MIT-Pillar AI Collective Unveils First Cohort of Grant Recipients


  • MIT-Pillar AI Collective announces the first six grant recipients in the field of AI, machine learning, and data science.
  • Grants provide funding and support for research projects with commercial potential.
  • Recipients receive mentorship, guidance, and access to resources.
  • Projects range from predictive query interfaces to light-activated drugs and autonomous manufacturing assembly.
  • The program aims to foster entrepreneurship and innovation in AI.
  • Grant recipients have the potential to revolutionize industries such as drug delivery and video conferencing.

Main AI News:

The MIT-Pillar AI Collective, a pioneering program that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), has recently announced its inaugural group of grant recipients. These exceptional individuals, comprising students, alumni, and postdocs, have been selected based on their groundbreaking research projects in AI, machine learning, and data science. The grants they receive will not only provide financial support but also offer guidance and resources to transform their research into viable commercial products or establish successful companies.

With diverse projects spanning various industries, these grant recipients possess the potential to drive transformative changes. From revolutionizing drug delivery to redefining video conferencing, their novel research endeavors are poised to have a far-reaching impact. Anantha Chandrakasan, the esteemed Dean of the School of Engineering and the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, expresses his excitement, stating, “These tremendous students and postdocs are working on projects that have the potential to be truly transformative across a diverse range of industries. It’s thrilling to think that the novel research these teams are conducting could lead to the founding of startups that revolutionize everything from drug delivery to video conferencing.

Launched in September 2022, the MIT-Pillar AI Collective represents a collaborative initiative funded by a generous $1 million gift from Pillar VC. This pilot program, administered by the renowned MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, aims to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit and advance innovation in the realm of AI. At its core, the AI Collective focuses on the crucial market discovery process, guiding projects through market research, customer discovery, and prototyping. By empowering graduate students and postdocs with the necessary tools, this program propels them towards developing minimum viable products.

In addition to financial support, the MIT-Pillar AI Collective provides grant recipients with invaluable mentorship and guidance. Given the rapid advancement of AI technologies, such support is critical to ensure that students and postdocs can access the resources needed to navigate the fast-paced environment effectively. Jinane Abounadi, the Managing Director of the MIT-Pillar AI Collective, emphasizes this point, saying, “In addition to funding, the MIT-Pillar AI Collective provides grant recipients with mentorship and guidance. With the rapid advancement of AI technologies, this type of support is critical to ensure students and postdocs are able to access the resources required to move quickly in this fast-paced environment.”

Moreover, the AI Collective facilitates the recipients’ engagement with experienced entrepreneurs, enabling them to receive valuable feedback from potential end-users and insights from early-stage investors. The program also organizes community events, including the esteemed “Founder Talks” speaker series, and fosters team-building activities. This comprehensive approach ensures that grant recipients benefit from a well-rounded support system that nurtures their entrepreneurial journey.

Jamie Goldstein, an accomplished entrepreneur and the founder of Pillar VC, highlights the entrepreneurial spirit that drives each grant recipient. As he puts it, “Each one of these grant recipients exhibits an entrepreneurial spirit. It is exciting to provide support and guidance as they start a journey that could one day see them as founders and leaders of successful companies.

Without further ado, let us introduce the remarkable projects that comprise the first cohort of grant recipients:

