered showed how everyone inculcated the business principles taught during the week. This inculcation made our graduation from the course that much more rewarding; in one week, we had transformed from inspired thinkers to elite entrepreneurs. 

As I reflect on this experience and prepare for my next academic course, I understand that through the MIT Innovation & Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, I was broken down and built back up to better use my head, heart, and hands to change the world. 

The application window for the next Bootcamp, in Brisbane, Australia, is now open. For more information visit://bootcamp.mit.edu/entrepreneurship/brisbane/#. 


Christian Pierce is a 2010 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and current MBA candidate at the COPPEAD GSB. He lives in São Paulo, Brazil, and enjoys volunteer work, public speaking, and martial arts.