Harvard Business School students built an app that connects future entrepreneurs to resources, startup founders and alumni in Harvard’s network. The goal was to make this traditionally risky and lonely career path less-so.
With big dreams of becoming the next breakthrough startup founder, MBA students are among those widely sharing their entrepreneurial intentions. 85% of MBA students surveyed say they’re considering starting a company when they graduate. But when it comes time for graduation not all students are willing to take the risk.
“There are so many people I know at HBS that are interested in entrepreneurship, but they often fall back into something like consulting or banking because it’s a safe choice that enables students to pay off the mountain of debt that often comes with an MBA.”
Two thirds of startups fail, often because the idea simply didn’t catch on with customers, or they lack adequate advisors or investors. Most simply run out of money. Startup incubators across the country are tackling this problem head on. Many have turned to Airtable to create a database of resources and networking opportunities for startup founders. From Yale’s Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking, to the global network of innovators at MassChallenge, and at Harvard Business School where Will Sternlicht built HBSBuilds.
Sternlicht is a joint Master of Public Policy and Master of Business Administration candidate entering his final year at HBS. In April of 2022, he built Harvard’s largest independent, student-run platform that compiles data on companies founded by HBS alumni, on campus resources and events, deals for MBA founders, and a searchable database of nearly every startup within the Harvard alumni network. Sternlicht says VC firms are beginning to look at this platform for ideas they’d be interested in backing. “I wanted to make it as easy as possible for students to find the right people to talk to, whether it's to get advice for your startup, find cofounders, or find an investor,” Sternlicht said.
Before business school Sternlicht worked at a venture capital firm in Palo Alto. Coming face to face with homelessness made him want to build a solution. When he arrived in Cambridge he immediately started looking for prop-tech resources on campus, property technology is the intersection of IT and real estate it influences the way housing is built and sold. He received a Google Sheet with a handful of phone numbers and some discounted SaaS tools students could use, but no archival history or networking options for his area of interest. “Resources were scattered, there wasn’t a way to see if someone had ever created something similar. It was as if institutional knowledge was lost every year,” Will said.
After trying out a few low-code tools he found himself drawn to Airtable, and it took him just a couple of hours to get a working app published.
“When I started using Airtable I didn’t know how simple it could be to get started, it really surpassed all my expectations.”
To be featured on the site students have to apply through an Airtable form which triggers an automated response letting them know their application is being reviewed. Once he confirms the student is an MBA candidate at Harvard he gives them access to an exclusive list of discounts and deals.
He uses gallery view to display every company that has been founded by an HBS student or alumni, the sector, funding stage, operating stage, contact information, and a short description of what each startup aims to accomplish.
“Airtable has helped me connect with a lot of people and bring this community together, especially the on-campus alumni community.”
When he started this program six months ago there was no record of exactly how many startups had been founded at Harvard. HBSBuilds now boasts more than 450 registered companies, Sternlicht says he expects the list will only grow exponentially from here. “As someone who cares about helping people find new ways to solve societal problems I wanted to save people time. The more people we can convince to try something entrepreneurial the better. HBSBuilds can lower the barrier to getting started.”