MIT’s EtA Summit, #1

AN EVOLVING ENVIRONMENT

 

I have shared my complete notes from the MIT Entrepreneurship through Acquisition Summit with my students, but I’d like to highlight a few key points here.

SEARCH FUNDS AS AN ASSET CLASS

The consensus at the “Search Funds as an Asset Class” panel was clear: search funds are nearing the status of an asset class, if not already there. Having reliable data for models outside of the traditional model will be key. Below, I discuss the growing pains associated with becoming an asset class.

COMING SOON: CONFERENCE DIFFERENTIATION

Each Entrepreneurship through Acquisition (EtA) conference led by students brings a unique flavor, shaped by their specific needs and interests. Typically, newer conferences might focus on foundational questions like “What is a search fund?” while established ones often provide panels addressing the concerns of late-stage searchers and operators.

Though I’ve attended numerous conferences within the last year, attending all in the USA is now logistically unfeasible—a stark contrast to the early days when attending Harvard, Stanford, or maybe Chicago sufficed.

Conferences are notably more advanced in the U.S., largely due to a several-decade head start with a significant number of universities now offering EtA courses and clubs. As the number of EtA conferences increases, the challenge for new hosts is in attracting sponsors. With service providers, lenders, and investors reaching the limits of their personnel’s time, travel stipends, and marketing budgets, conference organizers will find that distinguishing their offering and providing a value-add for sponsors will become increasingly crucial.

 

MIT’S DIFFERENTIATION

I admit my bias toward MIT, my undergrad alma mater despite the tortures of my Course X professors. Much to my chagrin, MIT is the only top US business school that does not offer an EtA course. Regardless, or perhaps as a result, the MIT EtA club excels in incorporating diverse perspectives, not only from the Sloan Business School or MIT itself but also from the broader Boston community. This is in stark contrast to the insularity often seen at other academic institutions.

The 2023 conference did an outstanding job of elevating diverse and local voices. The 2024 conference carried this theme over in a different, but effective way. Following an impactful panel on Closing the Racial Wealth Gap, moderated by Professor Archie Jones from Harvard Business School, attendees engaged in dynamic discussions, feeling empowered to contribute. Similarly, Professor Rachel Moore Best’s session on power and influence at the Women in Search Networking event sparked lively dialogue, culminating in attendees forming a circle and engaging in frank conversation with more advanced searchers and investors. I happened to overhear one of the investors say that the session was one of the best she had ever attended.

Such sessions enabled rich, interactive conversations, a departure from the typically passive conference formats. My experience leading networks has shown that there is real value both emotionally and educationally to providing safe spaces for underrepresented individuals and allies to connect, share and learn in an interactive format. I hope the new leadership of MIT’s EtA Club will consider fostering similar engagements for the 2025 ETA Summit.

 

REGIONAL OR HYBRID APPROACH

I am hopeful that MIT’s 2025 conference will be a +NEETA event. If I could wave a magic wand to stop the proliferation of conferences in the USA, I would instate instead 5 regional conferences: Northeast, Southeast (which is at Georgetown this year), Midwest, Southwest, and West. Despite potential logistical and institutional challenges, I believe this would enhance conference quality, promote a positive community culture, and advance initiatives like Closing the Wealth Gap. Alternatively, as someone who must fly 2,500 miles no matter where I go for a conference, I selfishly and environmentally support the adoption of hybrid formats.

As we navigate the evolving landscape of search funds achieving asset class status and the anticipated growth that follows, conference organizers will need to evolve their programming as well. 

Stay tuned for part 2, where I delve into the pressing need to reconsider mentorship within this evolving environment.