MIT Global Startup Lab in Russia: Fostering Technology Entrepreneurship

PI: Elizabeth Wood, School of Humantieis, Arts, and Social Sciences, MIT


MIT Global Startup Labs Program (GSL) will bring together gifted university students from Russia to guide them through a real-world entrepreneurial experience. Courses led by MIT student instructors will focus on ideation, market research, pitching, and appropriate technology platforms, culminating with a pitch and prototype competition (Demo Day). GSL in Russia will be held at ITMO University in St. Petersburg and will foster collaboration between students from MIT, ITMO, Skoltech and other Russian universities.

Year 1 Report

  • Project Title: MIT Global Startup Lab in Russia: Fostering Technology Entrepreneurship
  • Principal Investigator:  Elizabeth Wood, School of Humantieis, Arts, and Social Sciences, MIT
  • Grant Period: February 2017 – January 2018

Program Overview

The MIT Global Startup Labs program (GSL) empowers young entrepreneurs by exporting MIT best practices for catalyzing startups. It is part of the MISTI International Science and Technology Initiatives, MIT’s pioneering international program. Through GSL, MIT partners with a local entity to deliver a comprehensive course focused on mobile and internet technologies and entrepreneurship. The GSL team, led by four MIT student instructors, provides a real-world technology venture experience, mentoring local participants through the development stages of a startup while teaching appropriate technical platform skills.

GSL Program in Russia

Thanks to a grant from the MIT-Skoltech program, MIT-Russia was able to pilot MISTI’s Global Startups Labs in Russia in 2017. The program ran for 8 continuous weeks from June 19th to August 10th in the city of Saint Petersburg. It was hosted by ITMO University but was open to students from all across Russia, including from Skoltech.

The program was instructed by MIT graduate and undergraduate students in computer science and entrepreneurship:

● Khatantuul Zorig Filer, class of 2018 MBA student at MIT Sloan, Entrepreneurial & Team lead 
● Shruti Banda, class of 2017 System Design and Management (SDM) student at MIT Sloan, Technical lead 
● Annie Phan, class of 2017 BS in Computer Science, Technical assistant 
● Damian Barabonkov, class of 2020 BS in Computer Science and Engineering, Technical assistant


MIT student-instructors. Photo credit: ITMO University

Topics such as web app development, disciplined entrepreneurship techniques, and user interface design were covered throughout the MIT GSL Russia program. All course materials are made available online and open to the public. Every week at least one guest speaker shared their personal experience in developing and launching tech startups in Russia. Additionally, one mentor regularly participated throughout the course, providing extra instruction and support to the teams.

2017 Data on Russian Participants


 Male students: 15
 Female students: 8
 Total: 23 

Student affiliation

 ITMO University: 13
 Other Russian universities: 10

Average age of Russian participants

 23.0

Number of startup projects developed

 7

GSL Startup Projects

During the course, students worked in teams to develop tech startups under the supervision of MIT student-instructors. The seven teams pitched their ideas at a Demo Day on August 10 in front of five judges, entrepreneurs, investors, media and general public. The teams presented business ideas in varying industries, from a crowdsourcing idea validation chatbot to an adaptive scenario-based language learning application.

Here are three of the most notable success stories:

This is an application for forming new acquaintances in bars and clubs. While at a bar or in a club, users can see a list of checked-in visitors in that same venue. They can then chat or send cocktails to each other before they agree to meet in person. The app went on to impress the jury at the Demo Day and placed first. The FirstStep team continues to work on the app post-GSL.

This is an application for practicing spoken English. It gives users a real world experience by letting them speak English in a conversation to an adaptive algorithm following scenarios and situations one would likely encounter in real life. From the start, SpeakAbility had a very strong team and by the end of the program, it had the most developed working minimum viable product (MVP). SpeakAbility came in second at the Demo Day.

D Notation
A mobile application for musical note taking, it is meant as a digital alternative to traditional music note taking as well as an educational tool for schools and universities. D Notation came into GSL with a working prototype and a coarse business model. Although only one member from D Notation attended the program, he was very regular in his attendance and nurtured for his idea. He developed his business plan so much that after GSL, he won several grants to kickstart his project in the United States.

Selected Post-GTL Testimonials from MIT Students

“I learned that teaching is the best way of learning. Before Sloan [School of Management], I had been in the corporate world for most of my career and I had wanted to get into the entrepreneurial ecosystem. I learned entrepreneurial content only in the classroom setting but I never quite did it myself. By mentoring seven different startups in seven different industries, I feel like now I can go out and start my own company. This was one of the biggest life changing experiences for me.”

Khatantuul Zorig File
MBA ‘18

“It’s not an ordinary MISTI program, it’s not an internship. Through teaching you get to know people at a much more personal level. It helps you understand Russian people and culture at a much deeper level.”

Damian Barabonkov
Computer Science and Engineering ‘20

Links and Further References

Back to the list >>