  1. Predictive Query Interface Abdullah Alomar SM ’21, a PhD candidate specializing in electrical engineering and computer science, is spearheading the development of a predictive query interface for time series databases. By enhancing the accuracy of demand and financial data forecasts, this user-friendly interface tackles the challenges associated with unwieldy data engineering processes. Under the guidance of Devavrat Shah, the esteemed Andrew (1956) and Erna Viterbi Professor at MIT, Alomar’s project combines cutting-edge statistical accuracy with a streamlined approach.
  2. Design of Light-Activated Drugs Simon Axelrod, a PhD candidate conducting research in chemical physics at Harvard University, is harnessing the power of AI and physics simulations to design light-activated drugs. This innovative approach aims to minimize side effects and enhance drug efficacy by providing patients with an inactive form of the drug, which can be activated through light in specific diseased tissues. Axelrod’s computational models, developed under the mentorship of Rafael Gomez-Bombarelli, the esteemed Jeffrey Cheah Career Development Chair in Engineering at MIT, enable researchers to predict drug properties rapidly and accurately.
  3. Low-Cost 3D Perception Arjun Balasingam, a PhD student specializing in electrical engineering and computer science and an esteemed member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory’s (CSAIL) Networks and Mobile Systems group, is driving forward the development of MobiSee. This groundbreaking technology facilitates real-time 3D reconstruction in dynamic environments by utilizing self-supervised AI methods, video, and lidar. MobiSee’s affordability and state-of-the-art 3D perception capabilities on consumer mobile devices hold immense potential across various domains, including mixed reality, navigation, safety, and sports streaming. Balasingam’s advisor, Hari Balakrishnan, the distinguished Fujitsu Professor of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at MIT and a CSAIL member, provides invaluable guidance throughout this project.
  4. Sleep Therapeutics Guillermo Bernal SM ’14, PhD ’23, a recent graduate in media arts and sciences, is spearheading the development of Fascia, a comprehensive sleep therapeutic platform. Fascia empowers sleep specialists and researchers to conduct robust sleep studies remotely while ensuring the patient’s comfort at home. Comprising a polysomnogram with a sleep mask form factor for data collection, a hub for stimulation and feedback delivery through olfactory, auditory, and visual stimuli, and a web portal for real-time machine learning analysis, Fascia revolutionizes sleep research and therapy planning. Bernal’s advisor, Pattie Maes, a distinguished professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab, plays a crucial role in guiding this transformative project.
  5. Autonomous Manufacturing Assembly with Human-Like Tactile Perception Michael Foshey, a skilled mechanical engineer and project manager at MIT CSAIL’s Computational Design and Fabrication Group, is spearheading the development of an AI-enabled tactile perception system. By imbuing robots with human-like dexterity, this groundbreaking technology platform aims to automate assembly tasks in manufacturing. Currently, these tasks are predominantly performed manually, leading to labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, and increased production costs. Foshey, under the supervision of Wojciech Matusik, an esteemed MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science and a CSAIL member, aims to address these challenges and revolutionize the manufacturing industry.
  6. Generative AI for Video Conferencing Vibhaalakshmi Sivaraman SM ’19, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering and computer science, is leveraging her expertise as a member of CSAIL’s Networking and Mobile Systems Group to develop Gemino. Gemino represents a groundbreaking neural compression system tailored for video conferencing in high-latency and low-bandwidth network environments. By overcoming the limitations of existing face-image-synthesis models, Gemino enables sustained video conferencing calls in regions and scenarios with unreliable video call support. Mohammad Alizadeh, an esteemed associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and a CSAIL member, serves as Sivaraman’s advisor throughout this transformative project.

The projects undertaken by these extraordinary individuals exemplify the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation championed by the MIT-Pillar AI Collective. As the grant recipients embark on their journeys, they receive not only financial support but also mentorship, guidance, and access to valuable networks. The future looks promising as these cutting-edge research projects pave the way for the development of groundbreaking technologies and the emergence of visionary entrepreneurs.


The MIT-Pillar AI Collective’s announcement of its first cohort of grant recipients signifies a significant step forward in fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in the AI market. These seed grants not only provide financial support but also offer mentorship and guidance, equipping recipients with the necessary resources to translate their research into commercially viable products or companies. With projects spanning diverse areas such as predictive query interfaces, light-activated drugs, and autonomous manufacturing assembly, these grant recipients have the potential to revolutionize industries and drive transformative changes. This initiative by the MIT-Pillar AI Collective demonstrates a commitment to nurturing talent, advancing AI technologies, and shaping the future of the market.