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VentureWorks Spring 2016 Kickoff

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by Alexandra Sukin

Harvard Ventures’ undergraduate accelerator VentureWorks celebrated its second cohort of startups with a sushi dinner kickoff. The eight startups selected were founded by students at Harvard College, Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School and represented focuses on health foods, exercise, living costs in urban area, and more.

Startup “Welcome Home,” from law school student Daniel Wu, for example, seeks to convert and rent quality rooms at 30% discount by creating secure and soundproof bedrooms out of existing bedrooms/living rooms with a code-compliant partition system that integrates ample storage while not damaging the room. Business school student Jean Luo’s startup “Outdoor Pass” seeks to help customers discover and do outdoor activities with friends such as 5Ks and fun runs, biking, skiing, kayaking, and more. The service is defined by curated personalized recommendations, community and social referral ‘buddy pass’ features, and a delightful tech-enabled product.

At the kickoff, startups interacted and spoke about their goals for the year. As they prepare for the Intercollegiate Pitch Off, a pitch day for startups from Columbia, Brown, Northeastern, MIT, UPENN and Princeton, they will be working with VentureWorks to hone ideas, generate and refine pitch decks, and meet with mentors. Pejman Nozad from Pejman Mar, Yida Gao from New Enterprise Associates, and other VCs and startup founders will speak with the startups about the steps to success.

Co-Directors Alexandra Sukin ’19 and Benny Pleat ’17 are excited to see the startups progress during the spring. The amazing diversity of focus and background of founders is unparalleled for Harvard undergraduate accelerators, and everyone at Harvard Ventures is looking forward to an incredible showing at IPO and Harvard’s own demo day.

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Non-Techies in a Tech World

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by Aashay Sanghvi

Will having a technical degree or background help you get a job at a startup? Absolutely. Yet, will having that very same technical background help you add the most value at an early-stage company? Not necessarily.


Recently, there has been an obsession in the mainstream media, education community, and technology thought leadership with the idea of learning to code. The concept of the programming guru has been romanticized and fetishized, demarcated as the only way of getting into the lucrative world of startups and tech. This is not without cause. When building technology, it is important that one have a mastery of engineering and design. During the evolution of computing, one has witnessed the job market expand for C programmers to modern web developers working with Ruby and Python to mobile engineers working with iOS and Android. These roles will only increase as technology products become more ubiquitous, and even more jobs will open up for technical people who can work with hardware, virtual reality, and big data.


Yet, I would argue that there are opportunities for all types of roles and personalities within the world of startups. In order to successfully scale and commercialize technology products, there needs to a whole ensemble of characters who have a sense of customer empathy and psychological understanding. Subjects traditionally taught in humanities curricula have applications for those who want to work in startups.

A successful startup has people who understand how people think, feel, and behave.

They have designers and marketers who understand why people make the decisions they do and why they’ve done so in the past as well. History, literature, philosophy, and other subjects in that realm have their place. While one person may be suited to more technical challenges, there are parts of company building that require more social and qualitative cognition.

Although non-technical positions are more difficult to come by, one can often hustle his or her way into one through resourcefulness and tenacity. Early companies are so lightweight and nimble that they are often looking for people in any sort of role. These positions are rarely posted online, but getting the jobs is normally a combination of cold outreach and building relationships. Great companies are built at the intersection of excellence in business, design, and engineering principles. Having a group of diverse thinkers and makers on a startup team is advantageous; therefore, one should not think this whole sector is limited to one specific group of people.

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Networking 101: Effective Communication

Networking 101- Effective Communication

by Joy Jin

College students are constantly reminded of the importance of effective networking in enhancing careers. Recently, Mitchell Dong (entrepreneur, Pythagoras Investment) headed a Networking 101 workshop at Harvard detailing common pitfalls that people of all networking skill levels make. This networking practice session had several key focus areas—preparation, meeting people, conversation, and connection.

