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从校园到公司:MIT探索金融科技初创企业新模式

专栏国际资讯

从校园到公司:MIT探索金融科技初创企业新模式

五年前,麻省理工学院一名毕业生走进了媒体实验室创业计划的办公室,直到教授同意增加一门金融科技初创企业的课程后才离开。"麻省理工学院未来商业"课程开课第一天,走廊里挤满闻风而来的学生,讲座现场人山人海。

课程的受欢迎程度让创建者David Shrier大感意外,唯一的想法就是:"我们可能需要一个更大的教室。"

随着金融服务行业的金融科技投资不断增加,短时间内,金融科技行业从颠覆性威胁对手转变为热门合作伙伴,麻省理工学院一如既往地致力于将毕业生培养成金融科技开拓者。Shrier是一位企业家和未来主义者,同时也是麻省理工学院媒体实验室的讲师,现在仍在教授该课程。他目前与学院的东芝教授兼媒体实验室企业家计划主管Alex Pentland一起,协助运营以金融科技为重点的麻省理工学院转型创新联盟(TIA)。

在最近向德勤客户展示TIA初创企业的演示日期间,Pentland发表演讲称:"TIA是一种新型的非稀释性金融科技孵化器计划,"(德勤风险及财务咨询是该计划的主要企业赞助商,Mahindra Finance并未持有上述任何初创企业的股权。)他说道:"我们正在测试一种新的商业模式,研究大型商业组织如何因为学生对社会难题的关注而获益,同时两者之间没有任何资金往来。"

德勤有限公司风险及财务咨询任事股东、德勤风险基金主管Ed Hardy表示,"TIA展示了金融科技合作的发展方向。许多金融机构正在寻求与新兴技术公司合作,以接触新市场和产品、提高效率,或者只是简单的了解创新'秘诀'......与此同时,许多金融科技组织正在寻求与大型金融机构合作,以拓展新市场,获悉行业和监管知识,并提高获得资金的机会。"

演示日是德勤和八家TIA公司为期九个月的合作的高潮,这些公司包括基于社区市场的替代货币平台Quipu以及两个基于区块链的应用:旨在为边缘化社区提供支持的以物易物平台Swappl,和用于部分国际汇款的Sendfriend,该应用可以提高效率并降低相对较高的成本。

Shrier将TIA商业模式称为"开明资本主义",认为这是成熟企业与企业家建立关系的机会,并且成熟企业只有在与企业家进行大量运营合作后才会投资。

第一客户和方向转移

德勤有限公司风险及财务咨询的常务董事兼全球创新负责人、德勤与TIA关系的共同发起人Nancy Albinson表示该联盟是一项互惠互利的投资。

她说道:"德勤可以知晓一些内幕信息,了解即将出现的创新和潜在的颠覆性技术和商业模式,从而预知未来的技术和趋势。"与此同时,麻省理工学院的企业家受益于各种经验丰富的主题专家的经验,以及第一客户介绍和反馈。

第一客户对于初创企业成功至关重要,这是Shrier建立和运营几家公司的经验之谈。初创企业通常希望向投资者展示重大成就,从而获得更高的商业评价,而价值的主要标志之一就是客户。Shrier说道:"第一客户可以是付费客户,也可以是试点客户,方便天使投资人或风险资本家打电话了解产品或服务并询问产品和服务的效用。"

从企业家的角度来看,灵活性也大有裨益。Shrier指出Startup Genome项目研究发现,与从不转移方向或转移两次以上相比,当新公司调整业务战略或"转移"一两次以磨练其市场契合度时,往往更容易获得融资并维持发展。

"商业环境变化莫测,通常一个行业的问题解决方案也可以应用于另一个行业,这种应用往往是与不同背景和不同技能的众多商人互动的结果。"德勤有限公司风险及财务咨询首席技术官兼常务董事Dilip Krishna说道,他同时也是德勤TIA计划共同发起人。

