Our study also draws on a series of telephone interviews with MIT founders. We asked these founders whether their stay at MIT had played a role in their decision to start their own companies and, if it had, how it had done so. All agreed MIT had encouraged them to become risk-takers. One founder sums it up this way:
Let me try to give you my personal perspective about "risk-taking." I think it is a combination of several different factors. I knew I was not going to work for big companies when I was about to leave MIT. I would rather take the risk of failure than the risk of becoming nobody. There must be many alumni who felt the same way I did.
MIT offers great mentors (professors) and more opportunities (professors' consulting/research activities) for students to test the water in establishing their own businesses. MIT exposes students to cutting edge technologies and new ideas. It probably is easier to explore business potential of these new ideas and technologies as entrepreneurs. It seems to be quite natural that MIT becomes a cradle of entrepreneurs.
Another founder says that MIT instills the entrepreneurial spirit in its graduates. "You know that lots of people (students and professors) start their own companies." Many of his classmates started businesses while in school. This founder combined an electrical engineering degree with a management degree from the Sloan School, where he learned that high risk could lead to high return. After graduation, he passed up a safer job with a large company to take a senior position in a start-up.
Teradyne CEO Alex d'Arbeloff currently teaches a mechanical engineering course at MIT. Having the head of a billion dollar high-tech company as a course instructor must be a powerful role model for his students.
Several founders observed that enrollment at MIT was the first time they realized they were not the "smartest person in the world." One founder observed that this teaches a humility critical to CEOs who must learn to listen to customers and to respect the opinions of their employees. On the other hand, successful completion of an MIT education instills the confidence that bright people working together can solve problems. It's a "hands on" place; if there's a problem, students are encouraged to go down to the basement, build the appropriate equipment, and develop a solution. Finally, the founders point out, anyone who's at MIT for a few years knows what the state of the art is in his/her field.
Along the same lines, another founder said that because of the research and industrial ties of the faculty, MIT students get to work on "real stuff." Students are "right in the middle of something big" --topics being argued about and worked on at that moment in the industrial world. Professors about and worked on at that moment in the industrial world. Professors don't hesitate to work on real-world industrial problems. Other founders mentioned the importance of ties forged at MIT with fellow students who later become customers or cofounders.
The MIT influence shows up in the fact that over half of all MIT-related companies are founded within 15 years of the time the founder graduated from MIT; one company in six is founded within 5 years of graduation.
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