September/October 2003 Newsletter

Dear Friend of the Deshpande Center,

Fall is here and the students have returned to campus. There is a buzz of activity at the Institute, and the Deshpande Center is no exception.

Opportunities in the ultra wideband communication market, events for engineering and science entrepreneurs, a project that could help the mobility-impaired gain independence faster, faculty entrepreneurs, and a new baby – this is a glimpse of what’s happening at the D-Center this month.

In This Issue

  • Oct 8 and Dec 11 Ignition Forums: highlighting opportunities in wireless and bioMEMS
  • Oct 1 Faculty workshop: managing the faculty's role in startups
  • Oct 20: Start-Ups Demystified: What Every Non-Business Savvy Technologist Needs to Know
  • Project Profile: Helping spinal cord injury patients gain independence
  • Another Award: Congratulations to Woodie Flowers
  • New baby... congratulations!

Oct 8 and Dec 11 Ignition Forums: highlighting market opportunities in wireless and bioMEMS
We held our first Ignition Forum, in the area of Portable Energy, last spring. The event was so successful that we have planned two more this fall: UWB Wireless Communication (October 8) and BioMEMS (December 11).

Ignition Forums bring together entrepreneurial-minded MIT faculty and researchers and members of the business community. The aim is to spark new ideas and inventions that address market opportunities and challenges in a particular technology or industry area.

The forums “provide MIT with a unique melting pot of cutting edge research, invaluable industry knowledge and real-time feedback,” says A123Systems co-founder Ric Fulop, an attendee at the Portable Energy forum. “They let participants network with industry and the venture community to infuse the right level of market feedback early in their projects’ development cycle.”
There is already buzz about the October 8 Ignition Forum on the emerging technology of UWB wireless communication. The forum follows on the heels of the mid-September IEEE standards conference in Singapore, which is addressing implementation of the technology. UWB can be used for a wide range of applications, including high bandwidth networking in the home, self-organizing networks of miniature sensors in a battlefield, and imaging through walls.

EECS Prof. Lizhong Zheng, who will participate in the October forum, says, “Ultra wideband radio is a revolutionary wireless technology for transmitting digital data over a wide spectrum of frequency bands with very low power. The main advantage of such technology is that by using a signal power that is much weaker than the background noise, it can co-exist with the other licensed services.”

The panelists for the UWB forum include:

  • Bob Heile, chairman of IEEE’s 802.15 working group and founder of Appairent Technologies, a spinoff of the Eastman Kodak Co.
  • Craig Mathias, principal of the advisory and systems-integration firm Farpoint Group
  • Yoram Solomon, general manager of Texas Instruments’ Consumer Networking Business Unit.
  • Edgar Masri, Partner, Matrix Partners

The moderator is Bob Egan, president and founder of Mobile Competency.

The Ignition Forum on UWB Wireless is taking place at 5:00 p.m. and is followed by a WineLink networking reception co-hosted by MIT TechLink and the MIT Venture Capital and Private Equity (VCPE) club. The location is still TBD.

October 1 workshop: managing the faculty's role in startups

Launched in the spring, faculty entrepreneurship workshops have proved very popular, so we are scheduling more for the fall. Each workshop will focus on a different challenge faced by faculty starting companies.

Entitled “Managing the Faculty’s Role in a Startup,” the next workshop on October 1 aims to help faculty define their roles in startups relative to their academic and entrepreneurial careers. It features faculty guest speakers that cover the spectrum of entrepreneurship, including consulting part time, taking a sabbatical, and leaving MIT permanently.

The panel includes American Superconductor founders John Vander Sande, MIT Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Greg Yurek; Aspen Tech Founder and Chairman Larry Evans; and CEE Prof. Yosef Sheffi, founder of five logistics-related companies.

The workshops include lunch and are open to MIT faculty only. Please contact Isadora ( or x3-0943) for more information or to sign up.

October 20: Start-ups Demystified: What Every Non-Business Savvy Technologist Needs to Know
For the technical guru with little business knowledge, the Deshpande Center teams with the $50K Entrepreneurship Competition on October 20, 7-9PM, for a dinnertime panel discussion.

Should I start a company with my technology? How do I do it? What do I have to worry about? How can I not get taken advantage of?

What are typical terms and what can be changed? These questions and more (bring your own) will be addressed by our panel of successful tech entrepreneurs who were once in your seats.

This event is open to the MIT community, but is geared towards engineering and science faculty and students that are thinking of starting a company or joining a startup. The event will be held in Gilliland Auditorium, 66-110.

Project Profile: Helping spinal cord injury patients gain independence

Mechanical Engineering Prof. Woodie Flowers won an Ignition Grant last fall for a project called Joint Brace for Assisted Motion and Rehabilitation. The device he and his researchers are developing is an active exoskeleton that could help patients with neuromuscular disorders, like stroke and Parkinson's disease, stay independent longer and rehabilitate faster.

“The project has great momentum, and everyone’s excited,” says Kailas Narendran, who, along with John McBean, is driving the project. In the six months after receiving the Ignition Grant, the team developed a prototype and began testing it on two patients. The positive feedback came quickly. A physician with whom the team is working at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital said he believes the device will both decrease the time and increase the quality of rehabilitation.

Kailas and John are both first-time entrepreneurs who’ve learned a lot from their venture by having to face “not just technical, but logistical, challenges,” says Kailas. In addition to providing the seed money required to get the effort off the ground, the team credits the Deshpande Center for making connections with mentors and networks that will be critical in the path to commercialization.

"For example, [the Center] helped us get in touch with a venture capitalist who was willing to sit down and talk to us at length about what we needed to accomplish on the business side of our endeavor," recounts Kailas. "In addition to helping us develop a list of immediate action items, his background and experience allowed him to identify both issues and opportunities that were previously unseen."

Currently, Kailas and John are working on miniaturizing the joint brace system to prepare it for clinical studies next year. Their ultimate aim is to move on to FDA trials and, finally, to start a company that would market the device.

Another Award: Congratulations to Woodie Flowers
We’d like to congratulate grantee Woodie Flowers for winning the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ very prestigious 2003 Ruth & Joel Spira Outstanding Design Educator Award. The award recognizes Woodie’s “development of powerful and widely influential new approaches to design education” and his “achievements as an educator who has inspired lasting excitement and passion for design in his students and increased dedication to classroom excellence in his peers.”

His support for the highly student-driven Active Joint Brace project (above) is just one of numerous ways in which he has supported his students over the years. Well known for starting the fabled 2.70 robostics design competition and critical to the success of many other grand projects such as the FIRST competition, Woodie has a long roster of achievements that have helped make the world a better place through design education. We cannot imagine a better winner of this prestigious award. Congratulations!

Congratulations to grant recipient Prof. Vladimir Bulovic and his wife on their new baby! Nora Alexandra Bulovic was born on Aug. 16, 2003. "Sleep is a precious commodity these days," says Vladimir, "but Nora is very much worth all the night work."

Stay tuned next month for the announcement of our fall grant recipients.

Best wishes,

Krisztina Holly
Executive Director
Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation