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“Our report was totally comprehensive, looking at markets, initial ideas, employment, everything,” he says. Roberts went on to survey not just aeronautics, but other departments, revealing a wealth of commercial ventures flowing out of MIT research labs. Fifty years after Roberts’ initial studies, AeroAstro students are wondering when, not whether, to market their own creations.

AeroAstro professor and entrepreneur Ed Crawley says that although capital costs of aerospace startups are high, the markets are substantial. (William Litant/MIT photograph)

Obropta sums it up this way: “Students are eager to get out and take risks on their own ideas.” While pursuing his graduate studies, Obropta also lead software development for Raptor Maps, a drone and sensor company that monitors food crops from seed, through growth, to harvest — and winner of the 2015 MIT100K Entrepreneurship Competition. Obropta met his business partners in the Man Vehicle Lab, where all were advisees of Dava Newman, professor of Astronautics and Engineering Systems and currently deputy administrator of NASA, who encouraged them to pursue commercialization of their idea. Since then Obropta and lab-mate, Nikhil Vadhavkar, added Michael Klinker (AeroAstro ’14, SM 16) to their team, and entered Y Combinator, one of the most prestigious start-up incubators in the world.

Many AeroAstro students, while inspired by longer-term projects like traveling to Mars, are looking for more immediate ways to get hands-on experience. “They want to try things, fail, and learn, and it’s hard to do when projects have such long time horizons,” Obropta says. “They see entrepreneurship as a way to test ideas faster.”

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AEROASTRO 2015-2016

MIT AeroAstro annual magazine 2015-2016Aeroastro 2015 16  

Annual magazine review of MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department research and educational initiatives.

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