Charles River Rivalry for Startup Supremacy

As a result, drafting a business plan is drastically different at each institution. HBS logic suggests starting with a problem. MIT, on the other hand, leads with the technology first.

Inherently, these are different approaches. That’s not to say they can’t lead to a similar conclusion, but the process by which business innovation happens is fundamentally different. Let’s look at some other differences in the business innovation process between the two schools:


HBS is the proud parent of a “new” group that calls themselves the Startup Tribe. Though I think it has unofficially been around for a few years, my impression is that this year’s RC class has jumped in with both feet and taken this brainchild of the Entrepreneurship Unit and turned it into an actual organization. They coordinate speakers, dinners, trips, and meetings with prominent VCs and entrepreneurs. They also share ideas and give critical feedback to help each other perfect their elevator pitches and company visions.

This somewhat mimics a similar trend at MIT called IdeaStorm. Started by three Sloan MBA candidates, IdeaStorm began in the fall of 2009 with just a handful of students at a local bar. It has now grown into a true event. A few times a semester, several hundred individuals from all across the community (students and non-students alike) gather to exchange ideas and brainstorm off-the-wall concepts for companies. The first one I ever attended had about 30 people and a couple of bottles of wine. Now it’s hard to even get in the door. Not only are there hundreds of people, but free food and beer to boot.

Off-season Pick Ups

Just this semester, HBS initiated the first installment of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Fund. This semester’s pilot issued $50,000 in total awards to 9 groups of students using the lean startup methodology. Though not officially a part of the Business Plan Contest, it is run out of the Rock Center and is more or less comparable to one of the smaller $100k contests (i.e. Elevator Pitch or Executive Summary). This program was established at the request of students active in the Startup Tribe, and is designed to promote the type of business model innovations that HBS is likely to generate, specifically those focused on Web, IT, or Mobile plays.

Though the idea of lean startups has taken on a new emphasis this year at HBS, I’m not sure it applies as well to the type of technology driven business innovation that happens at MIT (remember, I’m using very broad brush strokes here). While a good portion of the businesses launched from that side of the river are Web, IT, or Mobile based, many others, including Clean Energy and Life Sciences startups, are likely to result in a much higher capital requirement in order to achieve a minimum viable product. In 2008, MIT launched its first annual Clean Energy Prize, which partners with the $100k Competition and runs a parallel process in the spring semester. Since 2008, over 200 student teams from more than 60 U.S. universities have entered the competition, which has awarded more than $800,000 in cash prizes, thanks to NSTAR and the U.S. Department of Energy.

MIT has also recently launched its newest addition to the $100k Entrepreneurship Competition:YouPitch. It’s a 60 second video pitch competition in which contestants from around the world are eligible to win the $2,000 prize. This addition further distinguishes MIT’s competition, which has now 4 separate contests that build on each other throughout the year to culminate with the final $100k business plan contest. Most other business plan competitions, HBS’ included, are a one shot event.

Point Spread: MIT by 1 – “Where Einstein Meets Edison”

Inspired by the Harvard Law Review, MIT recently launched the MIT Entrepreneurship Review(MITER), led by a handful of passionate entrepreneurial students. In just over a year’s time, the organization has exploded, growing from weekly to daily publication of both original and syndicated content. Entirely student run, MITER has even established a syndication relationship with the Huffington Post. Though publication in and of itself doesn’t guarantee a more successful business innovation process, MITER has done an incredible job of sourcing content from students across MIT’s entire campus, an area in which HBS has traditionally struggled.

Nevertheless, I see both institutions taking big strides toward developing the type of atmosphere that is conducive to business creation and startup incubation. My hat goes off to the students, faculty, and administrators at both schools who have made it a priority to encourage entrepreneurship. And I can’t wait to see what great startups come out of the Charles River Rivalry this year.

This post was previously published on the HBS Managing Innovation Class Blog, where second year students at Harvard Business School publicly reflect on what they are learning in the classroom.  Assistant Professor Karim R. Lakhavi (@klakhani) teaches the course and Bart Howe (@barthowe) is a second-year HBS student.