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How MIT Nurtured Entrepreneurs: by Ed Roberts

By Shlomo Maital


Professor Edward Roberts

   Edward B. Roberts. Celebrating Entrepreneurs: How MIT Nurtured Pioneering Entrepreneurs Who Built Great Companies.   Amazon website.

    Life goes on. Scholars are still writing and publishing books. And this one, by my mentor and friend Ed Roberts, who founded and still chairs the MIT entrepreneurship program, is highly relevant. Because as we emerge from coronavirus, we will need to rebuild our economies. A major role will be played by high-energy creative entrepreneurs – of the kind Ed has nurtured, fostered, mentored, taught, cajoled, taught, reprimanded (he practices tough love), praised and energized.

   You’ll find the book of great interest, especially its five chapters filled with in-depth interviews and background on the MIT “spinoff startups” who became the leaders of: the life sciences and biotechnology industry, the Internet, from CAD-CAM to robotics, and even “modern finance”, plus a host of other diverse firms. The book contains a major portion on MIT’s long engagements with several countries, including years with Israel, in helping to create and build its high-technology entrepreneurial sector.

   Incidentally, Ed notes “ALL author proceeds from the sale of Celebrating Entrepreneurs will be donated directly to MIT endowment funds that support the Institute-wide MIT Entrepreneurship Pogram”, which will really help to sustain and further develop MIT’s ambitious efforts on behalf of future entrepreneurs.”

     Inspired by Ed, I’ve joined others at my university, Technion, to foster entrepreneurship, ever since 1987, when I and 2011 Nobel Laureate Dan Shechtman launched a general studies course on startups, featuring entrepreneurs who came to tell their story (like Jewish meatballs, both sweet and sour). You can read my survey of research on fostering entrepreneurship in universities, download it at or email me at

   And a final note. Ed gave me the chance to teach MIT Management of Technology students, R&D engineers from all over the world, in 1984. I recall my first attempt was disaster. But Ed gave me a second chance the following summer. Ever since, inspired by Ed and MIT, I’ve pursued a passionate interest in creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship – the engines that have made the people of Israel prosperous.  As consultant to some of Israel’s leading high-tech companies (including Iscar, now a global giant owned by Warren Buffett),  Ed contributed directly to the birth and growth of Israeli hi-tech. 

     Thank you, Ed!

Words Do Matter!  Start Your Startup With A Story

By Shlomo Maital


   Three on-line courses are currently ‘live’ on Coursera, that I and my Technion colleagues created, on startup entrepreneurship. I’m greatly enjoying the discussion forums. My student Antoni Baszczeski has drawn my attention to a framework by Chris Plachy, offered on Coursera:

   The discussion hinges on the importance of words. Antoni quoted G B Shaw, a great writer, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925, for his “idealism and humanity, his stimulating satire…”   I noted to Antoni that Shaw was a great creator, but in the end created just words. Antoni responded that words come between feelings and action, and perhaps spur action. And I certainly agreed.

     I’m currently developing a startup entrepreneurship module based on ‘narrative entrepreneurship’. The idea is simple. Entrepreneur:   Build your story!   Shape your story (events, timeline, conflict, people, characters, things, challenges, ups and downs), built around your startup, and how you create it…tell your story in past tense, even though it unfolds in the future.   Use your story to inspire others, and yourself, to aspire to greatness, and as a roadmap. Use all the powerful techniques of great fiction to shape it…and then make it come true.

     This, by the way, has strong foundations in cognitive psychology, developed by the late Jerome Bruner (see my blog on his narrative approach). We understand reality through stories.   Perhaps, then, we can SHAPE reality by creating stories…and then living them. The better the story, the closer you get to effective successful action!

   Perhaps, as Antoni notes, words are indeed a powerful bridge between feelings (the passion that drives startups) and the deeds and actions that make them happen.

     Thanks, Antoni!






How to Pitch Your Idea: Secrets from TED

 By Shlomo Maital


     My Entrepreneurship courses, taught in Israel and in China, always end with each student team giving a ‘pitch’ – presenting their ideas to potential investors.   Even seasoned educators are often poor communicators, let alone very young students. What advice can I give, to help make ‘pitches’ highly interesting and effective – especially when you are pitching to a jaded audience, one that has heard it all before?   I’ve been reading a book by Carmine Gallo, Talk Like TED, about the most popular TED talks and what makes them so popular. The book is very useful, because it is based on a democratic ‘election’ – number of views. Here are the top TED talks of all time: (See List below).

   What makes for a TED talk that millions watch? I can boil down Gallo’s fine book into one recommendation, in two words: Tell stories!   Tell your own personal story. Get your message across with N=1, not boring N=5,000.   People relate to stories, learn from stories, their own and others.   Take for instance the TED talk by Jill Taylor. She is a neuroscientist, who had a serious stroke. She welcomed the stroke, because, as she explains, she could analyze the post-stroke brain “from the inside”, inside her own brain. And in 18 minutes, she tells the story. Watch it – it’s gripping.

