Friday, April 29, 2011

MIT Team Wins Berkeley-Stanford Green Entrepreneurship Competition

Courtesy of MIT Leaders for Global Operations Program (adapted)

A team of MIT students that included SDM's Chunguang Charlotte Wang won the grand prize at the 2011 Berkeley-Stanford Cleantech (BSC) Launchpad, a prestigious green entrepreneurship competition. In addition to Wang (SDM '10) the PolyChroma team includes Marnix Hollander (LGO '12), Kurtis McKenney (SB '01, LGO '12), and Jon Garrity (SB '11). Their venture is developing optics for next-generation LED lighting.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu (center)
and the PolyChroma team.
The theme of this year's competition was "Creating Jobs for a Green Economy." As the winners, PolyChroma received $10,000 in cash and services, the opportunity to pitch U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and a personal meeting with leading cleantech venture capital firms.

PolyChroma also placed first in the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition's Executive Summary Contest in February.

"We were elated to win BSC Launchpad," said Hollander. "It was a big risk for all four of us to fly out there. But thanks to the support of the System Design and Management and Leaders for Global Operations programs, we were able to make it. This was a great competition, and we're pleased we could keep riding this wave of success following the Executive Summary Contest."

Identifying a Promising Technology
The PolyChroma team came together at the onset of last fall's Energy Ventures course. Students in this course assemble teams around promising technologies in the energy sector and then build business plans to bring them to market.

In summer 2010, Hollander worked with the course TA and MIT's Technology Licensing Office (TLO) to investigate possible ideas. He found one technology to be particularly intriguing: an optics system that enables high-quality white light in LED lamps and full-color tunability in multicolored LED lamps.

Hollander pitched the idea to his Energy Ventures classmates, and McKenney, Wang and Garrity quickly signed on. The quartet worked on their business plan throughout the fall semester, meeting with venture capitalists and angel investors, legal professionals, future customers and potential partners along the way.
Wang, who was charged with exploring energy and green entrepreneurship competitions, thought BSC Launchpad would be worth entering. After submitting a video pitch and executive summary, PolyChroma survived the competition's first round (an online popular vote) and second round (in which a panel of industry experts narrowed the field from 20 to six).

Pitching the U.S. Energy Secretary
The final round took place on April 8. Garrity gave PolyChroma's five-minute pitch to the judges and the crowd gathered at Stanford University's Old Union Courtyard. The victor was determined by the judging panel (50 percent) and the audience (50 percent).

Hollander wasn't sure which way the vote would go, but he could tell the judges and audience members were paying close attention during Garrity's pitch. So when PolyChroma won, he wasn't shocked. A whirlwind of activity immediately followed.

"The next day, we gave our pitch to the entire BSC Conference [attended by professionals in academia, policy/government and venture capitalists]," said Hollander. "There was a lot of interest and some great questions from audience members.

"We also had the opportunity to pitch to Steven Chu during a special VIP conference. Afterwards, he expressed interest in our plan and in the idea of LED lighting as a huge opportunity for the U.S. to reduce its energy consumption."

According to Hollander, the winnings from the BSC Cleantech and MIT $100K competitions are going right back into PolyChroma. "We're putting the money toward a general fund pool for the company," he said. "We can use it to pay for any expenses we feel are important. Right now, that means generating interest in our venture and funding a developmental prototype."

The next major competition on the near horizon is the MIT $100K's Business Plan Contest, which ends May 11.

Sergey Naumov, SDM '11: Systems Thinking for the Technical Professional

By Eileen McCluskey

Sergey Naumov
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography
"When I stared in my career I was 100 percent technical," says Sergey Naumov, 38, and a first-year SDM student who earned his MS in mechanical engineering from Bauman Moscow State Technical University. "As I progressed in my career and started dealing with complex operational and financial issues, I realized I needed a cutting-edge, systems thinking perspective on these challenges, from establishing a multinational company to managing teams during fast-paced expansions."

