Field Course: Entrepreneurship Laboratory (E-Lab) - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Field Course: Entrepreneurship Laboratory (E-Lab)

Course Number 6212

Professor Alan MacCormack
Professor Carliss Baldwin
Spring, Q3Q4; 3 credits
Weekly 2.5 hour sessions
Enrollment: limited to 50 students
E-Lab Website

Educational Objectives

E-Lab is a project-based course, in which teams of students work on customer discovery projects for local (typically high-tech) start-up firms. E-Lab host firms have people, outside funding and working technology (although not always a first application for it). Some have products and revenues; others do not. E-Lab's objectives include:

  • Developing and applying skills needed in entrepreneurial ventures, especially those related to analyzing target markets, defining customer value propositions, establishing market and product requirements, and developing go to market strategies;
  • Understanding what it is like to work in fast-paced, entrepreneurial firms;
  • Providing an opportunity to apply academic knowledge in an entrepreneurial setting;
  • Managing a project under time pressure to deliver real, actionable insights to the host;

Firms and Projects

E-Lab firms represent a diverse range of industries and technologies, including Software, Mobile, Clean Tech, Healthcare and Hardware (e.g., Robotics, 3D Printing). They are typically small (between 5 to 40 employees) but have real technology and funding. We focus on local ventures, to maximize the opportunity for face-to-face interactions. We recruit more host firms than teams, so students have a wider choice of possible projects.

Projects vary in focus, but a typical project will involve investigating beachhead markets for a new technology, defining and quantifying the value proposition for target customers, defining market/product requirements and/or developing a go to market strategy.

E-Lab host firms in 2016 included Oasys Water, Desktop Metal, Right Hand Robotics, MC10, Vaxess Technologies, Ovuline, New Valance Robotics, Nix-86 and Hourly Nerd. Examples of past firms and projects can be found on E-Lab's external website. While students may not work on their own startups in E-Lab, they are free to propose potential host firms via the E-Lab website. Host firms for the spring term are recruited during the latter half of the fall term. Host firms are often founded by, funded by, or employ members of the HBS community.

Some host firms will require students to sign a confidentiality and intellectual property assignment agreement related to their project work.

Course Content and Organization

Most entrepreneurial ventures fail. Studies have shown the number one reason for failure is that there is no market need for the product. That is, there is no validated customer problem or pain for which a customer is willing to pay to obtain a better solution. Ventures can avoid such outcomes by conducting a rigorous process of customer discovery to complement their regular processes of product and technology development. In E-Lab, student teams engage in the process of customer discovery for a local startup.

E-Lab is a hands-on course, where students primarily learn by doing. You should be prepared to spend a lot of time meeting and talking with your host firm, actual/potential customers and industry/technology experts. Class sessions focus on teaching practical tools and skills required to conduct an effective customer discovery process. Sessions combine the use of cases, exercises, presentations and lectures (often by startup CEOs).

Due to the field-based nature of the class and the work involved, we do not meet every week. Approximately 30% of class sessions are given to teams to work on their projects. In addition to classes, faculty hold regular mentor meetings with teams through the term.

Course Deliverables

Students typically work in teams of four. The main deliverable is the final presentation and associated slide deck/report. You will be asked to present your findings to faculty in advance of your presentation to your host firm. This provides an opportunity to receive and incorporate feedback into your final product. Teams will be asked to present their emerging analyses, and to give/receive feedback, periodically throughout the term.

Career Focus

Students who wish to experience the challenge of working in small, rapidly growing startups. Students who wish to become entrepreneurs, or work in entrepreneurial firms. Students who plan to work in VC/PE firms that make investments in entrepreneurial firms. Students that intend to grow new businesses inside existing corporations.


There are no pre-requisites for E-Lab, apart from passion and commitment. Students will benefit from enrolling in complementary EC courses, such as Product Management 101/102, Entrepreneurial Sales and Marketing and Launching Technology Ventures.


A small number of places are held for non-HBS graduate students, especially from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Given capacity constraints, non-HBS students that wish to enroll must apply. The application form and deadline can be found on E-Lab's external Website.