Certificate in Aerospace Innovation

Innovation through entrepreneurship is the future of aerospace. In collaboration with the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (“MIT AeroAstro”) launched the Certificate in Aerospace Innovation to address this growing need. Open to graduate students (S.M./Ph.D.), postdocs, and staff, the cross-disciplinary curriculum consists of coursework in the aerospace-focused domain and in the entrepreneurship-focused domain offered by the Sloan School of Management. We expect a cohort of 10-20 participants will obtain the certificate each academic year.

The certificate is open to all graduate students, postdocs, and staff in the MIT community; however, in the case of over-enrollment, first priority will be given to applicants associated with Course 16, i.e. MIT AeroAstro. The certificate is optional and is not a requirement for graduation at the S.M. and Ph.D. level, but some of the classes and workshops associated with it may carry some academic credit that may be counted towards a degree program.

10K PitchFest 2022. Photo credit: Jake Belcher.

Background

The field of Aerospace Engineering as we know it today started in the late 1800s and early 1900s with the advent of heavier-than-air aircraft pioneered by the Wright Brothers (and others), leading to their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. The early days of aviation were marked by individual inventors and experimentation and relatively little government intervention or sponsorship. One important exception is the subsidized air mail service. Prizes for establishing new records for distance and endurance were a major driver of progress. This changed with the advent of WWI and WWII, where aviation became a major contributor to the war effort. In space, the story begins in 1957 with the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union and continued with the lunar landings of the U.S. Apollo program from 1969-1972. Today,  the aerospace sector has returned to its original roots of innovation and entrepreneurship, driven not exclusively by large government or corporate entities, but by small and mid-size firms. These are experimenting with, and launching electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing and electric Short Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL and eSTOL) vehicles, cutting-edge CubeSat missions, and new drone-enabled services that offer data analytics in agriculture, renewable energy and in other sectors. Students in Aerospace Engineering and related fields have expressed a strong desire to hear from and learn about how to launch their own ventures and initiatives in aerospace. Responding to this need, the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics launched the Certificate in Aerospace Innovation in collaboration with the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship in 2021.

Overview

Upon entering the program, students will be asked to designate whether they want to participate in Track A or Track B. The certificate program comprises three main elements, with different requirements depending upon the track chosen:

  1. Coursework (outlined in further detail below) with classes offered by MIT AeroAstro, MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (Course 6) and Sloan School of Management (Course 15).
  2. Participation in an innovation incubator activity. If students designate Track A, they will be required to participate in the Aerospace Innovators Workshop during IAP, where students will be expected to draft a business plan and pitch deck for a new aerospace-related startup. Working in teams, students will present their business plans identifying the underlying technical innovation and potential for business disruption to a a panel of aerospace-related venture capitalists and entrepreneurs for feedback and scoring. A sponsored prize of $10K will be awarded to the top finisher. Students who designate Track B can satisfy the requirements for the certificate by participating in some of the hands-on MIT summer programs in entrepreneurship and business acceleration, such as MIT Delta v or the Venture Exploration Program.
  3. Attendance at the Aerospace Innovation Seminar Series, where speakers from some of the biggest names in entrepreneurial aerospace will share their experiences and answer questions about their respective paths into industry.

Registration is open

Registration for the 2022-2023 academic year will close on October 7, 2022. Please use this link to complete the form. Contact aa-innovation@mit.edu to learn more.

Program Requirements Summary

ElementTrack ATrack B
1. Aerospace Innovation CoursesMinimum 18 units, one class from each domain columnMinimum 12 units, one class from each domain column
2a. Aerospace Innovation Workshop (StartMIT)RequiredOptional
2b. MIT Summer Acceleration ProgramOptionalRequired
3. Aerospace Innovator Seminar Series Attend a minimum of 4 seminarsAttend a minimum of 6 seminars

Get in touch with the program team: aa-innovation@mit.edu.

Curriculum

The following classes and organized activities are part of the certificate. These classes are both aerospace domain-specific (left side) and entrepreneurship and innovation specific (right side). The list of classes will be reviewed and updated on an annual basis.