In this article, I will be focusing on summarizing some of Dong’s key tips to enhance connection, which is a field most commonly associated with networking, yet is often easiest to fumble with:

1. Business Cards
• Always bring business cards, and have them handy—if you are fumbling around in your bag for them, the other person will move onto someone else
• Take notes on the business cards you receive so you don’t forget the person
• Older people often prefer to exchange business cards rather than social media contacts

2. Email
• Exchanging email addresses often involve typos—ask the person to enter his or her name next to the email so you can look them up later
• Send an email instantly after they enter the address and ask if the person received it—even though we exchange emails, it’s not often that the other person emails you back or initiates

3. Social Media
• In regards to social media, European professionals generally tend to use WhatsApp, Chinese people use WeChat, Japanese people use Line, and Korean people use KakaoTalk—using these native apps can allow for easier contact and more immediate connection

4. Follow Up
• When leaving, say goodbye to people you care most about—this demonstrates your appreciation for their help and subtly reminds them to follow up
• Email is the most common follow up method (many professionals don’t check LinkedIn)
• In your follow-up email, include in the subject line a reminder of the event name
• Compare notes and share contacts with a networking partner to increase the number of your connections by a significant percentage

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Talking Tech: Real Stories From Real Interns

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by Matthew Huang

For computer science students, working at a tech company over the summer is a great way to become familiar with the technical industry. Here are some of the experiences that Harvard undergraduates had at various tech companies this summer.

Willy Xiao interned at Facebook this past summer, and worked on a Browser Partnerships Task Force. Willy’s project involved optimizing Facebook push notifications across multiple platforms. Like many other companies, at Facebook all interns are assigned a team based on a pre-survey that they fill out, and interns can select from essentially any team they are interested in. But one of the more unique highlights of Willy’s experience at Facebook was the proximity that interns have with Mark Zuckerberg himself—there are even weekly Q&A sessions where Zuckerberg very openly answers any questions related to the company.

One element that junior Monica Mishra emphasizes is the social aspect of her experience at Microsoft. The company emphasizes the interaction of interns from all varieties of engineering teams, fostering a very tight-knit community. This social experience allows interns to learn about the company and about engineering through conversations with peers. Monica of course also enjoyed her project experience at Microsoft—she worked on the Office365 Team, and had the opportunity to develop and execute her own project from scratch, and Microsoft still uses her project today.
Freshman Jesse Zhang worked at Intel over the summer. For Jesse, one factor that stood out was having the experience of living autonomously with a few roommates. Further, he enjoyed the planned activities that Intel had for its workers—ranging from basketball to escape the room to board games. Jesse worked on the Design Automation team, where he pointed out how capable and professional everyone was at Intel. The atmosphere is both diverse and supportive, and allows interns to fit in very comfortably.

All three of these tech companies are great ways for college students to spend an enjoyable, challenging, and rewarding summer.

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Winter Xcelerate

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by The Winter Xcelerate Team

It’s that time of year again, when the last-minute struggle to get a killer winternship or to submit those last few applications to get a free service trip to Asia add just another layer of stress to the never-ending midterm season. But this year, instead of frantically searching for something to do over J-term for another line on your resume, perhaps consider being your own boss for once, and trying your hand at a startup.

Sound radical? Not really. Harvard Ventures is running a program at the iLab during the last week of J-term—January 17th through 23rd–to help get very early stage startups off the ground. Winter Xcelerate is a one-week accelerator program where student teams can get space and mentorship to help them develop ideas and side projects into real businesses. Dust off your old CS50 project, revive that hackathon idea that you’ve thought about so much but just haven’t gotten the time to create, and spend your J-term making it come to life.

Winter Xcelerate has been running for the past 3 years, and each time we have grown and added more features and more value to the teams. This year, the teams will hack for a week at the iLab with food from all our favorite Harvard Square restaurants. The program will also feature lunchtime speaker sessions with professors, VCs, and other big names on the Boston startup scene. These talks will be open to the public, and are a great way to get you thinking about design and entrepreneurship in ways you never have! We wrap things up with a huge Demo Day with a keynote and panel of speakers. Last year, we featured Nick Krasney, co-founder of Philo, Max Campion the CEO of BriefMe, Tara Chang the co-founder of Women’s iLab, and Zach Dunn the co-founder of One Mighty Roar. The teams will also get the opportunity to pitch what they have been working on for a chance to win prize money to continue their venture.