Naumov, who grew up in Moscow and whose parents and grandparents are also engineers, thoroughly researched MBA programs worldwide. But he felt they missed the mark. "I didn't want to sacrifice my technical expertise or focus too narrowly on finances," he notes.

While exploring MIT's Sloan School of Management website, Naumov discovered SDM. "This program is perfect for me," he declares. "It combines the greatest engineering traditions with the créme de la créme of modern business practices. SDM is opening a new world of opportunities for me, not only through the courses and faculty but also through my fellow SDM students, all experienced professionals who come from so many different backgrounds."

Naumov, too, brings a lot to the table, having proven his technical and managerial mettle in the industrial battery sector. For example, prior to coming to SDM, he was head of information technology for Moscow-based battery manufacturer Akku-Vertrieb Ltd. There Naumov helped boost revenues from $25 million to $90 million in three years by leading several business-critical projects. One of the most important large-scale projects was the implementation of a new Warehouse Management System, which greatly improved product processing efficiencies.

With these successes under his belt, Naumov was ready for another challenge. It came in the form of a new startup company. He was named director of research and development for the Germany-based LionTech GmbH, created with the ambitious goal to become a European leader in manufacturing large industrial lithium-ion batteries.

Because they are smaller, more powerful, and lighter than other battery types, Li-Ion batteries have become commonplace in consumer electronics. But they had not yet been adapted for large industry.

"With our team's deep experience in the industrial battery sector, we knew our customers and the technology very well to manufacture Li-Ion battery for industrial uses," says Naumov.

He traveled as part of LionTech's core executive team to the United States, China, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and South Korea to find and select manufacturers. Naumov shepherded the R&D process, supervising the battery's designs and presenting proposals and updates to LionTech's board of directors. "The company has established small-scale production and is looking to further customizing the products for its clients," he says.

As he moves more deeply into the SDM program, Naumov does not yet wish to settle on a particular new direction. "I see so many possibilities," he says. Of one thing, however, he is certain: "I want to shape the future of industries and lead them to new technological breakthroughs."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Engineering and Management Expertise Propel Cloud Computing Firm

By Eric Smalley

Brian Ippolito, SDM '98
For Brian Ippolito, SDM '98, the combination of engineering and management expertise isn't just a competitive advantage, it's a necessity.

Ippolito, CEO of Orbis Technologies, Inc., leads a company that helps organizations manage mind-boggling amounts of information. The ability to design cloud-scale systems that process petabytes of data and the ability to manage a fast-growing company are critical requirements of the job.

Orbis Technologies gives organizations the technological, architectural and engineering know-how to build private cloud computing and semantic Web platforms and applications. The company provides highly specialized software development, technology assessments, planning services and even technology forecasting.

The Orbis Technologies customer base includes Fortune 50 companies and businesses and agencies involved in national security. "All of our clients have near-Internet-scale data problems," said Ippolito. "Our clients expect that they are hiring highly skilled individuals."

Orbis Technologies is a small company with about 50 employees. It doubled in size last year and has the opportunity to do the same again this year, said Ippolito.

The company is steeped in the kind of systems thinking that defines MIT's System Design and Management Program (SDM). Ippolito's SDM education has proved crucial to the success of his company. In particular, SDM prepared him for markets and market conditions that weren't even imaginable when he was in the program a decade ago, he said.

Ippolito cut his teeth in the technology business in the armed forces. As an Air Force acquisition manager, he oversaw contractors who developed large-scale mission-critical software systems for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The work was challenging. "Back in the '90s it was really hard to deliver software-intensive systems on schedule or within budget," he said.

That experience drove Ippolito to look beyond traditional options for graduate school. "I thought a purely technical master's degree was too narrow and an MBA was too broad. What I was looking for was something that balanced both," he said. He found it in the SDM program.

