Biotechnology, clean energy and healthcare — these are just a few of the things talked about in MIT’s Tough Tech Summit. This past Friday (10/28/22), I was fortunate enough to help with the running of the conference and be a part of the insightful discussions taking place. The whole day was non-stop energy — everyone was thrilled to explore how tough tech can change the world — and I loved every second of it. Here are some of my takeaways from this experience!
Unconference 1: Building an IP strategy
Part of Tough Tech’s uniqueness comes from its ‘unconferences’. Like regular panels, they invite industry professionals to speak on certain topics, but the discussions are largely driven by the participants. For my first unconference, I chose to attend an unconference by Marguerite McConihe (Mintz) on best practices for building an IP strategy.
Marguerite helped us hone in how certain IP is actually patentable versus those which are trade secrets. A patent is a legal right to exclude others from commercializing a particular invention, whereas a trade secret is kept confidential within the business.
How much of IP on open-source software is actually patentable? This is a question many deep tech companies face when developing their products. Monitoring such IP requires a lot of internal monitoring, and having the right team to help handle it in time is key. Marguerite emphasized to us that early is best when building an IP strategy.
Unconference Session 2: Building Product and R&D Teams Adjacently
This session was led by Marinna Madrid, co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Cellino Biotech.
- the product team focuses on building the lasers that they use for their therapies
- the R&D team focuses more on clinical trials and experimental design.
In my eyes, both good manufacturing and insightful biological innovation are hallmarks of any impactful biotech company.
With that in mind, I asked how can you merge the work of the two teams to advance the company’s mission and goals while maintaining the integrity of each team?
The two key insights to the question from the ensuing discussion:
- Having the ideation stages of a project mostly done within each team, but have managing deliverables a cross disciplinary effort.
- Using a project/matrix based approach where they sit a person from the manufacturing side, from the engineering side, or the bio side and physically have them sit together and work on their projects. This, along with regular check-ins, build team synergy.
Session 3 — Case Study on Manufacturing and Supply Chains
This case study centered on how Lunar Energy dealt with issues in manufacturing and the supply chain. Lunar’s CEO, Kunal Girotra, set the scene for us, taking us through how Lunar’s team thought through these issues.
Lunar’s technology involves the building of multiple different components of their clean energy system. Initially, with such a limited team, as well as being in the midst of the pandemic, they debated going with a contract manufacturer vs. building in-house. We debated cost-effective strategies with practical considerations such as the communication between the CM and the company, geopolitical considerations and more.
When weighing the pros and cons of each, it was important to consider that a team who has such a well-defined focus cannot always take on the risk of additional (though necessary!). It’s about the devil you know vs the devil you don’t know.
Final Fireside Chat:
The final conversation of the day featured talks and a fireside chat between Gene Berdichevsky (CEO of Sila Nanotechnologies), Marco Ferrera (CEO of Form Energy), and Shannon Miller (CEO of Mainspring Energy).
I asked how these founders, having worked in the industry for 10+ years were able to maintain working towards their vision without getting too lost in the day-to-day details. Shannon Miller, had a key insight: tackle the high risk problems first. The rest of the challenges are a lot easier to tackle after that. Mainspring’s linear generators uses magnetic coils that move horizontally back and forth. The linear motion of these coils can be converted directly into electricity. Shannon and the Mainspring team had to figure out how to optimize the magnetism and movement of these coils to maximize electricity output.
- Bela Bogdanovic, Alex Grant, and the rest of the Engine team for inviting us to help out with the running of the conference as well as to hear from such smart and well-spoken founders and investors!
- All of the attendees and speakers who came to Tough Tech for sharing their wisdom and insights and or helping to create an environment filled with intellectualism, laughter and optimism for the future. I’d like to especially thank the following people whose sessions I attended: Marguerite McConihe, Marinna Madrid, and Kunal Girotra.
- The folks from TKS who I volunteered with at Tough Tech: Michael, Raina, Shreya, Christina, and Zayn. Thank you for bringing great energy and enthusiasm throughout the day. Grateful we got to share this experience together :)
Thanks for reading about my experiences during MIT’s Tough Tech Summit! If you’d like to chat, I’d love to connect! You can reach me at apurvajoshi [at] brandeis [dot] edu. Until next time!