Fourteen Harvard College juniors have been selected as members of the first cohort of the Undergraduate Technology Innovation Fellows Program, a collaborative initiative between the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Harvard Business School that seeks to bridge technology and entrepreneurship through courses, workshops, and seminars.
Through the program, 10 to 15 juniors from any academic concentration will have the opportunity to enroll in up to two Business School MBA electives, participate in expert-led case discussions, and attend the Business School Startup Bootcamp to learn about developing and scaling a startup company.
The program’s launch was facilitated by a $10 million gift from Thomas S. Roberts and his wife Kristen through their family foundation in celebration of Roberts’s 30th and 35th Business School reunions.
Roberts said the idea for creating a program focused on providing undergraduates with tools to explore the intersection of technology and entrepreneurship had been a point of discussion between himself, his wife, and administrators at SEAS and the Business School for some time.
“We thought that the creation of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in Allston — essentially right next to the Business School — created just an incredible opportunity for supporting greater integration between the Business School and Harvard undergrads,” he said.
Roberts added that this increased integration could bring significant benefits for not only the Harvard community but also the greater Boston area, if fellows were to establish new local businesses.
Computer Science Professor Hanspeter Pfister, who co-chairs the program along with Business Administration Professor Thomas R. Eisenmann ’79, said the idea for the program arose out of his observation that many undergraduates were unsure how to translate their ideas for technology ventures into viable business models.
“I very frequently have students in my office that have very cool ideas for either startups or for technology projects that they would like to push forward,” Pfister said. “Very often, I notice that there is an interest in the technology and maybe even some technology background, but there is a lack of understanding of the business side of those endeavors.”
Eisenmann said this disconnect presented a unique opportunity to strengthen ties between HBS and the College. Historically, undergraduates are only able to enroll in Business School MBA courses with the written permission of the dean of the MBA program, leaving many Business Schools faculty without ways — but with a “real appetite” — to share what they teach with the “amazing group of students across the river.”
“Now, for the very first time, there’s this real collaboration between [SEAS, the Business School, and the College] where we have this opportunity for College students to be part of the Business School program,” Pfister said. “I think that’s very exciting and kind of historic.”
As part of the Technology Innovation Program, fellows will be able to enroll in select Business School MBA courses that pertain to technology, innovation, or entrepreneurship without having to first receive approval from the dean of the MBA program, according to Eisenmann. They will also be able to take HBS’s online Credential of Readiness program — a 10- to 12-week course on business fundamentals that normally costs $2,250 — free of charge.
Eisenmann said another distinctive component of the Technology Innovation Program is the opportunity for fellows to participate in the Business School Startup Bootcamp, a week-long immersion program in which first-year Business School MBA candidates learn key skills required for early-stage entrepreneurs such as team assembly and finance management.
During the bootcamp, fellows can form their own or join existing small teams to brainstorm ideas for new ventures, develop them through various exercises and workshops, and present them at the end of the week to a panel of experts comprised of venture capitalists and seasoned entrepreneurs.
Pfister said the first cohort of fellows was selected using a number of criteria, including a record of academic excellence at Harvard and a demonstrated passion for leadership and problem-solving. The inaugural class of 14 fellows, who were notified in February of their selection, boasts diverse interests, startup experiences, and concentrations, which range from Mechanical Engineering to Government to History and Science.
Kemi E. Akenzua ’20, a fellow studying History and Science, wrote in an emailthat the first few months of the program have already been very educational.
“We had a case study workshop with Tom Eisenmann, a design thinking workshop with [SEAS Computer Science Professor] Krzysztof Gajos, and met with the inaugural MS/MBA students,” she wrote.
SEAS and the Business School have recently partnered to launch the MS/MBA joint degree program, which confers an MBA from the Business School and a Master of Science in Engineering Sciences from SEAS. The inaugural class of 29 students began their studies in August 2018.
Several fellows said the program appealed to their personal interests in the intersection of technology and business, which they have honed through internship experiences and courses taken at Harvard.
Vicky Xu ’20, a fellow studying Applied Math and a Crimson design editor, said she has always been curious about how technology and cities interact, especially with regards to urbanization and increased demands for more efficiency.
For Akenzua, the program’s novelty presents both challenges and opportunities to influence its growth.
“We’re very excited to be here and to be a part of the inaugural class but there’s no Q guide to look through or alums to consult — we’re really charting our own path, which is exciting but also unprecedented,” she wrote.
Sean H. Murphy ’20, a fellow studying Statistics, said one of his main goals in participating in the program is to create an “intergenerational relationship” between the inaugural group of fellows and subsequent cohorts.
“I’m very excited about being able to meet people — not just at the Business School but also the fellows. I think it’s a good opportunity to try to develop a community that I can go back to and consult, possibly partner up with after Harvard,” Murphy said.
The application to join the next cohort of Technology Innovation Fellows, which is open to current College sophomores, is due April 1.
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