24 Apr 2015

Harvard Business School Stages Finale of 18th Annual New Venture Competition

Student and alumni teams inspired by belief that “one simple idea can change everything”

BOSTON—Food production and emergency phone calls may look very different in the near future thanks to the student grand prize winners announced at the 2015 Harvard Business School New Venture Competition (NVC) Finale, which took place Wednesday (April 22) before an enthusiastic audience in Burden Auditorium on the HBS campus.

RapidSOS plans to use technology to help revolutionize emergency response and communication, an idea that won them the Business Track’s $50,000 Dubilier Grand Prize. During his 90-second pitch, Michael Martin (MBA 2015) mentioned that each of the six team members, including Alex Santana (MBA 2016), Joe DiPaolo (MBA 2015), Nick Horelik, Kellen Brink, and Kaiying Liao, were driven by personal experiences with dropped 911 calls and hoped their innovation would eventually help save millions of lives each year by making the process more efficient and secure. The Dubilier prize is named after the late Martin Dubilier (MBA 1952), cofounder of Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, one of the country’s premier leveraged buyout firms.

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FOCUS Foods Inc. won the $50,000 Peter M. Sacerdote Grand Prize in the Social Enterprise Track for their development of an urban aquaponics farm, a self-sustaining symbiotic fish and produce system. Founders Julia Kurnik of the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and Geoff Becker said they have already arranged partnerships with several grocery stores to implement 60,000-square-foot installations in urban areas that will allow the stores to grow fresh produce on their rooftops and do away with food shipping and spoilage concerns. Established through the generosity of the Sacerdote family, the prize honors the late Peter Sacerdote (MBA 1964) by enabling students to apply their skills to develop and launch their own social ventures.

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Wednesday’s Finale marked the 18th year of the event, which awarded cash and in-kind prizes totaling more than $300,000 to winning and runner-up teams. Dean Nitin Nohria spoke to the importance of entrepreneurship both on the HBS campus and off of it, where he noted that ten to fifteen years after graduation, 50 percent of HBS graduates are principals of their own companies.

“At Harvard Business School, we educate leaders who make a difference in the world,” Nohria said. “One of the best examples of that is entrepreneurship. When someone takes their idea and uses it to change and better the world, that is a leader who has made a difference. And the NVC is the beginning of those kinds of dreams. Thank you all for helping us create an ecosystem that has allowed entrepreneurship to flourish at HBS.”

The runner-up in the Business Track was Be Mixed, a natural and zero-calorie beverage mixer. Founders Cristina Ros Blankfein (MBA 2015) and Jennifer Ross (MBA 2014), who have already arranged for distribution for their product in 20 retail stores, received the $25,000 Satchu-Burgstone Runner-Up Prize, endowed by Jon Burgstone (MBA 1999), Asif Satchu (MBA 1999), and Reza Satchu (MBA 1996), all of whom received the runner-up prize in the 1999 NVC with their plan for SupplierMarket.com.

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The runner-up in the Social Enterprise Track was Barakat Bundle, which focuses on the creation and distribution of “newborn essentials kits” to help reduce infant and maternal mortality in South Asia. The team is composed of Karima Ladhani and Jyoti Ramakrishna, both of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Mitul Daiyan of Harvard Divinity School; Shane Robinson of HKS, and Nayab Ahmad, and received the $25,000 Sacerdote Runner-Up Award.

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In the Alumni Competition, winners received $25,000 prizes and were chosen by an online crowd vote by other HBS graduates around the globe, HBS students, and a panel of expert judges in three categories. Director of Alumni Clubs & Associations Mary-Helen Black noted the winners were selected this year from 3,000 alumni participants in 108 clubs in 48 countries and 14 regional competitions. The winners were:

Most Innovative: BollyX Fitness, founded by Minal Mehta (MBA 2011), which uses a Bollywood-style workout to promote good health and physical fitness. View Video

Greatest Impact: Eve & Tribe, founded by Ori Gbadebo-Smith (MBA 2013) and Simone Bartlett (MBA 2013), which focuses on revolutionizing fashion retail in Africa.

Best Investment: StreetShares, founded by Mickey Konson (MBA 2002) and Mark L. Rockefeller, is an online marketplace for the financial technology industry that pairs small businesses with potential investors. The company plans to confer its $25,000 award to deserving veteran-owned businesses through a special program called the Commander’s Call Award.

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In addition, RapidSOS and Barakat Bundle each netted a $2,000 prize as crowd favorites— a recognition determined during the Finale by a live, electronic crowd vote.

Other finalists included:

New Majority Community Labs (Social Enterprise Track), founded by Derwin Dubose, Vedette Gavin, Jennifer Angarita, and Brandon Hoffman (all of HKS), which uses big data and organizing tools to empower communities of color to identify and solve socioeconomic challenges.