In order to qualify for the Certificate in Aerospace Innovation, candidates must take at least two classes from this list for credit and must receive at least a letter grade of B. At least one class must be from the aerospace domain (left column), and one from the innovation domain (right column) for a total of at least 18 units for Track A and at least 12 units for Track B. Candidates for the certificate are welcome to take additional classes, but the above requirement is the minimum. If a candidate opts to take the MIT delta v or the Venture Exploration Program (VEP), units will be counted as shown in track B below.

Aerospace Domain Courses

  • 16.445J Entrepreneurship in Aerospace and Mobility Systems (3-0-9= 12 unit) (Fall) (Not offered 2023-2024 academic year)
  • 16.707[J] The History of Aviation (3-0-9 = 12 units) (Spring) (Not offered 2022-2023 academic year)
  • 16.71 The Airline Industry (3-0-9= 12 units) (Fall)
  • 16.855[J] Systems Architecting Applied to Enterprises (3-0-9 = 12 units) (Spring)
  • 16.88[J] Prototyping our Sci-Fi Space Future: Designing & Deploying Projects for Zero Gravity Flights (not offered regularly; please consult department)
  • 16.886 Air Transportation Systems Architecting (3-2-7 = 12 units) (Fall) (Not offered 2023-2024 academic year)
  • 16.893 Engineering the Space Shuttle (3-0-9 = 12 units) (Fall) (Not offered 2023-2024 academic year)
  • 16.895[J] Engineering Apollo: The Moon Project as a Complex System (4-0-8 = 12 units) (Fall) (Not offered 2022-2023 academic year)
  • 16.S982 Business Principles in the Space Industry2 (3-0-6=9 units)

Innovation Domain Courses

  • 16.990[J] Leading Creative Teams (3-0-6= 9 units) (Fall, Spring)
  • 6.9310/6.903 Patents, Copyrights, and the Law of Intellectual Property (2-0-4 = 6 units) (UG, Fall)
  • 6.9270/6.927 Negotiation and Influence Skills for Technical Leaders (2-0-4 = 6 units) (Fall)
  • 6.S979 Multi-Stakeholder Negotiation for Technical Experts (2-0-4 = 6 units)
  • 15.364 Innovation Ecosystems for Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Leaders (iEco4REAL) (3-0-6 = 9 units) (Spring)
  • 15.368 Disciplined Entrepreneurship Lab (1-0-5 = 6 units) (IAP)
  • 15.378 Building an Entrepreneurial Venture: Advanced Tools and Techniques (3-1-8 = 12 units) – prerequisite: 15.390 (Fall, Spring)
  • 15.379[J] Mobility Ventures: Driving Innovation in Transportation Systems (3-3-6 = 12 units) (Fall)
  • 15.390 New Enterprises (2-2-8 = 12 units) (Fall, Spring)
  • 15.394 Entrepreneurial Founding and Teams (3-0-6 = 9 units)  (Spring)
  • 15.618 Startups and the Law (2-0-4 = 6 units) (Fall, Spring)
  • 15.911 Entrepreneurial Strategy (6-0-3 = 9 units, H1) (Fall, Spring)

Participate in an Innovation Incubator Activity

Upon joining the program, participants will be asked to designate either Track A or Track B to fulfill this requirement.

For Track A, students will participate in StartMIT (Aerospace Innovation Workshop during IAP). The main deliverables of the workshop are a draft business plan and a pitch deck (a short 20 min presentation followed by Q&A with a panel of judges representing potential investors) for the creation of a new aerospace-related startup. This workshop will be offered annually during January and will guide participants (typically in teams of two or three) to jointly develop an aerospace-related business plan, including the explanation of the underlying technical innovation and potential for business disruption. This business plan will then be pitched to a panel of aerospace-related venture capitalists and entrepreneurs for feedback and scoring. A sponsored cash prize of $10K will be awarded by MIT AeroAstro to the top finisher.

