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Changing of the Guard at MIT's Entrepreneurship Center: Morse Out, Aulet In

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 5, 2009 12:22 PM

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The Entrepreneurship Center is one of the hubs of entrepreneurial activity at MIT, and as of this past Monday, it has a new acting director: Bill Aulet, a former start-up CEO and public company CFO. Aulet replaces Kenneth Morse, who had been running the Entrepreneurship Center since its founding in 1996.

As for Aulet's mission, "anytime you hit the 'reset' button, it's a chance to re-look at everything," he says.

Morse tells me he is writing a book on global entrepreneurship from his new vacation home in Woods Hole. (Morse's wife, Laura Barker Morse, retired from Atlas Venture last fall, where she was the recruiting partner.) He'll serve on the board of the MIT Enterprise Forum, and will continue to teach at MIT's executive education program, but says he won't be teaching in the MBA program at Sloan.

What's in store for the Enterpreneurship Center under the Aulet regime?

I first met Aulet in 1997, when he was running SensAble Technologies, an MIT spin-out. (Full disclosure: in my short-lived consultant days, I did some work for SensAble in the 1997-1998 timeframe.) Before that, he had run another MIT spin-out, Cambridge Decision Dynamics. After SensAble, he served as CFO at the biometric access company Viisage Technologies, now part of L-1 Identity Solutions. Earlier in his career, he played professional basketball in the UK.

Aulet, an alumnus of MIT's Sloan School, became a senior lecturer there in 2005. Much of his focus has been on positioning Sloan and its students for success in the cleantech/energy space, and in 2007 he was instrumental in creating the $200,000 MIT Clean Energy Prize. Two of the courses he teaches at Sloan are Energy Ventures and Financing Energy Ventures, along with New Enterprises, the school's introductory entrepreneurship class.

What changes will Aulet introduce? He's still in exploratory mode, having met with profs at Stanford University, and faculty at MIT's engineering school and Media Lab. "We want to be extremely collaborative," he says. He's talking with the IDEO office in Cambridge and the Cambridge Innovation Center about how he might update the Entrepreneurship Center's facilities.

He'll also be looking at how the Entrepreneurship Center communicates through technologies like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. (There has never been a blog, for instance. Aulet, meanwhile, has penned the occasional opinion piece for Xconomy.)

But the overarching goal is thinking about "how we can provide a smooth glide path for entrepreneurs at MIT to bring their ideas to the outside world," he says.

I asked Aulet about the "acting" part of his title. "We'll see a year from now whether it's a good match," he said.

Update #1: Ed Roberts, the founder and chairman of the Entrepreneurship Center, just called to tell me that there isn't an on-going search for a permanent director, but neither is the job Aulet's for good. "We will see how this works out over the next several months," Roberts said. He added that Sloan prof Fiona Murray was also just named as associate director of the center. "We are broadening the base of governance and management of the Entrepreneurship Center as we start to move into even more aggressive programming going forward," Roberts said.

Rich Kivel, a local biotech entrepreneur who chairs the MIT Enterprise Forum, says Aulet "brings a lot of vigor and enthusiasm and energy" to the Entrepreneurship Center. "He's the new blood coming in, and he has very much of a commercial focus."

Morse, meanwhile, said that when he started the center in 1996, he thought he was only there for a two-year stint. It turned into "a great 13 years," he told me earlier today. "When I came, we had two courses in entrepreneurship, and about 150 students," Morse says. "Today, there are 31 courses with 1600 students."

"We finished our house at Woods Hole, and I have an office designed for writing this book," Morse says. "When it was done, I ran out of excuses." The working title for the book is "Making It Happen Globally," and it will focus on entrepreneurs outside of areas like Silicon Valley and Boston, "who in spite of the absence of an ecosystem were able to build a great company," Morse says.

While he was running the Entrepreneurship Center, Morse didn't take board seats, though he is an advisor to several companies and is a member of the CommonAngels investing group. "Maybe there are some boards in my future," he says. "I haven't thought about it yet." Earlier in his career, Morse helped launch tech companies including 3Com Corp. and Aspen Technologies. More recently, he helped Farrukh Captain, an MIT alum, start a network of angel investors in Pakistan -- and a Pakistani chapter of the MIT Enterprise Forum, too.

When I asked Aulet why there hadn't been a press release to announce the transition, he told me, jokingly, "We're still in the first 100 days of the Entrepreneurship Center under me. And we don't do marketing."

Update #2: It's a bit of inside baseball, but in an e-mail, Ed Roberts takes issue with my statement that the MIT Entrepreneurship Center was founded in 1996, and has been run by Morse since then. I verified that with the center's own online history, and told Roberts that. His reply: "The date is incorrect, and will be changed immediately. It clearly was put there by Ken to match his vision that everything began when he arrived." Roberts asserts that he started the center in 1991, well before Morse was hired to be the first director.

