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    Innovation Economy

    MIT Media Lab director raises start-up support

    Joi Ito is in his second year running the MIT Media Lab.
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    Joi Ito is in his second year running the MIT Media Lab.

    Highlights from the Innovation Economy blog.

    Perhaps it is not surprising that if you ­recruit a noted angel investor to run one of MIT’s highest-profile research groups, the Media­ Lab, one of the things he will do is create mechanisms to invest in student start-ups.

    That is what is happening at the Media Lab, where Joi Ito — an early investor in Twitter, Kickstarter, and Flickr — is into his second academic­ year running the place.

    An as-yet-unnamed fund would collect money from Media Lab sponsors and use it to support students who want to start companies based on their research at the lab. Ito has been getting advice from Media Lab alumni such as Joe Chung, cofounder of Art Technology Group, an e-commerce software company that went public and was later acquired by Oracle.


    One key purpose of the new fund, Ito explained, will be to encourage students to finish their degrees before they start companies.

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    “We want students to stay focused while they’re here,” he said.

    But once they are done, the fund will provide a six-month stipend to lay the groundwork for the company and help make sure the new venture has clear rights to the intellectual property developed at the lab.

    The fund would also invest alongside venture capitalists or qualified angel investors, matching the money they put in up to 15 percent. That means Media Lab sponsors could enjoy a nice return if companies do well.

    “It’s a way for sponsors to keep track of the start-ups that come out of the lab, and share in their success,” Ito said. “Some of them could also be first customers for these new companies.”


    MIT would also get a percentage of any ­investment gains, though Ito is careful to say he wants the fund to operate “at arm’s length” from the university.

    The fund has not gotten final approval from MIT’s administration, but if OK’d, Ito would chair the committee that awards the ­stipends,­ with successful Media Lab alumni filling out the other seats.

    App splits taxi cost by matching rides

    A start-up called SplitMyTaxi has a plan to cut the cost of hailing a cab: Its mobile app will match you with other riders traveling to the same destination.

    It is a great idea: Save money and help curb pollution by making more efficient use of a city’s taxi fleet. But obviously, SplitMyTaxi will need a critical mass of users to make the system work. So they are initially promoting the app just to Boston University students. Split went live on the campus this month. Posters have been showing up around the campus, and fraternity pledges have been wearing ­T-shirts promoting the new service.

    Founders Adam Eagle, a freshman at MIT, and David Zadok, a recent Brandeis MBA ­recipient, met at the StartLabs space at MIT. Eagle said they started building the Web app in mid-December.


    You’ll need a “.edu” e-mail address to sign up at this point. But when you input your point of departure and your destination, along with the time you plan to travel, Split tries to match you with others going that way. Right now, the app does not get involved in hailing a cab or handling payment, but Eagle said that eventually, once you are matched with a fellow rider, Split may take a referral fee for passing your ride request along to a taxi company. The app is available for iOS and Android.

    SplitMyTaxi will need a critical mass of users. So they are initially promoting the app just to Boston University students.

    So far the team has raised $12,500 from Rough Draft Ventures and Shri Ganeshram of FlightCar, another sharing-oriented start-up I have written about recently. A Harvard Business School student tried to launch a similar app in 2010, GobiCab, and while the website and app are still available, it did not take off.

    Visit for the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily.