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Q&A with Michael Nieset, founder of the Momentum Accelerator
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Programming Note - New Content!
A lot’s happened in the past two months – I graduated from MIT and took some time off to get ready for work. As a result, I’ve sadly been a bit less regular about writing.
I’m really excited to start a new full-time job soon, and I’m planning to still do some writing here in my free time. I’ve had an awesome time covering startups in the MIT community over the last few months, and have really enjoyed watching the audience for this newsletter continue to grow.
So what’s next…
As I brainstormed what this newsletter could look like going forward, I knew there would be less time to attend events and fewer startup showcases happening during the summer. I had a bunch of ideas, but thanks to the internet the best idea ended up coming to me from a stranger.
Mike Nieset, MIT Sloan ’23, reached out after hearing of Recap to tell me about the new Momentum accelerator and their awesome cohort of startups that could use some publicity as they get off the ground. I was super impressed, and after a few quick chats we realized there was an opportunity to collaborate.
For the foreseeable future, I’ll be writing about Momentum and many (most, hopefully all) of the startups participating in the program. We’re still figuring out a schedule, but I’ll likely be covering Momentum startups in small groups based on industry, with the goal of sharing updates weekly on Mondays. Stay tuned!
The way Momentum came together is a pretty cool startup story in and of itself, so for today I wanted to cover the accelerator broadly and share how this scrappy group of 40+ MIT startups came together for the summer. I figured Mike could tell this story best, so below is a Q&A with Mike that’s really similar to the conversation we had when we first met.
The bold questions below are from me and the more interesting, better articulated responses indented beneath the questions are from Mike!
First, can you share a bit about yourself? Where are you from, what are you studying, and why did you decide to get an MBA?
I’m from Cleveland, Ohio originally, and went to Ohio State for undergrad. After OSU, I spent about four years working in financial services, most recently as a Product Manager in KeyBank’s Consumer Bank. Before coming to Sloan, I was starting to explore entrepreneurship as a next step in my career and decided I wanted to pursue an MBA at Sloan to keep building on those experiences in this incredible ecosystem of passionate and talented innovators. Coming to Sloan felt like I was putting myself in the right place, hopefully at the right time, to be a part of the beginning of something new and transformative.
Tell us a bit about your startup. How did you meet your co-founders, and how did you decide to pursue it full time this summer?
In addition to leading Momentum, I’m working on a startup with two MBA classmates, Christen Safko and Roshni Amin. We are working on Footprint, a startup with the mission of creating a better way for consumers to connect with businesses that align with their personal values and vice versa, whether that be prioritizing spending with local businesses, companies that use sustainable materials in production, or companies with diverse workforces, among many other important causes.
We have all known each other since early in our first year at Sloan together, but only came together as a founding team more recently. Roshni and I first met on a pre-MBA trip to Croatia where we shared a boat with a group of 7 other MBAs for a week (I also saved her life on that trip, you can ask her about it - it’s true!), and Christen and I met the first week of orientation because we were in the same class section. The three of us remained close throughout our first year, and when Christen, who had the idea for Footprint, started looking for people to join forces with her, it was a no-brainer for the three of us to team up!
As the three of us contemplated our plans for the summer, we had to do some individual soul-searching and decide whether we could resist the temptation to pursue more formal internships (and the paychecks that come with them) and instead take the leap to focus on our startup full-time. We all had the same realization - that we came to Sloan because we want to start something, so pursuing Footprint this summer was us staying true to ourselves and what we all hope to get out of our MBA experience.
Tell us about how Momentum came together. How did deciding to pursue your own startup full-time lead to an accelerator of over 40 teams?
As we were considering our options for the summer, we talked with a lot of our friends and classmates who were in the same boat as us - wanting to work on a startup full-time, but hesitating to commit for one reason or another. A common theme amongst founders and teams was the desire for some kind of structure or to be a part of a community that comes with an internship or participating in an official startup accelerator or incubator program but doesn’t necessarily come from working on a startup independently. So we decided that we could solve for those needs ourselves, and Momentum was born. An initial survey was created and shared within the MIT community to gauge interest in a student-run “accelerator-esque” program, and the response was overwhelming. Momentum went from a crazy idea in early May to having 46 startup teams signed up by the time we kicked off the program in early June.
How many participants are in the program? What schools do the students come from and how far along are each of the startups?
The 46 teams participating in the program this summer translates into over 80 people! All teams are MIT-affiliated in the sense that at least one member of each team is a current or former MIT student, but many teams have members from outside the ‘MIT bubble’, including several from Harvard.
