Student Spotlight: Melinda Hale (PhD ’13) and Allison Yost (SM ’12)
by Alissa Mallinson
Entrepreneurs abound in MechE, but they couldn’t do it without the MIT entrepreneurial community, comprising an army of faculty, students, and staff ready to help at any stage.
Recent MechE graduate Melinda Hale (PhD ’13) is one of them. For three years, she has been an organizer of the MIT Global Startup Workshop, which began as part of the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition to teach other universities how to run a business plan competition. Now, it’s an international conference held in a different country each year to teach and encourage entrepreneurship. This past year, Hale was one of two lead organizers of the event.
“There are other entrepreneurship-focused conferences held in the US, but very few are so heavily international,” she says. “Hearing so many people from different countries talk about their ventures over the years has been a great learning experience for me. There is no way I would have been exposed to such a magnitude of ideas had I not been involved in helping other people start their companies.”
When Hale had her own idea for a business this past year, she was ready. What began as consulting for a landfill owner that was looking to maximize its methane collection turned into a startup that sells sensor packages to optimize the vacuum power for removing methane. All landfills must collect the methane that is released into the atmosphere from decomposing trash, but there is an optimum vacuum point to avoid pulling too hard. Hale’s sensor technology identifies and maintains that point.
Along with two partners she met through the MIT Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, Hale is dedicating her summer to testing her system and proving that it improves methane yield over the current process.
MechE PhD candidate Allison Yost (SM ‘12) is also on a mission to help other MIT students become successful entrepreneurs. This past year she was the managing director of the $100K Competition and an organizer of the Trust Center’s H@cking Medicine, an initiative that promotes and encourages entrepreneurship in medicine and health care. One major element of the program is the hack-a-thon, a weekend retreat in which students, clinicians, entrepreneurs, MBAs, and designers come together to hack innovative ideas to problems in health care. While the goal isn’t to spin out companies, says Yost, several startups have come out of the program.
“The goal of H@cking Medicine is to inspire creative thinkers who wouldn’t necessarily think to innovate in health care,” she explains. “To make any sort of change there, we have to apply new ways of thinking. People often see health care reform as a slow, bureaucratic process, but our goal is to short circuit that process with game-changing technologies.”
This spring, Yost was awarded a Patrick J. McGovern Jr. ’59 Entrepreneurship Award at the MIT Awards Convocation for her work with H@cking Medicine. She will take over leadership of the hack-a-thon this coming fall.