The MBA Experience

Your Business Plan

During the first year, all MBA students are exposed to entrepreneurship through The Entrepreneurial Manager and the FIELD Course. The options for formal course work are limited during the first year, but expand dramatically in the second year. Check here for an overview of elective courses.

Each year, students seek counsel on what mix of courses, field studies, work experience and extracurricular activities serve as the best preparation for an entrepreneurial career. Of course, the answer depends on many factors, such as prior work experience and whether you have an idea you are trying to develop, or are thinking more longer term. With these caveats, it is possible to offer some general advice. Note, of course, that it is entirely possible to pursue and entrepreneurial career without an idea of your own, by simply joining up with others who do have an idea.

Looking for an idea

The major obstacle to many students' immediate pursuit of an entrepreneurial career is the lack of a high-potential idea. There is, however, a set of courses and activities that are more likely to expose you to such an idea.

Deep immersion in a particular market, and especially work with customers, is the most common source of high-potential ideas. Many students are able to draw on such experience from their work before HBS, or potentially, from a summer or field study experience. If you are looking for an idea, try to design this kind of experience in to your time at HBS.

Other approaches to finding an idea include finding someone else with an idea. Some field studies include entrepreneurs looking for the kind of help an HBS MBA can provide. The Rock Center promotes team building with mixers which provide an opportunity to meet fellow HBS students – and others – who are looking to augment their teams. The course, Commercializing Science, is a good way to explore a particular course with some of its inventors. Some students also try to spend time at MIT, including taking the e-lab course.

Students can also take advantage of the vast resources of the Harvard Innovation Lab. The i-lab is an innovative University-wide initiative that will foster team-based and entrepreneurial activities and deepen interactions among students and faculty throughout Harvard, entrepreneurs and members of the Allston and Greater Boston community.

Validating your idea

If you already have an idea, there are several courses and activities that can help you pursue it.

The Rock Accelerator program is a terrific warm up if you are considering registering for the New Venture Competition. The Rock Accelerator is $5,000 award to fund a 10-week term focused on the development and testing of a minimum viable product that will validate key assumptions or prompt teams to consider alternative strategies or pivot completely. Participants will also be matched with dedicated mentors, engaged in learning clinics and peer exchange to further develop their ideas.

If you have an idea you want to try to validate, a field study with a faculty member is one approach. Another is the Field Study Seminar: Evaluating the Entrepreneurial Opportunity. This field study seminar provides a mix of classes and project work for students who have an idea they are trying to assess.

We also recommend meeting with an Entrepreneur-in-Residence for feedback on your business idea.

Check the Resources page for specific extra-curricular activities and resources available.

Developing a business plan

If you are fairly confident of your idea and wish to develop a business plan, the student New Venture Competition (sNVC) is a good place to start. This begins at the start of the winter term, and provides opportunities to get feedback, receive practical legal advice, and attend talks which take place in conjunction with the Contest. See the sNVC calendar for a full list of activities.

Most EC students try to get academic credit – and faculty counsel – by writing their business plan under the auspices of a field study. Note however, that just as students spend a lot of time recruiting and don't receive academic credit for it, there are many aspects of assessing an idea and trying to start a business that are indeed the right steps forward, but for which you should not expect to receive academic credit.

Entrepreneurial career in the longer term

You'll have to determine the right path for your own entrepreneurial career. Consider meeting with an Entrepreneur-in-Residence or an MBA Career Coach to explore your own strategy and timing goals. Many students choose to work in a more traditional career, both to hone their managerial skills, and also in an attempt to develop an idea for the own venture (or to meet others with such an idea). In practice, a far greater proportion of HBS graduates choose this more “delayed” approach. Because HBS students have such great work opportunities when they graduate, it makes sense to pursue your own idea when it has high-potential. Often, this requires the kind of in-depth work in a market with customers that is tough to get while a full-time student. For many graduates 5-7 years of work, in an entrepreneurially-oriented industry, and in a market facing role, is the best route to a high-potential idea.