Smart & Wacky StartUp Ideas From Harvard

Have a friend going through a difficult breakup? Buy them a “breakup box” that includes a bunch of customized chocolates, an iTunes playlist of breakup songs, a prescription pad of suggested activities and inspiration for the first 30 days, and a box of tissues.

Need a taxi? There’s a smartphone app that finds your exact location. With a single tap on your iPhone, the closest taxi is dispatched to you in minutes. The tagline for the business: “Don’t call, don’t hail, just use Taxi Galaxi!”

They are just two of some 150 ideas for new startup businesses that are coming out of Harvard Business School’s new MBA curriculum. The startups range from one company called Kinsey that sells “premium undergarments” for men via an online site to another called 4n Friend that is creating an online network that matches language tutors with students all over the world. Kinsey’s marketing materials promote its products this way: “Underneath every man and his pants is a thirst for style.”

Most of these fledgling enterprises were launched last week by a April 18th deadline imposed by the school on the 150 six-student teams participating in the initiative. The exercise is the third part of Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD), a required first-year course that spans a full academic year. The course focuses on developing small-group learning experiences that are immersive, field-based, and action-oriented.

The micro-business startups are part of the final module of FIELD. Three months ago, first-year students were assigned to teams and told to come up with a viable idea and then bring it to life with the help of an initial $3,000 in seed capital provided by Harvard Business School. After ten-minute presentations on their ideas, fellow students, acting as investors, began trading in a simulated stock market that was open for two hours. (See table below on ten of the more highly valued ideas.)

The idea given the best market reception–at least as perceived by Harvard Business School students trading in the simulated market–is IvyKids, a startup that is creating an educational iPad application that supposedly bridges the virtual and physical worlds. The team that came up with the idea has already secured funding outside of Harvard Business School and boasts an advisory board member from Disney. One of the team members has also agreed to work on the project full-time this summer rather than take a summer internship elsewhere.

“Last spring when we were designing the exercise, we looked at ourselves and said this is just crazy to have a team of six students who don’t know each other build a business when they have all this other coursework to do,” says Alan MacCormack, an adjunct professor at Harvard Business School who is one of the faculty designers of the experience. “But it’s really exceeded our expectations in terms of what we have seen teams able to achieve in three months. The diversity of these businesses is really inspirational.”


HBS’ Top Micro StartupsStock PriceDescription
IvyKids$359An educational iPad app that bridges virtual and physical worlds; already has an advisory board member from Disney
ServiceGauge$277Allows companies to get candid customer feedback
RENTective$265Connects out-of-town apartment seekers with locals who are paid to check out apartments they can’t personally visit
Bundle of Joy$254Sells bundles of products for expectant mothers via e-commerce platform$246Similar to HBS startup Rent the Runway, it allows online customers to rent sarees for special occasions
TAV Cashmere$236A socially responsible luxury goods company that donates portion of profits to schools in rural Mongolia
Go Park Go$234An app that connects drivers with commercial parking lots and can set real-time pricing based on parking inventory
TrivPals$220An app that allows users to play mobile trvia games with friends; first release boasts more than 11,000 questions
MySousChef$180A delivery service to make it easy to cook at home$176A website offering two take-out options to customers every evening

Source: The Harbus

Notes: List is of the most highly valued microbusinesses in each Harvard Business School section. Stock price is the perceived value of the startup by fellow students in a stock market simulation

  • Francis

    Now, spammers are allowed if they are students from HBS too? There is no way you can put a link in a comment in this site, but guess what, this guy from rentective did it… oh, he is a HBS student..

  • Jason

    Maybe because if we really try, we can all get into HBS! Sarcasm obviously.

  • Rentective’s Mr. T

     HBS, Stanford, Wharton, Chicago 2014 admits—try out in your housing search and save the travel costs for that summer Europe trip 🙂

  • JohnAByrne

    One point I’d like to address is that this Harvard exercise is less about entrepreneurship and more about integrating all the learning in the first year core classes. Harvard wanted to give its students the chance to apply what they learned in a real world environment. But as Youngme Moon, the chair of Harvard’s MBA program, says in the main story (this one is a sidebar to that primary story), “A misperception would be for the world to think that we want the next Facebook to come out of HBS. In fact, we tell our students that if you are a budding entrepreneur and you have a great idea that you think will be the next Facebook, don’t use it in this. This is a learning exercise that allows you to experiment in a relatively risk free environment. You’re given the resources, talent and time to go through the motions of a startup enterprise. The idea is almost secondary. And that’s the spirit in which we’re doing this.”

  • Life

    MBAgirl, that is a great point. Also people forget that you don’t become successful because you left school and went to the silicon valley. Great entrepreneurs had great ideas and that IS the reason they left school not the other way around. I think people’s view of the entrepreneur who left school and became more successful is simplistic and insulting towards them. They had a good idea and it make sense for them to not go to bschool, not the other way around.


  • MBAgirl

    I’m going to a top school and I am an engineer.  I even work in a factory.  And I agree, that not everyone needs an MBA to start a business.  I’m guessing, if you can afford to travel for 1 yr after undergrad, you probably don’t.  But for those of us who are not well-connected because we are low-income or minorities or women, the MBA does give us some credibility when looking for investors.  

    I think it’s easy to say, pull yourself up by the bootstraps but people like Richard Branson, Sam Walton, etc. all had family/friends who gave them contacts and money.  If you start digging into the backgrounds of these people, you more-often-than-not see some big lucky break such as a rich family member or some big gvt. handout or something.  

    For those of use who don’t have that, an MBA gets our foot in the door. 

  • TA

    I don’t understand why you need to pay for an ivy undegrad, work your butt off for 4 years and spend 250k , then work 15 hours a day as an analyst in NYC for another 4  just  to get into HBS and then spend another 200k to come up with ideas for start ups like this. Its absurd. You dont need these fancy degree for these kind of start ups.
    If anyone has the time , please forget all this stupid over rated B school start up stuff and look west at silicon valley, where people with degrees in real world fields(such as engineering and the sciences ) are creating magic in the field of carbon nanotubes, green energy, health services etc.
    If only engineers can learn to not be so annoyingly nerdy and geeky  and get over themselves(learn to dress well , be aware of the world be charming and speak well) , people wouldnt need business majors anymore. I have an undergrad degree at a top midwestern public ivy school, and now am in grad school at another public ivy in texas. Both are in engineering.
    After my undergrad I took a year to travel, see the world, learn things about my self and evolve as a human being. I don’t need a fancy B school to teach  me this stuff. 
    In my opinion these B schools are like night clubs, they create this virtual reality , they segregate simple hardworking people with thier admission stats(like velvet ropes), they are full of companies that are complete tosh and have no real value in todays world(YES Bulge bracket finance firms and MBBB) just like the over dressed, fake tan , fake tits women who walk around these night clubs like lounge lizards and finally they are black holes for your money and energy.  They are only designed to look fancy and attract fools who think they re gonna walk in and this will be the key to their success in life(just as if they think they re gonna pay 300 bucks to buy a bottle at a nightclub and this an end in itself- the solution to all their problems).

  • Jagritichoudhary

     Because for schools like these, Enterpreneurship or business is a priority…. Many B schools do exactly the same thing and often they do many things at the same time.. However, Great schools know what to put at the top of their list and what to market first!

  • Lordzilla24

    I agree with you Mark. A school like Skolkovo is doing great stuff with its programme than the Harvards, Babsons and all…

  • Mark

    Why HBS students and Harvard in general get so much publicity in this site? There are 1000x ideas from
    entrepreneurs from other b-schools 1000x more interesting that these.