BOSTON—Four members of the Harvard Business School MBA Class of 2012 have been named winners of the School's prestigious Dean's Award. The recipients, who will be formally recognized by HBS Dean Nitin Nohria at Commencement ceremonies on the HBS campus on Thursday, are Jessica Bloomgarden, Tiffany Niver, Andrew Rosenthal, and Daniel Rumennik.
Established in 1997, this annual award celebrates the extraordinary achievements of graduating students who have made a positive impact on Harvard, Harvard Business School, and/or broader communities. True to the MBA Program's mission, they have also contributed to the well-being of society through exceptional acts of leadership. Nominations come from the HBS community. A selection committee comprising faculty, administrators, and students then makes recommendations to the Dean, who selects the recipients.
Bloomgarden, Rosenthal, and Rumennik were cofounders of Startup Tribe, an ad hoc group of HBS students who met weekly to brainstorm ideas, offer support, and learn from local venture capitalists, serial entrepreneurs, and others about the tactical aspects of starting a business. They also kept in constant touch with one another via Twitter, sharing information and observations. As co-president of the active and influential HBS Women's Students Association, Niver fostered an energetic and engaged community of women at the School and amplified the sense of excitement these women have for their roles as future business leaders.
Bloomgarden also helped strengthen and communicate the advantages that HBS presents to women interested in pursuing high-growth entrepreneurship, while Rosenthal was an influential catalyst, connector, and advocate for the robust entrepreneurial communities at Harvard and in Greater Boston and beyond. Rumennik was also lauded for working closely with HBS faculty and staff to create and launch the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Award, a competition for funding HBS students' early-stage entrepreneurial ventures.
"These students represent the remarkable energy, talent, and initiative of the young men and women at Harvard Business School," said Dean Nitin Nohria. "As they embark on the next stage of their lives, they have already shown exemplary leadership skills, from strengthening the role of women at HBS and reaffirming its importance in the business community writ large to contributing immeasurably to the community and camaraderie of the multitude of entrepreneurially-minded students on this campus and throughout the University."
Jessica Bloomgarden: Enriching the Entrepreneurial Experience
A font of entrepreneurial knowledge and a recognized leader among her classmates, Jessica Bloomgarden helped change the way entrepreneurship is viewed at Harvard Business School.
Along with fellow students Dan Rumennik and Andrew Rosenthal, she was one of the founding members of Startup Tribe, a community of entrepreneurially-minded students focused on starting or building new ventures while in school or immediately upon graduation. "The leaders of Startup Tribe focused on making a student's two years at HBS as effective in entrepreneurship as possible," said a faculty member who interacted with Bloomgarden frequently.
Among her many other contributions to the entrepreneurial ethos at HBS, Bloomgarden helped bring successful entrepreneurs to campus and organized "pitch days" that paired HBS students with venture capitalists. She also worked with the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship to increase the startup presence on campus and organize a funding program for student ventures. And she was instrumental in promoting HBS among entrepreneurially-minded individuals beyond the Business School. In addition, she met regularly with fellow students to answer questions, dispense advice, make introductions, and provide actionable feedback on their startup ideas.
A major significant accomplishment of Bloomgarden and her Startup Tribe cofounders was the creation of the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) Award. Funded by the Rock Center, the award is based on the premise of the Lean Startup methodology (popularized by Eric Ries), which focuses on rapid prototyping. Now in its second year, the award recognizes and rewards student startup ideas each semester.
Bloomgarden clearly knows whereof she speaks. She founded AfterSteps, an online end-of-life planning platform that offers advice and secure storage for legal, financial, personal, and funeral documents.
"By helping to launch programs that further entrepreneurship on campus, Jess directly impacted all current and future HBS students who can take advantage of these new opportunities and make a positive impact on broader communities through their new ventures," wrote a fellow student who nominated her for the Dean's Award.
Bloomgarden was also recognized on campus as a champion for women entrepreneurs. During her internship last summer in New York City, for instance, she created a forum for HBS alumnae and current female students to share ideas about women in entrepreneurship. To further promote this initiative, she assisted Senior Lecturer Janet Kraus, a serial entrepreneur in her own right, in creating the Women's Founders Forums, which went beyond HBS to include entrepreneurial women from across Harvard University. The participants, all students at HBS, Harvard College, Harvard Kennedy School, the Graduate School of Education, and the Medical School, are at different stages of the business development process. They meet regularly to share knowledge and help one another navigate challenges.
