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Harvard i-Lab Celebrates Four Years

By Kier W. Zimmerman, Contributing Writer

Complete with branded party hats, cupcakes, and balloons, the Harvard Innovation Lab celebrated its fourth birthday on Wednesday with public tours and treats.

The i-Lab was founded as a place for students across the University’s schools to collaborate on entrepreneurial projects and learn about innovation, managing director Jodi Goldstein said.

“The first four years were really about proof of concept and validating our hypothesis that ‘if we build it, they will come,’ and now we’re really focused on scaling and impact,” Goldstein said. “We want to make sure that we reach 100 percent of Harvard students interested in entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Attendees said the i-Lab has become a gathering space for students to gain experience and receive advice in entrepreneurship.

Zaki Djemal ’15 has been working at the i-Lab since its inception in 2011, when he was a freshman at the College. In that time, he said he has been part of several startups, and currently serves as CEO of tradr, an application he described as a “Tinder for products.”

“When I work here, I feel like I’m part of something,” he said. “As an entrepreneur there’s so much uncertainty in everything you do. You have no idea what’s coming tomorrow or a week down the line, and having an embracing place cannot be underestimated.”

The birthday party drew students from the University’s various schools to visit the i-Lab, located near the Business School in Allston.

“Sometimes it’s really hard to get out of the Harvard Business School bubble, and the thing about this space is that it draws lots of different kinds of people,” said Snigdha Sur, a Business School student who attended Wednesday’s event. “It helps you open up your world again.”

Staff at the i-Lab said they have seen their events—including the birthday celebration—bring in Harvard affiliates new to the i-Lab.

“People who don’t normally come over here are getting engaged,” programming coordinator Jocelyn E. Krauss said. “A lot of the College students that are here think it’s the happiest place on campus.”

Goldstein emphasized that, as the i-Lab celebrates its fourth year, its continued commitment to education is part of what distinguishes it from similar organizations elsewhere.

“Many of these places at other universities are about spinning out companies and other commercial ventures. We don’t care,” she said. “We’re really about education. We want to make sure that any Harvard student, no matter what you do with your life, we help you become an innovator.”

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