057: Boston Speaks Up with MIT's Carly Chase
Updated: Jun 19
Carly Chase is an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship. Her work is wide in scope and includes serving as the Founding Managing Director of the MIT NYC Startup Studio (part of the MIT delta v accelerator), running the StartMIT entrepreneurship bootcamp, overseeing the Trust Center’s Membership Program for Organizations and New Frontiers of Entrepreneurship Symposium, coaching students, in addition to serving as a Lecturer in Entrepreneurship at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
Chase has enjoyed an exciting and wide-ranging entrepreneurial journey. After beginning her career at Goldman Sachs, she joined the New York City Economic Development Corporation under Mayor Michael Bloomberg where she launched and ran a number of programmatic initiatives aimed at making NYC a friendlier city for entrepreneurs to start and grow their companies.
At the end of the Bloomberg administration, Chase left to launch and run Boulder based startup PivotDesk’s NYC office until the company was acquired at the end of 2016. Since then, she has worked within a number of startups in various product development, marketing, and business development capacities.
Additionally, Chase is the co-founder of Crabwalk, an education and coaching company that builds career agility and is based on one simple principle: you don’t have to walk in a straight line to move forward in your career.
We’re delighted to spend time exploring the non-linear path Chase has enjoyed in her career. We’ve included below a written version of our Q&A with Chase. You can listen to the podcast here or on any podcast platform you prefer (SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and Google Play):
Enjoy an abridged version of our interview with Chase below.
Where did you grow up? And how would you describe your childhood?
Small town in Western Massachusetts (like actually, Western - not Worcester) called Longmeadow
I'd call my childhood idyllic. I had 2 parents who had the same career my whole life, grandparents in town that would pick me up from school when I was sick, friends I knew since pre-school and kindergarten. Was always busy with activities, friends or school. The pleasantville nature of my Norman Rockwell hometown wasn't obvious to me until I went to college though - but I sure am grateful for the whole experience.
What is the first career you remember wanting to pursue?
Broadcast journalism! I always had the urge to be in the center of the world. Although I had the best childhood, I was always in a rush to grow up, move to a city. I was also a totally current event + political junkie and I thought the people who were reporting on the news were really in the middle of it all and that's where I wanted to be.
Is there a particular person or event that most shaped your vision to pursue a career in entrepreneurship?
It is something that I never knew was available to me growing up; entrepreneur was not a word or career I knew anything about. It wasn't until I was working for Mayor Bloomberg's administration and tasked with working on the "Entrepreneurship" desk that I became exposed to the entire entrepreneurial world and ecosystem, and then I became instantly immersed and obsessed.
What is your favorite accomplishment from your time working with the New York City Economic Development Corporation under Mayor Michael Bloomberg?
That's a really tough one, but I think my favorite projects were these food manufacturing incubators I helped get off the ground and then helped sustain. In 2012, there was still a lot that we needed to get the "tech" economy off the ground, but the cost of getting those businesses off the ground quickly diminished. Food related entrepreneurs' costs are so hard to scale down - and I really believe that the City's support was invaluable because of that. Kitchen incubators are not easy things to keep sustaining for a lot of reasons - less likely to have fixed revenue streams, really expensive equipment to maintain, very regulated, etc
What’s the biggest lesson you took away from your time running PivotDesk’s NYC office?
Well, it was my first true startup that I was a part of so I had a lot! On the business side of things, the necessity to have methodical focus until you have product market fit as opposed to trying to scale too fast. Oh another big (and obvious one) is that you can't force behavior changes - they need to be incremental, not profound.
And, on the personal level, I learned that having emotional transparency among teammates is a strength - and you will actually work faster together if you can achieve it.
Why did you co-create the Crabwalk education and coaching company?
My career has been non-linear even though I didn't set out for that to be the case. For those of us who's paths haven't followed a straight line, we can get a lot of looks from the rest of the world that imply they don't "get you" and that can breed a lot of anxiety. I believe that over the next 20 years, this is the way careers are going - the pace of change in the world is only getting faster, and therefore career paths are going to look a lot different. I think a lot of people are excited about that but we weren't really taught to navigate careers that don't just move straight up a ladder.
