When I returned home to New York from this year’s MIT Energy Conference (MITEC), I was inspired, and, yes, energized. Colleagues and friends kept asking me all week what’s so great about “yet another” energy conference. Excellent question.
One thing that makes this conference so special is that it is completely run by MIT students, many of whom continue on as alumni to become future leaders in our industry. And because the MIT community holds together so well, and alumni keep coming back, the MITEC continues to get bigger and better every year. In only its sixth year, it has become a major event in our industry, selling out consistently. This year there were more than 1,000 attendees.
The MITEC’s growth is an extension of MIT’s entrepreneurial culture as a whole. The MIT campus is virtually a start-up incubator in itself, and is almost a perpetual motion machine for entreprenurship and innovation. It begins with MIT’s world class faculty fostering so much innovation and start-up activity through programs such as the MIT Entrepreneurship Center and the $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. Then, MIT alumni launch hundreds of new start-ups every year, totaling some-30 thousand companies to date. And the cycle renews as those alumni return to campus seeking more new ideas. All of this results in MIT taking a very prominent role in numerous industries.
The energy industry is a vivid example of this. MIT, through faculty, students and alumni, has become a world-leading energy solutions forum. The MITEC lets MIT display this to the utmost. Attendees get to hear about the MIT spin-outs directly from those alumni that founded and financed them. There is simply no better primary source of information in the energy industry.
The 2011 conference theme, “Confronting Limits with Fact-Based Analysis,” did a superior job in emphasizing the important role that MIT plays in the new energy economy. For example, newly introduced this year were the “Lunch, Learn, and Launch” panels which showcased MIT energy entrepreneurs across the start-up lifecycle, from the latest cutting-edge research initiatives, to success stories from venture capital-funded MIT spin-outs.
Another valuable aspect of the MITEC is that, based on MIT’s reputation the rest of the industry comes in to contribute to the discussions which further facilitate industry growth. For example, this year, it was fascinating to hear major energy players such as GE lead the discussion on our electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Even with such interesting panels and industry leaders in attendance, it is perhaps more exciting to see how passionate and collaborative the individual attendees are. A former organizer myself, it’s always a thrill to go back every year and see familiar faces, and it’s even more amazing to see that it is my own MIT Sloan classmates who are making such significant advances and exhibiting at the MITEC. Like Justin Ashton who in 2008 co-founded XL Hybrids, now a venture-backed and fast growing company.
When you have more than 100 students collaborate from all across campus – the scientists and engineers working together with the business and entreprereneurial mavericks – the content you get is truly what the future of energy will be. What you often tend to lose at other industry conferences is the next generation of technology and leadership that is coming out of academia. MITEC is truly the primary source that provides this.
And the MIT community is not just in it for an easy buck; we believe in a better, and greener, tomorrow and the years to come.
Angelique Mercurio is a Vice President at Cora Capital Advisors based in New York, and is an MIT Sloan MBA 2008