Many people think startups are all about the idea or product. While this is without question very important, execution is arguably more important. It does not matter how great an idea or product is if you can’t get it into the hands of the people who will use it. This, of course also relies on defining the target audience properly and determining what product they actually need.
These days, many universities have started programs to help founders, and these programs are often open to alumni. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has the MIT Startup Exchange and Industrial Liaison Program (ILP). These two programs aim to solve some of the major challenges that founders face, networking and market entry. Over 800 companies work with MIT and more than 200 are registered with the ILP. Direct sponsorship by private corporations accounts about ¼ of MIT’s annual research expenditures of nearly USD 800 million The companies also provide a route for commercialization or licensing of the technology being developed. The Startup Exchange organizes events, runs accelerators, and hosts a database of nearly 2000 startups, whose membership eligibility is based on based on at least one of 3 criteria: founding by MIT faculty or staff; founding by students and/or alumni; licensing of MIT-developed technology.
Although MIT has one of the oldest and most renowned industry cooperation programs, programs like this are being established at universities and colleges worldwide. Stanford has its Industrial Affiliates Program, Claremont McKenna College (my alma mater) has the Randall Lewis Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Hanyang University in Seoul has the Industry University Research Cooperation Foundation; the list goes on.
While the names and details of the programs differ, they are united in their mission to move industry forward and provide entrepreneurs with the resources they need and are often lacking. The end goal may not be selling or licensing the technology or product to an established company, but if desired the programs provide a conduit for doing so. If this is not the plan, the opportunity to speak to companies that have experience and research in the target market can prove invaluable. Even though the focus is also on connecting industry and startups, the programs and events will also bring the startups together, enabling easy exchange of ideas.
Even if you’re long graduated, it may be worthwhile to reach out to your alma mater and see if there are any programs open to alumni. At the very least, the entrepreneurship center will have a curated list of external resources available.