Learn how these innovators started new social ventures in just a week

Written by Flávia Milhorance
A platform that helps empower small coffee farmers in Brazil — the idea behind the startup prototype that won the pitch competition at the 8th MIT Innovation & Entrepreneurship Bootcamp in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil last July. The project was developed during the Bootcamp and now could be turned into reality.
MIT Bootcamps are educational, week-long programs in which first-time and repeat entrepreneurs are challenged to develop new ventures. During this experience, Bootcampers form teams, work with MIT-trained coaches, and learn and practice MIT’s proven, data-driven framework for innovation. In the course of a week, they faced the highs and lows of building an enterprise.
The 8th edition of the Bootcamp in Rio de Janeiro gathered 122 participants from across the world, who were then split into 24 teams imbued with the spirit of solving real problems. The winning team, for example, identified the difficulty that premium coffee farmers in the Zona da Mata region had with finding buyers and setting fair prices for their crops. Instead, they had to rely on traders as intermediaries. At the other end of the market, coffee packaging owners also struggled to find reliable suppliers.
The team’s solution was to create a digital platform allowing sellers and buyers to negotiate in an open market, as well as to provide a quality certification tool that helps set a fairer price for the commodity. Impressively, none of the participants in this project had any affinity with the field beforehand. The concept originated completely within the Bootcamp.

Team Pangea won the demo-day pitch competition

This rapid development was possible because the participants followed the structured plan developed by MIT instructors and coaches to increase the odds of success for innovation-driven ventures. The first step of this approach is to identify a problem to solve. “As everybody else, we started in the wrong way; we started thinking of a solution [in their initial startup idea],” acknowledged designer Michel Moussatche, a participant of team Pangea along with Eduardo Pinto, Odysseas Lamtzidis, Sebastian Pereira, and Giuliana Huamán.
“Thanks to the coaches’ help, who kept saying: ‘you have a solution, not a problem; where is the problem?’, that we finally got to this problem of access by commodity producers to the market”, he added.
Still, the problem was too broad, and the next steps of the framework guided them to focus on the troubles of small-scale premium coffee farmers in the Zona da Mata region of Brazil. “I spent three hours talking to Dilson, an 80-year-old coffee farmer at the region, and it was when we found out this situation,” said Moussatche, explaining the step that teams needed to make a primary market research by interviewing potential customers.
However, the process was not as simple as it may seem. “We took very long to get there,” Moussatche said. Aside from shaping a relevant problem and its solution, all Bootcampers had to manage the long working hours on very few hours of sleep, a great amount of new content drawn by coaches and guest experts, and the relationships in a team with people they’ve only recently met.
The most difficult moment, Moussatche recalled, was during an elevator pitch. “It was a complete disaster,” he said. “That day we had a meltdown. The presentation didn’t go well, the group lost focus, nothing worked properly. It was in the middle of the night that we had a turning point and united the team. We decided that we wanted to win the competition.”
In the remaining 48 hours to the completion of the Bootcamp, they turned that pitch into a winner. And more, the prototype could become a profitable business. Since the end of the program, part of the group has had talks and performed further field research to validate the platform.
Social impact ventures
In fact, MIT Bootcamps has already helped validate more than a hundred newcompanies, raising over $70 million. These ventures are part of a bigger community: MIT alumni have launched more than 30,000 active enterprises, creating 4.6 million jobs and generating $1.9 trillion in annual revenue, research indicates. If the university was a country, it would be equivalent to the tenth largest economy in the world. Further, 70% of MIT founded companies have survived for ten years.
Many of these enterprises not only manage to raise funds, but also have some social impact. At the Bootcamp in Rio de Janeiro, the team Toda Vida Vale (translated from Portuguese as “Every Life Matters”) received a special mention for addressing the serious problem of child abduction, as 40,000 children go missing every year in Brazil.

Toda Vida Vale received a special mention for their solution helping raise awareness of missing children

Antonello Iona, Nicolai Samsing, Prottoy Dipta Sen, Alice Yang, and Roberta Pospissil undertook the mission of designing a product to raise awareness and increase the visibility of this issue by providing social media channels and mainstream media with information about the missing children.
“We had a common interest of creating something on social entrepreneurship,” Pospissil explained. “We wanted to make change in people’s lives and tackle a problem that could go beyond making profit.”
During the primary market research, Pospissil interviewed spokespeople of groups that promote actions to protect children, and even mothers of the victims. “I got very emotionally involved, I was shocked with the stories, I could not forget them,” she said.
The final pitch caught so much attention from guest judges and the Bootcamp team that the group received recognition on stage. “I believe that happened because our message was in accordance with the university’s mission of having impact,” Pospissil commented.
After the Bootcamp, Pospissil joined her business partner and fellow Bootcamper Karina Bettega to keep the project alive. On October 12th, when Brazilians celebrate Children’s Day, they led a social media campaign wherein the hashtag #AjudeaEncontrarUmaCriança (or “help to find a child”) was posted by Brazilians, including celebrities, along with photos of missing children. The campaign was also supported by other participants of the Bootcamp on their social media platforms.

Brazilian TV presenter Xuxa posted the hashtag

A problem that is close to you
Another group caught the MIT community’s attention, but for a vastly different reason. From the start, a team proved to have a good sense of humor by naming it after the Brazilian drink Caipirinha and creating the slogan: “Made in Rio de Janeiro with ❤.”
Rafaella Mazza, Shama Rasal, Praful Mehrotra, Luis Pomata, and Jorge Barrientos presented an energetic and fun pitch providing a solution to a problem that many lectures’ attendees face: the hassle of passing around the microphone and controlling sound quality during the interaction of speakers with the audience.
The Capirinha team developed an app with a built-in microphone integrated with the sound system of the event. In this way, attendees could use their own smartphone to interact with the audience and lecturers could easily take control of people’s participation.

Team Caipirinha had an energetic and emotional presentation

Rafaella Mazza explained that the idea given by a participant in one of the first activities was initially underestimated by the team. But as the Bootcamp unfolded — and struggles with the microphone occurred during the lectures — they realized that it was a viable opportunity. “That problem was close to us, people in the program could feel it, and that’s why I think it created interest,” she said.
The surprise of the pitch was when the team tested the prototype live. “This caused a big impression, we felt a great reception from the public, we felt like champions,” Rafaella Mazza said. “We were motivated by the coaches to present simply the best and it was their idea to create what it is called a minimum viable product (MVP).”
But Mazza admitted that the bold idea caused extra stress before the pitch. “I was super nervous, because the prototype was not working in the morning of the pitch,” she admitted. “We made a ‘gambiarra’ to make it work” — a Brazilian word referring to the ability to make something happen out of almost nothing. A lack of resources or tools are no excuses to MIT entrepreneurs. They just make it happen.
You can still apply to the next MIT Technology & Innovation Bootcamp, held in Tokyo in early 2019.

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