"MIT Beyond Food" Taiwan

Departmental collaboration within MIT advances Institute’s mission

MIT Professional Education and MIT Bootcamps (Office of Digital Learning) have joined forces to help entrepreneurs who want to tackle the world’s greatest food challenges. The innovative collaboration, dubbed “Beyond Food,” was sparked by an inquiry Professional Education (MIT PE) received from the Hao-Shi Foundation in Taiwan last fall. This new entrepreneurship-cultivating organization helping food startups was looking to partner with MIT to implement an international program that would help bring education and innovation to Taiwan in an effort to overcome food-related challenges in Taiwan and beyond.

“Hao-Shi wanted to provide entrepreneurs and business professionals in Taiwan and around the world with the training, knowledge and mentorship necessary to address the complex challenges surrounding food innovation,” said Bhaskar Pant, Executive Director of MIT Professional Education. “That dovetailed beautifully with MIT’s expertise and mission to build a better society and successfully meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

MIT PE turned to MIT Bootcamps to collaborate and jointly develop a series of international entrepreneurship “Bootcamps” and professional courses focused on three key areas: environmental and social sustainability in agriculture and food production; traceability and transparency in the supply chain; and nutrition.  
Phase one of the program involved a Taiwan-exclusive two-day mini Bootcamp for 180 individuals, which took place last May. One participant, Wayne Tang, described the experience as valuable and thought-provoking. 

“The event was great. Although free, faculty of MIT shared a lot of information and provided us with a new way of thinking about innovation. I used to think innovation was just about technology used to form a new service. However, MIT introduced a variety of cases where a founder with cutting-edge technology failed due to lack of market insight,” said Tang, who is now applying to the MIT Sloan MBA program. 

The next part, phase two of the program, took place in August. MIT Vice President of Open Learning Professor Sanjay Sarma traveled to Taipei to deliver a course drawing content from his summer Professional Education course, Radical Innovation. This time, the audience consisted of C-level executives and business professionals from the Taiwan food industry looking to understand different ways to drive innovation and grow new, innovative products and services within their organizations.

“It is great MIT Professional Education is bringing courses to other countries. As an MIT alum, I try to take webinars and reach back to the school for resources as often as I can. However, it’s difficult being abroad to really engage fully. Getting physical interactions like today in the class brings back memories and I get to reenact the environment when I was a student at MIT,” says Steve Ma, CEO of Nutritec.

Following Professor Sarma’s course, a longer, more intense, innovator-focused Bootcamp will be held in Taiwan in September. This time, a select group of more than 50 entrepreneurs from around the world will attend the week-long event to learn and practice innovation frameworks and venture leadership skills taught at MIT, be mentored by MIT-trained food and agriculture entrepreneurs, and meet potential cofounders to start for-profit and non-profit ventures in food and agriculture. Multiple ongoing ventures have been formed at previous MIT Bootcamps. 

The Taiwan project is actually the first time MIT Bootcamps joined hands with another MIT department, and Vimala Palaniswamy, head of MIT Bootcamps at the Office of Digital Learning, said it was a valuable experience for all parties for many reasons.  

“It allowed MIT to expand the breadth and depth of our entrepreneurship offerings in a particular region, and enabled MIT Bootcamps to develop a presence in Taiwan, a country where we did not have a large footprint previously,” said Palaniswamy. “MIT Bootcamps is relatively young, but MIT Professional Education has been around for years. We’ve learned a lot and increased our networks internally by working with them. We look forward to working with them again in the future.”