This past week, I was given the unreal opportunity to attend the MIT Tough Tech Summit with some world-class speakers, but what makes a conference successful for you? First off, you have to prep! You wouldn’t walk into the SAT not studying, would you? Let me walk you through my takeaways and the highlights of this incredible experience!
- These speakers are world-class and often working at the front of their respective fields
They expect you to have some sort of background knowledge about their respective subjects. Like my director, Michael Raspuzzi always says “You’ll only get out of it what you put in.”
- Learn about each one of the speakers
Put aside some time to check out their LinkedIn and research the companies they’ve worked for. Check out their companies website to see if you can learn about what they’re doing currently. The better you prep, the more value you’ll get out of the speakers.
Now that we’ve gotten how you can improve your experience out of the way, let me share some of my takeaways from the summit. The day started off with remarks from Mariana Mazzucato and Tom Kalil. Mrs. Mazzucato is a professor of Economics, Innovation, and Public Value at The University College London. Mr. Kalil is the CIO of Schmidt Futures, (his company invests in and makes grants for-profit and non-profit organizations that have the most promising ideas in technology. Here’s what I learned:
- Mrs. Mazzucato emphasized the idea of building back better
Especially in these times, she offered a perspective on possible ways we could prepare ourselves for the next pandemic/disaster. In terms of advice for entrepreneur she offered this:
- Pick a broad problem, and try to narrow it down until it becomes more manageable, she emphasized that every problem requires a solution
- Mr. Kalil talked about ambition and moonshots, technology is always evolving and he encouraged people to aim big
- He mentioned being optimistic, as when you found a company, not everything will go your way
There will be challenges no matter what you do, it’s important to keep a level head and look for other solutions. One of the most interesting things I learned about technology came from their in-depth discussion about the role of government and the private sector. (Mazzucato has written books about this subject), both the speakers were in complete agreement that it’s surprising and weird that the government only acts as a sort of bailout for tech companies when they eventually run out of capital. (It takes a lot of cash for R&D, especially in technology.) As of now, the private sector pretty much fuels all of the funding that tech startups/ companies will get. They both agreed that the government should provide more funding and be more involved in the process of innovation, here are some of their ideas.
- Identify areas where the private sector will under-invest so the government can provide some help
- Find areas were R&D is not typically used, Mr. Kalil mentioned manufacturing as an example
The discussion then moved on to fusion energy, and if the current approach is the right one. Currently, most of the worlds funding and research is going into the ITER project ( a multi-country collaboration on making fusion feasible, I’ve written a more in-depth article about fusion and the ITER project so check that out if you’re interested in learning more!) public labs have all been defunded towards ITER. Mazzucato offered the possibility of having de-centralized labs across the U.S working towards achieving fusion, putting more minds to the problem possibly achieving a solution faster. These talks definitely changed my opinion of how well the world’s economy functions.
After these remarks, I chose to attend Track B with Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown. (They create plant-based burgers and meats) The Earth has a growing population, and the demand for meat increases, unfortunately, the way we produce it currently just isn’t sustainable. I had previously done research on cellular agriculture, a possible solution (I wrote an article on this as well, and the topic is super interesting, definitely check it out!) during my research, I had ruled plant-based foods as a solution as I didn’t see the masses going vegetarian. I was interested to see what arguments Mr. Brown would present to convince me otherwise. It was interesting to see his different philosophy when it came to his approach, he didn’t want to force everyone to go vegetarian.
Alternatively, he wanted to create a product that was indistinguishable from real meat.
- He believes people eat meat not because they like to kill animals and hurt the environment, but because it’s a necessary consequence if they want to eat meat.
In his way of thinking, people will readily switch if there is a product that closely imitates meat. One of the biggest challenges with Impossible Foods is public acceptance and uneducated people. Go to any Youtube video of Mr. Brown and the comments will be filled with nasty things people say about him and plant-based meats: “We don’t want your lab meat”, “This guy is an idiot”, etc. My main takeaway from this was the success of Impossible Foods ultimately depends on how many people are educated. As soon as that happens, plant-based meats are an easily implementable solution.
This was easily the best part of my year, I left the summit with completely different opinions than when I came in. Thank you again to Michael at TKS for giving me this insane opportunity!