10 May 2013

The “Alternative” Spring Break

For HBS students starting new ventures or volunteering their services, spring break is anything but traditional
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While thousands of students spent their spring vacation frolicking on the beach, backpacking through Europe, or catching up on much-needed rest, some chose to focus on more mission-centric endeavors. Here is how some HBS MBA students recently reinvented what it means to be on “spring break.”

Alexander Harding (MBA 2014) traveled to Muisne, Ecuador, to work with Water Ecuador, a non-profit organization he developed in 2009 that builds water purification centers in communities throughout that country. As president of the company, Harding makes it a goal to visit the centers in person at least once a year.

During his most recent visit, Harding traveled to three of the company’s six water purification and distribution facilities, called Water Centers. He met with the local operators to discuss technical and logistical issues they confront in their job. He also met with the local leadership of Water Ecuador to develop a plan for improved execution of company goals and an expansion plan for the next few years.

Harding also organized the formal opening of the organization’s sixth Water Center in Chamanga, Ecuador, which was built in part through the generous contributions of his HBS classmates. The new center now provides clean water to about 500 people in Chamanga, a number that continues to grow every day.

“While Water Ecuador works on a small scale, the impact we have on the 3,000 people we provide with clean water every day is large--resulting in reduced illness, increased productivity, and happier lives,” said Harding. “I believe that drinking water is one of the most important development challenges in the world.”


Lindsay Hyde (MBA 2014) is deeply passionate about entrepreneurship and creating communities that are amazing places to live and work. It is this passion that drove Hyde to spend her spring break volunteering with IdeaVillage, a non-profit business accelerator in New Orleans that helps local entrepreneurs build sustainable community-based businesses.

While in New Orleans, Hyde worked with Todd MacDonald, the founder of GotoInterview.com, an online marketplace for jobs in the New Orleans area. Together they worked on developing a market strategy for launching the site, a project that involved conducting one-on-one interviews, developing criteria for qualifying customers, and outlining a four-month execution plan.

“Before coming to HBS,” Hyde said, “I founded a non-profit called ‘Strong Women, Strong Girls.’ During that time, I received a tremendous amount of help from volunteer MBA teams, including several from HBS, who helped develop solutions to business challenges I was facing. The opportunity to give back to another entrepreneur was one I could not pass up.”


Anna Ying (MBA 2014) spent her spring break in Lagos, Nigeria, working on Generation Enterprise, a non-governmental organization (NGO) focused on building entrepreneurship incubators in developing nations to train bottom-of-the-pyramid youth to create and scale their own businesses. As Managing Director of Enterprise Portfolio, Anna spent her time evaluating entrepreneurs and helping existing companies consider and test new opportunities for growth.

During her time in Lagos, Anna witnessed the graduation of yet another cohort of young entrepreneurs from the program and evaluated ten business plans spanning a variety of markets, including entertainment, shoe-making, food delivery, and cement distribution, She also worked closely with two young entrepreneurs who were looking for ways to test new business models, helping one of them expand his DVD rental store by launching a DVD delivery service that is primed for growth.

“To be able to see firsthand how coaching one of our entrepreneurs directly affected his sales was incredibly rewarding,: said Ying “His weekly business increased by 30% in just two weeks based on this expansion. As a result of my trip, I have a better sense of the Nigerian market and the types of business models that succeed there. I look forward to taking these lessons and applying them to the success of other young entrepreneurs.”


Marcela Sapone, Jess Beck, Em Toshack, Mike Chang, and Okalo Ikhena (all MBA 2014) opted to spend their holiday working on Startup Lockdown, a week-long experiment to show that “anyone can build something extraordinary given the right combination of people, mission, and space.”

The team focused on one business idea a day for five days, working late into the night conducting primary consumer research, building prototypes, and launching web sites. The goal was to create a model based on crowd sourcing that allows every idea to receive quick feedback and potential funding in hopes of building ongoing ventures.

The five businesses the five HBS students created are:

  • Monday: The Taxonomy of Bras, a standardized taxonomy for sizing bras, promising a comfortable fit every time.
  • Tuesday: Magpie, a simple and elegant, mobile application combining the best business card and contact management tools.
  • Wednesday: Doorman, a doorman service for individuals who don’t live in doorman buildings.
  • Thursday: totem, a storytelling platform that harnesses the experiences of others to enhance your story.
  • Friday: Top Tipples, a personal sommelier, allowing users to instantly see the best wine on any menu, so they never make an uninformed choice again.

Since spring break, the group has continued to move the five businesses along.

For Doorman, for example, they have generated a list of customers, conducted initial customer research, launched a web site and marketing campaign, and begun recruiting interns. Two members of the team have received fellowships from the HBS Rock Center for Entrepreneurship Summer Fellowship program and plan to run a pilot program this summer.

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