The MIT School of Engineering and Pillar VC announced today the MIT-Pillar AI Collective, a one-year pilot program financed by a Pillar VC gift that will provide seed funds for projects in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data science with the purpose of promoting translational research. The program will assist graduate students and postdocs by providing money, mentoring, and customer discovery.

The MIT-Pillar AI Collective, managed by the MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, will focus on the market discovery process, progressing ideas through market research, customer discovery, and prototyping. Graduate students and postdocs will attempt to complete the program with minimal viable products produced with the help of Pillar VC and seasoned industry professionals.

“We are grateful for Pillar VC’s support and are excited to join forces to converge the commercialization of translational research in AI, data science, and machine learning, with a focus on identifying and cultivating prospective entrepreneurs,” says Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the MIT School of Engineering and Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “Pillar’s emphasis on mentorship for our graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, as well as the program’s location within the Deshpande Center, will definitely spawn significant ideas in AI and develop an environment for prospective firms to launch and grow.”

Pillar VC, founded by Jamie Goldstein ’89, is dedicated to building businesses while also investing in personal and professional growth, mentoring, and community.

“Many of the most promising firms of the future are live at MIT in the form of transformational research in data science, AI, and machine learning,” Goldstein argues. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to assist unlock this potential and stimulate a new generation of founders by providing undergraduates and postdoctoral researchers with the resources and mentorship they require to transition from the lab to industry.”

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The curriculum will begin in the school year 2022-23. Grants will be available only to MIT faculty and students, with a focus on support for final-year graduate students and postdocs. Applications must be submitted by MIT personnel who hold the position of main investigator. Devavrat Shah, faculty director of the Deshpande Center and the Andrew (1956) and Erna Viterbi Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society; the chair of the selection committee; and an MIT Schwarzman College of Computing representative will serve on the selection committee. Pillar VC will also be represented on the committee. Up to nine research teams will receive funding.

“Given its focus on transporting creative technology from the lab to the marketplace in the form of breakthrough goods and new firms,” adds Chandrakasan, “the Deshpande Center will serve as the ideal home for the new collective.”

“The Deshpande Center has a 20-year track record of steering emerging ideas toward commercialization, where they may have a bigger impact,” Shah says. “This new collective will assist the center in expanding its own influence by assisting more projects in realizing their market potential and offering further support to researchers in the rapidly emerging disciplines of AI, machine learning, and data science.”

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