With cell phones and pagers ringing, 13 teams of executives, students and faculty set off on Friday, April 28 to bring a fictitious product to market -- a "smart" umbrella -- and raise money for City Year Boston.
The third annual MIT Sloan Challenge competition and fundraiser didn't disappoint; teams raised $25,000 through team sponsorships while testing their business skills including negotiation, marketing and finance.
In one challenge, teams traveled into Boston to negotiate the best possible subletting agreement from a consulting firm that had extra space. All kinds of creative options were offered by the fictitious startup firms -- offers of equity, consulting contracts and more to sweeten the deal.
Teams had to describe their marketing approach, choose a product name and slogan, site a manufacturing plant and work with a venture capitalist to determine the company's valuation.
Creativity and imagination were needed since the product -- the TekWare Umbrella -- was supposed to create a protective wind tunnel around the user, dry instantly and shrink down to pocket size. A practical, no-nonsense approach to the challenges was rewarded. Teams earned points for their ability to manage uncertainty, make good decisions fast and work together.
First place went to the team sponsored by Diamond Technology Partners, second place to a team of first-year Sloan students and third place to the team sponsored by Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette.
Motorola joined Nextel in donating use of their latest digital cell phones and pagers for the competition so teams could communicate with organizers, receive instructions and act on them quickly. Other corporate sponsors included Polaroid, Siemens, Silverback and Turbolinux.
"The Sloan Challenge draws on the same skills that you need in today's business environment. You have to be fast-paced, mobile, a team player, and skilled with technology," said Richard Schmalensee, dean of the Sloan School, during the event's kickoff.
The event's keynote speaker was Clive Smith, president and CEO of NewDeal, Inc., which promotes computer literacy and Internet access for all. He spoke on bridging the Digital Divide, explaining that the difficult learning curve for use of today's technology is one of the biggest barriers to entry for those who are not technologically connected.
Money raised by the Sloan Challenge will be put toward City Year's community service and leadership development programs for young adults. "The five teams which included a City Year Corps member remarked that it was a wonderful experience," said Sloan graduate student Russ Ayan, the event's lead organizer. "They really enjoyed the interaction."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 10, 2000.