31 May 2024

Q+A with New Rock Center Director Elise Bates


by Shona Simkin

The Rock Center for Entrepreneurship at Harvard Business School (HBS) has announced a new director, Elise Bates (MBA 2000). We asked Bates about her path to HBS, what's on the horizon for the Rock Center, and more.

What is your background, and what was your path to HBS?
I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, and went to Colgate University in upstate New York. I moved to Boston for my first job, which was here at HBS as a research associate for professors in Entrepreneurial Finance, Business Strategy, and Reengineering. I then had several “startup joiner” roles in technology-enabled services companies and returned to HBS as a member of the MBA Class of 2000. Following graduation, I joined the Monitor Group and led teams to grow businesses in health care and consumer products.

In 2014, in response to my daughter’s life threatening allergic reaction to peanuts, I founded End Allergies Together (E.A.T). Food allergies affect 250 million people globally, but at the time there were no FDA approved treatments and we were using the same epinephrine auto-injector that was developed by the military decades ago. E.A.T invested in early-stage research aimed at accelerating innovations through the FDA pipeline.

Most recently, I co-founded a company called Attane Health, which provides nutrition equity to low-income populations with chronic health conditions. We ship healthy foods to any zipcode in the U.S., offer multi-lingual tele-nutrition counseling, and provide outcomes data to the Medicaid plans, providers, and community organizations offering the service to their patients. I am still involved as an investor and board member.

How do you feel taking on this role?
It's exciting! When this opportunity arose, I realized it was the perfect pathway to come back into this ecosystem with the experience I have in startups and growth strategies to help innovate and expand the offerings at the Rock Center.

There is enormous and growing demand for entrepreneurship resources among students and alumni looking to found, join, or fund new ventures. With market adjustments, new technologies, regulatory changes, and a dynamic fundraising landscape, we’re continually innovating and responding in real time. I’m eager to dig into this work with our faculty co-chairs, Shikhar Ghosh and Julia Austin.

What are some examples of new endeavors at the Rock Center?
Professors Shikhar Ghosh and Tom Eisenman will be offering a new AI Lab field course where students will develop and test prototypes of AI applications—they’ll get first-hand experience with the limitations and potential of GenAI technologies.

In partnership with Senior Lecturer Julia Austin, we recently launched the first Rock Center student Demo Day, where 27 teams had the opportunity to pitch to an audience of over 60 early-stage investors. Our mission at the Rock Center is to “help talented people build great companies.” In my role as director, I take that seriously.

What role do you think the Rock Center plays in the HBS ecosystem?
The Rock Center is the hub for entrepreneurship at HBS—we house the 49 faculty members in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit who teach over 46 courses. There are more than 2,500 entrepreneurship cases in the MBA Program. Our faculty have close relationships with their case protagonists, so our students often hear directly from company founders, investors, board members, and leadership teams about their journeys, successes, missteps, and lessons learned.

We also have programming for students looking to join, found, or fund a new venture—such as the annual New Venture Competition (which is also for alumni) and the Rock Summer Fellows program.

For alumni, we recently started a new ‘Rock on the Road’ program where we have small dinner conversations and larger networking events about entrepreneurship.

The Harvard Business School’s mission is to educate leaders who create a difference in the world. Entrepreneurship is a strong pathway for creating that difference and making an impact. Entrepreneurs identify opportunities and solve problems; at the Rock Center, our faculty, our team, and our community help them do just that. Our goal is to meet and support our students and alumni wherever they are in their entrepreneurial journey.

How do you see your startup experience influencing your work with the Rock Center?
Having both joined and co-founded startups, I hope to offer students and alumni practical advice as well as match them with specific programs and resources across HBS and Harvard that will be most useful at different stages in their venture creation.

Entrepreneurship is a very personal, humbling, and exciting path. You want to create a company that you deeply believe will solve a problem. And then you have to convince everyone else why they should meet with you, help build your product or service, buy your solution, work for you, partner with you, fund you, fund you again, and more. You hear “no” more often than “yes” and just when you achieve a major milestone, there’s another hill to climb.

I hope my start up experience will influence our ability at Rock to be both a place people come for programming, mentorship, and direction as well as a place that holds them accountable so they can compete and succeed.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I love to read and always have a book in process. I also spend most of my time with family and close friends from all stages of my life. My husband Greg and I were in the same class at HBS and met nearly 25 years ago. Our family loves sports and travel. Despite raising our kids outside of NYC, we ensured they were avid Boston sports fans. We have two teenagers—a 19 year-old daughter and 17 year old son— and two Wheaten Terriers. Greg and I have both of our parents nearby so we enjoy being with them quite a bit. Competition for attention in our house is real.

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