Dropping out is normally what comes to mind when people think of “Harvard” and “startups.” It’s hard to resist that inclination when two of the most important technology companies of the last century (Facebook and Microsoft) were founded by two Harvard dropouts. Yet, the university is still a breeding ground for innovation and entrepreneurial talent. I thought I would share what’s going on around campus regarding all things startups.
Harvard Ventures — Harvard Ventures is one of the leading undergraduate groups dedicated to getting students interested in startups and technology. The group was co-founded by Peter Boyce (co-founder of Rough Draft and an investor at General Catalyst) and has seen folks like Brian Truong (Thiel Fellowship ’16 and CEO at HelloToken) as president. Ventures is still involved with planning programs like the Startup Fellowship, which gets students term-time internships at local companies, and VentureWorks, an accelerator for student-founded companies.
HackHarvard — HackHarvard is the group responsible for paving the way for new hackathons on campus. They’ve engaged engineering students across the country for their past two hackathons in the fall with great success. HackHarvard has a solid young team and has partnered with Major League Hacking to ensure great experiences at the university for young hackers.
Springboard — Springboard is a relatively new club and the first undergraduate design community. They’ve exposed new undergraduates to the principles of design thinking and creative problem solving. Springboard has also worked with local agencies like Soldier Design to help students get real world experience.
Social Innovation Collaborative — SIC is the largest undergraduate group dedicated to social entrepreneurship on campus. Every fall, they host the Igniting Innovation Summit, which had the co-founder of Duolingo as a keynote speaker this past year. They also host the Village to Raise a Child program.
Harvard Student Agencies — HSA is the largest undergraduate student-run company in the world. They have a few organizations dedicated to learning about business and entrepreneurship. One of them is the Cronin Center for Enterprise, which bears the name of Michael Cronin, founder of Weston Presidio. HSA has also partnered with CS50 to provide more resources to students interested in developing their own ideas. Check it out here.
Venture Capital and Private Equity Club — The VC and PE Club at Harvard Business School provides its members with career and educational opportunities in the venture capital and private equity sectors. Every year, they host the VCPE Conference, with the next one coming up shortly.
Entrepreneurship Club — HBS is also home to the Entrepreneurship Club, which helps host the Spark Conference, as well as dinners and talks with prominent speakers on campus.
Rough Draft Ventures — RDV, co-founded by Peter Boyce and Nitesh Banta, is a General Catalyst-backed student-run venture capital group. Some of their past Harvard investments include Mark43, Freebird, and Legalist. The current Harvard student partners are Tomas Reimers, Jenny Wang, and Ellen DaSilva.
Dorm Room Fund — Dorm Room Fund is another student-run VC group, backed by First Round Capital. They frequently collaborate with RDV and have funded companies such as Finfox. The current Harvard partners include Joe Kahn, Henry Tsai, and Sophia Popova.
CS50 — CS50 is one of the largest courses at Harvard, teaching introductory computer science. But those who have taken it know that is has become so much more than a course. CS50, spearheaded by Professor David Malan, is also taught online and at Yale, with plans for an AP curriculum as well. CS50 hosts hackathons, seminars, and project demo days. CS50 has quickly grown the past few years as one of the most popular courses at Harvard and has spurred interest in the computer science department as a whole.
Harvard Innovation Lab — Founded on Harvard Business School’s campus in 2011, the i-Lab is a physical hub for all things innovation and entrepreneurship on campus. It is home to a full range of current student companies and also frequently has event programming such as workshops and guest speakers.
President’s Challenge — The President’s Challenge is a program run by the i-Lab that prompts students to come up with interesting and unique solutions to social problems, typically involving issues like equitability, sustainability, and safety.
ES95R — Startup R&D is THE class you have to take if you’re interested in launching your business as an undergraduate. It’s offered every semester to undergrads and is taught by Paul Bottino. ES95R is a great way for students to get course credit while working on a startup or side project.
These are just a handful of the many startups getting up to exciting stuff across campus.
Doorbell — Founded by true hustler and current senior Ben Pleat, Doorbell provides software for landlords to introduce co-living into their buildings. They have some properties working with them in Boston and NYC.
The Wolfe — The Wolfe is a plugin for Macs that supercharges their processing and graphics abilities. It was founded by three juniors at the college and had a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign over the summer.
Here are just a few of the people and groups that have origins tracing back to Harvard in the past few years.
Thrive Capital — Thrive Capital is one of the emerging young stars in venture capital, having invested in companies like Instagram, Twitch, and Jet. Founded in 2010, the firm’s roots trace back to Harvard, as founding partners Joshua Kushner, Chris Paik, and Will Gaybrick are all young alumni of Harvard College. The firm has also helped launch on-demand food delivery company Maple, which is run by Caleb Merkl (Harvard College ’06) as well as real estate investment platform Cadre, run by Ryan Williams (Harvard College ‘10).
General Catalyst — Based a few minutes walk from Harvard Yard, this venture capital firm has a storied history with Harvard based companies and talent. Part of their current team includes alumni Peter Boyce, Spencer Lazar, and adam valkin.
Mazzeo — Matt Mazzeo was Chris Sacca’s first hire at Lowercase Capital. He worked at Creative Artists Agency before hopping over to venture in 2012. He’s been responsible for Lowercase investments in companies like Mobcrush and Mark43.
Scott Crouch — Scott founded Mark43, a police intelligence platform, while he was an undergraduate in ES95r. The company has gone on to raise almost $40M from firms like General Catalyst and Spark Capital.
Zach Hamed — A recent Forbes 30 under 30 honoree, Hamed helped kickstart HackHarvard while he was on campus a few years ago. He actually wrote a blog post similar to this, which you can check out here. Hamed has had stints with the Thiel Fellowship and Jawbone, and now works on an internal startup at Goldman Sachs.
Rebecca Kantar — Kantar dropped out in 2012 to pursue her passion for entrepreneurship and is now based in LA. She is the CEO of a company called Imbellus (backed by Thrive), reinventing how we measure human potential. They are based in Los Angeles and recently raised $4M.
I hope this overview provided a sense of what the Harvard startup scene is like and how it has matured. Organizations and people listed here come from my memory and experiences. For context, I am a current sophomore at the College living in Winthrop House.
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