TIA初创企业Rune的转移引人注目。该团队希望通过应用Deepmoji的概念来改善客户服务体验,这个媒体实验室项目旨在使用AI识别语句中的情感。在试验自己的商业模式时,公司创始人发现在线游戏市场可能存在更大的机会:他们的技术可以用于不同的多人游戏平台中识别网络欺凌等有害行为。AI现在用于匹配志同道合的玩家,而电子商务组件则有助于销售游戏资产,如声音、服装和游戏角色的其他产品。

如何克服常见障碍

今年成立的TIA公司还包括Review Analytics,这款应用可在几分钟内向投资者提供详细的商业房地产数据。Ikigai一键式技术可以跨所有类型的数据集部署AI,包括电子表格中的数据集。Waffle整合多个保单的保险范围提供给个人。

Krishna是德勤40名主管之一,这些主管与团队合作解决流程、风险和其他挑战。他说道:"TIA学生的想法、精力和热情都令人惊叹,他们对自己的产品与市场上其他产品的区别有着充分了解。但是,在引导他们完成商业化进程时,我们发现,对于业务风险或对潜在客户或投资者的风险影响,这些学生的了解并不全面。"

例如,需要整理和整合的监管问题,这有助于将新技术应用到大型企业中。Albinson说道:"有时候,在没有完全理解客户或客户可能希望解决的痛点或机遇的情况下,初创企业也可以实现技术创新。帮助TIA团队建立这些联系对他们的公司和潜在客户来说至关重要。"

Krishna表示,除此之外,在解决部分挑战的过程中,团队还发现了扩大市场的机会。 例如,在解决了一些早期障碍之后,巴西农业部门的数字平台Traive正在考虑如何为美国农民提供类似的平台。

Shrier表示,TIA是研究成为商业应用的过渡,他指出创新型组织经常走出主流公司范围,在类似温室的保护环境中培养创意。但是,"企业家最终还是要走向商业运营,因为只有被实践采纳才能称为创新,在此之前,只能算是发明。"

An innovation model dubbed 'enlightened capitalism' is designed to build new bridges between entrepreneurs and commercial operations.

Five years ago, a graduate student at MIT reportedly walked into the offices of the university's Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program and refused to leave until the professors agreed to add a class on fintech startups to the curriculum. The first day the "MIT Future Commerce" class was held, students overflowed into the corridor, straining to hear the lecture.

The popularity of the class caught course creator David Shrier by surprise, leaving him to think: "We're gonna need a bigger classroom."

In a relatively short time, the fintech sector has moved from disruptive threat to enabling partner, with fintech investment rising in many financial services sectors. The appetite at MIT for training graduate students to be fintech trailblazers has not diminished, either. Shrier, an entrepreneur, futurist, and MIT Media Lab lecturer who still teaches the class, now helps run the fintech-focused MIT Translational Innovation Alliance (TIA) with Alex Pentland, MIT's Toshiba Professor and director of the Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program.

"TIA is a new type of non-dilutive fintech incubator program," says Pentland, who spoke at a recent Demo Day that showcased TIA startups to Deloitte clients. (Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory, the program's lead corporate sponsor, and Mahindra Finance do not take equity in any of the startups.) "We are essentially testing a new business model for research in which large commercial organizations benefit from our students' focus on societal challenges without any monetary flows between them," he says.

"TIA is an example of how fintech collaboration is evolving," says Ed Hardy, a Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory managing partner with Deloitte & Touche LLP and leader of Deloitte's Ventures Fund. "Many financial institutions are now seeking to team with emerging technology companies to gain access to new markets and products, greater efficiencies, or just the 'secret sauce' that leads to innovation."

At the same time, "many fintech organizations are looking to collaborate with large financial institutions to expand into new markets, gain industry and regulatory knowledge, and improve their access to capital," adds Hardy, who delivered opening remarks at the event.

Demo Day was the culmination of a nine-month journey between Deloitte and the eight TIA companies, which include Quipu, an alternative currency platform for community-based markets, and two blockchain-based apps: Swappl, a barter platform designed to empower marginalized communities, and Sendfriend, which increases the efficiency and lowers the relatively high cost of certain international money transfers.

