The HBS Rock Center for Entrepreneurship is a great resource and the school in general provides many great resources for those interested in starting a business. While highly encouraged, it is seldom followed because 1) It's really really really hard, and 2) The opportunity cost of not accepting a job out of school is very significant. Many students claim that they are also burdened with debt and therefore cannot start a business, although I would say this is more of a way for somebody who is naturally risk averse to justify it to themselves. It's tough to walk away from a nice signing bonus and lucrative compensation with a prestigious firm in return for a mountain of debt, uncertain future, and a diet of ramen noodles.
There are of course students that make use of the resources offered at school, mostly mentorship and networking, and experiment with start-ups while still in school. These are often very low capital business ideas that students can use to experiment with and incur very little downside. If the business gains traction, the student can pursue venture capital or other ways to grow the business. Many of these businesses are built in conjunction with a "Field Study" structure sponsored by a professor, and therefore the students also receive course credit.
I'll list businesses started by classmates of mine in the Class of 2011. I'm not aware of an official master list anywhere, but these are businesses I have come across through personal discussions and meetings. There could be more, and I will keep a running list on the left column of this blog from here on out.
Class of 2011 start-ups (not complete list):
- SaferTaxi - Helps rate, share, and schedule taxis
- Athena Advantage - Provides personal security training my military special ops
- Pushpins - Provides instant grocery store coupons through a smartphone app
- FashionStake - A place to discover new fashion designers and to purchase from fashion collections
- K+E Advisors - School admissions consulting
- CleverBootz - Travel planning tools
- KlickPlan - Group coupon discounts and event planning
- Farm Builders - Provides long-term financing and agricultural management services to support tree crop farmers in West Africa
- GobbleBus - An online bus hub for transportation planning
- SenseCheck5 - Online users can sample new products/services for free or deep discount in exchange for their feedback
- Crooster - Advanced survey designs
- And of course...MilitrayToBusiness: Consulting Service for Top Performers
I don't know how many businesses were launched last year, but I'm familiar with four that are still going:
Class of 2010 start-up survivors (not complete list):
- TroopSwap - A private marketplace for US military personnel
- LearnBoost - Tools and gradebooks for teachers
- RelayRides - A neighbor-to-neighbor carsharing program
- Birchbox - Delivers beauty sample products by mail
In April of every year HBS hosts a business plan competition. While I wouldn't say it has been a great predictor of who might succeed or fail, it is a great showcase of ideas and more than anything encourages students to improve their business models and offers solid exposure and feedback. A list of past winners can be found here.
Where this leads to...
While some might, it's unlikely that many of the current Class of 2011 start-ups will lead to blockbuster businesses. They do however provide a great learning platform for entrepreneurs to refine their skills and undoubtedly many of those entrepreneurs will be at the forefront of new ventures in the years to come. When I think of successful start-ups by HBS grads in recent years, most were started after some post-MBA work experiences. Off the top of my head, these include companies like TheLadders.com, Care.com, Military.com, and Gilt Groupe. Gilt Groupe is a fashion clothing sample sale site launched in 2007, and now supposedly worth well over $500 million.
I hope this has helped shed some light on start-up opportunities at HBS, and I would guess similar articles could be written about other business schools.
And with that... I am about to board my plane to India. Good luck to all the round 2 applicants!