NASA Names SDM Team a Winner in Startup Challenge

A team of students from the MIT System Design & Management (SDM) program recently won the NASA Startup Challenge in the category of wind energy production.

The team’s winning product is designed to harness wind energy resources at high altitudes, where wind speeds are higher and more sustained. The product uses a flexible, tethered kite that makes an 8-shaped motion, obtaining wind energy using ropes controlled by a ground station that employs a machine learning algorithm. The product has a very small land signature and is a cheap and efficient power generator.


Members of the MIT-SDM team, which won the NASA Startup Challenge in the wind energy category, are all fellows from the SDM cohort entering in 2015. Left to right: Charles Lambert, Erdem Yilmaz, Carlos Perez Damas, Jack Yao, and Burak Gozluklu, who is also the founder and president of the MIT Systems Thinking Club. Photo: Dave Schultz, SDM Media Development

The MIT-SDM team included five members of the SDM cohort that entered in 2015. “The team’s strength comes from the diversity of its members’ professional backgrounds and experience,” said SDM Executive Director (interim) and Industry Codirector Joan Rubin. For example:

  • Jack Yao earned an MS in operations research and has five bachelor degrees —one each in economics, Chinese language/linguistics, mathematics, industrial engineering, and finance/operations management.
  • Carlos Perez Damas earned a BS in petroleum engineering and most recently worked at Cenovus and Schlumberger.
  • Charles Lambert holds a BS in mechatronics engineering and is currently a test engineer at IBM.
  • Erdem Yilmaz has a BS and an MS in electrical engineering and computer science and most recently was the lead radio frequency engineer at Evolv Technology.
  • Burak Gozluklu holds a PhD in aerospace engineering and an MS and BS in mechanical engineering. He has worked as a lead engineer on the Airbus A350 project and, most recently, at Tesla Motors.

Jointly offered by the MIT Sloan School of Management and School of Engineering, SDM educates experienced technical professionals to lead effectively and creatively by using systems thinking to tackle complex challenges in product development and innovation. “Systems thinking provides a common language and set of tools that enable a diverse, multidisciplinary team to think and work together in new ways to innovate and create outstanding and unique products,” Rubin said.

All members of the MIT-SDM team belong to the MIT Systems Thinking Club (STC), founded in fall 2016 by Gozluklu and advised by Professor John Sterman. The team’s advisors include Professors Olivier de Weck and Nicholas Ashford. The startup competition, initiated in March 2016, was cofounded and cosponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in conjunction with the Center for Advancing Innovation.

“Competitions such as the NASA Startup Challenge are useful in many ways—and not simply by providing the opportunity to create new products,” Gozluklu said. “They also provide an opportunity to demonstrate the power and potential of systems thinking and related tools to develop new solutions to today’s complex and urgent challenges.”

The 160+ STC members include students in a range of MIT programs beyond SDM, including the MBA, PhD, and executive MBA programs, Sloan fellows, and students enrolled in Integrated Design & Management. MIT faculty and industry professionals from diverse backgrounds are also part of the STC community.

For further information on the MIT STC, visit Membership is open to all, both within and beyond the MIT community