In late 2016, MIT President Rafael Reif announced plans to launch the MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node. At that point, Professor Charlie Sodini (Faculty Director of the Hong Kong Node) and Professor Bill Aulet (Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship) got together, and started to brainstorm with a few of us, who later became the MEMSI core team. The question we asked ourselves was this: What might we do for students interested in hardware innovation that might blow their mind away?
Hong Kong is uniquely situated near manufacturing facilities in Southern China. With our collective experience in hardware entrepreneurship, as well as entrepreneurship and engineering education, we quickly came up with the idea for a Minimum Viable Product (MVP): We thought we could test the idea for a one week long hardware startup bootcamp. We thought we could bring MIT students to Hong Kong, join them up with Hong Kong students, and have them form teams and build hardware startups complete with working prototypes – all in one week.
In true MIT fashion, the team on the ground in Hong Kong sprang into action with absolutely no resources. There was no space… no staff… no pre-existing application process. We had to invent it all. We launched what became the MIT Kickstart Program in June 2016. 24 students from MIT and Hong Kong became the first Hong Kong Node cohort to experience the intersection between hardware and entrepreneurship in a bootcamp format. The key elements of MEMSI were all there: Entrepreneurship, making, and a trip to see factories in China. And it was great fun – both for the participants and the alumni in Hong Kong, who were thrilled to see their alma mater take up residence in their home town.
With the successful conclusion of MIT KickStart, we knew we wanted to do it again. This time, we wanted to bring MIT’s operating systems for entrepreneurship and for making and hacking to Hong Kong. Kickstart also taught us one week was too short. And thus, MEMSI was born – the two week long hardware startup bootcamp that was offered in its current format for the first time in January 2017.
We have since offered it a few more times. Each time, we learned and iterated on the fly. But our mission never changed: To help students learn, and to build community. That is the soul of this program, and that is what makes MEMSI, MEMSI.