"Jess Bloomgarden is absolutely deserving of the 2012 Dean's Award," wrote another nominator. "Her on-campus leadership was widely appreciated, and her quiet, impactful guidance and mentorship were the glue that held together the burgeoning HBS entrepreneurial community. Jess truly exemplifies the exceptional MBA who makes a positive impact and exhibits impressive leadership."
Tiffany Niver: Leading the Way for Women
Long before she arrived at Harvard Business School, Tiffany Niver wanted to expand the opportunities available to women. That aspiration began early in her life, growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, the daughter of a working mother who walked the tightrope between a fast-track career and family commitments. During her two years at HBS, she has pursued that goal with extraordinary energy and success.
Niver, who graduated from Harvard College with a degree in psychology and economics, was "one of the School's strongest advocates for women's' interests," wrote a Dean's Award nominator. As co-president of the Women's Student Association (WSA), she shared responsibility for the leadership of an organization with more than 650 members, taking an active role in professional, developmental, social, and philanthropic events. As one classmate put it, "Tiffany oversaw outreach efforts to prospective and admitted students, facilitated a smooth transition for first-year students, and opened a dialogue on campus regarding women in business and the challenges they face."
Under the leadership of Niver and other WSA officers, the club instituted a number of initiatives that "have made women at HBS feel part of a supported, empowered, and accomplished community, both while they are on campus and after they graduate and move forward in their lives and careers," noted an HBS faculty member. She played an important role, for example, in the School's and the WSA's efforts to improve the equity between men and women's academic performance in the MBA program in the face of statistics that had shown women lagging behind their male counterparts in earning honors and high-honors designations.
To help, the WSA generated greater awareness of the issues involved, took steps to help provide more academic and professional support, and encouraged a greater sense of "belonging" and community focus among the members to create an environment where women knew they could thrive. "Our board this year focused on celebrating women, our differences, our challenges, and our successes," Niver said recently. "I think these sorts of activities, as well as building a dialogue with the faculty and administration, enabled us to move forward and effect real change." Current data show that the grade gap has now disappeared. "This achievement is due in good part to the efforts of WSA leaders like Tiffany over the last few years," said a professor who nominated her for the Award.
Niver's analytical skills, energy, and perseverance were also evident in her work on a field study during her second-year focusing on the academic achievements of women in MBA programs at other top business schools. The study focused on several initiatives, including the creation of an MBA Women's Coalition from these institutions. So far, student representatives from twelve sister schools have met to share their views on more than 40 topics.
Niver has also been involved in the initial planning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the admission of women to the two-year MBA program – a series of events that will take place during the next academic year.
"Tiffany has built a real sense of community at HBS and beyond," concluded a Dean's Award nominator. "She is supportive and positive to all, while simultaneously making the tough calls to make sure the right things get done at the right time by the right people. She stands out in a group of incredible students in an incredible way."
She will work next year at Amazon.
Andrew Rosenthal: The Great Connector
During his two years at HBS, Andrew Rosenthal stoked the flames of an entrepreneurial fire that was spreading on campus both inside and outside the classroom. From helping to create a community of students, faculty, and alumni bound together by a common interest in all aspects of starting and sustaining new ventures to publicizing the School's and students' efforts via new and old media, he was a man on a mission.
A graduate of the University Pennsylvania, Rosenthal had already walked the talk before he arrived at Soldiers Field as cofounder of a dotcom startup called happier.com that eventually went under – a kind of red badge of courage on the resumé of any budding entrepreneur. Arriving at HBS to find numerous other students eager to engage in creating new products and companies, he wanted to find a way to make the most of their experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm as well as create a high level of camaraderie. The result was the Startup Tribe, a project he launched and nurtured with classmates Jess Bloomgarden and Dan Rumennik that brings together entrepreneurially-minded people from HBS and beyond via social media, socializing, and a wide array of activities.
