Former MIT Student-Athletes Apply Lessons From Sport To Create Robotic Kitchen

Photo Courtesy: Photographer Chris Sanchez

BOSTON, MA – Four recent MIT graduates are making waves in the food industry with their new restaurant, Spyce, which opened on May 3rd in the heart of Downtown Boston. Featuring one of the first fully-automated kitchens in the world, the MIT startup is capable of preparing an entire meal in under three minutes and is ready to turn the food industry on its head.

Creating Spyce

The four engineers behind Spyce, known as the “Spyce Boys,” were all varsity athletes during their time at MIT: Kale RogersBrady Knight, and Michael Farid were on the water polo team, and Luke Schlueter was on the swimming and diving team. Schlueter, Rogers, and Knight graduated in 2016 as Course 2 (Mechanical Engineering) majors, while Farid finished his undergraduate degree in 2014 and earned his master’s in Mechanical Engineering from MIT in 2016.

Farid, who serves as Spyce’s CEO, explained that the initial idea for the restaurant came during his first semester of grad school.

“The idea came about because it was my first time not really on a meal plan,” Faird explained. “Basically, there wasn’t really good food available, anything for cheaper than say $10.00 or $12.00. I remember I told these guys, we should make a robotic stir fry maker, or something like that.”

And just like that, the idea for Spyce was born. While the concept has evolved over the years into where it is now (including adding acclaimed chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud as Spyce’s Culinary Director and Sam Benson as the Executive Chef), the four all agreed that the idea for the restaurant started by trying to solve the problem of how to get filling and nutritious food quickly on a student-athlete’s budget.

Building A Community Through Sports

While there were many different influences that got them to where they are today, the Spyce Boys were quick to point out that their experience as student-athletes at MIT helped to serve as a launching point for the restaurant.

“One of the big things [being involved in sports] helped us with was building a community with each other,” says Brady Knight, the Lead Electrical Engineer of the Spyce team. “I for one would not have come to MIT in the first place if it was not for water polo.”

“I actually think one of the first times I told him [co-founder Brady Knight] about the idea, we were on a bus on the way back from a tournament,” Farid added, noting that athletics was the way all four of them became friends before they were business partners.

Kale Rogers, the restaurant’s COO, expanded to explain that early on, athletics gave them the opportunity to learn how to work together. “I was in a position where I was working in a stressful environment with these guys on a day-to-day basis,” Rogers said, which he explains can be applied directly to the everyday scenarios when working as part of a startup.

“You know, there are a lot of times when you are starting a business […] when there are four founders working long hours, that things can get intense and things can get stressful,” Rogers explained. “Simply having that experience and knowing how these guys react under pressure and people’s strengths and weaknesses, it just helps a whole lot.”

The four partners agreed that their experience as student-athletes at MIT gave them the tools they needed to be able to take their restaurant from just an idea and turn it into a reality, including teaching them how to balance the demands of starting a business during tough training, teaching them how to work with each other, or just giving some structure to guide them along the way.

“I think we’re actually all better at managing our time when we had to balance academics with sports,” said Knight, adding that in his experience the schedule of practices taught them to be more accountable for how they were using their time. “It’s almost easier to get all of your work done while you’re doing a sport because you’re more focused.”

Getting Off The Ground With MIT

Luke Schlueter, the Lead Mechanical Engineer for Spyce who was also a four year All-American and former school record holder for MIT’s swim team, emphasized that the environment at MIT gave them a huge leg up with getting their idea off the ground.

From a logistical standpoint, he explained that the resources at the Institute were instrumental in actually turning their idea into a working prototype. “We had friends in the Pappalardo Lab; they were great mentors and helped us out there. We used MIT Maker Works, Edgerton [Center], and also the Hobby Shop. All of those places really helped us while we were still in school build that first prototype.”

The Spyce team also received some significant financial support as they developed the concept, including a $1,000 grant to start their first prototype, a $20,000 fellowship to work on their startup through MIT’s delta v student venture accelerator, and a $10,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. They were also able to take advantage of project courses to work on developing the venture.

“Senior spring, I took classes at MIT that were independent study in business management,” Rogers explained. “Which was basically like, ‘Kale you can go work on your startup and here are nine credits to help you graduate.’ And so, that was super useful.”

Whether it was lab space, money, or simply time to work on their startup idea as part of project classes, the resources at MIT were key to the start of Spyce. Schuelter also added that the unexpected connections at MIT were instrumental in pushing their idea forward.

“Professors, alumni, guest speakers, mentors; there are so many people who we have met and who helped us along the way who we were introduced to at you know a random event or through sports or through the entrepreneurship system at MIT. And we wouldn’t be here without a lot of those contacts.”

“Just Go For It”

When asked what advice they have for current student-athletes at MIT who may be considering what to pursue, Rogers says that whatever they feel a pull toward to “just go for it.”

“MIT is an extremely supportive community, especially when it comes to entrepreneurship,” he says. “There are programs set in place for you to develop your idea and build your dream […] To me, I don’t think there is a better time than now. The worst thing you’ll find is that it didn’t work out but along the way you’re going to find that you learned a lot more than you would have simply grabbing a random 9-to-5.”

“MIT itself is very collaborative,” added Knight, explaining that the focus at MIT on working with classmates, as opposed to against them, helped teach them how to work together, identify their own strengths, and lean on each other to get past challenges.

“Find those people you work well with and, you know, basically find your team.”

The above press release was posted by Swimming World in conjunction with MIT Athletics.  For press releases and advertising inquiries please contact Advertising@SwimmingWorld.com.

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Author: Andy Ross

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Andy Ross graduated Cum Laude from Southern Illinois University where he studied Radio and Television and Journalism. He is a native of West Lafayette, Indiana and has been on board with Swimming World since January 2015.

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