Technology companies have gotten better at delivering large-scale software systems since the '90s, but the challenges in today's market are greater than they were even two years ago. Tight credit, difficulty securing funding and market uncertainties compound the challenges of establishing a company in new, rapidly growing billion-dollar markets, said Ippolito.

In the current economic environment, running a technology company requires a management team that understands the details of system engineering, system architecture and the product development process, and also understands business operations and financials, said Ippolito.

The combination is necessary for grasping the relationship between company actions and shareholder value, he said. "The market is just flat out too unstable and moves too quickly. You need some formal education in order to prepare for this new economy," he said. "Without that foundation we would be out of business."

SDM alumni can provide insights, particularly because the current economic environment is likely to be with us for a while, said Ippolito. "The book hasn't been written on how to get through this economy," he said.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ali Almossawi, SDM '11: Technical, Entrepreneurial, and Creative Mojo

By Ethan Gilsdorf

Ali Almossawi
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography
MIT SDM student Ali Almossawi, who hails from the Kingdom of Bahrain, accomplished a lot before joining SDM.

He began coding at 13. One of his earliest software applications, which he wrote at age 16, was downloaded over 100,000 times, featured in a book on JavaScript, and earned him his first paycheck. "Come to think of it, I don't recall ever cashing it," he said.

He also spent four years as a systems development project manager for Bahrain's Labor Market Regulatory Authority. There he helped develop the government's "Expatriate Management System," which integrates the processes of five major government systems and manages the data of about half a million expatriates and over 60,000 companies and their branches.

In spring 2009, along with his brother, Hussain, he co-founded Skyrill.com, a creative firm specializing in design and development. In just two short years, the firm has served high-profile clients such as Olgilvy and Mather, Adidas, and NBA players Derrick Rose, Allen Iverson and Tyrus Thomas, plus garnered over 12 awards and honors for its work in branding/identity, web design, photography and print.

Steeped in all that technical, entrepreneurial, and creative mojo — and already armed with an MS in software engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and a BS in Computer Systems Engineering from the University of East Anglia -- Almossawi didn't see himself returning to grad school. "I had a misconception that management was something I could pick up through experience and common sense."

This changed when he learned about MIT's System Design and Management (SDM) Program from a friend. "I realized there is still plenty to learn in the classroom and that I could integrate engineering and management, so here I am," he said, noting that he and his wife, a physician who is preparing for her U.S. medical licensing exam, currently live in Cambridge.

Now he believes that the SDM environment is uniquely engaging. "The members of my cohort have impressive work experience, some spanning decades. Getting to know and work with them has been the most rewarding part of the program so far. I feel that I'm learning as much from my cohort as from my classes," he said.

And he continues to do a lot. In addition to taking courses such as Systems Optimization and Product Design and Development, Almossawi concurrently holds a research assistantship where he works with the IBM Watson Research Center analyzing the design of complex software systems. Working with MIT Sloan Professor Alan MacCormack, Almossawi is studying the implications of modularity in these systems, primarily by gauging the ability of various metrics developed by Professor MacCormack and his colleagues to aid in predicting defects.

"The work being done by Professor MacCormack and his colleagues is particularly interesting: they have developed quantitative metrics to visualize and measure the effects of technical debt in complex software systems. The general intuition is that the less modular a system is, the more difficult it is to find and fix defects. In most companies, a lot of hand-waving is done in this area."

Almossawi would like his research with Professor MacCormack to form the hub of his SDM thesis, given its relevance to his interests and experience.

But that's not all. With SDM colleagues Saujanya Shrivastava, Vivin Nath and Sarvesh Saodekar, he participated in January's Facebook Hack-a-thon, a coding competition judged by Facebook engineers. His team came up short, but when he entered the Samsung Innovation Challenge with colleagues Saujanya Shrivastava, Amit Limaye, and Karthikeyan Rajasekharan, his team's design for product connectivity in the home was named a finalist and they got the opportunity to present their concept to Samsung executives at the MIT Media Lab.

