The Engine announces new president, seeks startups to fund

MIT’s startup accelerator and venture capitalist fund The Engine selected experienced Boston entrepreneur and investor Katie Rae as its president and CEO Tuesday, according to an MIT News release.

The Engine has been in the process of choosing its leadership since before it was first announced last October. The Engine also named members to its Board of Directors and Investment Advisory Committee, including Israel Ruiz SM ’01, MIT executive vice president and treasurer, Anantha Chandrakasan, head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Robert Kraft, a New England business magnate known as the owner of the New England Patriots.

The board of directors engaged with recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles during the search for a president, Ruiz said in a call with The Tech. The team sought a candidate with experience in growing technology startups and early-stage investment, and with connections in the Boston ecosystem.

Since 2010 Rae has worked with innovation-centered firms including Techstars Boston, Startup Institute, and Project 11 Ventures. Before that, she was the senior director of products for Microsoft Startup Labs in Kendall Square.

She has also worked with Harvard Business School and MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and spoke at StartMIT’s Innovation Night Jan. 11.

“My absolute favorite thing is working with funding teams,” Rae said in a call with The Tech. “The more impactful they are, the more fun it is to work for them.”

The Engine is already well known within the Boston innovation and investment community. Rae said that over 100 venture capital firms have written to her since the announcement, expressing their excitement about The Engine’s upcoming inaugural investments.

“We have had a lot of enthusiasm since the launch in October,” Ruiz said. “Many people want to see this succeed.”

Peter Boyce II, the co-founder of General Catalyst's student-focused program Rough Draft Ventures, said that he is enthusiastic about the opportunities The Engine will open up for students in the Boston area.

“We see an increasing number of companies at the intersection of technology and [cutting-edge] science,” Boyce said in a call with The Tech. He said that The Engine will provide access to workspaces and hardware typically out of reach of entrepreneurs.

Stan Reiss of Matrix Partners conveyed a similar sentiment. “There is a ton of very good university technology that just needs time, and our funds, with 10-year lives, aren’t set up for very long development cycles,” Reiss said in an email to The Tech.

The Engine is designed to fit inside a niche between private investment firms, which typically follow short life-cycles, and government-sponsorship, which will often fund exceedingly long-term projects.

“This kind of company, what we’re trying to do, is very hard,” Rae said. “There’s a reason why this is not happening. This will require time and stability and patience. People may become impatient to see results, but the MIT community is invested in changing this for good.”

Rae said that she hopes to see 10 organizations like The Engine across the world in 10 years. Boyce mentioned that other schools already have similar programs, such as Harvard’s innovation lab, which brings together students from across departments to collaborate in an entrepreneurship-oriented workspace.

The next step for The Engine will be to choose a group of startups to fund.

Rae said of the process, “You need to have a founding team that’s complete enough that they can make significant progress. They have to have a long term vision of what they want to create and their impact in the world. What most people stumble on is that they don’t have a team — they don’t have to have a complete team, but they have to have that foundation and the science behind it.”

Of evaluating the science behind a startup, Rae said “sometimes we’ll be right and sometimes we’ll be wrong about whether it will work.”

One of The Engine’s working groups directed by Chandrakasan is focusing on the effects of President Trump’s immigration-restricting executive order, according to Rae. “We are a country of immigrants, and we are very concerned about this.”

Update: This article was revised 02/16/17 to better reflect Peter Boyce II's role in Rough Draft Ventures.