Roche, Anikeeva, and Dagdeviren named MIT Future Founders prize winners 

Nine MIT researchers were selected as finalists in the inaugural MIT Future Founders Initiative Prize Competition, encouraging women to pursue entrepreneurship in biotech.

The MIT Future Founders Initiative, established to promote female entrepreneurship in biotech, has chosen Ellen Roche as grand prize winner of its inaugural competition. Associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Roche was awarded $250,000 in discretionary funds.

Runners-up Polina Anikeeva and Canan Dagdeviren were each awarded $100,000. Anikeeva is professor of materials science and engineering and brain and cognitive sciences, and Dagdeviren is assistant professor of media arts and sciences. 

The competition was held in partnership with the MIT School of Engineering and the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, with support from Northpond Ventures. 

Female science and engineering faculty at MIT establish fewer biotech startups than their male counterparts, according to research by the initiative’s founders Sangeeta Bhatia, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, Susan Hockfield, professor of neuroscience and MIT president emerita, and Nancy Hopkins, professor of biology emerita.

“If women were founding companies at the same rate as their male colleagues, there would be 40 more therapies, 40 more diagnostics, 40 more interventions,” said Hockfield on the competition showcase day in May.

Nine women from MIT were selected in fall 2021, said Bhatia. “We got all kinds of ideas that they had been working on actually for years in their labs.” In addition to Roche, Anikeeva, and Dagdeviren, the finalists were Natalie Artzi, principal research scientist at the Institute of Medical Engineering and Science; Laurie Boyer, professor of biology and biological engineering; Tal Cohen, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and mechanical engineering; Ariel Furst, professor of chemical engineering; Kristin Knouse, assistant professor of biology; and Elly Nedivi, professor of neuroscience at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. 

The competition was structured as a learning cohort in which participants were supported in commercializing their inventions with instruction in market assessments, fundraising, and business capitalization. The finalists presented to a selection committee in a venture-capitalist format. 

Bhatia emphasized that the competition should be considered a “victory lap” for all the finalists. 

“Every one of them came with a business plan that is fundable,” she said. —Jason Sparapani

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