Despite all of the above, Almossawi is still running Skyrill.com with his brother. "I'm already applying what I'm learning in SDM to our company," he said.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Airong Dong, SDM '11: Learning to Think Out of the Box

By Ethan Gilsdorf

Airong Dong
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography
Airong Dong, a native of Huanghua, China, and a member of the System Design and Management (SDM) class entering in 2011, comes from an impressive work history that belies her 10 years of industry experience.

After earning a B.Eng. in communications engineering and an M.Eng. in communications and information systems, both from China's Dalian Maritime University, she focused her career mainly in the rail transportation sector. She's served as a system engineer, lead engineer, and interface manager for several railway companies, including Ansaldo STS, General Electric Transportation Systems, and SiemensTransportation Systems. In the past two years at Ansaldo, she helped produce two parallel signaling systems for two metro train lines in the cities of Shenyang and Chengdu.

Asked about her SDM experience since starting the program in January, Dong said, "The SDM students around me come from so many backgrounds. Working with them is enhancing my ability to think differently — to think out of the box."

Dong added, "Being able to apply knowledge to real-world projects in a real-time manner, and having CEOs and chief scientists from big companies coming to talk in class are both really valuable."

In addition to the students and visiting speakers, there is, of course, the faculty. Dong said MIT professors demand that students express "original results and clear thinking" in all of their work.

Dong's thesis will likely cover some aspect of technology strategy blended with marketing, engineering, and business processes. She hopes to use what she learns to address a key deficit she's observed in the workplace: the gap between technical know-how and management savvy. "To my knowledge, some places were great with technology, but weak in other areas. Others were well-managed, but lacked technology savvy," she said.

What she's learning at MIT is "universal," she said, and can be applied to any company she may work for in the future, wherever it may be.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

SDM Course Helps Students Build a Leadership Roadmap

By Shalom S. Saar, Senior Lecturer, MIT Engineering Systems Division


Shalom S. Saar
Shalom S. Saar
Editor's note: In this article, Senior Lecturer Shalom S. Saar describes Leadership: The Missing Link, a required course in MIT's System Design and Management Program (SDM).

SDM's leadership course is designed to prepare students to become better decision-makers. Students emerge with a richer understanding of their strengths and weaknesses—as well as a roadmap for leveraging their abilities to become more successful leaders.

Too often, students who return to school for upper-level engineering degrees overemphasize their need for technical skills and underemphasize the importance of gaining people skills. Yet the reality is that conflict is a growth industry. As business becomes more global, conflicts proliferate—it's simply too easy to read an unfamiliar environment the wrong way, and different leadership styles prove more successful in different situations. While the technical side of being at MIT is important, the people side is just as important, if not more critical.

The purpose of Leadership: The Missing Link, is to enhance each student's ability to lead and mobilize others. Helping students become aware of themselves and their impact on others can increase their level of competency to work through others. To paraphrase the ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, if the executive doesn't know himself and doesn't know his opponents, his chances of winning are very low.

The course utilizes various instruments, real-world case studies, and simulations. While the first part of the course focuses on understanding oneself, the second part assists students in developing the skills needed to motivate and influence others. We focus on such topics as strategic thinking, leadership styles, personality types, approach to conflict and emotional intelligence. In addition, we use a 360-degree feedback diagnostic tool that each SDM student is required to complete during orientation.

Students conduct the 360-degree assessment by requesting feedback on 25 leadership competencies from a wide array of colleagues—including supervisors, subordinates, peers. The report they get from this instrument is usually eye opening; it reveals that the perception someone has of himself is not always the perception others have. One woman might think she's a good listener, for example, only to discover that her friends and colleagues think she ignores their views.

By the end of the course, students are able to assess their strengths and weaknesses, but the class is also prescriptive. Students learn how to probe, listen, influence, negotiate, and motivate.

