MIT’s t=0 Festival to Include Hackathon, Startup Demos, Entrepreneur Speakers-Even a Bouncy House

MIT is looking to throw a party this September, but it’s not just all fun and games (more on that later). The innovation community has already been buzzing a bit about this one, called t=0.

The idea for the festival is “to encourage students to start something that is big and world changing,” says Dharmishta Rood, the festival co-director.

Now, I was never under the impression that MIT students had much trouble doing that as it is, but the aim is to get students plugged into the opportunities for entrepreneurship at MIT as early as possible in their academic careers, say Rood and festival co-director Elliot Cohen.

There’s really no shortage of different industry conferences and startup-focused events throughout MIT and Cambridge, but t=0—which starts the evening of Friday, September 16, and concludes the evening of Sunday, September 18—is looking to break the mold.

“We’re definitely going for a real true festival feel,” says Rood.

For one thing, rather than using the businessy term “keynoters” to describe Lotus Development and Electronic Frontier Foundation founder Mitch Kapor (who is kicking off the event) and TechStars and Foundry Group co-founder Brad Feld (who’s wrapping it up via Skype on Sunday), t=0 is just referring to them as opening and closing “artists.” There’s also going to be a bouncy house—yes, like what you see at carnivals. And you can expect to see “a lot more hands-on doing and making than at other types of events like conferences,” says Rood.

T=0 is largely targeted at students and is free for the MIT student body. MIT students can each invite a person of their choice to get a $20 ticket and some non-MIT students can also attend for $20 tickets each. There will also be a limited number of tickets available for companies to purchase (e-mail conference organizers for those). The aim is to have between 1,000 and 1,200 attendees floating in and out over the weekend and to attract students from across different schools within the university. T=0—an engineering term usually used to signify the time at the beginning of experiment—is used as the event name to encourage students to get involved in entrepreneurship at the beginning of their MIT careers—or at least the beginning of 2011.

” We want to create opportunities for students of different disciplines to interact with each other in different ways,” says Cohen. “We want to make it an event with something genuinely interesting and unique for everyone.”

The three main elements of the festival are the “artists”(speakers like Kapor, Feld, and a couple dozen more artists, a “maker space” for rapid prototyping workshops (in areas from software to physical products), and a weekend-long hackathon across different disciplines. Saturday night will also feature demos by MIT companies that are already underway.

Other speakers include Locately co-founder and CTO Drew Volpe, Frederic Lalonde (an Expedia veteran now CEO of travel startup Hopper), Apricot Capital founding partner Jennifer Lum, Catharine Havasi of the MIT Media Lab, engineering manager Jeff Seibert, HubSpot CEO and founder Brian Halligan, and Eric Paley of Founder Collective. An exact schedule of formats and talks isn’t yet available, but speakers have been given two requirements for their talks: it has to be “extremely energetic and exactly what they would want to communicate to the students,” says Cohen.

Most of the festivities will take place on campus at MIT’s Zesiger Center, whose auditorium will be “radically transformed,” Cohen says. Organizations like the MIT $100K, Artisan’s Asylum, Sprout, Skillshare, the Deshpande Center, and Venture Café are partnering with the MIT students in putting together and promoting the event.

T=0 is being held in September in order to get students excited early on in the academic year. But there’s a bit more to it. Greg mentioned in his first piece on t=0 that Kendall’s Entrepreneurial Walk of Fame is slated to launch that weekend. Cohen tells me there was an aim to coordinate the two events.

“We wanted to be able to create a collection of entrepreneurially related events at the same time,” he says.

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