What’s the most exciting part about your various roles at MIT?
The students! I get to work with such an incredibly diverse, talented group of students that are working on all kinds of ideas and technologies. I learn so much from my work everyday.
Are there particular clusters of innovation that MIT is particularly focused on fostering in 2021 and beyond?
Well, I can definitely talk about the Trust Center. What we're talking more and more about is the value and necessity of entrepreneurs in all facets in society. We love startup founders, but startup founders alone cannot solve the enormous problems we're all facing - climate change, income inequality, the global pandemic we're all in. So, we're really excited to be able to encourage our students to use the entrepreneurial skillset and mindset they learn with us - wherever their lives take them - to be corporate changemakers, civic leaders, etc
You recently ran a 3-week entrepreneurship bootcamp virtually for 160+ students. What sorts of challenges and opportunities have you found in the pivot to virtual programming during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The results of this program were actually a total shock to me - it's the 4th time I've run the program and it was actually the strongest to date. We used to be in a room together for about 6 hours a day, and that wasn't going to happen over Zoom this year. So, we were forced to really tighten the program, add even more creative elements to it and it ended up being phenomenal. I think you also have the full attention of the students more than before because they have fewer distractions. And now we'll never go back to the way the program was before, even when we're back in person
You’re responsible for developing stronger connectivity between the Boston and New York City startup ecosystems. How’s that going? How would you describe the relationship between the BOS and NYC startup scenes?
I love that part of my job. When I was working for the City of New York, it was really all about how to prove we were "the best". Now, I think that super competitive attitude does us all a disservice - instead, if we build connective tissue and work together, we'll reap the rewards of both ecosystems. Boston is an education based entrepreneurial ecosystem; NYC is a Fortune 500 based entrepreneurial ecosystem. Boston's more communal and academic in nature; NYC is faster paced and enormous. There's so much strength in getting to leverage ALL of that. I think if we were to actually weave DC into that and get the entire Acela corridor - I mean how unbeatable would that be? We need a mayor of the Northeast!
Do you feel Boston’s startup ecosystem does a good job making tech jobs and entrepreneurship accessible to people from underrepresented communities? If so, can you explain how?
I feel unequipped to answer that on the whole since I really do operate mostly in the MIT ecosystem. But, what I do think is that Boston has the benefit of an enormously diverse pool of young talent because of their universities. I've lived in NYC for 13 years, and I still think I've had more exposure to more diversity on just MIT's campus alone. Universities are global communities, although the numbers still aren't great, universities are still a lot more representative than corporations. So I think Boston is well positioned to take advantage of that.
You’re constantly spearheading new entrepreneurial initiatives. What’s something new you’re working on in 2021?
Corporate entrepreneurship! I'm teaching a class on Corporate Entrepreneurship for the first time alongside Bill Aulet + Sue Siegel (ex-Chief Innovation Officer of GE + Head of GE Ventures) and I just think there's so much urgency for ensuring that large organizations - where they're corporations or governments or hospitals - understand how to be entrepreneurial so that they can survive in this incredibly chaotic, ambiguous time we're living through, and also so we can all leverage their resources to solve the giant problems we're all facing.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing higher education in the next decade?
Certainly the cost of education is really tremendous, and knowing their are so many pain points associated with that, where I really see it reflected is in the career choices students feel they have to make. At the Trust Center, we of course are supportive of whatever our students want to do when they leave MIT, but it can be very difficult for students who are graduating with so much debt to take a risk and start a business out of school. And I think it really becomes a question of equity and then has bigger consequences for the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the world you’d most like to see solved and why?
I'd really like to see healthcare - in a holistic way - solved. I really think that ensuring we all have the ability to be physically and mentally healthy is the basis for making sure we have the strength, mental fortitude, and overall ability to then go solve every other problem out there. Without our health, everything becomes harder.