Ashwin Kaja’s big idea has reached communities like Oaxaca, Mexico, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Providing tours for individuals to meet and invest in entrepreneurs in poor communities, his non-profit—Investours—is a first-world start-up with the aim of helping third-world start-ups.
Kaja is not only a founder and director of Investours, he is also a third year student at Harvard Law School, a tutor in Kirkland House,
and a part of a growing trend at the Law School—budding entrepreneurs.
Law School Dean Martha Minow has made a point of encouraging students to make their own jobs, and Kaja is part of a burgeoning group of students at the Law School to leave behind traditional corporate careers in favor of self-made start-ups. Minow’s initiative includes introducing a range of courses pertaining to entrepreneurship with titles like “Law and Finance of Start-Up Companies,” but she also faces the challenge of convincing students to forsake lucrative careers in big law firms.
To try and meet that challenge, Minow introduced plans last year for what is called the Public Service Venture Fund. Debuting in 2013, the fund will give “seed money”—as little as a few thousands dollars to as much as $80,000—to students to establish non-profit start-ups.
While the Law School has made progress toward encouraging enterprising projects, students say that the initiative remains hampered by a lack of coordination across the University and a paucity of incubator courses. By breaking down barriers between schools, they say, students would be able to easily tap the resources they require.
Professor David M. Hornik has watched the Law School take this important first step to incorporate more entrepreneurial material in the curriculum—both since he was a student two decades ago and since he began teaching at the Law School.
“In the early 90s, I don’t think there was any focus on entrepreneurship,” Hornick says. “It was certainly not clear that lawyers would participate in entrepreneurship.”
After law school, Hornick worked for a law firm in California that represented Internet start-ups like Yahoo and Google. He says that on the West Coast, entrepreneurship has always been a more accepted career path, and law students consider entrepreneurship a suitable future along with public service or private practice. But now, he says, things are changing.
A venture capitalist himself, he says his class “Entrepreneurship and Company Building” has more than tripled in size since he began teaching it four years ago. Of the hundreds of students who have taken the class, Hornick says some of his students have since started their own businesses, including a former student that started a child’s clothing and toy swap business.
“In regards to the law school, there’s a lot more focus on the opportunities available to graduates in the realm of entrepreneurship,” Hornick says.
But some student entrepreneurs say that accepting and fostering young entrepreneurs involves more than just changing the curriculum. While the classes on venture law, starting companies, and finance law are helpful, Kaja says that that’s only one layer of a multi-dimensional program the law school needs to develop.
“The thing is, starting a company is not just one thing—we’re a non-profit with very specific needs and so learning and taking a venture law class isn’t really helpful.”
Kaja says that once students become interested in launching their own project, they need a place to plan and network for their businesses—a step the Law School has not yet taken that Kaja calls “practically enabling entrepreneurship.” The MIT Sloan School of Management has a good model for these classes, Kaja says.
“A lot of business schools have incubators, where you actually go put together team, put together a business plan, and churn out real businesses,” Kaja says. “There’s something in that model for the Law School to consider.”