The vast majority of startups in the program are pre-seed, pre-revenue. Many are pre-product with the goal of developing an MVP or running a pilot by the end of this summer, including my own team. Many teams are also interested in beginning to raise capital this summer so we’re working to establish some collaborations with Venture Capital firms in the area to facilitate that process.
How often do startup teams collaborate across teams? I hear teams have been organized into ‘pods’?
When designing Momentum, we wanted to create as many opportunities as possible for teams to collaborate with each other, or in the words of the Martin Trust Center team, maximize ‘serendipitous collisions’. The MTC team, particularly Paul Cheek, was instrumental in helping us devise a program that gives teams a sense of structure, accountability, and community for the summer.
The group of 46 teams is divided up into ‘pods’ of ~5 teams based on industry focus, and these groups of teams meet as a pod once a week to discuss what everyone is working on, what they have accomplished, and what they might need help or advice on. This gives teams working in a similar space the opportunity to share resources and learn from each other. Right now we have pods dedicated to several different industry verticals, including FinTech, Crypto/Blockchain, Education, Healthcare, B2B SaaS, Hard Tech, and Consumer Apps / Entertainment.
Then once a month, we’re planning to meet as an entire cohort to give each team a chance to showcase to the entire group what they’ve accomplished, get feedback from teams outside of their pod, and practice pitching to a live audience.
I hear you bootstrapped some office space in Kendall Square, very impressive for the Cambridge real estate market! How has it been working there in person with other entrepreneurs?
The MIT Office of Innovation, led by Tim Miano and his team, has been instrumental in the creation of Momentum. Tim’s team manages all things related to the iHQ (Innovation Headquarters) building on MIT’s campus, and they generously agreed to grant teams in our program dedicated access to the co-working space on one of the floors in the building for the summer to serve as our home base. Prior to the start of the program, Tim even helped us rearrange all the office furniture on the 6th floor to create a more collaborative layout (no small feat because that furniture was insanely heavy).
So far it’s been great working in person amongst other teams in the program - I feel like so many great ideas come from random one-off conversations in the hall or walks to pick up lunch that naturally occur when people are working under the same roof, and we’ve done a good job of creating that community here in the iHQ building.
In addition to office space and community, what else is Momentum doing to support the startups participating?
We’ve been working on creating some programming this summer to help teams progress in whatever stage they are at, including things like speaker events featuring successful founders as well as workshops covering topics like how to conduct primary market research or how to build a pitch deck and pitch to investors. We have already hosted Dipul Patel, the current Chief Technology Officer of Soluna and a lecturer at Sloan. We also have several other events on the calendar in the coming weeks, including Chafik Barbar, a Sloan Fellow alumni and founder, as well as Matt Rhodes-Kropf, the professor who teaches Entrepreneurial Finance at Sloan in addition to serving as Managing Partner of Tectonic Ventures.
The culmination of Momentum’s programming will be a final “Demo Day” showcase event where all teams participating in the program will get the chance to show off what they’ve accomplished and receive feedback and introductions to industry experts and investors in attendance.
And beyond all the serious work stuff, we want to make sure there is time for fun too! We have some group social outings planned for later in the summer, and I think many teams will be frequenting the Muddy Charles pub on campus this summer to fuel brainstorming sessions or to unwind after a hard day’s work (I know my team will be!).
I’m super impressed by how quickly this group came together and how scrappy you’ve all been in creating a community to support one another. What’s been the best part of Momentum so far, and what are you looking forward to most?
I think the best part of Momentum so far is how excited and willing everyone in the community has been to help out with creating this thing. It really has been a group effort with so many people contributing to its creation, so credit must be given to every team participating for offering ideas and putting in effort to make this the best summer possible for the group. I also have to give a special shout-out to the leaders of each pod for helping to facilitate weekly meetings and keeping things running smoothly, so thank you to Kevin Chan, Tarek Makawi, Yuri Jimbo, Sid Sreeram, Mike Foshey, Priscilla Licht, and Adam Parrish for all the hard work! And thanks to everyone else in the group who has helped to get this program up and running and getting events on the books!
As far as what I’m looking forward to most, it definitely has to be the final event where each team gets to show off their progress this summer. I can’t wait to see MVPs being launched, beta results coming in, and revenue starting to flow. Big things are ahead for all of the Momentum teams!
I hope you enjoyed reading about the Momentum Accelerator. Special thanks to Mike for his help with this post and introducing me to the Momentum community!
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