Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Charlotte Wang: SDM Pays Off in Cleantech Win

By Chunguang Charlotte Wang, SDM ’11

Chunguang Charlotte Wang
Winning the 2011 Berkeley-Stanford Cleantech Launchpad competition with my MIT teammates has really brought home the many benefits of being in MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM).

Of course, I think our team has great technology. PolyChroma’s LED lamp provides high-quality, dynamically color tunable light that cannot currently be produced either by incandescents or other LEDs. The product is designed to help museums to execute their artistic vision while saving money on energy and maintenance.

But even with great technology, I think a key to our success has been the holistic, systems thinking that’s at the heart of SDM. Applying systems thinking to enterprise transformation is a skill that we are learning and practicing at SDM—so that we know how to identify the right market and the best value proposition. These skills are critical to successful entrepreneurship.

PolyChroma got its start last fall in Energy Ventures, an MIT class taught by Senior Lecturer Bill Aulet. He really encouraged class members to get out of their comfort zones for the team project, so I steered clear of information technology (my specialty) to choose something I didn’t know anything about.

When the PolyChroma idea was pitched to the class, I was intrigued because I thought I’d like working with clean technology. But I also liked that the team was so diverse, with two Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) members, one Sloan economics major, and one undergrad in physics and economics.
PolyChroma team members, from left:
Kurtis McKenney, Chunguang Charlotte Wang,
Marnix Hollander, and Jon Garrity.
Photo by Cleantech

Before this class, I didn’t know any of my teammates—Marnix Hollander, LGO ’12, Kurtis McKenney, SB ’01, LGO ’12, and Jon Garrity, an undergraduate majoring in physics and economics—but I have come to love this group. Everybody has worked really hard, with tough deadlines, to do well in the competitions we’ve entered. (In addition to the Cleantech win, we also won the MIT $100K Executive Summary Contest.) We constantly find each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

I have found, for example, that I am good at setting priorities, networking, finding suitable competitions to enter, and gathering input from the team. Another team member is an excellent speaker and another is the technology expert, etc.

By now, we’ve all been tested by fire because the competitions have been grueling. Winning the Berkeley-Stanford Cleantech Launchpad is a case in point, because even after we’d won we couldn’t relax. We suddenly realized we were going to get a chance to pitch to US Energy Secretary Steven Chu and some venture capitalists—and we didn’t have any business cards. So, we all headed to Kinko’s in the middle of the night to print out cards.

On the plus side, we met several LGO and SDM alumni at the energy conference that followed the competition, and they were delighted to introduce us around. That’s another major benefit of SDM—it helps enormously to have the MIT community’s support. In addition to mentoring and advice, we received financial assistance from SDM and LGO to travel to the Cleantech competition, and SDM helped us to make a video pitch (see below).

I am delighted to be putting my SDM experience to practical use—from the communications skills learned in Senior Lecturer Shalom Saar’s leadership seminar to the lessons on how to commercialize technology. I know that if we are to create a successful company, this is the beginning of a long hard journey. Fortunately, I think SDM is making the startup phase a little easier—I have learned better ways to lead people, manage groups, and make the transition from the pure engineering mindset to business leader.

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