The MIT Entrepreneurship Club with Qudus Shittu

An interview with Qudus Shittu, the President of the MIT Entrepreneurship Club, on how they support student entrepreneurship on campus.
February 18, 2024
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Background

Qudus Shittu is a third-year student at MIT studying computational cognition. He is the President of the MIT Entrepreneurship Club (MEC). MEC is a community of founders that wants to help students make a lasting impact at MIT and connect new startups with MIT students interested in entrepreneurship. I talked with Qudus to learn more about how they support student entrepreneurship through various programs and how to get involved with the club.

You can follow their LinkedIn page for updates on the MIT Entrepreneurship Club.

Highlights

  • MEC aims to provide a community to accelerate hands-on entrepreneurship. They believe building products and businesses is the best way to learn.

  • Most students in MEC are working on AI software startups, but they also have students working in other verticals such as hard tech, climate tech, and social entrepreneurship.

  • MEC prides itself on being open to any student who demonstrates they want to participate actively in the club.

Interview Transcription

Kieran: Hi Qudus. Thanks for joining me. Do you want to introduce yourself?

Qudus: Thanks for having me. My name is Qudus. I am a third-year undergrad at MIT studying computational cognition, the intersection point between computer science and neuroscience. I’m also the President of the MIT Entrepreneurship Club.

Kieran: Awesome, I’m excited to chat with you about the MIT Entrepreneurship Club. How did you first learn about that club on campus?

Qudus: I got involved with the club towards the latter half of my 1st year, during the spring semester. I met the club’s President and founder at an event that my friends invited me to. It’s a relatively newer club on MIT’s campus. I was always interested in the idea of starting my own company one day and didn’t know what that looked like coming in as a student. I found the club went to a mixer between MIT and Harvard students. It was an exciting event and environment, and I later spoke with the club’s President about officially getting more involved. That was my first entry point to being involved in the club and the great entrepreneurship scene at MIT.

Kieran: MEC is MIT’s undergraduate community of founders. What’s the history behind this organization? How long has this been around?

Qudus: We started officially right before COVID, but COVID happened, so that killed the momentum of the initial start. So, we consider 2021 to be the start and this to be our 3rd year as an active organization on campus. We’re a group of 70-80 members; about 30-40 are always active and involved in the club. We started with the goal of being a more active, hands-on entrepreneurship club — starting a startup or joining one is not something you can passively learn by watching videos or hearing other people talk about their experiences. Of course, all of that is important along the process, but it’s also important to ensure you get the experiences yourself; this is the most low-risk time to do so while you’re a student. You can do it alongside classes and not risk leaving a full-time job after graduation. There are a couple of other clubs at MIT in the entrepreneurship space. Still, our biggest differentiator is that we take a hands-on approach, whether trying something out now, going to work at a startup, or just being involved in the community like meeting and seeing what other people are working on on campus.

Kieran: That’s awesome. Entrepreneurship is learned by building rather than reading something online or listening to a video, so I think it’s good that you’re taking that approach. How does one get involved with this club? Is it an application process or open to any undergraduate student?

Qudus: We have two ways of approaching that. We understand people learn about the club at various points in their journey at MIT and also at various points of the year. So, we have two official recruitment processes at the start of the Fall and Spring semesters. The process is designed to get to know more about the people we’re bringing into this community and curate this to be people who want to be involved and not just people who passively participate and add it to the list of things they are involved in. So we have the recruitment process where we have some events to meet them and introduce ourselves. We also have an application process and a very informal interview, 5-10 minutes to get to know a little more beyond what we learned about them throughout the week. Another way to get involved is through external events we host with the broader MIT community. We want to showcase entrepreneurship on campus and show people what’s happening in this space. So, people can come to the event, see what the club is about, and decide later on if they want to be a part of this. Then, they can take the steps to join us officially.

Kieran: Can you talk more about what you’re looking for when selecting students for the club? It sounds like a big thing is just people who want to participate actively. What are some other things that you’re looking for?

Qudus: That is the biggest thing. We’re not constrained to pick a certain amount of people. Our biggest thing is we want people who want to be there. So, if you seem like they want to be there, if you show up to the recruitment week events, engage, and show they want to be a part of it, then it’s pretty straightforward for you to get in. The application is more of a formality to get to know you because we can’t meet everyone throughout that week or time frame as in-depth as we’d like. The application is trying to see if you are interested in being a part of this and entrepreneurship or if this is just something you want to add to your list of things you’re doing. So, I think that’s the biggest thing – we want people in the club who want to be involved, meet people, do things, and experience entrepreneurship.  

Kieran: I saw Starthouse, Startup Interface, and Late Night on your website. Are those your programs? Can you give an overview?

