Dynamic Students Prove It Can Be Done
By Shlomo Maital
Technion 3DS event
The co-founder of LinkedIn and PayPal, Reid Hoffman, once said that “launching a startup is like jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down.” A great many Technion graduates do start their own companies - about one in four, according to a Web-based survey I helped create and process, and one female graduate in every seven. New Faculty of Electrical Engineering (EE) member Dr Daniel Freedman is the driving force behind the Technion version of 3DS (Three Day Startup), a wonderful idea that simulates the frantic breakneck pace of entrepreneurial creativity, which took place in June 2013.
Here is how Technion 3DS works. Applications are invited from a wide range of disciplines, including engineering and industrial design. About 40 men and women were chosen from over 100 applicants; they gathered at 8 a.m. on Wednesday. (They’re told to bring a pillow, for brief naps).
According to Freedman, who joined Technion after a postdoctoral fellowship at Cornell, “students bring pre-built technology or simply an idea for a start-up. These technologies and start-ups are usually at early stages; technical feasibility and business models are unproven.” Aided by mentors, budding entrepreneurs work on their ideas and ‘pitch’ them to the group. They literally ‘build a plane’ while leaping off a building. Participants vote on which projects they want to work on.
“They literally ‘build a plane’ while leaping off a building.”
“Fueled by free food and caffeine, the participants begin to convert their abstract notions of entrepreneurship into the actual practice of innovation late on Wednesday night.” 3DS organizers and coaches help the students move their ideas forward. Teams form, dissolve, reform; ideas are dropped, revived, dropped again… There are extreme lows (one idea for color-coding locks was chosen, and then dropped because a patent already existed) and extreme highs - one team had its idea, a way to save electricity wasted by appliances plugged in though quiescent, shot down by an architecture professor, reformed around another idea and finally had it evaluated as the best of all the presentations.
On Friday, 12 noon sharp, team presentations began to seasoned managers and investors, who offered hard-nosed feedback. The group dissolved in time to get home before Shabbat for rest and recovery.
As a mentor, my own most vivid memory is that of participant Adi Vainiger, 4th- year EE student. When she ‘pitched’ her idea (a sensor to alert cyclists to danger from approaching cars), she had tears in her eyes. As a triathlon athlete, Adi had friends who were injured or killed while cycling, mostly due to thoughtless drivers; she was passionate about preventing such tragic mishaps. Her idea was chosen as one of the eight.
3DS originated at University of Texas; some 70 such 3DS events have been held all over the world and several start-up companies have emerged from them, raising over $8 m. in VC funding. The Technion version was sponsored by IBM, Microsoft and WIX, and chaired by Technion graduate Shai Haim, chief operating officer of Startupbootcamp (Israel), a 3-month program that connects entrepreneurs with mentors and advisors. The group met for a feedback session and plans to keep in touch, with quarterly get-togethers.
Prof. Emeritus Shlomo Maital is Senior Research Fellow at S. Neaman Institute.