Bootcamp Tales By Mark Ridley

Back in August 2016, I had the opportunity to join over 70 other people at the MITx Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. It was a week long experience that taught us the Disciplined Entrepreneurship Methodology as well as connecting us with dozens of talented and motivated people. The experience was made more interesting with a business plan competition in newly formed teams.

One of the participants, Mark Ridley narrates the activities, experiences and emotions of this one week journey. The story of his team’s journey is working to pitch a sex toy at MIT is hilarious and yet serious. Their team’s struggles and questions through the bootcamp echoes many of our own experiences.

I share some of his highlights and you can read the full stories in each link.

Bootcamp Legends…

We’re told that the calendar has been eased off from previous years. Legend has it that the Bootcamp was the idea of L. Rafael Reif, the president of MIT who demanded that the attendees were ‘exhausted’ by the end of the week. Earlier alumni would be working until 3am or 4am each day, only to start again at 7am. We’re promised an easier ride.

Uninterrupted Supply of Food & Drinks…

I won’t realise this until later, but there’s an almost uninterrupted supply of food, drink and important supplies over the entire week. I’m not sure if this is to keep us well fuelled or to prevent tribal, sleep-deprived hordes tearing Cambridge apart looking for caffeine and sugar.

The Tor-Mentors…

In addition to our Class 4 classmates, we’re introduced to our twelve mentors, all alumni from previous Bootcamps. They’ll be passing among us during the day to help run the event and give advice on certain challenges. They’ve got the gleeful look of people who know that we’re in for a world of hurt, and that their job is to make it hurt more if we’re not in enough pain. As we find out over the next few days, some will take this important job more seriously than others.

Why Are We Here…

We’re then introduced to the real objective of the week — that we should form teams which will build companies in only five days, according to Bill’s 24 Disciplined Entrepreneurship steps. It becomes apparent that all the pre-work and groups we made before the event were just to get us in the mood. What we’ll be pitching on Friday will be the output of ideas that most of us haven’t even thought of yet.

Ideas Are Overrated…

As the session draws to a close, a final point is driven home; in this environment, with these people, ideas are virtually free and will be plucked from the air. The real focus for today is not ideas but problems and, most specifically, people. As we go about the business of forming our teams, we need to focus on ensuring that our teams will go the distance.


At 11am all the teams are asked to report back to the class; “what did we learn; what were your goals yesterday; what did you achieve; what are your goals for today; what do you need help with?”.

An Interesting Way To Perk Up The Team…

Other bootcampers will probably recall our team dancing throughout the week, especially late at night. Whenever other teams were reaching for the coffee, we’d start another jig. Before our first pitch, and as our fellow bootcampers arrived at the Martin Trust Centre, we danced to samba, R&B and Ricky Martin. When you’re stressed, exhausted and up against a deadline take a few minutes to dance. It costs less than coffee and is better for you (even if, like me, you dance like a hippopotamus).

The Results…

When the final team has taken the stage we retire from the Tang Centre to a barbecue outside on the MIT lawns. The heat is incredible in the sun, somewhere between open flame and gas burner.

Bill’s closing speech turns to announcing the winners. Amongst our team, Keiana Cavé, Karan Jerath and Djamila Yousef are hot favourites with an amazing product and a staggering pitch. The fact that their team only has three members makes their place in the final even more incredible and I’m nearly positive that they’ll win.

Turns out I’m wrong again — Keiana, Karan and Djamila take third place. I’m in disbelief, just long enough to hear Bill start to announce second place, with some reference that makes the barbecue-eating tent swell with laughter. It’s clear that the rest of the bootcamp know what’s coming.

“In second place, Symmetry!”
Unbelievable. I couldn’t feel better even if we’d won. It’s a staggering, humbling and emotional achievement. After this little sleep, I’m also deliriously convinced that second place is twice as good as first.

First place quite rightly goes to the Psquared team (Bárbara EA, Jaime Rodrigo Vargas Tabarini, Tulio Castillo, Nidhi Sharma, Oluwadotun Akinseinde and the fearless Erwin Chan) who pitch a staggeringly well considered and thoughtful product, Pliment — spools of filament for 3D printers with bioplastic made from waste orange peel.

Dance Again…

As we’re all moved through into the restaurant area, the three winning teams are chaperoned into a smaller, private room. It feels a bit odd to be away from the other teams, but a privilege to be recognised. The meal continues and it’s palpably the end of a long week. Those in our dining room who are unfortunate enough to be falling asleep at the table between courses are punished with an impromptu dance lesson from Elisha.

Read the full stories here
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7



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