Boston, Meet the i-lab: The Future of Entrepreneurship Begins Here
When I entered Harvard as a freshman, there was no central focus on startups or entrepreneurs. Student groups were splintered and stagnating, and there were no main faculty members whom I could approach about entrepreneurship. I was intimidated to approach students or faculty from Harvard’s graduate schools, and there was no cross-campus collaboration. Harvard’s startup scene was almost completely underground. Students worked on their “side projects” alone in their dorm rooms. As far as I can tell, that pattern of the insular Harvard entrepreneur has been true for years.
Yet despite all of these hurdles, Harvard has graduated some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. Everyone knows of Zuckerberg and Gates dropping out. But what about Tony Hsieh (College ’95), co-founder of LinkExchange and CEO of Zappos.com? Or Tim O’Reilly (College ’75), founder of O’Reilly Media? And what about Scott McNealy (College ’76), co-founder of Sun Microsystems, or social entrepreneurs like Paul Farmer (HMS ’88, Ph.D. ’90), founder of Partners in Health? Do we consider Trip Hawkins (College ’76), founder of Electronic Arts; Mark Warner (HLS ’80), co-founder of Nextel Communications; or Thomas Stemberg (HBS ’73), co-founder of Staples?
These individuals demonstrate two distinct facts about entrepreneurship: first, it’s not necessary to drop out of school to found and grow an amazingly successful enterprise. Second, Harvard has been the birthplace of innovations across industries since its inception.
On Friday, Harvard enters the next era in its quest to graduate successful entrepreneurs, when the Harvard Innovation Lab officially opens its doors. It is both a new facility and new programming that promises to help Harvard students take their ideas as far as they can go. The 30,000 square foot space features a large and easily re-configured space for students to work on their ideas. Nearly every wall is covered with whiteboard paint for students to sketch out their plans. Conference rooms give students more privacy, and a large classroom will host workshops and classes that help students hone their entrepreneurial abilities. Programs already underway include workshops, classes, access to experts-in-residence, mentoring, and student co-working areas. Many of the events and resources are open to the Boston community as a whole.
There has never been a more exciting time to be a student entrepreneur. College is inherently an environment ripe with new connections. During a conversation at 2 AM or a random meeting with a professor, ideas are born. And in a city as alive with innovation as Boston, students have no excuse not to find an idea and run with it.
It’s easy for new university initiatives to launch and be forgotten. The innovation lab is different. The i-lab wasn’t only created to generate interest in entrepreneurship; it was developed to serve the immense interest already present in the student body. The i-lab is here to stay.
So on Friday, welcome the Harvard innovation lab to the Harvard and Boston communities. Stop by and take a look around. Most importantly, speak to some of the students working there. You’ll like what you hear.