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Harvard Business School Helps Grads Launch Startups


Harvard Business School has moved to the Big Apple.

Well, sort of.

The school opened the HBS Startup Studio in New York City to help graduates get their startups off the ground. Unlike a tech incubator or accelerator, HBS will not take equity in member startups, but will provide workspace, business advice, workshops and networking opportunities.

“We have over 8,000 alumni here, and so we thought it would be a great place to put down a stake, especially with all the entrepreneurial activity happening here in New York City,” said Avani Patel, director of HBS Startup Studio.

Located in a WeWork co-working space in Manhattan’s Union Square neighborhood, employees from a dozen startups specializing in everything from health care to media to virtual reality, work side by side.

To be accepted into the studio, startups must have secured $500,000 or more in funding and have at least one team member who is an alumni of Harvard Business School. Companies are given up to seven seats and can remain indefinitely, but Patel predicts that most will outgrow the space, allowing new companies to enter.

One member is Joshua Haas, the founder of Bubble, a programming tool that lets users create web and mobile applications without having to learn how to code.

“A big challenge of working on a startup in general, is [that] you’re responsible for everything, and you have to make stuff happen,” Haas said. “You have to be proactive about problems, you have to say ‘This is where the company needs to go; this is what I’m going to do to get it done. I’m starting at 8 a.m. tomorrow.’”

Having worked from home and in coffee shops, Haas appreciates the built-in community at the startup studio and says it keeps him accountable.

“If you have people you can show off what you’re working on to, that’s motivation to get up in the morning to do it,” he said.

Networking

For all the work required to launch a business, building a network and fostering relationships in the tech community are equally important.

“You need access to the right knowledge; you need access to the right connections,” Patel said. “What we’re trying to do here is build that out for the entrepreneurs, provide that support so when they are thinking about launching into e-commerce and they need to speak to a digital expert, we have access to people who they can speak to.”

According to Digital.NYC, the official online hub for New York City’s tech startup community, more than 200 tech investors and venture capital funds are located here, making it a prime location for Harvard Business School grads seeking funding for their startups.

“We’ve got the relationships with investors that we can leverage to say, 'Hey investors, we’ve got these companies fundraising, you might want to take a look,’” Patel said.

Alex Dulac is closing on Series A funding (first round funding) for his startup, The Plunge, a wedding website geared toward men. Beyond funding, he cited the diversity of New York’s industries for providing invaluable experience and insights.

“We brought on Tiffany as our first advertiser and that was like getting a second Harvard MBA,” Dulac said. “Their standards are really high, so that forced us to elevate what we were doing.”

Dulac praised the HBS Startup Studio for the camaraderie it provides.

“It’s sometimes lonely to run a startup,” he said, “and to have like-minded, hardworking people that are really trying to be at their best, that really helps.”

Building a team

For Yigit Yigiter, CEO of the virtual reality app Timelooper, the day-to-day challenges of running a startup are more practical.

“The most difficult part is acquiring talent, growing the team,” he said. “On the one hand, the business is growing very fast so you need people to build the company. But on the other hand, if you don’t have the right people ... that’s very difficult.”

Through the Harvard network, Yigiter was able to find qualified employees from as far away as South Korea.

“These are our section mates, classmates ... we’re reconnecting with them,” Yigiter said. He added that referrals from the startup studio have been a great resource for hiring.

“Day to day, one can be really disconnected from the alumni network and the community, but this really brings that all together under one roof,” Dulac added.

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