Qudus: Those are the three main MEC initiatives. Late Night is something we launched at the end of last semester. The idea behind that is that at MIT and many prominent universities, you get swarmed with recruiters from big tech, finance companies, quant companies, consulting, etc. All these big companies have a significant presence on campus, always hosting events and having a significant presence at career fairs. Many people recruit for those places, which is completely fine, but people who want to do things in the entrepreneurship space struggle to find like-minded people who want to do that — they want to experience that startup life now. So with Late Night, we have this weekly meeting, hangout session, or whatever you want to call it, where we get food, hang around, and people can meet each other in the entrepreneurship space and start building that sense of community. You can meet other people working on things even if you’re not working on something yourself or not working on something with someone there, but you can meet people in the space and know it exists on campus instead of only the consulting, big tech, quant events, etc. There is a community of people building things, so that’s the goal of Late Night. With Startup Interface, we’re still working out the final details, but the idea behind it is startups want to hire students from our organization, students from MIT — and students, a good amount of them, want to work at startups and understand whether this route is for them. They want hands-on experience with entrepreneurship. So, we’re launching this program where startups can reach out to us, and we can help them connect with students interested in working at startups. We facilitate connections because, as I mentioned, these larger companies with the resources, the money, the people, and a significant presence throughout the school year on campus have much more advantages. So, it’s hard for startups to come and find the students interested in them when they have fewer people and maybe one person handling hiring for the entire startup. The third thing we have is Starthouse. We’re running it for the second time this year. Essentially, it is an on-ramp for people wanting to start an idea. There is a stereotype at MIT that anyone can build cool things, products, websites, apps, and whatever it is, but how do you turn that into a revenue-generating business? These are often the skills people lack. So, Starthouse is a 6-week program at the end of the Fall semester that teaches you those fundamental skills of finding product market fit — how you understand users and build things people need. We want people to build things people can’t live without, where they will question how they did so before. Everyone can make a cool website, but can you take it further and impact each user and customer? MIT has a January period where we have the entire four weeks off. We use that period to accelerate people’s growth in whatever they’re working on — building an MVP, getting LOIs, etc. We want to put them on a path to trying something for their first time.

Kieran: What types of companies are people building in the club? Is it mostly tech startups that want to raise venture funding, or are people working on small businesses, non-profits, and other businesses?

Qudus: We get a good amount of businesses across that spectrum. A lot of companies in the club are incorporating AI. I would say the biggest thing I’ve noticed is people are not focusing on what people refer to as ChatGPT wrappers but want to expand more on AI and add more value than just integrating an API call. So, we have a lot of people working on AI software, and we get a good number of people doing other things. People are working on hard tech, ag-tech, climate tech, and social entrepreneurship. Most people are working on AI-related startups since most of the MIT community is currently focused on that.

Kieran: What do you see as the biggest opportunities to improve the MIT Entrepreneurship Club?

Qudus: I think there are many more people on MIT’s campus doing things in the entrepreneurship space but just don’t know about us. We haven’t been the best at marketing ourselves as a club on campus. We’ve been trying to improve that and branch out to more people beyond the undergraduate community. There are a lot of graduate students who want to be in this space but don’t know where to go. We want to be known as a place on campus where people who are interested in entrepreneurship know they can meet other like-minded people, get help, and accelerate on the things they are working on.

– now, let’s transition to questions to help students who want to join the MIT Entrepreneurship Club internal team –  

Kieran: When do you recruit for internal team members?

Qudus: For the MEC exec team, we have a new team at the start of the Spring semester. We found that to be the best time to transition because you have a large drop-off over the summer with people graduating and commitments changing. So, it’s easy to track that from the Fall to the Spring semester. If people want to be involved, you can contact us directly, even if they are not already in the club. For those in the club, we generally let them know about the open positions coming up so they can be on the lookout for active roles within MEC. 

Kieran: How are those positions filled? Is it another application and interview process or some sort of club vote?

Qudus: It’s an application process. Historically, the President has chosen their successor and executive members. We want people committed to furthering MEC’s goals and its impact. During the application process, the President will meet with potential executive team members and select the most committed and aligned students with that impact.

 

Kieran: Do you guys work with other organizations on campus or faculty?

Qudus: We work closely with others at MIT. We’re a student organization with a certain amount of leeway. There are official MIT departments focused on entrepreneurship, such as The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, where they have EIRs and the people running it have startup experience or founders, and the MIT Office of Innovation, which provides mentorship, grant programs, and other organizations that run out of it. We work closely with these departments as we host various events or do things on campus. We are aligned with our goals of elevating the entrepreneurship space at MIT.

Kieran: What is the best way to plug in for people who don’t go to MIT but want to help this community?

Qudus: If you’re a startup looking to recruit from MIT and want to hire interns, full-time or part-time, you can check out the Startup Interface program. If you go to our website, the email will be there. For people interested in helping, we’re starting to use our LinkedIn a lot more to post who is in the club, what we do, and general content. They can follow our LinkedIn page to stay more up-to-date with us. 

Kieran: Is there anything I didn’t ask about that is important to know if you’re considering the MIT Entrepreneurship Club as a student or someone who wants to join the internal team?

Qudus: Entrepreneurship is a hands-on experience. The best time to do it is now as a student because it is a low-risk where you can balance schoolwork and a startup, and based on how it goes, you can make decisions from that. One step down the road where you have a nine-to-five job, finding the time or even taking a step back to build something is much harder.