From Renegade to Required
A very brief look at the trajectory of Harvard undergraduate entrepreneurship activity
At least since the 1930s and until 2000 undergraduate entrepreneurs were prohibited from campus; yet they nevertheless existed, daring and alienated—call it the renegade era. In 2000 the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH) was founded in the now Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences to embrace entrepreneurial culture and support it broadly across campus. That same year, the student handbook was amended to lift the blanket prohibition and a committee was constituted to oversee new student ventures, beginning a period of regulation. Six years later, in 2006, following a review requested by the dean of Harvard College, the committee disbanded, calling for a more supportive relationship with student entrepreneurs and allowing the possibility that greater resources for them might be appropriate. All the while, TECH, since 2000, had been supporting students’ innovation and entrepreneurship needs. In 2008, TECH began to provide the programs that remain at the heart of the College entrepreneurship experience: i3, the Harvard College Innovation Challenge, TECH Startup Square, an undergraduate founder space in Harvard Square, then in 2012, Startup R&D, a multi-semester elective course specifically designed to foster founders and their ideas.
This is where we are now. Where are we going? Further into the age of requirement. The economy and many other schools and institutions are already there. So are many of our students—they come to campus wanting to change the world and they know that requires them to be creative, inventive, innovative and entrepreneurial in whatever fields they may enter. They aren’t waiting for an authority to give them permission, or for the time to be right, or for opportunity to knock. They are responding to the incredible amount of change, uncertainty and need all around them and they are brainstorming ideas, applying their knowledge, defining problems, teaming up, designing experiments, prototyping solutions, testing markets and creating value in both social and economic terms. It isn’t easy—it is daunting and exhilarating, confusing and life changing, challenging and rewarding. There is no algorithm, no certain road map. There is learning by doing and it is an exciting, meaningful, enduring and evermore required part of the college experience. We cannot and would not want to try to do it for them, but we can help. Our collective years and networks of experience help make it a positive, connected endeavor; and our financial support and services help provide the infrastructure and resources that foster the most effective learning environment.
Our ongoing efforts are promising, but like good entrepreneurs, our job is to keep it going and build it sustainably so that the time comes when an entrepreneurial college experience—and the life skills it provides—is as expected and supported on campus as sportsmanship on the playing fields, musicianship in the concert halls and scholarship in the classroom.