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Kennedy School To Create New 'Social Enterprise Incubator'

By Luca F. Schroeder, Crimson Staff Writer

As it revisits major aspects of its curriculum in conjunction with its capital campaign, the Kennedy School of Government is in the early stages of creating a new “social enterprise incubator,” according to HKS spokesperson Doug Gavel.

The incubator, which is also referred to on the Kennedy School capital campaign website as a “social entrepreneurship lab,”  will provide financial, academic, and faculty resources for Kennedy School students launching social ventures. The project will be led on an interim basis by James L. Bildner, a senior research fellow at the Hauser Institute for Civil Society.

Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood ’75 differentiated the incubator from the Harvard Innovation Lab.

“The difference between this and what you see currently [in the i-lab] is this is a program designed to help people as they graduate—it provides resources for them to stick around for another six months, to get engaged, and so forth,” Ellwood said in February. “The idea is to take the lessons that we learn from the people that [do] social enterprises and...feed it back into the classroom.”

Roughly 3,800 students last year made use of the the i-lab, which also opened a “Launch Lab” this past summer dedicated to hosting 10 to 12 alumni ventures.

Matthew C. Guidarelli, i-lab assistant director for social and cultural entrepreneurship, said talks between the Kennedy School incubator and the i-lab on how the two organizations can collaborate have not moved beyond a preliminary conversation. He noted, however, that the “i-lab’s door is open as a collaborator and a thought partner” and pointed out that, with Ellwood sitting on the i-lab’s advisory board, the Kennedy School has a voice at the i-lab.

“More resources being made available is a good thing for all students, and for Harvard, and for supporting the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem that’s been burgeoning throughout this city and Boston,” Guidarelli said. Guidarelli added that he does not expect that the i-lab’s mission of helping students accelerate their ideas and their early-stage ventures would change as a response to the new incubator.

According to the Kennedy School’s website, it is currently searching for a new professor of social innovation, potentially on the tenure track, to “launch and lead a social innovation accelerator” and “participate in the leadership of the Hauser Institute for Civil Society.”

Harvard School of Public Health lecturer Gordon Bloom, who co-created the Social Entrepreneurship Collaboratory at Harvard, said the creation of a new Kennedy School-specific incubator was not surprising given that “traditionally Harvard has operated ‘every tub on its own bottom,’” but stressed the importance of continued multidisciplinary, university-wide collaborations like the i-lab.

Ellwood said a primary reason for the new incubator was that “students from around the University but particularly from the Kennedy School desperately would like to do more and have more support.”

Harvard Global Health Institute research fellow Livio Valenti, who co-founded vaccines company Vaxxes Technologies while a student at the Kennedy School, said that while he did not feel a “desperate” need for more resources to support social entrepreneurship, he did hope the new incubator could act more like a “lab” and help with the generation of sustainable project ideas.

“I think the thing that was really missing [when I started Vaxxes] was how to create a pipeline of people that generate social enterprises in sectors that are relevant,” Valenti said. “I think the desperate need is really how do you get to having that idea that is worth spending your time afterwards.”

—Staff writer Luca F. Schroeder can be reached at luca.schroeder@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @lucaschroeder.

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