I am sure there is some very interesting history between these two guys...

(Photo credit of Bill Aulet: Mark Hartley)

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9 comments so far...
  1. Wow, what exciting news. Full speed ahead for the MIT E-Center. Prof. Aulet is one of the most dynamic and exciting people at MIT and he will do great things for entrepreneurship at MIT, though of course we'll all miss Ken Morse's great advice and energy.

    Posted by Amanda Peyton August 5, 09 12:48 PM
  1. Very interesting. I've taken courses under Prof Aulet. I agree with Amanda; he's one of the most dynamic people at MIT. He will, no doubt do exciting things for e-center at MIT in these very interesting days for entrepreneurship!

    Ken Morse, however, will be missed! We hope he continues to stay active in advising MIT students in some capacity or another.

    Posted by Dhruv Mehrotra August 5, 09 02:27 PM
  1. To be correct, I started the MIT Entrepreneurship Center in 1991, quite a few years before MIT Sloan hired Ken Morse to become our first E-Center Managing Director. Ken and I have had a very productive partnership over the years, with Ken as Managing Director and me continuing as Founder and Chairman of the E-Center. The growth of our educational, research, and student and community activities, and the enormous impact we have had on MIT and area entrepreneurship, are well-documented in my recent report, "Entrepreneurial Impact: The Role of MIT", available at http://entrepreneurship.mit.edu/impact.php. I am looking forward to continuing our growth with Bill Aulet as the Acting Managing Director.

    Posted by Ed Roberts August 5, 09 02:41 PM
  1. Glad that Ken Morse is gone! He is a well known Jerk in the community.

    Posted by Chris Pilsner August 5, 09 02:50 PM
  1. Bill Aulet has been a fantastic teacher and mentor to countless MIT students. I'm thrilled he will be taking an even bigger role in the community.

    Posted by Marcio von Muhlen August 5, 09 09:20 PM
  1. Congrats to Ken Morse on his retirement! Over the years, he was a force of nature and key contributor to not only the MIT/Boston entrepreneurial scene but the global one as well. He will be missed, but his spirit will live on in those that had the opportunity to get to know him well.

    As the E-Center moves ahead, looking forward to Bill Auletís reign and the opportunity he has to impact the next generation of entrepreneurs and the broader community through advancing the E-Center and its initiatives.

    Posted by Michael Gaiss August 5, 09 11:23 PM
  1. Many congratulations to Prof. Aulet! He is a true legend and there is no better man for the job.

    Prof. Aulet has been inspirational to me and taught me a phenomenal amount about entrepreneurship. This has recently proven priceless as I have started a mobile web company in Silicon Valley since I graduated with my Master's from MIT in June 2008.

    I'm really impressed with what Prof. Aulet is doing to foster MIT entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and was honored last week when he took the time to meet with me on his trip to Stanford.

    I wish him the best of luck with his new job and I'm excited to see him revolutionize entrepreneurship at MIT.

    Posted by Fergus Hurley August 7, 09 06:44 AM
  1. I'm really happy that Ken Morse is gone. He is not a positive leader, always exerting pressure on students to build a dark atmosphere of competition and fear among them. He is also known by his weird attitudes that frequently made unconformtable his guests and colleagues. His teachings were unscientific, shallow, poorly constructed and probably not appropriate at all for a school like MIT.
    On the other hand, he is a great entertainer, a fun speaker and above all, a great salesman (one of those that stretch the facts as much as possible to convince). Because of this, he was a good fundraiser, but over the years he may have affected the image of MIT in certain circles.
    That last detail about stating he founded the E-Center in 1996 while in reality it was Ed Roberts in 1991 is a great synthesis of his personality and modus operandi. Ed Roberts worked hard all these years with him, and you can see how much he cares about that.

    Posted by Jason Withaker August 25, 09 05:53 PM
  1. I met Mr. Morse in London and he helped me with my startup. His advice and kindness at that time, made an incredible difference in my life.

    At that time, I saw a guy who rarely got 3-4 hours of sleep per night, networked and was tirelessly flying from one country to another, fiercely proud of MIT and helping to build the MIT in every corner of the world.

    To be honest, I have never seen a harder more dedicated worker. Playing in a rough world, it was doubtless that he stepped on a few toes. Sorry, if he made folks uncomfortable! But, business is a rough world and look at his results.

    The MIT community and the Entrepreneurship Center has lost a real gem.
    Karen Krucik

    Posted by Karen Krucik October 24, 09 05:31 PM
 

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