Something new that we are doing this year is working even more closely with the iLab in order to get teams the resources and information that they need in order to apply to be one of the incubated teams in the VIP program. We’re taking steps to make sure that teams know what their options are after the conclusion of the program, and we want to help them determine how they can get the resources that they need to continue to build their product and grow their business. Nearly half the teams from last year were accepted as part of the VIP program in the iLab, and we want to make this space and community even more accessible for the rest of the undergraduates.

Winter Xcelerate is really one of the cornerstones of the undergraduate entrepreneurship scene and a great way to meet other founders, mentors, and VCs. Xcelerate is a great way to explore staring your own company, and might just end up being the most interesting line of your resume. Applications open next week so check the Harvard Ventures website or look out for the pub emails!

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HackHarvard Inspires Entrepreneurial Spirit Among Students

HackHarvard Inspires Entrepreneurial Spirit Among Students

by Joy Jin

This past weekend, hundreds of students representing a number of US and international colleges descended upon campus for HackHarvard. As Harvard’s first annual hackathon, the 36 hour event promoted collaboration on a plethora of digital projects among student groups, regardless of programming experience. Microsoft, Capital One, Facebook, and Wolfram were among the sponsors of the events, drawing a diverse crowd of students. Harvard Ventures sat down with several participants to speak about their experience and thoughts on hacking, intersection of different fields, and entrepreneurship in general.

Q: What hack did you make and what inspired you to do so? Describe the process of building your hack.

Sachin Srivastava (Northwestern): My team and I tried to create a search engine that, given a word describing an emotion, would return a list of book recommendations identifying with that emotion…It was based on the practice of bibliotherapy, a psychological therapy in which a patient reads books with themes relating to events in his or her own life. We ran into some challenges on the back-end work and implementing the searching mechanism, but after speaking with engineers from Google, Wolfram, and Microsoft, we were able to get a working website though it only responded to certain inputs.

Nathan Yu (MIT): My team and I created Osmos, an app that allows users to find nearby study groups that align with their own studying habits, which was inspired primarily by my lack of productivity. As it is psychologically proven that individuals focus better under external or social pressure, we hope Osmos will allow students all across the US to study more effectively. We used HTML, CSS, Javascript, and Parse—one of the difficulties that we ran into was utilizing the Google Maps API to integrate distance into our algorithm for finding the best study groups.

Q: What makes entrepreneurship appealing to you?

Srivastava: My dream job is to start multiple organizations that positively impact the lives of billions of people. Entrepreneurship is so appealing because it’s a team sport, yet in many ways you are your own. It’s also the most creative profession. You can be an entrepreneur and create a product or service relating to any field imaginable.

Q: Do you envision yourself improving on your hack, and is there a particular area you were inspired to explore?

Srivastava: I don’t envision myself building off of the hack because to truly implement it would require extensive algorithmic knowledge that I currently don’t have…At this point, I’m really using hackathons as learning experiences to see what hacking is about and learn by doing, whether that’s web or mobile development. One takeaway from HackHarvard would be that I should try to get my ideas out there as much as possible, since there are quite a few talented people willing to help out.

Q: What was one thing that you really hoped would come through when you were helping to organize HackHarvard?

Yong Li Dich (Harvard): I really wanted participants (most were first-time hackers) to enjoy the event and not feel as if they were being thrown in a competitive atmosphere. That’s why we provided a nap space, had musical chair and dance breaks, promoted collaboration (no solo projects allowed), pushed for more workshops and talks surrounding learning skills, and had participants think about the impact of their projects rather than just prizes.

Angie Rao (Harvard): I also think one of the most exciting things about hacking and entrepreneurship is that it gives everyday people the ability to build so much with just a few lines of code. I honestly became involved in HackHarvard on a whim because I wanted to try something new, but stayed in it because others on the board are so dedicated to their work.

