Balancing academics, research, and entrepreneurship

MIT’s top two priorities – providing a quality education for students and driving innovation through cutting-edge research – often lead to entrepreneurship activities.  MIT’s emphasis on “learning by doing” suffuses not only the academic curriculum, but also the way that we bring ideas to fruition. 

However, it is important to ensure that entrepreneurship activities do not hinder a student’s educational and research obligations. “Student entrepreneurship” includes a broad range of activities, from casually getting involved with another’s company, through starting and incorporating your own, and the topic can quickly become complex. 

The Institute has a number of policies and procedures aimed at mitigating any conflicts between education, research, and entrepreneurship; you’ll find links to relevant policies at the bottom of each page in this section. 

Based on lessons learned from the entrepreneurship experiences of many students, these pages will help you set yourself and your endeavors up for success. You should discuss your planned entrepreneurship activities with the people who understand the related policies, and your research and discipline, best. The OGE’s GradSupport team can help you prepare for conversations with your academic advisor or research advisor and department/program faculty Graduate Officer. MIT’s Conflict of Interest (COI) Officer and the Technology Licensing Office can also help.

Here are two common entrepreneurial scenarios for students. They may be instructive even if they are not exactly parallel to your particular situation.

  1. I’m a student looking to start a company (either for-profit or non-profit)
  2. I’m a student who formed a company prior to starting at MIT

Additionally, you may become involved in “outside professional activities,” (OPA) which refers to interactions with industry, business, government, and other institutions. These activities may be paid or unpaid. Here is one OPA scenario:  

  1. I’m a student who has been invited to join or serve on the board of an MIT faculty member’s existing company

An alternative OPA scenario would be working as a consultant; please refer to “Outside Professional Activities” for more information.

In line with our entrepreneurial culture, MIT has many resources and opportunities to support students in their pursuits. Some are listed below.

Resources & opportunities

Each academic year, dozens of entrepreneurship courses are offered, as well as not-for-credit boot camps during Independent Activities Period (IAP), and many other ongoing opportunities. MIT also has a wealth of student clubs and initiatives involved in entrepreneurship or innovation, among them the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, the Climate & Energy Prize @ MIT, and frequent student-led conferences. 

There are many resources dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship and innovation at MIT. The MIT Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) is open to all members of the MIT community (students, faculty, staff and alumni) who have ideas and want to launch new businesses, and provides a great place to get started. The Deshpande Center empowers some of MIT’s most talented researchers to make a difference in the world by developing innovative technologies in the lab and bringing them to the marketplace in the form of breakthrough products and new companies.

The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship seeks to advance knowledge and educate students in innovation-driven entrepreneurship that will best serve the world in the 21st century by providing proven frameworks, courses, programs, facilities, and mentorship. The MIT Innovation Initiative is a comprehensive hub of resources; their mission is to connect the varied pathways and networks in the innovation and principled entrepreneurship domain. MIT I-Corps helps you: explore the potential impact of your new technology; learn how to assess the market opportunity and pathway for your invention; and get entrepreneurial training and support.

Additionally, the BU/MIT Technology Law Clinic is a pro bono service for students at MIT and BU who seek legal assistance with their innovation-related academic and extracurricular activities.