IdeaStorm at MIT Sloan

MIT Sloan 2011 MBA candidates Adam Blake, Morgan Blake, and Slava Menn have always been idea guys.   In September of 2009 they invited a handful of friends to a local bar to have some drinks and brainstorm some startup ideas.  Attendance doubled in each of the consecutive sessions and thus MIT IdeaStorm was born.

MIT IdeaStorm is a high energy, lightly moderated brainstorming session that brings in entrepreneurs, techies, and investors from Boston-area university and startup communities.

At each event, we’ve asked how we can improve,” says Morgan Blake.  “Through a handful of iterations, we’ve honed onto a powerful format.”

The format that Morgan describes falls into three, fifteen minute brainstorming sessions in subgroups of 10-15 people.

1. Challenge Question: A question posed to the group to get the creative juices flowing.  Past examples of challenge questions have included, “What is the future of banking?” and “How can we improve air travel?”

2. Fresh Ideas: Unrehearsed elevator pitches of unrefined ideas.  The pitches last about 1 minute, and brainstorming lasts about 2-3 minutes.

3. Founder’s Dilemma: A startup CEO describes their company and a challenge or opportunity they are facing.  Past startup CEOs have included Ryan Jones of Pubget and Eric Shashoua of Zeo.

At the end, the subgroups get together and describe highlight and lowlight ideas from each of their sessions.

“We originally designed MIT IdeaStorm as a fun outlet for entrepreneurial energy and creativity,” says Adam Blake.  “We never intended it to be a networking event, but when you brainstorm ideas with talented people, social barriers collapse and collaboration starts flowing.”

Event attendance at MIT IdeaStorm 8 in February 2011 at the Cambridge Innovation broke 120.  Slava Menn envisioned MIT IdeaStorm growing to 300 attendees by the end of the 2010 academic year, and it exceeded his estimates.   “The biggest challenge facing MIT IdeaStorm is how to preserve it’s fun, open, sharing environment as we grow.”

The last MIT IdeaStorm was held at the MIT VC Conference, when outside interested showed its head.  Venture capitalists, corporations, and students other schools have all reached out to replicate the brainstorming session on their own terms, which reflects the tremendous energy at MIT Sloan, Boston, and beyond.

MIT IdeaStorm Founders: Slava Menn, Morgan Blake, Adam Blake