The Bootcamp was held at the Instituto Europeo di Design in Rio de Janeiro
Started in 2014, at MIT’s headquarters in Cambridge, the Bootcamp program has already taught over 800 entrepreneurs. Brazilian architect Luciano da Silveira Araujo took part in the first edition and now heads the MIT Bootcamp in Brazil. He says that the Bootcamp experience has “changed [him] completely.”
From his startup’s office in Sao Paulo, Araujo discusses what the Bootcamp is about and how the program helped to develop his own business — Elio — which uses unmanned airships to increase productivity and sustainability in agriculture.
We had the chance to interview Araujo about his experiences with the Bootcamp.
Luciano da Silveira Araujo, head of MIT Bootcamps inBrazil, at his office in Sao Paulo
What should attendees expect from an MIT Bootcamp?
The MIT academic profile usually garners a lot of attention worldwide. But while the MIT alumni are noted for their scientific achievements — graduates have won 89 Nobel prizes — they are also leaders in entrepreneurship, with more than 30,000 active companies founded by MIT alums. The university values practice as much as theory, and the Bootcamp is based on this mindset. It is amazing to have a program that boosts innovation and entrepreneurship through a structured approach. It was initially tested through an online pilot program that started with 57,000 people and now gathers 420,000 around the world.
Why are you taking the MIT Bootcamps internationally?
MIT is a school of immigrants. It has traditionally welcomed people from all over the world. Sometimes, due to its status, the institution seems out of reach. MIT Bootcamps wants to include people, it wants to show that innovation can happen everywhere. The first Bootcamp abroad was in Seoul, South Korea, in 2016. Back then, it was unclear if the program would have the same impact as at home. It was a hit. Everybody felt the same energy; the result was exceptional. That opened the door for expanding the program elsewhere.
Why is the MIT Bootcamp coming to Brazil, and why Rio de Janeiro?
We started to realize that people [in the Bootcamp] had dreams of seeing new places, cultures, and of interacting with other people. Australia was one such dream, and the Bootcamp went there. Brazil is one of those dreams too, particularly Rio de Janeiro. It is an attractive city, though difficult to live in sometimes. That is why the Rio Innovation & Entrepreneurship Trek [a 30-hour program before the Bootcamp] will focus on showcasing creative solutions that bring new opportunities to the city.
What is unique about entrepreneurship and innovation in Brazil?
In Brazil, the windows of opportunity to innovate are endless. Markets are not full yet. Brazilians have natural resources, intellectual and cultural strengths, great diversity and empathy. At the same time, the country is full of challenges, and working here as new entrepreneurs will have a big impact on people’s lives. There is a lot of work to be done.
Which traits does MIT Bootcamps look for in attendees?
We have students from all backgrounds. From an Olympic athlete and a Rubik’s Cube world champion to a scientist who joined the team that cloned Dolly the Sheep. For MIT Bootcamps, the student’s background is very important, because it shows that the person has a passion, that they have been productive in their field. But there are a set of common values that MIT particularly seeks. Attendees must be extremely motivated, eager to pull down walls and build new paths, and want to have a real impact on what they do. Attendees must also be ready to leave their egos outside and be open to constant change. MIT’s Lecturer Erdin [Beshimov] usually says that we need to be “systematically flexible.”
Can entrepreneurship be taught to such a diverse group?
Years ago, the common belief was that entrepreneurship was genetic. People were born to do it or not. Some people really are like this, such as Steve Jobs, but they are outliers. MIT believes that entrepreneurship can be learned and teaches a set of specific steps to help you to launch a venture, a project, or an idea. MIT’s pragmatism has been responsible for the very high success rate of alumni-founded companies, as 70 percent of them have survived for a decade.
How is it possible to have this success rate?
MIT Bootcamps tries to ensure that all the optimism, resilience, and the physical, emotional, and financial effort from entrepreneurs are not in vain. It acknowledges the risk of any venture but shows how to reduce it with a lot of planning. It guides entrepreneurs on where to focus during the initial phase. This approach can save money and time, as it can take four to seven years to find out if the business is going in the wrong direction. Imagine spending all that time and finding out later you made a simple mistake by not listening to your customer.
What is a common mistake that entrepreneurs make?
The first thing is to understand the problem you are trying to solve. Many students come to the Bootcamp selling an idea, without thinking about the problem. They can sell the amazing features of an app, but don’t realize what problem can be solved with it. The most important thing is to be focused on solving a problem that people actually experience.
Are innovators often trapped by wrong assumptions with regards to entrepreneurship?
Startups are commonly thought in terms of the “unicorns,” those startups that become highly profitable ventures. Therefore, some people tend to think this is the natural flow. While earning money is obviously important, you must pay your bills, and MIT Bootcamp wants your business to succeed, what we aim for is to help people to take their ideas off the ground. There are many ways to do this, and one common option is to bootstrap, a concept in which an entrepreneur starts a company with minimal or no capital, but rapidly develops cash flow to survive. MIT Bootcamp focuses on this entrepreneurial mindset.
Why did you decide to join the first MIT Bootcamp?
In 2012, I was turning 40, and my son was born, so I started to rethink my career. At that time, I had ideas for patents using a dirigible project I had started developing during my bachelor’s degree. I talked to my partners and decided to put my design firm on hold to pursue this project. I had raised a little capital before being selected to attend the first MIT Bootcamp in Cambridge, 2014, and when I came back from it, I started to close more deals with investors.
Luciano da Silveira Araujo further developed his company Elio after the Bootcamp
Did it change how you looked at your project?
My wife told me I was another person, I came back completely different. The paradigm shift was strong. When I had a broader view of the field, I was certain my idea was not impossible. It was risky but doable. The Bootcamp broke down many of my prejudices related to the business side of things, as I thought this was not important before. I reviewed the whole project process after the Bootcamp and realized that my business was a service, not a product. Plus, I was ready to take my ego out of the equation. And most of all, I had the support of a tremendous community.
Is there a strong sense of community at a Bootcamp?
The 47 students in the first class were very connected, and the professors very present. Any doubt I had related to technological or business issues, I could rely on them. I was testing my prototype, and I made a lot of mistakes, but this community helped me the whole time. Elio has progressed exponentially. It walks independently now; it has an incredible team of 15 people who do all the heavy work, and it survives with its own cash flow. The company is present in many Brazilian regions and abroad. And the impact that the MIT Bootcamp had on me, it had on several other people too.
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