CAMBRIDGE, Mass. ( TheStreet) -- ExxonMobil ( XOM), Microsoft ( MSFT) and Amgen ( AMGN) are among companies that sponsor a summer program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that's designed to teach whiz kids that brilliant scientific minds can yield lucrative careers. It used to be that learning science was an end in itself. Not always at MIT, whose alumni helped found companies including Intel ( INTC), Texas Instruments ( TXN), Genentech ( DNA) and Harmonix, maker of the "Rock Band" video game and a unit of Viacom ( VIA). The Center for Excellence in Education's Research Science Institute at MIT is a free, six-week program for 80 of the smartest high school kids in the world, 50 of whom are American citizens. About 1,000 vie for the spots. The Research Science Institute differs from other hey-kids-science-is-wicked-cool programs in that the students get a chance to interact with a mix of superstar mentors from the academic and business worlds -- Nobel laureates, successful entrepreneurs and capitalists. "What is needed in the business community is mentoring by those who have made it," says Joann DiGennaro, who co-founded the Center for Excellence in Education in 1983 with Admiral H.G. Rickover, who led the effort to build the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus, which is why students in the program are known as "Rickoids." Some 80% of the Rickoids end up pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering or math, DiGennaro says. Corporations that donate at least $10,000 to the Center for Excellence in Education get the chance to woo program alumni at an exclusive recruitment reception each November. And investors wondering where to place their bets in the next decade might do well to skulk around the MIT campus in the summer. The Research Science Institute has proven to be a breeding ground for young entrepreneurs.