My Experience at MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp 2017

This article was written by Andreea, a student at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza University” (UAIC) – Faculty of Computer Science – Iasi, sponsored by Fortech to attend the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp 2017.

This year I had the privilege to attend the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp Class 5 – a week-long leadership program designed to give bootcampers a taste of “drinking from the firehose” that all MIT students experience.  Although this experience was supposed to start on 26th of March, for me it started long before that, from the moment I started my application. Everything that followed after that – the interview, getting accepted, raising the money, applying for a Visa and the journey to Australia, all contributed to this amazing experience.

The application process & raising the money

I found out about this program from an online course on EDX.org. The more I read about the program, the more I wanted to get in. That being said, I didn’t have high hopes for getting in, as the acceptance rate is very low, and I didn’t have the money to pay the tuition fee.

Nevertheless, my mindset was that I will at least have the chance to experience the application process of an ivy-league university (we learn something from every experience, right?).

The application process had 5 steps in total, with the last one being an interview. After going through the first 4 steps, which required me to send a CV, answer a few questions, submit an essay and a 1-minute video pitch about a problem I want to solve, I received an invitation for a Skype interview. I was very nervous, as I didn’t know what kind of questions to expect.  The interview lasted a little bit longer than half an hour and focused on my idea and why I wanted to participate in the bootcamp.

A few days later I received an email with my acceptance letter.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  Later I found out that there were more than 6000 applicants and only 120 accepted.

Remember when I said that I didn’t have the money for the tuition fee? Well, I didn’t have any idea how I would go about raising the money, either. They requested me to give them an answer in 3 days, stating whether I could afford to go or not. If the answer was yes, I had to send 2000 USD in a week, followed by another 4000 USD in a month.

So, what did I do? What I’ve been doing from the start: adopt the mindset “Don’t say that you can’t do it if you didn’t at least try”.

I sent them an email saying that I will attend the bootcamp. What followed after that was a rollercoaster of emotions. There were moments when I was feeling so confident that I will raise all the money, but also moments when I was feeling hopeless and wanted to give up.  With help from two people who are dear to me, Georgiana Dragomir and Andrei Postolache, I was able to reach out to many people for help.

Some of them were confused about the reason why they should fund me – “so are you going to start a business after that? “, “how will financing you benefit me?”  they asked – but there were also people who didn’t even ask for more details and wanted to help me. I remember at one point staying in front of my laptop where I had a list of phones numbers and a “mini -speech” that I would say when people would answer their phones. After many phone calls and meeting a lot of amazing people, I had all the money.

After paying the tax, there was just one more month before the start of the bootcamp. As the date was approaching, I was getting more and more anxious about the fact that my visa hasn’t been approved yet. I couldn’t even focus on the study I had to do for the bootcamp because my mind couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I might not go.

The day before my departure, I was on the phone with the Australian Embassy all night. I was waiting for someone to take my call only to hang up and then call again hoping for a different operator because they were telling me that there is nothing they can do. I didn’t have hopes that I will receive my visa after that night but the next morning I received the approval. Let the MIT Entrepreneurship Bootcamp begin!

The arrival in Australia

I arrived in Brisbane, Australia on the 23rd of March. I didn’t have time to do much since it was almost night when I got there, but just the road from the airport to my hotel made me fall in love with the city.

The next two days I visited the city and met with the other bootcampers. I was meeting with so many new people that I could barely remember all their names! It was energy-draining for me, especially since I’m more of an introvert. The official opening was on the evening of the 25th, when we met with the mentors and the organizers. We were advised to go to our hotel early and get some sleep, as we won’t be getting that a lot during the week. Around 10 pm I was back in my room. The bootcamp was due to start the next morning at 7 am.

The MIT Entrepreneurship Bootcamp experience

On the first day, we were presented with the schedule for the bootcamp which looked like this:

MIT Global Entrepreneurship 2017 - Bootcamp Schedule

Photo credit: MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp 2017

Who needs sleep anyway, right?

The main challenge of the day was choosing a team and a problem to work on. We were supposed to choose people whom we wanted to work with, and not be influenced by the idea they wanted to work on, but that is something hard to do when we’ve only just met one another. I chose to be on a team with people whom I felt I had something to learn from. We were supposed to work on the problem of not detecting natural disasters fast enough to save lives. In order to do that, we wanted to use space technologies like CubeSats. This was just one thing we wanted to do with space technologies. We had a lot of other ideas in mind! It was something new for me and I was so excited to learn more about it!

