01 Dec 2014
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Nimble, Quick, and Adaptable

New ventures in the HBS startup culture
by Julia Hanna

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(Sergey Nivens/iStock/Thinkstock)

Starting a business, says HBS professor Tom Eisenmann, looks glamorous in The Social Network. “But a fair amount of it is moving boxes around. Not org chart boxes—actual boxes.” That’s the kind of insight Eisenmann says students get during their FIELD 3 experience, an innovation in the MBA curriculum that gives students an opportunity to test their entrepreneurial chops.

FIELD 3 is part of a larger effort by the School to set the pace in a field it has helped define. The Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship offers students one-on-one mentoring with Entrepreneurs-in-Residence; fellowship programs; and a need-based loan reduction program for graduating students pursuing an entrepreneurial venture. The Harvard i-lab likewise offers skill-building workshops on everything from legal issues to product design.“We provide massive skills, mentoring, and content around the entire process of starting a business,” says HBS professor Bill Sahlman, adding that the New Venture Competition continues to be a capstone event. Some alumni participate as judges of the student contest, while others go head-to-head in their own Alumni New Venture Competition, all of which offers outstanding networking opportunities, he adds.

The School’s ever-evolving support for entrepreneurship is anchored by three priorities, according to Meredith McPherron (MBA 1993), director of the Rock Center: to catalyze entrepreneurial development and experimentation; to serve as an active gateway to entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world; and to evangelize about entrepreneurial management and thinking.

Those priorities are evident in events such as the Rock 100 Entrepreneurs’ Summit, a gathering held earlier this year of roughly 140 alumni entrepreneurs at the late seed to series C stage. Feedback was so positive that regional Rock 100 Roundtable discussions are being rolled out as a way to continue the exchange and dialogue.

“I know from personal experience that when you’re an entrepreneur, the path forward isn’t always crystal clear—which for many people can be an uncomfortable feeling,” says McPherron. With that in mind, the center is also launching Rock 100 Councils to serve as an ongoing forum for entrepreneurs to connect with other local alumni experiencing some of the same challenges. Finally, McPherron notes that a new version of the Rock Center website set to launch this coming year will help entrepreneurs identify talent and opportunities, sources of capital, and online resources and insight.

“We know that about 50 percent of HBS alumni will engage in some sort of entrepreneurial activity over the course of his or her lifetime,” McPherron says. “That moment is a key inflection point, so our goal is to offer a comprehensive support network that includes all the content, tools, and resources that student and alumni entrepreneurs need.”

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