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Grad Life: Birth of a Sloan Entrepreneur

  • Jennifer Ballen MBA '17
  • 1

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On September 2016 at Abigail’s Restaurant in Kendall Square, a fellow second-year MBA student, Linda Cheung, leaned over and said to me, “I can’t wait to tell you my idea. You’re going to love it. And I want you to be a part of it.”

Pictured (left to right): Jen Ballen, Mayor Jim Cason, and Linda Cheung.

Three months later, I found myself sitting in Mayor Jim Cason’s office in Coral Gables, FL, pitching the importance of virtual reality in transforming the climate change narrative.

The idea that began in September grew faster and greater than any of our expectations. Today, I am one of three co-founders of Before It’s too Late (BITL), an initiative striving to shift the climate change narrative by closing society's empathetic distance from it.

I am working with five other Sloan students, in addition to supporters and allies across the nation, to create a virtual reality (VR) experience that highlights climate change stories, solutions, and simulations, aspiring to generate a sense of urgency and accountability that can be galvanized into collective action.

In collaboration with MIT and George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication, BITL is working with producers, creative directors, and climate data scientists to create interactive VR content and simulations.

On the Road with Before It’s Too Late

Our goal is to bring this exposition across the United States to policymakers and private sector leaders (the United Nations, the White House, the World Economic Forum, and municipal government officials), as well as to communities (churches, museums, and schools). We are using a top-down, bottom-up approach attempting to drive real policy decisions and are intentionally focusing on the U.S. in order to localize the climate change narrative and create a sense of urgency and accountability in America.

Southeast Florida Pilot

While we aspire to produce climate change stories from across the nation, we are starting with Southeast Florida, a region that has been deemed “America’s ground zero for climate change.” Sea-level rise has created immediate threats in this region, such as the dying coral reef, the destruction of drinking water, and the subversion of coastal houses, which in turn endangers the real estate and insurance industries. Thus, I found myself sitting in the mayor’s office discussing BITL.

Through the VR experience, we can show the effects of life in Southeast Florida under a specific policy implementation versus a business-as-usual scenario. We are currently working with stakeholders in Southeast Florida to determine what those ideal policies should be: carbon tax, infrastructure mandates, changes in transportation, to name a few. We want to drive real, needed change and we have designed an academic study to assess our impact, measuring viewers’ reactions, intent to act, and actual action six months, one year, and two years down the road.

Empowering Students

We have engaged 30 students (both undergraduate and graduate) from the University of Miami, Florida International University, MIT, Wharton, Harvard, George Mason, and Yale to work with us this semester. The students are divided into sub-teams, which are managed and led by the three founders: virtual reality, stories, social science, business, data, and solutions. I am personally responsible for the business and solutions teams. This has been an incredible lesson in leadership, empowerment, and collaboration, and I am so grateful that BITL has provided me the hands-on opportunity to sharpen these skills.

Entrepreneurship at Sloan

Life as a Sloan entrepreneur is incredible. My core team is comprised of passionate, diverse students I have met during my time at Sloan. The Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship is a wonderful place, full of blossoming ideas, inspiring students, and an aura of “It’s okay to fail.” Our founding team of three meets at the Martin Trust Center at least 10 hours per week. Sloan allows students to dedicate course units towards independent study, which has allowed our team the time necessary to work on BITL.

I am so grateful to be pursuing my MBA at Sloan, surrounded by more resources than I know what to do with, including the expertise and guidance from students, professors, and MIT groups, such as the Center for Collective Intelligence and the Media Lab. Our initiative was inspired by research from MIT’s System Dynamics group, which concludes that affect has a stronger correlation with intent to act than does pure knowledge. In other words, feeling emotionally affected by something (e.g. a visceral and interactive virtual reality experience) is much more likely to spur action than facts alone.

BITL’s support and surrounding community has been absolutely outstanding and not a day goes by without remembering that MIT Sloan made this all possible.

Grad Life blog posts offer insights from current MIT graduate students twice a month on Slice of MIT. 

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Wed, 02/22/2017 10:30pm

Great Job Jen :)