30 Days of USA

It all started in NYC…

Bringing a sponsored delegation of 35+ Kairos fellows from the Netherlands to the annual Kairos Summit was the result of six months of hard work with Mingus Vogel & Frithjof Wegener. Not only were we the largest non-US delegation present at the forum, but also did the quality of the Dutch group far exceed all expectations. Others agreed – click here to see our feature in Sprout Magazine.

The time in NYC was amazing. I had the opportunity to discuss Kairos’ global strategy with a twenty-odd group of global fellows, hailing from China, Hong Kong, UK, Sweden, Spain, US and the Netherlands. I connected to 50 of the most promising student led start-ups in the world. I started and deepened friendships with people who were putting all their energy into making a change in this world. I celebrated the event with an unforgettable party on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. And it was wonderful to finally spend time in person with people I had been working with so much through email and phone. Thanks Vic, Sam, Dylan, Andreas and Ted!

After 5 days of overwhelming experiences in the Big Apple, it was time to head to Boston  on the evening of Superbowl Sunday. Not an avid sports fan myself, I missed the game during the 4-hour bus ride to Boston, only to find out that the New England Patriots (supported by most people in Massachusetts) had been beat by the NY Giants. Luckily, my new roommates weren’t big sports fan either – they invited me to join a forget-the-loss-and-celebrate-anyway party in Cambridge. A very warm welcome to a new home.

MIT is probably one the easiest place on this planet to make yourself at home. Within the first days, I learned about the future of digital screens at the MIT TechFair [very cool video here], I got a desk in an office with four ultra smart PhD’s at the MIT Engineering Systems Division and I started taking my first classes. True to my nationality, I bought a bike within 24 hours of arrival in Cambridge. And no lack of good times with new friends — I had dinner with a new group of people for each of the first seven days.

During the first weeks, I was immediately confronted with the density of great people at MIT. My second week at MIT, I had the pleasure to attend a business model workshop by Alexander Osterwalder; a presentation by Amory Lovins – the most impactful advocate of sustainability driven by enterprise; and a lecture on life lessons by Joi Ito, the MIT Medialab director and founder of the first Japanese Internet Service Provider.

But not only does MIT offer the opportunity to listen to great people, you can start very personal conversation. The amount of students, entrepreneurs and MIT faculty I met over the past month with the goal to start new projects has been amazing. Everybody is open to discuss big ideas, and people love to get their hands dirty working on turning them into reality. Within a matter of days, I had discussions with CEO’s, governmental leaders and directors of MIT research labs and faculties.

Next to my research, I have taken the opportunity to participate in a handful of classes at MIT. These classes allow me to work with the rich variety of people within MIT: business-savvy Sloan MBA’s and Sloan fellows; creative geniuses and product designers from the MIT Medialab; save-the-planet-engineers at MIT’s D-lab and holistic systems thinkers at the MIT Engineering Systems Division. The courses I’m taking vary from Media Ventures – which is all about building a company around the future of media and communications – to Power & Negotiations, which teaches you to become a hard-nosed dealmaker (practicing negotiations for 1.5 hours each class!).

But I’m not here to only listen and talk — I’m here to start exciting projects and build meaningful solutions! Over the course of the past three weeks, I’ve been exploring a solar panel cleaning business, a new battery cathode technology and a children’s storytelling software app. Currently, I’m working with two great teams: one on biomass gasification in India and another on a software application that taps into the power of social by empowering people to accomplish challenges by incentivizing their friends.

These ideas will hopefully lead to participation in the myriad of competitions here. Competitions I’m preparing for – such as the MIT IDEAS challenge, the Clean Energy Prize and the MIT100K – reward winners with prizes ranging from small grants to giant budgets and incentivize students to solve important problems. If you are looking for inspiration in another form, you can attend one of the many amazing speaker series – at the Deshpande Center, the Harvard Business School or the Martin Trust center for entrepreneurship.

Shifting from the past to the future, the month of March promises to be even more exciting than the past 30 days! Next weekend I will be in NYC – to meet long-lost friends and learn the art of 3D-printing; the weekend after I will be blogging at the MIT Energy Conference; and the last 10 days of March will be spent in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

All in all, I’m having an amazing time here. I feel like a painter who has received a new canvas to design his life upon, and I’ve started this month to put down the coarse outline. The more people I meet, the more color is added to the piece – and I’m curious to see what things will look like in a couple of months. I will have worked with wonderful people to start important projects; I will have learnt from all the great professors around me and I will have built friendships with people from all kinds of backgrounds which I hope to kindle for many years to come. May the next months be as spiced up as the Sichuan dinners I get around here!