Students Pitch Entrepreneurship Ideas

Harvard’s budding entrepreneurs will get a chance to present their newest business ideas this Saturday before a panel of judges and an audience, in the hope of getting a little seed money to make their dreams into reality.

The 2008 i3 Elevator Pitch Competition, which is organized by the Harvard College Entrepreneurship Forum, Harvard Student Agencies, and the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard, is the first event of the three-year old Harvard i3 Innovation Challenge.

The year-long program will award a total of $80,000 in seed money to student innovators through a series of competitions throughout the year.

On Saturday, competitors will go through a two-tier selection process. In the first round, participants will give a one-minute “elevator pitch” to the judging panel and the audience, explaining their business ideas and why they think their ideas will work.

The panel, which consists of the winner of last year’s MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, a Harvard alum who does professional consulting for startups, and another who started her own company, will narrow the field down to 10-15 competitors.

The remaining contestants will respond to questions from the audience and the judges regarding their business ideas. The audience will then vote on the top three winners, who will receive $500, $150, and $100, respectively.

But according to Harvard College Entrepreneurship Forum Co-President Tommy Li ’10, the money is not the main goal of the contest.

“The greater purpose of this competition is to promote an entrepreneurial community at Harvard,” he said.

“This event will help students think of their own startup ideas, flush them out, and think about the many problems that an entrepreneur faces, such as marketing, financing, and implementation.”

David Kosslyn ’11, the other co-president of the Entrepreneurship Forum, expressed a desire to expand the Innovation Challenge to provide greater mentoring opportunities to prospective entrepreneurs.

“We want to build out this competition to a full-year program that will help people who are interested in entrepreneurship take their seed of an idea and nurture it into a full business plan by the spring,” Kosslyn said.

The Entrepreneurship Forum currently hosts a speaker series called “Entrepreneurship 101,” which helps students learn how to get startups off the ground, and is beginning an exchange program this year with the Singapore Entrepreneurship Club at the National University of Singapore.

The organization has also started a program called “IdeaTrust,” “a weekly roundtable for students to pitch ideas and give each other advice,” according to Kosslyn.

But the Entrepreneurship Forum will continue to focus on the Innovation Challenge in the future.

“This competition shows people how many great ideas students are thinking of on campus,” Li said. “After all, anyone can do it, and any idea can provide the foundation for a great startup. You just need passion for making your idea succeed.”

—Staff Writer Prateek Kumar can be reached at kumar@fas.harvard.edu.