"Startup Tribe was one of the key entities at HBS that facilitated and promoted student interest in entrepreneurship," said a faculty member, who added that it was the perfect complement to the HBS Business Plan Contest; the opening of the Harvard Innovation Lab, which promotes entrepreneurial activity across the University; and the third module of the new required MBA course Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development. FIELD 3, as the module is called, requires all first-year students to work together in small teams to create a microbusiness.
Described by one Harvard administrator as "the great connector," Rosenthal helped broaden the Tribe's reach and influence by facilitating meetings with students from other universities, engaging members of the Allston and Greater Boston communities, and organizing student dinners with Boston- and San Francisco-based investors and entrepreneurs. He also served as a peer advisor for many Harvard Business School students.
In addition, Rosenthal became the voice and face of the HBS "entrepreneurship movement," writing a stream of tweets and blog posts and making his mark in media relations by promoting stories about the School that appeared in the likes of BloombergBusinessWeek, Xconomy, and Boston.com.
Rosenthal's enthusiasm for entrepreneurship led to his involvement with other key initiatives at the School. He was an integral member of the Harvard Tech Meetup, which brought together young entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and others in the Cambridge and Boston technology communities looking to launch, share, or showcase ideas. He also helped create the School's Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Fund, which provides financial backing for students launching early-stage products and services.
"Andrew has been indispensable to the entrepreneurship community within HBS, and along with a number of others students and faculty is largely responsible for the thriving HBS entrepreneurship community that exists today," wrote a student nominating him for the Dean's Award.
Rosenthal is already hard at work on the next phase of his life. He was recently named chief strategy officer of Massive Health, a healthcare start-up in San Francisco where he interned last summer.
Dan Rumennik: Finding The Funding
It all started with a Google Doc. With HBS students' interest and activity in entrepreneurship at an all-time high, what seemed lacking was a way to obtain and allocate funding that students could use to test out their ideas for startups.
Enter Dan Rumennik, a Columbia University-trained engineer and former McKinsey consultant, who during his first year at HBS created an online document seeking input from students, faculty, and alumni about establishing a fund to support Minimum Viable Products (MVP), a concept developed by Eric Ries (also an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the School) as part of his Lean Startup methodology. The idea is to bring a new product to market as quickly as possible (rather than wait for perfection), see how it fares with actual customers, and then continue to refine and improve it.
With the help of classmates Jess Bloomgarden and Andrew Rosenthal, Rumennik won the support of the HBS Dean's Office and faculty leaders at the School's Rock Center for Entrepreneurship. The result was the creation of an MVP Fund totaling $50,000 and a process for judging and rewarding student teams each semester with cash awards of $5,000. "At the judging sessions that Dan developed," explained one classmate who nominated Rumennik for the Dean's Award, "three students sit alongside three faculty, judging entries. What's so special about this from the student point of view is that faculty and students have equal voices and equal votes when it comes to approving the awards." Under Rumennik's leadership, the winning teams met every four weeks with a mentor, attended a monthly gathering with other teams, and discussed ‘lessons learned’ at the end of each semester.
Rumennik also played a major role in co-founding the HBS Startup Tribe – a virtual and physical community of HBS students interested in entrepreneurship. As co-president of the TechMedia Club, he helped lead a student organization dedicated to making HBS a global leader in the high tech and new media industries, building a community with a passion for these sectors, providing networking opportunities with professionals as well as students from other schools, facilitating recruiting efforts, and presenting a highly-regarded annual conference called the Cyberposium. In addition, Rumennik launched the Harvard Tech Meetup last fall, an event that attracted hundreds of people from the Greater Boston area to HBS to learn about and discuss all things high tech and entrepreneurial.
No wonder, therefore, that one nominator praised Rumennik for "his leadership in a number of roles, his vision, and his ability to motivate, involve, and enthuse those around him. Dan has succeeded in establishing traditions that will remain a part of the HBS experience well beyond his time here."
After graduation, Rumennik will devote his time to his role as founder of a new lifestyle brand-- the first natural wellness drink for stress relief called "bcalm." "HBS has truly been a transformative experience for me," he said. "I came here from consulting with no real idea of what I was going to end up doing. Thanks to the education, people, and resources at HBS, I was able to take an inspiration and turn it into a tangible product."