“For me, attending HBS was about choosing a time to take a risk on myself. It sets you up to take a chance and start a company,” says Julie Johnson, Co-Founder and CEO Armored Things, HBS 2017.  

When Julie Johnson applied to Harvard Business School (HBS), she was far along in a finance career. After attending Wharton for her undergraduate studies, she worked at Lehman Brothers & Barclays. She had been promoted to vice president at PIMCO only six years out of college. But one day, Julie woke up and felt she was failing to feel inspired by her work. “I realized that I had lost joy for what I was doing, so I decided to make a change. I applied to HBS.”

She arrived at HBS, thinking that it might help her figure out the next step in a finance career. She was also interested in exploring social impact investing. HBS helped her “get a real hold on the managerial lens,” which is in large part due to the case method.  When she started looking at impact funds, it led her down the path to Venture Capital. She worked at Qualcomm Ventures in the summer between her first and second year, where her boss was Charles Curran (HBS MBA 2001).

Julie found that investing was fun in the early stages but felt she would have a more significant impact if she was more focused on doing. Her chance “to do” came sooner than expected. Within three months, Curran asked her to be his co-founder for Armored Things. Based in Boston, Armored Things uses AI to power physical security and operations for large venues, universities, and corporations. Today, Armored Things has over 30 employees.

Her second year of business school, especially the second semester, was tough since she was balancing starting a company and finishing up her studies at HBS. At this time, Julie was also serving as one of the Rock Venture Partners, a program started by entrepreneurship Professor Jeff Bussgang. The program allows EC (second-year) students who have an interest in Venture Capital to gain valuable experience as they invest in HBS entrepreneurs. 

Julie believes there is never a good time to start a company, so you have to go ahead and take the risk. “If you don’t ever try, you won’t know. Don’t ever wait. If there is a market opportunity, run the tests and get clarity on if you should go full throttle.”

After graduation, Julie continued to work at Armored Things as co-founder and CEO. She says the HBS network has continued to serve her innumerable ways. “My co-founder was also an HBS alumnus but ten years out, so most of his peers were already executives when we started Armored Things. That was a big help.”

The biggest benefit has been investor introductions through the HBS network. Johnson regularly gives back to the HBS community and is involved in the entrepreneurial “Field X” class, which allows students to receive course credit while developing and growing their start-ups. “HBS is an ecosystem and a village. The availability of a network, and professors, and investors is not common.”