How to get the next Facebook (or Cloudflare) started at HBS

By Ed Hsieh

We talked about how HBS can increase entrepreneurship among its students on the last day of class. People gave some great ideas, including:

  • Help getting startup internships
  • More interaction with Silicon Valley (either bring VC/entrepreneurs here or help us go there more)
  • Tuition help for entrepreneurs
  • Help get other perspectives through cross-registrants
  • Increase the visibility of innovation on campus (example was given of how it’s very evident at MIT)

I’d like to build upon these and ask for people to comment with other ideas and give feedback so that we can help improve the chances that the next big startup success story comes out of HBS.

Overall, I think there are 3 areas that we would want to focus to increase the number of successful student entrepreneurs coming out of HBS: 1) Teaching the latest theories/ideas in entrepreneurial management, 2) Helping students gain experience working at startups, and 3) Helping students create startups. 

Teaching entrepreneurship theory – I think we are fairly strong here, which is probably not surprising since we’re an academic institution with a focus on the case method. In particular, I think TEM, EF, FD, and LTV are a great combination and would highly recommend them for all entrepreneurially-minded students. In particular, EF with Lassiter and LTV were great for practical theory and phenomenal guest speakers (I swear I’m not just brownnosing here). BSSE is also useful, though less focused on entrepreneurship specifically. Other courses like Online Economies, CNS, and DMS are likely good for specific subject knowledge, though I didn’t take them and so won’t comment further on them. 

In terms of improvements, I think HBS is very much headed in the right direction, and that continuing to add professors who have experience as entrepreneurs and more courses/cases on cutting edge companies will help.

Experience working at startups – As one of the students mentioned in class, perhaps the best way to learn entrepreneurship is by working on or at a startup. While HBS clearly has world-class companies recruiting on campus, I think the school does a fairly poor job in helping students find part-time or full-time opportunities at high quality startups

  • Build a much stronger startup internship program – Currently, the career office job listings are almost exclusively large companies. Students who want to work at startups are essentially expected to conduct a networked search, which can be very hard to do, particularly given our distance from SF and NY. It would help greatly for the career office to be more proactive about finding startups in SF, NY as well as Boston who are looking for MBA summer interns, part-time help during the school year, or full-time jobs. Given how much Harvard spent building the i-Lab and on FIELD 3, it does not seem unreasonable for the school to spend more resources on helping students find quality jobs at quality startups.

  • Better utilize J-term – Currently, we have about 5 weeks off for J-term. MIT also has a similar vacation period, but offers many different programs that students can participate in during this time. While we offer some treks and IXPs, I think the time could be used more productively. For students serious about startups, maybe the school could offer a 4-week Silicon Valley startup program (or even a 4-week trip participating in Startup Chile or other locations if students prefer an international location). 

  • Offer a second internship period – This builds on the previous point, but would require a huge change so I’ll separate it out; we currently have a very long summer break, a 5-week winter break, and 3-week break before graduation. There’s probably a great reason for the 3-week break, but I have no idea what it is. While it’s certainly welcome, I think it’d also be extremely helpful to have a longer winter break so that people could do an internship if they wanted to (or, of course, they could travel the world). I think it would be useful for all students at HBS to have a 8-10 week winter break, even if it meant a slightly shorter summer break or less time off right before graduation. Alternatively, it’d be helpful to have a shorter winter break and longer summer break, so people could fit 2 internships into the summer or work on a startup for a longer period if they so chose. 

Helping students create startups – I think the school does a reasonable job here, particularly through Field projects, student clubs, and the i-Lab and its programs, but can do more. 

  • Courses to encourage interaction with technical experts – A problem for HBS entrepreneurs is that most students are knowledgeable about business concepts crucial for startups, but are not technical experts. It’d help if there were more classes and activities encouraging interaction between HBS students and students that would complement their skills. The course Commercializing Science addresses this, but was focused on healthcare this year. Other courses or activities that mixed HBS students with students from the Medical School, engineering departments at the College, and MIT would help.

  • Field courses to encourage startup mixing – Many students currently do IPs working on startup ideas currently. Perhaps instead of doing this, students could sign up for a ‘course’ that has a set time slot. While students would work independently on their own projects, they would be encouraged to work in the i-Lab in a set place during the specified course time. While students would not be required to be in the lab, having the set time and place could encourage idea exchange among students, similar to how an incubator space works. The previous version of LTV may have reflected this idea somewhat, but it’d help to have courses that run for the whole semester using this philosophy. It’d be even better if there were a course for CS undergrads using the same concept at the same time.

  • Funding – The Rock Accelerator, Rock Lebor summer funding, and New Venture Competition are excellent for encouraging students to work on startups. I don’t have particularly innovative ideas here, but funding more students always helps! Often the validation from winning one of these usually helps motivate would-be student entrepreneurs greatly. 

These are a few ideas… what other ideas do people have?


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