The Engine: Up and running

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Photo: Courtesy of The Engine

In April 2017, The Engine, an MIT-affiliated organization supporting high-tech startups, closed its first investment fund for more than $150 million. That sum will support startups developing breakthrough scientific and technological innovations with potential for societal impact.

That was just the latest milestone for The Engine, which combines funding, services, and an open network of technical facilities, which together will provide startups with stable financial support and access to costly resources. The initiative will focus on startups developing “tough” technologies — breakthrough ideas that require time to commercialize — in sectors such as robotics, manufacturing, health technology, biotechnology, and energy.

“From the beginning, our vision for The Engine has been to foster the success of ‘tough-tech’ startups with great potential for positive impact for humanity,” MIT President L. Rafael Reif said in April. “By enabling crucial investments in The Engine’s first portfolio of companies, the funds announced today will also strengthen the local innovation ecosystem and the regional economy.”

Of the total capital raised for the fund — officially named The Engine Accelerator Fund I, L.P. — MIT invested $25 million. The remainder came from a small group of investors aligned with the fund’s mission.

The Engine was unveiled at a high-profile launch event in October 2016. At that time, Reif described the underlying reasons for the initiative: “If we hope for serious solutions to the world’s great challenges, we need to make sure the innovators working on those problems see a realistic pathway to the marketplace,” he said. “The Engine can provide that pathway by prioritizing breakthrough ideas over early profit, helping to shorten the time it takes these startups to become ‘VC-ready,’ providing comprehensive support in the meantime, and creating an enthusiastic community of inventors and supporters who share a focus on making a better world.” In February 2017, The Engine named Katie Rae, a veteran technology entrepreneur and investor, as its president and CEO and as managing partner of its first investment fund. The Engine also announced membership of its board of directors and investment advisory committee.

Among The Engine’s inaugural board members is School of Engineering Dean Anantha Chandrakasan, previously head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). Chandrakasan, who is also the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, headed up MIT’s Engine Working Groups, which consisted of faculty, postdocs, students, and staff with specialized expertise. The groups were charged with helping guide development of Engine-related policies and procedures in areas such as technology licensing and facilities access, among others.

Closing The Engine’s first fund so soon after its public announcement shows great promise, noted Rae, who previously served as managing director of the popular startup accelerator Techstars Boston. “There is strong interest, and people are bullish on what’s coming out of MIT and Boston. We’re looking for startups with breakout technologies and great founding teams that want to build their companies in the New England region,” she said. With funding secured and leadership established, The Engine is now focusing on selecting its first group of investments.

For more about The Engine, visit engine.xyz