The first MS/MBA cohort will enroll in the MS/MBA program in August of 2018.The program is a major collaboration between HBS and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and will be co-chaired by faculty members from both schools. 

Professor Rob Howe has been thinking about the intersection between business and technology for a number of years now. Before joining the SEAS faculty at Harvard (where he focuses on robot and human manipulation and the sense of touch) he worked as a design engineer in Silicon Valley and then founded the BioRobotics Laboratory at Harvard

These days, he’s taken on the role of faculty co-chair of the new MS/MBA joint degree program.  We connected with him to learn more about the program’s unique offerings.

Can you tell us why you wanted to get involved with this program?

“My co-chair, Tom Eisenmann and I have been exploring the intersection of design and entrepreneurship for a couple of years. We’ve concluded that human-centered design skills are an ideal set of tools for someone who wants to lead a tech venture. These methods can be applied to wide range of open-ended problems where creative solutions are needed, which describes an awful lot of what tech founders do.  

For the MS/MBA program we’re looking forward to defining the integrated set of design and business classes that will equip students to launch successful tech ventures.”

How is the new Harvard program distinctive?

“To succeed, a technology venture must meet customers’ needs, leverage technology for advantage, and have a viable business model. Launching a technology venture involves a design process that balances these priorities. By extension, leaders of technology ventures must be trained as designers—of products, business models, and organizations. 

To make appropriate design tradeoffs, they must have extensive knowledge of engineering and of business fundamentals. Consequently, the Harvard MS/MBA program will place a balanced emphasis on conveying concepts and building skills across three domains: engineering, design, and management.”

How does combining the intellectual strength of HBS and SEAS make this program unique?

“While small compared to engineering schools at other leading universities, SEAS benefits from being situated within one of the world’s top research universities. The school has no departments and its faculty are instinctively outward facing. Engineers and applied scientists at SEAS routinely collaborate with researchers from other parts of Harvard across myriad disciplines. 

HBS also has a distinctive position, compared to other business schools at leading universities. HBS faculty have long pursued research that is relevant to practitioners, in contrast to the work of many scholars at other business schools, who give priority to generating and validating theory of interest to peers in the academy. Likewise, HBS aims to educate general managers. Since general managers must coordinate across functions, HBS essentially teaches a cross-disciplinary orientation.

So, our schools each have many faculty members who embrace a cross-disciplinary approach to research and teaching. This is a big asset, as faculty members from SEAS and HBS team up to create and deliver new courses for the MS/MBA program. Those new courses will focus heavily on design methods, which by their nature emphasize constraints and tradeoffs that span multiple disciplines. Specifically, launching and leading a technology venture is a design process that makes tradeoffs between a new product’s technical feasibility, its desirability to customers, and its economic viability.”

Is Harvard an incubator of entrepreneurship?

“Harvard ranks among the world’s top university incubators of entrepreneurship. SEAS trained Bill Gates; Mark Zuckerberg; Dennis Ritchie, the inventor of the C programming language; Bob Metcalfe, the co-inventor of Ethernet; and Paul Graham, Y Combinator’s cofounder.  

46% of HBS graduates launch a business at some point in their career. The school has trained generations of entrepreneurs, including, in past decades, the founders of Athenahealth; Blackstone; Bloomberg LP; Boston Beer; Bridgewater Associates; Data General; Intuit; Orbital Sciences; Palm Computing; Staples; and Yelp, and in recent years, the founders of hundreds of venture-backed startups, including “unicorns” such as Blue Apron, Cloudflare, GrabTaxi, and Oscar Health.

Beyond relevant coursework that aspiring founders can pursue at HBS, SEAS, and other Harvard schools, Harvard offers world-class extracurricular programming for students interested in entrepreneurship. The HBS Rock Center for Entrepreneurship organizes the HBS New Venture Competition; the Rock Accelerator; an Entrepreneur-in-Residence program; and a Summer Fellowship. Likewise, workshops, workspace, mentoring, and other support is available to all Harvard University students at the Innovation Lab.”

Click here to learn more from Professor Howe’s co-chair at HBS – Professor Tom Eisenmann. 

For additional information about program prerequisites and the application process please visit the MS/MBA website.