   So – you have an idea for a product or service? Tell it as a story.   Who uses it? Name a real person. Why do they love it? How does it change their lives? Be authentic. Be real. Skip the Power Point. Slip in 2-3 key facts, but only as part of the story.   Try to add some ‘surprises’ – those who have heard it all need something to jolt them… wow, that’s interesting, haven’t heard that before.   Start with a punchy short key sentence… like Sergio Brin’s and Larry Page’s pitch to Sequoia, that got them a big check…and the rest is Google history. [“our search engine brings you all the world’s information in one click”].  


                                                            Top TED talks of all time


Ken Robinson. Do schools kill creativity?   Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

Amy Cuddy. Your body language shapes who you are. Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.

Simon Sinek. How great leaders inspire action   Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership — starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?” His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers …

Brené Brown. The power of vulnerability. Brené Brown studies human connection — our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity. A talk to share.

Jill Bolte Taylor. My stroke of insight   Jill Bolte Taylor got a research opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: She had a massive stroke, and watched as her brain functions — motion, speech, self-awareness — shut down one by one. An astonishing story.

Creativity & Innovation in Remote New Zealand

By Shlomo  Maital


 My wife Sharona and I are in New Zealand, on the very last leg of a world tour that has taken us around the world, from Brazil, to Boston, France, Singapore, Vietnam, Guangzhou and Shantou China, Hong Kong and now Auckland.   It’s been a great adventure – we combined touring with lecturing, teaching, research and meeting the local Jewish communities on the Sabbath.

    Here, I visited GridAKL, a local incubator located near Auckland Harbor, in the Wynyard Quarter,  and designed to foster technological entrepreneurship.  I met with Eva Perrone, whose title is “activation manager” and she showed me the facility.  The first floor is an open ‘events’ area, where companies outside and inside the incubator can stage workshops, meetings, etc.   The second floor is the incubator, designed as open space, with quiet areas, kitchens, and lots and lots of light. 

    Some of the entrepreneurs in GridAKL are from Aukland University of Technology (AUT), a fine university with entrepreneurial spirit. 

     Despite New Zealand’s remoteness from the world, it is super-connected, with fast broadband.  Many of the startups in GridAKL are IT and software startups.  New Zealand itself makes a living from tourism and dairy and food exports, but is eager to expand its portfolio and build a startup culture. 

   In our travels, from Brazil to Vietnam, to China, Hong Kong, and now New Zealand, we have seen young people eager to start businesses and change the world.  This is an extremely positive trend.  It is also one that should accelerate the heartbeat of an entrepreneur and pump a few grams of adrenaline.   Today if you have a great idea, chances are so does someone else, who could be anywhere in the world, including places you might not think of.  

     Here in New Zealand, we saw an amazing site – the glow-worm cave (see my next blog),  where Nature and Darwinian evolution has created incredible worms that glow in the dark inside the cave ceiling,   and actually create tiny long ‘fishing lines’ that they use to catch their food (mosquitos and bugs).   The ‘glow’ attracts the bugs.    Evolution has produced amazing things, as species compete to survive.  Entrepreneurship can do the same.  The fierce competition  among ideas and resources can generate truly wonderful new creative things that create value for the world and literally, produce something from nothing.   And all it takes is a few young people (or young in spirit),  some open spaces, accessible food (this is the key to a great incubator, Eva Perrone assured me, and I told her about Google’s executive restaurants in their Mountainview, CA campus), strong networking and a great university.      

Technology comes LAST

By Shlomo  Maital     


  My wife and I are in Brazil; yesterday I gave a seminar at Univ. of Sao Paulo, titled “Technology Comes Last, Not First”.  This was hutzpah, impudence, because it was a seminar for Management of Technology.  When you see a surgeon with a medical problem, they often recommend surgery. Naturally. When you study Management of Technology, they teach you – well, how to manage technology. 

   But the audience got the message and understood.  And it is so simple.

   Great startups begin by identifying an unmet need.  This is done not by asking people what they need, but by keen close detailed zoom-in observation and listening – not a skill engineers tend to have.  Only after a clear unmet need is identified, should technology be pulled in,  and only technology that can simply, quickly and appropriately be applied to meet the need, as part of a sustainable business. 

   I’ve seen countless startups driven by genius engineers, who create magical technology (recall Arthur Clarke, “truly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”),   and launch a startup, and – their technology meets needs that do not exist at all.

    How do you find a true need?  Maybe, you YOURself need it.  And if so, others do too.  Spanx started when Susan Blakely needed something to tuck in her bottom. The technology?  Spandex.  She made a batch and knocked on doors until it began to sell. She’s now a billionaire.  Lady Gaga records new songs after exhausting performances, in her bus.  Technology? Her engineers insist, you cannot record high-quality sound in a bus.  Lady Gaga?  DO IT!!  Because she needs the inspiration and immediacy of her audience.  Sound studios are sterile.   

    The paradox is:  Technology-driven startups cannot be led by, driven by, and directed by, technology, even though they are generally led by engineers.  The principle is:  Start with Why!  Why make this?  Who needs it? Why do they need it?  Only if you have very strong clear answers, can you proceed to the technology that will satisfy it.  This is so simple. Yet violated by many businesses and entrepreneurs,  for big and small companies.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital