Since 2000, MIT Global Startup Labs has sent over 300 MIT instructors to teach thousands of students in more than 20 countries, resulting in the creation of businesses and the addition of course offerings at our partner universities.
MIT Global Startup Labs is a program of MISTI (MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives) that promotes development in emerging regions by cultivating young technology entrepreneurs. We partner with universities and organize advanced courses taught by MIT student instructors. Our courses focus on mobile and Internet technologies, and are structured so that our students are awakened to the commercial possibilities of the technologies. Components of the course include detailed technical curriculum, business competitions, guest lectures, and networking events, all to help our students develop and realize their ideas. Concurrent to its courses, MIT Global Startup Labs scales its impact by transferring teaching expertise to our partner universities so that they can incorporate components of our courses with little intervention.
Founding of the Program
MIT Global Startup Labs, known as Africa Internet Technology Initiative (AITI) up until 2013, was first envisioned by Paul Njoroge while attending the 1998 MIT Leadershape summer program after his sophomore year at MIT. Paul teamed up with fellow classmates Martin Mbaya and Solomon Assefa (also graduates of MIT Leadershape) to plan and launch the inaugural MIT AITI session.
The founders of AITI planned to expose African students to curricula that focused on contextually appropriate technologies. The founders envisioned MIT student instructors traveling to Africa to teach technology and promote development in African schools, benefiting both the MIT instructors and student participants. The MIT student instructors would be enriched by a unique and challenging international experience, and the African students would be exposed to appropriate technologies that would help them to solve local problems and take advantage of local opportunities.
The founders developed the idea with the help of Professor Paul Gray (MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), President Emeritus of MIT. AITI was largely modeled on the successful MIT China Educational Technology Initiative (MIT-CETI), a project management training program, and customized for Africa. In the summer of 2000, the program was piloted at Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya. Four MIT student instructors (Paul Njoroge, Martin Mbaya, Andrew Nevins and Eric Traub) were part of the inaugural team. Each played an important role in moving the program from concept to reality. In 2000, tele-centers (Internet Cafes) were the dominant accessible form of ICT technology for most Africans. With this in mind, the team built a curriculum focused on Java programming, HTML and the basics of UNIX. In addition, to promote entrepreneurship, leading executives from the tech industry in Kenya delivered guest lectures. In true MIT fashion, the founders built experiential learning into the curriculum, requiring students to work on group projects in order to apply their newly acquired skills.
Becoming a Global Program
In 2007, Dr. Michael Gordon, then a Ph.D. student in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at MIT, took on the role as AITI Director and gave the program new direction. Under Dr. Gordon’s leadership, the program began to focus on entrepreneurship and mobile app development (as cellphones were becoming more popular) in Kenya. This new iteration of the program provided participants with two distinct learning tracks; one focused on entrepreneurship and one focused on mobile app development and coding. The goal would now be to create and launch a startup idea within six weeks.
After the success of the program in 2007, AITI received sponsorship from Nokia and Google. The mobile technology incubator courses took place at universities across the world including Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda, and began expanding into other parts of the world. In 2013, the program was renamed into MIT Global Startup Labs (GSL) to reflect its global focus.
For each lab, GSL now considers how MIT instructors and participants can use entrepreneurship and mobile technology to sustainably solve problems within the context of their host country. In addition to the skills participants build in business and engineering, GSL provides an opportunity for host institutions to benchmark their programming and network with leading tech industry players.
With Dr. Gordon’s expanded global scope, the program was incorporated into MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), MIT’s pioneering international education program in 2014. GSL is now under the leadership of two faculty directors: Saman Amarasinghe, Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Principle Investigator in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL); and Bill Aulet, Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and Author of “Disciplined Entrepreneurship.”
Since its founding in 2000, GSL has organized 85 programs in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Latin America. More than 300 adventurous MIT student instructors have taught thousands of students abroad. GSL alumni consistently report high levels of satisfaction from their experience. According to the most recent exit survey conducted in January 2020, among GSL students in Georgia, Brazil and Uruguay, 93 percent of respondents expressed that their experience in the MIT program had confirmed or increased their interest in entrepreneurship, or that it empowered them to pursue entrepreneurship on their own. Additionally, 78 percent of respondents were considering continuing with their GSL startup idea in the future. Regarding MIT instructors, 70 percent reported a greater interest in pursuing entrepreneurship as a career.
While the program continues to focus on the entrepreneurship and app development training, it, again, is exploring new directions. Global Startups Labs now offers hosts and partners programs built around particular theme (i.e. agriculture, artificial intelligence, and machine learning) while maintaining a foundation in problem solving, principles of engineering, and entrepreneurial thinking.
Please see the programs page for more information.