MIT trains teen business titans
When Emma Humphrey returns to Cohasset High School in a few weeks, she'll have more to show for her summer vacation than a good tan. Humphrey, along with three newly made friends, is launching her own business, an online service to help students find tutors who can help boost their grades.
"I started my own company in sixth grade," said Humphrey, 15. "I'm really interested in business management and organizing people." So when she learned about a summer entrepreneurship program for high school students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Humphrey eagerly signed up, along with about 80 other teenagers from around the world.
The program, called Launch, was founded by Laurie Stach, an MIT mechanical engineering graduate who has worked at General Electric and BMW, and earned an MBA from Harvard.
"When I was in high school, I definitely had so much ambition and drive and creativity and inspiration to change the world, but no real outlet for it," Stach said.
Her memories of those frustrating times led Stach to found Launch in 2012 in her spare time, while she worked as a management consultant.
Launch's first session was held last summer and attracted 30 students. This year's edition has two four-week sessions, with 84 students from 23 states and 13 foreign countries. The students are assembled into small teams and put to work on creating a business based on their own ideas or suggestions from Launch staffers.
Humphrey's team includes Nathan Chiu of Wellesley, Sabina Beleuz-Neagu of Toronto, and Eric Wang of Portland, Ore. Together they have created Astute Tutoring, a service to quickly connect students with tutors. Students will use a smartphone app to locate nearby libraries and schools where they can meet tutors who register to provide their services through the Astute network.
"The whole idea is that it has an on-demand basis," said Humphrey. "You can meet up with a tutor that afternoon, in a one-to-one setting."
Astute would profit by taking a percentage of the tutors' fees. The company is scheduled to launch in the fall in Cohasset and Wellesley, but the team hopes to gradually expand the service throughout Massachusetts, and eventually nationwide. On Sunday, Astute began raising seed capital through the Indiegogo crowdfunding network and within days was more than halfway to its goal of $5,000.
Another team from the summer program is launching ArtiSuns, an Internet-based market for products created by artisans in developing countries. Emma Kirst, a Swedish-American teen living in Belgium, said the goal is to help artisans earn a decent living from their work.
"We put an emphasis on communication and transparency, so you know exactly where the money's going," Kirst said.
ArtiSuns expects to collect a 35 percent commission on all products sold through the service, "which is a lot lower than a lot of other sites that do this," said Kirst.
ArtiSuns is trying to raise $10,000 on Indiegogo, and is more than halfway to its goal.
Tuition for the program was $5,290, including room and board on the MIT campus. Launch offers need-based aid to ensure that any student who is accepted into the program can afford to attend.
Stach said that Launch has had an impact. Some first-year students have continued running their startup businesses, while others have set up entrepreneurship clubs at their schools.
"I had so many of them be so inspired by this," Stach said, "that they just want to teach it to everybody else."