Dear Harvard Innovation Labs community,
What does the world need right now? What has it always needed more of? How can we stay socially connected while physically distanced? How might the Harvard Innovation Labs community work to address the world’s most complex challenges and serve the greater good? What does it mean to be a truly inclusive space for any Harvard student at any Harvard school at any stage in their entrepreneurial journey?
As we wrestle with these questions and plan for the fall, we want to share what may come as no surprise: we will continue to operate virtually for the fall semester. The health and safety of the Harvard community is paramount. The vast majority of you will be off-campus and around the world—and we want to meet you where you are. Without the serendipity of students and alumni from 13 schools meeting each other, Batten Hall won’t have the same September feel, but our community transcends the physical space.
I’ve found inspiration over the last few months in the incredible people and teams in our i-lab community. You met many of them during our President’s Innovation Challenge finale in May. Since then, we ran our largest-ever summer Venture Program and re-launched Launch Lab X GEO, our alumni accelerator program for venture teams anywhere in the world. We announced our first-ever Spark Grants and gave $180K to teams with powerful new ideas, over 70% of which focused on COVID-19 and/or racial justice. Over the course of the year, we also distributed $900K through the Allston Venture Fund and the Social Impact Fellowship Fund.
Here are a few of the many recent success stories in our community:
- CaribEd helped thousands of students in the Caribbean who lost access to education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- GenUnity opened applications for its civic leadership pilot program, set to kick off in Boston this fall.
- Hikma Health organized the creation of the first county-level, nationwide COVID-19 policy dataset.
- Leading Lights introduced “Game On,” the organization’s newest online mentoring group for young people who love gaming.
- Shelly Xu Design spent the summer testing the scalability of its zero waste fashion designs using on-demand manufacturing (read more about Shelly Xu and other women founders in our community here).
We look forward to the launch of our fall Venture Program on September 15. The application, due by August 18, is open to teams led by at least one matriculated, full-time, degree-seeking Harvard student.
Most importantly, we spent this summer thinking about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging in the i-lab, at Harvard, and beyond. We’re having more honest conversations with ourselves and with Black founders. We’re talking about systemic racism and what it will take to make the Harvard Innovation Labs an anti-racist organization. Right now we have a bias for action, and we feel a deep desire to fix inequities and combat injustices. Listening feels insufficient because it is. Nothing about what’s happening is new; it’s been happening for 400 years. Still, I believe it’s essential to lead with humility and build a foundation of listening and discussing before acting and building. We know we must act in partnership with our community.
Our goal in the coming months is to center equity—in our work at the i-lab and in our lives. We commit to creating an environment that inspires all of our entrepreneurs and teams to reflect and do the same. We’re grateful for the many teams that have long been at the forefront of this fight. The late Congressman John Lewis and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke often of the idea of a beloved community. We know we have much work to do toward that end. It’s vital that we create a space for Black entrepreneurs—and founders of other under-resourced and marginalized identities—within our community beyond what we’ve done.
This time is demanding all of us to think differently and work differently. To work more quickly and, in some cases, more slowly and intentionally. To take risks and take responsibility. To step up and stand for what’s right and, sometimes, to step back and make space. To stay healthy and commit to the health and safety of others. There is a lot of good work to do. Ours is a community committed to doing the work and building amazing things—chief among them a more just and equitable world.
We can’t wait to see you this fall, and I can’t wait to see what we build together.
All my best,
Bruce and Bridgitt Evans Executive Director
Harvard Innovation Labs