In one exercise, for example, students learn the value of bringing people to their own solutions—an effort that builds trust and loyalty. Leaders need to know how to build and sustain trust in order to motivate followers. And, once trust breaks down, it can be impossible to regain. For that reason, the course also includes simulated conflicts that allow students to experience the corrosive and contagious nature of mistrust.

As a final exercise, each student is asked to submit a paper analyzing an unsuccessful experience. This can range from having a conflict with a boss to not getting along with a peer. By reflecting on the experience and relying on the findings from the various instruments, students are able to understand the dynamics and their roles in making things worse. By examining their role, they come up with constructive alternatives to the problem they faced.

Lastly, each student has the option of meeting the instructor for one hour privately to go deeper into the results of the instruments and to get coaching and counseling. By the end of this course, students have learned to enhance their effectiveness as leaders—developing a set of "soft skills" that often make the crucial difference in human relations.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Andrea Ippolito, SDM '11: Product Development in the Life Sciences Industry

By Eileen McCluskey


Andrea Ippolito
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography
Andrea Ippolito envisions transforming the product development process in the life sciences field from one that consumes millions of dollars and years of labor, to a streamlined collaborative system that ushers new medical devices and drugs to market using dramatically fewer resources and far less time.

To accomplish this goal Ippolito — a first-year SDM student — plans to combine SDM-gained skills with her experiences working within life sciences. "I've had a great experience working in early stage R&D at Boston Scientific, and my goal is to be more involved in bridging the gap between science and business," said Ippolito, whose responsibilities at Boston Scientific Corporation (BSC) included performing due diligence assays to evaluate the response of new materials in the company's drug-eluting stent platform. "I didn't want to leave engineering because it's so important to maintain technical relevance. This made SDM the perfect choice for me," she adds.

Ippolito is already making headway toward her objective. For example, as a research assistant with MIT's Lean Advancement Initiative, Ippolito serves on a team charged by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop innovative recommendations for transforming the military enterprise to better manage post-traumatic stress and related conditions, in support of service members and their families.

One of Ippolito's roles is to gauge the needs of stakeholders, including families and service members, to more fully understand the state of today's treatment. "It is critical to understand families' needs in order to develop more effective services," she said. "We're also examining the delivery of care to service members and their families using telemedicine. For instance, we are assessing the barriers to adoption associated with using this technology and how might they be overcome."

In addition, Ippolito helped to cultivate research collaborations while working as a scientist at BSC. She was recruited by upper management to develop and co-lead a Communities of Excellence (CoE) initiative to reduce inefficiencies and leverage knowledge within the product development process through cross-functional collaborations. She had captured management's attention through her work with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and by founding the first Biomedical Engineering Society Industry Chapter in Boston in 2008.

Another of Ippolito's passions is to encourage other women to become engineers and help them succeed. While pursuing an undergraduate degree in biological engineering at Cornell University, Ippolito served as president of that university's section of SWE. She continued her involvement with SWE while earning her master's of engineering in biomedical engineering at Cornell. After moving to Boston, she became the first vice president for SWE Boston and co-founded the Women's Network at Boston Scientific's corporate headquarters.

Here at SDM, Ippolito has joined Women in SDM (WiSDM — pronounced "wisdom"), which recruits and supports female applicants to the program. "WiSDM helps to create a culture in SDM that will accomplish that goal," she said.

Focusing on her overall vision, Ippolito's SDM thesis will assess the co-evolution of technology and the provision of care in the Military Health System, where her goal is to examine the role of Virtual Behavioral Health (VBH) treatment to help facilitate better psychological health-care service delivery.

Ippolito is fired up about the skills she is building through SDM and the real-world applicability of the tools that are introduced in the program. For instance, she is learning new ways to assess and understand complex problems with tools, such as System Dynamics, in the Systems Project Management course and is studying ways to develop and deliver new or enhanced technologies in her Technology Strategy class.

"SDM inspires me every day — not only through courses, but also by learning what my peers are doing across industries," Ippolito said. "These, too, are rich lessons we can bring back to our own sectors."