One alternative way in which participants can satisfy the requirements for the certificate is to participate in some of the hands-on MIT summer programs in entrepreneurship and business acceleration. We recommend these two programs at MIT:

  • MIT delta v (3 month summer program) in a co-working environment provided by the MIT Trust Center for Entrepreneurship to work on transforming an idea to a company
  • Venture Exploration Program (6 week summer program) which is a step-by-step guided journey along the key milestones of entrepreneurship

MIT delta v is a three-month summer entrepreneurship acceleration program (June to September) hosted at the MIT Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship. Over this period teams will define and refine their target market, conduct primary market research, and build knowledge about their customers and users. They will run experiments to validate or invalidate their key hypotheses with potential customers. They will be building and nurturing their founding team. They will make progress on the mechanics of starting their venture. Several Aero Astro startups have successfully participated in the delta v program in the past. Entry to the delta v program is subject to a competitive application process given limited capacity.

VEP is a 6-week, virtual program for Ph.D. students, postdocs, and staff researchers to develop a business model for their research-derived product or service. VEP is also offered over the summer and is the successor to the former Translational Fellows Program (TFP) at MIT. Participants learn the methodology and techniques of customer discovery — the process of obtaining valuable, firsthand feedback on ideas for the use of technology — and business model development. Additionally, they are able to apply for day-a-week funding through participation in the NSF I-Corps national program.

Successful completion of either the delta v or the VEP programs will yield an equivalent credit of 6 units towards the Certificate in Aerospace Innovation, from the right column in the table of classes shown above, and also count in lieu of the participation in the IAP Aerospace Innovation Workshop.

However, participants who successfully complete either the delta v program or the VEP are still welcome to participate in the IAP Aerospace Innovation Workshop should they choose to do so (but it is not a formal requirement for delta v or VEP graduates).

Aerospace 10K “Pitchfest” Competition

AstroQuote took home the top prize for the 2022 Pitchfest Competition for their concept. Their business plan described a combination of aerospace technologies, big data, and advanced analytics to provide insurance policy holders with fast, accurate, and targeted recommendations to mitigate risk events like floods and fires before they ever even happen. Photo credit: Jake Belcher

The Aerospace 10K Competition “Pitchfest,” where six times teams presented their startup business ideas focused on entrepreneurial aerospace innovation to a panel of expert judges for a chance to win a $10K prize.

The event was part of SpaceTech 2022, an annual day-long symposium that highlights the current and future state of space research and technology development. The event, part of MIT Space Week, featured keynotes and panels from a roster of key industry figures, student lightning talks, and in a new feature this year, student pitches for aerospace-related startups to a panel of expert judges for a chance to win a cash prize.

Watch the full pitches from this year’s 10K Pitchfest Competition.

Aerospace Innovator’s Seminar Series

The number of aerospace startups has been growing sharply over the last 5-10 years. Companies that will be invited to present at the aerospace innovator’s seminar series include founders from MIT, but not exclusively so. We will change the mix of companies that present every year. The seminar series may also include innovation units that are part of or embedded in larger organizations such as Skunkworks (Lockheed Martin), etc. We will strive for a healthy balance of aeronautics and astronautics businesses.

To ensure some consistency across the monthly seminar series on aerospace innovation we will pose each presenter the following questions to be addressed during their talk. They may choose to focus on a subset of these in their presentation and interaction with the participants:

  • When and why did you start the venture?
  • What is the key product or service offering of your firm?
  • How has being an entrepreneur affected your professional and personal life?
  • Who is your competition and what are the key hurdles to success?
  • What are the key differentiators and what is your competitive advantage?
  • How do you know your idea will be successful?
  • What are your three most important recommendations to new aerospace innovators?
  • What are the key technical and leadership skills needed by current and future aerospace innovators?
  • What values and attitudes do you find particularly important when fundraising and talking to prospective investors and employees?

2021 Speakers

Natalya Bailey, PhD’14

CTO and Co-Founder, Accion Systems

Mike Cassidy SB’85, SM’86

VP of Product Management, Astra

Anna Mraceck Dietrich SB’04, SM’06

Co-Founder and Director, Industry & Strategy of the Community Air Mobility Initiative (CAMI)

Eddie Obropta ’13 SM ’15

CTO and Co-founder of Raptor Maps