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Entrepreneurship at Harvard: $50,000 Fund Reveals How Student-Driven the Movement Actually Is

posted Jan 4, 2011, 5:48 PM by Jessica Bloomgarden   [ updated Jan 4, 2011, 5:49 PM by Andrew Rosenthal ]

Entrepreneurship at Harvard has been a buzzed about topic in the Hub this year, especially in the startup scene with companies like Parallel Cities and HerCampus. Earlier this year the Ivy league school announced plans for what promises to be an incredible venture accelerator, the Harvard Innovation Lab, which will open in the Fall of 2011. And it is the students at Harvard who are really the ones on a mission to make the school a flagship institution when it comes to entrepreneurship.

Today, thanks to the idea and effort of a group of Harvard students, $50,000 in funds is up for grabs to student entrepreneurs over the institution’s winter semester. The fund is called the “Minimum Viable Product Fund” (MVP Fund), and plays on the Lean Startup methodology that hinges on doing customer development in tandem with product development. The face and creator of the methodology,Eric Ries, will actually be an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Harvard Innovation Lab next year.

We spoke with several HBS students, including two material in bringing the MVP Fund to life, to get the student beat and learn more.

Dan Rumennik, HBS ’12 and who is credited with the idea for the MVP Fund, observed how many HBS students had an idea, and all they needed was a few thousand dollars to test and prove a market for it. “It’s becoming increasingly less expensive to build and test the MVP of business ideas,” Rumennik stated.

Rumennik brought the idea for the fund to a group of entrepreneurial students in October who refined the idea through an online wiki over the course of November. Jess Bloomgarden, HBS ’12, was also critical in bringing the fund from idea to reality and shared how receptive the university has been to the student-driven demand for more HBS resources being dedicated to fuel entrepreneurship:

“I knew coming here I wanted to pursue entrepreneurship but had very low expectations around HBS supporting that area, as I had been told their focus was more around big corporations, banking and consulting. Since being here, HBS has blown me away and surpassed my highest hopes with their support and commitment to students in entrepreneurship. The MVP Fund is their latest response to student demand.”

While HBS students lobbied for the fund, Harvard’s entrepreneurship center, the HBS Rock Center, contributed the actual money and will be awarding winners. The fund aims to award ten teams with $5,000 each, but teams may request up to $10,000 in funding.

“The idea is that a small amount of dollars at such a resourceful school [as HBS] will yield huge results and hopefully encourage more students to consider entrepreneurship and starting their own business,” Rumennik added. “That is the real goal of this — to get more students who wouldn’t have otherwise considered [being entrepreneurial], to think about making a career in it.”

According to students, HBS’ Dean Nitin Nohria, Professor Tom Eisenmann and Director of the Rock Center Michael Roberts were critical in moving the idea along. They reviewed the idea in December and gave the go-ahead to allocate money through the Rock Center.

Brent Grinna, Founder & CEO of Boston-based EverTrue and semi-finalist in last year’s HBS business plan contest, believes the MVP Fund will help move students with an idea from pitch to prototype and speaks to the administration’s commitment to expanding entrepreneurship. “At last year’s HBS business plan contest, there were over 150 initial entries, but very few teams presented working demos,” Grinna said. “This will hopefully improve the quality of the entries while giving the judges (many of whom are VCs and angels) a better opportunity to evaluate the concepts.”

Requirements and application information can be found here, the biggest caveat being of course that your startup team must include at least 1 current HBS student. The deadline for Harvard students to apply is January 28th.