Before the Harvard innovation lab publicly opened its doors in November, we spoke with Director Gordon Jones about the future. He referred to the i-lab as a startup itself, describing the space as a “kindergartner” compared to the 27-year-old MIT Media Lab and Stanford’s 16-year-old Deisseroth Lab. With one academic year under the i-lab’s belt, however, it appears the team’s accelerated past first grade, welcoming 125 ventures into the space and a soon-to-be four new employees.
“We’re really pleased with how things have gone,” says Coordinator Neal Doyle, pointing to the holiday week over the Fourth of July as a perfect example, when 70 students were still working hard every day. “I think we’re seeing the kind of growth we might have, in our wildest dreams, hoped for in a real-time daily basis.”
After kicking off the i-lab with a successful StartUp Scramble, other student startups began pouring in. Beyond providing mentorship and resources, the i-lab’s also held workshops open to the public, even welcoming groups like the Boston Startup School to utilize the space.
“We’ve always said that we consider ourselves a node in the network and want to be a part of the ecosystem,” Doyle says. “TechStars is a great organization, and we wanted to try and support that.”
Jones has always believed in “building the pie,” and claims they’ll be offering a greater volume of workshops and seminars over the course of the next year.
While they’re doing that, however, they’ll also be focusing more on their “startup,” as well, branching out into the areas of social enterprise, consumer Internet and life sciences. Doyle admits they’re hiring another coordinator position, along with three assistant directors of programming centered on those three subject areas.
“Those are the areas we’ve seen the most student interest and the most student ventures,” Doyle says. Although those aren’t the only areas students are working in, there will be a heavier emphasis on them, allowing for, as Jones describes it, “a sense of ownership.” Now, they’re just looking for applicants who “love students but also love that [specific] practice area,” according to Jones.
As they gear up for the fall semester, Doyle claims they’re also planning trips to Silicon Valley and New York for students who both have and demonstrate an interest in entrepreneurship. “The purpose of the trip is to introduce students to that particular ecosystem and to leverage Harvard’s connection in that ecosystem,” Doyle says. Last year, students were given the chance to meet alumni in California and see how willing they were to help. As for this year, Doyle expects “we’ll have far more students interested than we’ll be able to accommodate.”
The amount of progress the i-lab’s made in just one short year has been incredible. “We’ve been really pumped at the level of student interest,” Gordon says, admitting it exceeded his expectations. “We just feel like, in the end, our goal is to be resourcing students in a way they can’t resource themselves.”
So far, the i-lab’s accomplished that, and more. As Doyle says, “Now we’re trying to keep the ship pointed in the right direction and the oars in the water.”
Photo Courtesy of Which Light