“Energy” is what kept Meredith McPherron coming back to Harvard. After graduating from the College in 1989, she dabbled in finance at Goldman Sachs, before nabbing her MBA from the Business School in 1993. Ask her now, nearly 20 years later, how it feels to be returning yet again as the newly-appointed director of the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, and she’ll say, “In some way, I feel like I never left.”
Every year, McPherron was returning to deliver the opening remarks as the founder of the Harvard-Radcliffe Women’s Leadership Conference. She was mentoring students, and serving as a pro bono consultant for the Business School’s Community Action Partners volunteer program. All the while, she held marketing positions at prominent brands, such as General Mills and Guinness Import Company, later to create her own consulting firm called Market Edge Solutions, LLC.
At Market Edge, McPherron was helping entrepreneurs develop viable go-to-market plans. Now, she’s bringing that same spirit to the Arthur Rock Center, where faculty is focused on working with students who are starting a business of their own.
“The cost of failure is almost zero,” McPherron says, referring to why students should even bother with entrepreneurship. Not only does she claim you can get to market with very little capital, but that “the risk is lower and the pay-off is huge.”
Thirty-four entrepreneurial-focused faculty members work out of the Arthur Rock Center to help students realize that. And many do—five percent of students build and launch a business before even finishing their MBA, according to McPherron, who says, “The Arthur Rock Center is uniquely set up to help them advance.”
Twice a year, the Center has given out roughly $50,000 of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Funding. Based on Eric Ries’s Lean Startup methodology—focused on rapid prototyping—the fund was designed to help students push their ideas forward in the most effective, time efficient way possible. Although the fund will still exist, it’s being re-named the “Rock Accelerator” and will feature four clinics students can take advantage of to be sure they receive the mentorship they need.
Between the Arthur Rock Center and the Harvard innovation lab, McPherron says, “We’re serving as a catalyst and gateway for these students.” Although, when it comes to the students, she admits, “There’s a culture of excellence in everything they do”—a trait that also extends to the faculty.
“People here are doers,” McPherron says. She’s found the community to be willing and interested in making the most out of every situation, never sitting back from a conversation, but rather leaning in. “These are all high-impact people, and they’re on a mission. We try and nurture every bit of that.”
That’s where the energy comes from. And as McPherron says, “The energy is what brought me back.”