As we started to work on this idea we ran into the problem of having the government as a paying customer. Even though this was acceptable, in the spirit of the bootcamp we were advised to choose a different problem. So we started thinking about other ideas.

It was 2 am when a mentor came to our table asking us why we hadn’t already found a problem. As we started talking about our issues, the mentor made us aware that we were thinking about ideas and not problems. He told us to split the whiteboard into 5 parts: each of us should write 20 problems. In total, we would have 100. 100 problems to solve. We had to find something we all agree to work on.

After brainstorming ideas for about an hour, we chose to work on a problem related to the collaboration between programmers on big projects. We started working on this problem at 3 am. Around 6 am we finished all we had to submit for the day. We had one more hour before a new day at the bootcamp would begin. There was no point in going back to our hotel, so we stayed there.

They really were not joking when they told us we won’t sleep.

 

Day 2

Because of the lack of sleep, this day felt more like “day 1 – part 2”. The main focus of the day was validating our problem. We weren’t allowed to talk about our solution. We had to prove there is an actual problem first.

We interviewed people from the university that hosted the bootcamp, other bootcampers and friends. In total, we had about 25 interviews, which is definitely not enough for a real primary market research, but it was the best we could do in such a short amount of time. The majority of the people we’ve talked to confirmed that there really is a problem with the current platforms where programmers share the code they have to work on, so we decided to continue with this problem.

Around 2 or 3 am we submitted all we had to do and went to our hotel to get some sleep. It felt like heaven when my head touched the pillow that night.

 

Days 3 & 4

On day 3 we started to discuss how we are going to solve our problem.  We had to specify exactly how our solution will benefit our customer and what will differentiate us from other people on the market, or people who could possibly work on the same thing.  Because we couldn’t find a strong enough core, we changed our idea again that night.

One of my teammates told us about the low quality of Computer Science (CS) education that the children from the San Francisco Bay area get, so we decided to investigate this problem. We had to do everything from the beginning again. We finished defining our problem that day and then we went home to sleep. We wanted to be rested for the next day.

 

Day 5

Day 5 was the last day when we could work on our problem. We had to finish the pitch, do a PowerPoint presentation and prepare for the questions the investors might ask on Friday. Around 4 pm we started doing our primary market research for our new problem. We called parents from San Francisco who were working in the tech industry and asked them if they are pleased with the CS quality education that their children are getting.

After validating our problem, we started working on defining our solution and preparing our pitch. That lasted until 6 a.m., when we decided to give a mock presentation to one of our mentors. It was not the greatest presentation. Sleep deprivation kicked in at one point and we started laughing in the middle of the presentation. We ended up staying 2 more hours with our mentor fixing our presentation. Demo day would start in 2 hours.

 

Day 6

After we went to our hotel and changed our clothes, we went back to the University. Were we ready to present in front of the investors? Of course not! We’ve just changed the slides that very morning. However, we were confident in our problem and in the work we did. We took a deep breath and entered the room.  We gave the presentation and we answered the investors’ questions. We were proud of ourselves.

MIT Entrepreneurship Bootcamp 2017

Photo credit: QUT Media, MIT Bootcamp 2017 – Day 01 

Post-Bootcamp reflections

In just one week I experienced some of the challenges people encounter when starting a startup. I developed a new way of thinking and approaching problems. I learned the best way to deliver a solution to a problem, and I met more than 100 great people. Above all, I realized that entrepreneurship is not about you and what you want to do. It’s all about your customer and their problem. You have to know your customer so well that you know what they like to do on a Friday night.

I slept 12h in total. It was the most productive week of my life. It was all worth it.

Some advice from me if you’re planning to go:

  • Choosing people that you can work with is more important than choosing people based only on their qualifications.
  • Don’t let stress and sleep deprivation interfere with the work you have to do. If you need to, take a break. It’s better than yelling at your teammates.
  • Conflicts will exist in every team; it’s normal when you’re spending 20 hours/day for a whole week together.
  • Get as specific as you can for everything: problem, market, solution and so on.
  • Be able to accept different opinions.
  • The most important: You’re getting out of the bootcamp exactly how much you’re putting into the bootcamp. We were not forced to not sleep and attend all the presentations during the day, but we wanted to. Don’t miss any opportunity to learn something new.
  • Lastly, be careful when you check time zones. We called someone at 1 am for primary market research.
Andreea MIT participant

Andreea

Student at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza University” (UAIC) - Faculty of Computer Science Iasi, Andreea is passionate about entrepreneurship, technology, and photo/video editing.