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The Drop Out Scene

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by Harvard Ventures Staff

“You’re running out of time to drop out!” chimes my friend in the middle of a discussion of our summer internship plans. “Mark Zuckerberg did it second semester sophomore year, and you know that’s the only way to be successful. You shouldn’t be interviewing, you should be innovating!” he continues, and he is only half-joking. While it’s easy to tease about leaving college to go work on building the next big thing, we would be remiss not to acknowledge that the hero and role model alums like Zuckerberg and Gates certainly make that course of action feel at least more reasonable, if not desirable. Far from the stigma that dropping out of school held in the past, it has become sensationalized and dropouts are applauded rather than questioned. This makes sense in the context of the social paradigm shift that has been taking place over the past decade, that values youth and innovation over experience and tradition. These ex-students are lauded for blazing their own trail, and breaking down our conception both the type of knowledge that we perceive to be important and the way in which we go about obtaining it. But this begs the question, is dropping out something that we should be encouraging?

Perhaps we already are. Articles like this one and the general prevalence of the idea of “stopping out” of school that is perpetuated by the media and programs like the Thiel Fellowship put a very interesting type of pressure on students who are starting or thinking of starting their own businesses. It is positioned as not only an option, but potentially a better alternative than finishing your degree. You are told that what you stand to do and learn by launching your startup is so much more than what you can gain sitting in classes, and you are assured that there is no way to complete all of your schoolwork at the same time as you are starting a company. While this is undeniably true for some (read: Zuck), the blunt reality is that not everybody has a Facebook-level idea or the skills to really pull it off.

Entrepreneurship and innovation are trending right now, which has created a whole batch of “wantrepreneurs,” people who want to start a business for the sake of having their own business or being their own boss. At the risk of sounding trite, it’s important to remember that when it comes down to it, dropping out of school is a huge commitment, and ultimately one that could rearrange the course of someone’s future. This over-emphasis on dropping out could push some students who really should not be leaving school to wrongly consider, or even do it. The barriers to taking time off, especially here at Harvard, are surprisingly low. Putting your education on hold takes nothing more than a signature on a piece of paper, and students know that they will be able to return to finish their degree at virtually any time. There’s a massive community of super-seniors and social seniors who will tell you about how you can still walk in your class graduation, but just come back the following year to finish up your classes, and how the social scene really isn’t that bad even though all your blockmates have already left. It’s nearly too easy to consider it a reasonable path to take, and it’s almost scary how ready we are to give up something that we worked so hard to have the ability to attain: a Harvard education.

We forget the sacrifices we made to get in here—the long hours in the library in high school studying for another AP test while our friends were out at the movies, the thousands of hours of practices and workouts to get recruited, the way we agonized over every single one of those 500 words in the common app. We did all of this just to have a chance to be in this environment, surrounded by other incredible people, learning from world-renown professors, and it is such an interesting phenomenon that we are willing to give that up so readily to pursue “Uber for cats” or the like. Call me old fashioned, but I still stand by the idea and the value of a liberal arts education. Not even considering the social learning that we as students do, there are things that we will learn in classes that we surely wouldn’t learn otherwise. Of course you can read books or watch lectures on East Asian religions or architecture in Ancient Greece, but if we are being honest with ourselves, we are not going to do that unless some outside force is motivating us. Especially when our lives are dominated by market validation, user acquisition, AB tests, and shipping a new version of the product. It’s this learning that will be lost to all of the dropouts, and it’s an opportunity cost that is so easy to overlook in the decision making process. It’s hard to be decidedly pro or against leaving school, as there are benefits to both and what you can gain in either situation is obviously heavily dependent on the student. What is potentially more important to communicate to those who are thinking of dropping out though, is the warning that you shouldn’t drop out just to drop out. Don’t leave your education behind just because you think that it’s something that you are expected to do as an entrepreneur, or that it will validate your business as a “real” startup. And what’s more, don’t forget that feeling you had when you opened up your email to find “congratulations” written at the top, and don’t trivialize what it would mean to give that up. But if despite all of the hesitations and lost opportunities you know that every day you would wake up excited to get out of bed to grow your idea, then perhaps dropping out could be the best validation there is, and stepping off your campus could be the first day of the rest of your life.