Dr. Alex “Sandy” Pentland of MIT’s Media Lab came to HBS on December 2 to talk about ways in which he and other technological innovators are applying their knowledge to help those in developing countries. The talk was sponsored by the International Business and Development Club as well as the Entrepreneurship Club.
Dr. Pentland is a luminary among luminaries at MIT, being the former academic head of the media lab as well as the founder of Media Lab Asia, a research center located in India. In addition, Newsweek named him as one of 100 Americans most likely to shape the next century. His current research agenda is primarily focused on developing technologies that create more efficient organizations yet simultaneously empower individuals. He remains very involved in working on ways to apply research to developing countries, in particular through his applied work in India and his Development Entrepreneurship class at MIT.
He told the audience of over 50 students from HBS and KSG that using technology and continually thinking ‘creatively and outside the box’ can yield very important opportunities for improving lives and starting innovative businesses. In particular, he highlighted the case of DakNet, which uses a mobile bus as a moving local area network to enable rural villagers to have access to the internet at a surprising low cost. He noted that information and communication technologies, such as the internet, mobile phones and PDAs present particular opportunities in developing countries because they rely on network effects rather than centralized infrastructure.
He also noted that a number of entrepreneurship challenges at MIT have been won by ideas generated through his Development Entrepreneurship class, suggesting that it is the thoughtful application of technology as much as the novelty of the underlying technology that can make a difference.
Afterwards, Dr. Pentland graciously stayed behind for over an hour to talk to a number of students who chatted with him about their ideas, as well as his thoughts on why some projects failed and other succeeded.