Smart & Wacky StartUp Ideas From Harvard

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

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!”

One HBS micro-business startup is selling what it calls "premium undergarments" like this pair of skull boxers at $20 a pop.

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

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  • 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.


  • 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.”

  • 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 :)

  • Jason

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

  • 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..

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