The Harvard Innovation Labs: The Story Behind The Numbers
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The Harvard Innovation Labs: The Story Behind The Numbers

Harvard Innovation Lab Staff with Hi Logo

June is always a month of transition for universities. Students have just finished exams, graduates are searching for their next challenge, and faculty are turning their focus to their research projects. While the Harvard Innovation Labs continues to thrive throughout the summer, with more than 70 student-led teams signed up for our summer Venture Incubation Program (VIP), June serves as a natural point to reflect on the 2015-2016 academic year.

When it comes to reflecting, our team takes a very analytical approach, dissecting everything from the diversity of Harvard schools represented by our student and alumni teams to the number of entrepreneurial mentors and types of educational programming we offered. Increases and decreases in various statistics are not the focus of our introspection. Instead, we aim to assess the impact of our programming and the adherence to the mission of the Harvard Innovation Labs, which is to create a cross-disciplinary ecosystem for the Harvard community to explore innovation and entrepreneurship while building deeper connections.

There’s still much we can improve on, but I wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the more notable 2015-2016 statistics. Collectively, they tell a story of this 4 1/2-year-old experiment focused on bringing together students and alumni from all 12 Harvard schools to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems through innovation.

Connecting the One Harvard community

Our approach is aligned with President Drew Faust’s One Harvard initiative. Breaking down silos between the Harvard schools is a central component of what we try to achieve at the Harvard Innovation Labs. We believe that ventures founded by Harvard students and alumni have the best chance to succeed when made up of individuals who can bring different perspectives and experiences from across the Harvard community.

This year, 273 students and alumni worked on 117 ventures with the support of the Harvard Innovation Labs. Approximately 50 percent of ventures had more than one Harvard school on their team, and all 12 Harvard schools were represented. Harvard College and Harvard Business School had the largest representation, with each school making up 25 percent of the early-stage companies. We also saw a strong presence from the Harvard Medical School, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Education, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Kennedy School of Government.

Fostering diversity of ideas and leadership

Ventures working out of the Harvard Innovation Labs have access to an unparalleled group of mentors and advisors, including entrepreneurs-in-residence, legal partners, venture capitalists, angel investors, i-lab staff, and other visiting practitioners. We had more than 1,500 hours of advising opportunities available in the last year alone.

When entrepreneurs with such diverse backgrounds come together, the result is an incredible diversity of ventures. Approximately 20 percent of the student-led startups in the fall and spring were focused on social impact, and 30 percent on health or life sciences. We also had a strong base of technology (36%) and consumer (14%) ventures.

One number we are most proud of is that amongst the venture teams approximately 50 percent of the founders were female. At a time when only 7 percent of women-led startups receive capital, we’re committed to creating an environment where every person, regardless of gender, has an equal opportunity to get the resources they need to turn their ideas into viable businesses.

Hosting events that inspire

We strive to provide students and alumni with education related to all areas of innovation and entrepreneurship. In the last year alone, we hosted roughly 1,000 events on a broad range of topics, from workshops on mobile app design to presentations on how failure is an essential part of being an entrepreneur. We also recently launched our Other Side Speaker Series, which engages innovation luminaries, such as The Root’s Tariq Trotter (aka Black Thought), former Etsy CEO Maria Thomas, and Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel, to share their successes, failures, and perspective on what it takes to succeed.

We see these events as not just a way for students and alumni to learn about new topics, but an opportunity for them to connect with each other in meaningful ways. We’ve been thrilled to see many ventures formed by people who met at a Harvard Innovation Labs' event, such as Vaxess, pioneering silk biomaterial technologies that allow vaccines to be shipped without refrigeration, and Mark43, developing law enforcement software that allows police to more effectively collect and analyze information.

Seeing innovation and entrepreneurship thrive

There are so many examples of Harvard Innovation Labs’ ventures having a broader impact on the Harvard community and world, it’s impossible to mention them all here. We feature many of their achievements in our news section, but briefly, here are a few highlights:

Harvard Innovation Labs hosts a series of competitions each year to allow early-stage ventures the opportunity to showcase what they’re working on, and the teams who won the competitions this year were focused on some particularly compelling problems.

For instance, Shield AI, a company focused on empowering robotics with intelligent software to perceive and navigate the world, won the first annual Harvard Yale Pitch-Off. We also had many impressive student-led companies win top prizes for the President’s Challenge and Dean’s Challenges, including SurgiBox, solving the problem of surgical sterility; Magic Make Hers, helping girls of color envision themselves in any career; and Herald, which makes health care safer by offering clinicians real-time access to clinical data.

Beyond competitions, a diverse group of startups brought their products to market, including RAW Is Everything, focusing on single ingredient beauty products; Antera Therapeutics, providing a regimen for the safe early introduction of peanut allergens; and DoneGood, an app that makes socially responsible shopping easy.

For startups led by Harvard alumni, TrueMotion, a driver behavior insights company, raised $10M in funding and moved out of the Harvard Innovation Labs into office space in the Seaport District (we’ll miss them!). Collectively, Harvard Innovation Labs ventures have now raised more than $300M since 2011. We also saw two former Harvard Innovation Labs' ventures, greeting cards company LovePop and clothes unshrinking solution Unshrinkit, secure funding on the ABC television program Shark Tank.

Speaking of national media, two Harvard Innovation Labs’ alumni were featured in The New York Times this academic year – ArtLifting, enabling the homeless to sell their art, and RapidSOS, creating a mobile app that improves emergency response.

There are dozens more stories like this from the past year alone, and hundreds since Harvard Innovation Labs started in 2011.

Looking ahead

Our team has greatly enjoyed working with so many inspiring people from the Harvard community over the last year, and we’re looking forward to expanding the Harvard Innovation Labs with the opening of the Harvard Life Lab this fall. The Life Lab will enable us to give high-potential life sciences and biotech ventures with at least one Harvard founder (faculty, alumni, or students) access to fully equipped and permitted laboratory and office space. The Life Lab will have 36 lab benches and 50 co-working seats as well as access to all of the resources at the Harvard i-lab.

Initiatives like the Life Lab reflect how the Harvard Innovation Labs is focused on finding more effective ways to support innovation and entrepreneurship across industries. While there’s much to celebrate from the last academic year, we’re even more excited by the prospect of increasing our levels of support and resources to help more of the Harvard community unlock ideas that have real impact on the world.