Shrier calls the TIA business model "enlightened capitalism," explaining that it's an opportunity for established businesses to build relationships with entrepreneurs and make investments only after having extensive run time with them.

The First Customer and Pivots

The alliance is a mutually beneficial investment, according to Nancy Albinson, a managing director and global innovation leader at Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory with Deloitte & Touche LLP and co-sponsor of the TIA relationship for Deloitte. "Deloitte gets to peek behind the curtain to see what innovative and potentially disruptive technologies and business models are on the horizon, which informs our perspectives on technologies and trends," she says. MIT entrepreneurs, meanwhile, benefit from the experience of a wide range of seasoned subject matter specialists, as well as from first customer introductions and feedback, according to Albinson.

'The business environment is dynamic, and often a solution to a problem in one industry can be applied to another industry. That dynamism often is a result of interacting with a broad range of businesspeople from different backgrounds and with varied skill sets.'

-Dilip Krishna, chief technology officer and managing director, Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory, Deloitte & Touche LLP

The first customer is critical for startup success, says Shrier, who has launched and operated several companies. Startups usually want to demonstrate milestone achievements to investors to secure a higher business valuation, and one major marker of value is a customer. "This can be a paying customer, even a pilot customer, that an angel investor or venture capitalist can call about the product or service and ask, 'Does it work? Does it solve the problem?'" Shrier says.

From an entrepreneur's perspective, there are also benefits to flexibility. Shrier points to research issued by the Startup Genome project that found when new companies adjust their business strategy or "pivot" once or twice to hone their market fit, they tend to be more successful at raising capital and sustaining growth than if they never pivot, or pivot more than twice.

"The business environment is dynamic, and often a solution to a problem in one industry can be applied to another industry," says Dilip Krishna, chief technology officer and managing director at Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory with Deloitte & Touche LLP, who co-sponsored the TIA effort for Deloitte. "That dynamism often is a result of interacting with a broad range of businesspeople from different backgrounds and with varied skill sets."

Rune, a TIA startup, made a noticeable pivot. The team was looking to enhance customer service experiences by applying concepts from Deepmoji, a Media Lab project aimed at using AI to identify emotion in sentences. As they honed their business model, company founders identified a potentially bigger opportunity in the online gaming market: using their technology to identify toxic behaviors such as cyberbullying across different multiplayer gaming platforms. AI is now being used to match up like-minded players, while an e-commerce component helps sell gaming assets such as voices, clothing, and other trappings for game characters.

Common Roadblocks

The TIA companies launched this year also include Review Analytics, an app that puts granular commercial real-estate data in the hands of investors in minutes; Ikigai, a one-click technology to deploy AI across all types of data sets, including those in spreadsheets; and Waffle, insurance coverage for individuals that combines several lines into one policy.

Krishna was one of 40 Deloitte leaders who worked with the teams to address process, risk, and other challenges. "The students selected to join the TIA have impressive ideas, energy, and enthusiasm, and they came to us with a full understanding of what differentiates their product from others in the market," he says. "But as we led them through the commercialization process, we found that, in general, the teams did not have a comprehensive understanding of business risks or the risk implications to potential customers or investors."

For example, there were regulatory issues to sort out and integration processes to build to help implement new technologies into large enterprises. "Sometimes, a startup can innovate a technology without fully appreciating what pain points or opportunities a client or customer may want to address. Helping the TIA teams make those connections was important for their companies and potential clients," Albinson says.

Further, by working through some of these challenges, the teams identified opportunities to expand their markets, Krishna says. For example, after addressing some early obstacles, Traive, a digital platform for the Brazilian agriculture sector, is considering how it might bring a similar platform to U.S. farmers.

The TIA provides a transition point for research to migrate into commercial applications, according to Shrier, who says innovative organizations frequently move outside of a mainstream company to nurture ideas in a protective setting similar to a greenhouse. But, he says, "eventually, entrepreneurs need a bridge to a commercial operation, because it is not innovation until it is adopted into practice―it's just an invention."

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