Harvard Innovation Lab Head, Gordon Jones, Talks Goals and Challenges in Creating the Newest Incubator in Town

5/5/11Follow @gthuang

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more experienced entrepreneurs looking to expand their businesses.

“I’m not a gatekeeper as much as a person setting up a marketplace,” Jones says.

So how is the innovation lab different from other efforts to spur innovation on campus? “What makes this distinct is that the mandate is university wide,” Jones says. “The deans have signed on. The school has put a stake in the ground, where [president] Drew Faust is saying, ‘One Harvard.’”

Of course, anything branded as “university wide” at a place as sprawling and diverse as Harvard (or any big school) is bound to have its challenges. Jones says it will be important to find the right partners and to harness the interest of alumni and friends of the school, while staying deeply involved with students and their interests.

It’s a little early to talk about metrics for success—Jones doesn’t officially start until this Monday—but he’s clearly been thinking about it. The ultimate goal, he says, is to produce more (Harvard-bred) companies that get off the ground, land financing, and create jobs. In the nearer term, softer metrics like event attendance, level of student interest, and community engagement will have to do.

A few early-stage startups and entrepreneurs to watch at Harvard, according to Jones: Nick Krasney and Tuan Ho of Tivli (cloud-based TV); Zach Hamed of Aid Aide (like TurboTax for financial aid); and Jason Gurwin of Pushpins (mobile grocery coupons).

Like most ambitious efforts at universities—think the MIT Media Lab, or Stanford’s d.school (Institute of Design)—the i-lab will need time to come into its own as a true center of innovation.

“I liken it to holding a baby,” Jones says. “Everyone is saying, ‘It’s going to be President of the United States. I’m saying, ‘Let’s get it to first grade.’”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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