Honeycomb Homes (Social Enterprise Track), founded by Jenn Menn, Lindsay Moore, and Billy Powers (all of HKS), Bob Heckart, and Kirk Lindstrom, which provides sustainable careers and training for at-risk young adults.

Tagup (Business Track), founded by Jonathan Garrity (MBA 2015) and Will Vega-Brown, which enables easier data sharing through a web interface between manufacturers and customers.

Watson (Business Track), founded by Mary-Catherine Lader (MBA 2015), Dipish Rai (MBA 2014), and Tommy Heffernan (Harvard College), which provides automated tax, accounting, health, savings, and insurance services for self-employed workers.

“We talk about one simple idea changing everything,” said Matt Segneri (MBA 2010), director of the School’s Social Enterprise Initiative, whose mission is to educate, support, and inspire leaders across all sectors to solve society’s toughest challenges and make a difference in the world. “But the execution of that idea is incredibly difficult. You’re making something significant out of nothing. The breadth of what the entrepreneurship community has been doing here is awe-inspiring.”

Noting that the SEI track had its most participants ever with 53 entrants, Segneri paid homage to the late John Whitehead (MBA 1947), whose generosity, vision, and leadership made the Social Enterprise Initiative possible. The Business Track also saw a record 103 team entrants, ultimately winnowed to 15 seminfinalists (five more than in previous years, reflecting the quality of the entries) with the help and expertise of 122 different judges.

In his remarks during the Finale, Professor Bill Sahlman (MBA 1975), an expert in entrepreneurial finance, citing Professor Emeritus Howard Stevenson’s definition of entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunities beyond resources currently controlled,” reminded students that entrepreneurs, by definition, think of problems as opportunities. He urged them to “find those opportunities, experiment, avoid fear of failure, and change the world.”

Prior to the Finale, and with the help of Harvard University and the Boston Private Industry Council, which connects the youth and adults of Boston to education and employment opportunities, Harvard MBA students hosted 30 public high school students at a special “Entrepreneurship 101” workshop at the Harvard University i-Lab. Coming from Another Course to College, Boston Latin School, Brighton High School, Mary Lyon School, and the West End House Boy’s & Girl’s Club, they had reserved seats at the Finale event. As one of these students, Lornex Rono, put it, “The New Venture Competition was extremely inspiring and gave me so many ideas about my future, from what I plan to study to where I want my career to be headed!”

The New Venture Competition is sponsored by the School’s Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, the HBS Social Enterprise Initiative, and HBS Alumni Relations. The Finale festivities were hosted by Rock Center interim director Peggy Yu (MBA 2007) and featured comic interludes written especially for the occasion by Kristen Acimovic, a writer and performer from the Upright Citizens Brigade.

“This is an exciting time for HBS entrepreneurship,” Yu said. “At the Rock Center, we have the privilege of witnessing and helping to facilitate the creation of revolutionary ventures. Our students and alumni are keenly aware that the entrepreneurial journey is a long one, featuring moments of self-doubt as well as moments of pure inspiration and triumph. They discover that the road to success is achieved with a balance of confidence and humility, and we are proud of the rigorous and supportive environment that Harvard Business School and the Rock Center offer, as well as the multiple stages of feedback our participants receive from expert judges in the field.”

About The Arthur Rock Center:
The Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship was created through the generosity of prominent venture capitalist Arthur Rock (MBA 1951), who donated $25 million to Harvard Business School to support the entrepreneurship faculty and their research, fellowships for MBA and doctoral students, symposia and conferences, and outreach efforts to extend the impact of the School's extensive work in this field. HBS offered the country's first business school course in entrepreneurship in 1947 and, today, entrepreneurship is one of the largest faculty units at the School, with over 30 faculty members conducting entrepreneurship research and teaching. The Rock Center works closely with the HBS California Research Center in Silicon Valley on entrepreneurship-related research and course development efforts.

About the Social Enterprise Initiative:
The Social Enterprise Initiative at HBS applies innovative business practices and managerial disciplines to drive sustained, high-impact social change. It's grounded in the mission of Harvard Business School and aims to inspire, educate, and support leaders who make a difference in the world. Since 1993, HBS faculty have researched and written over 800 social enterprise books, cases and teaching notes. Today, more than 90 faculty members engage in research projects, course development, and other activities. Research forums and conferences sponsored by the Social Enterprise Initiative have examined a wide range of topics, including Nonprofit Strategy, Business Leadership in the Social Sector, Consumer-Driven Healthcare, Global Poverty, and Public Education.


Christian Camerota

Jim Aisner

About Harvard Business School

Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 250 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and PhD degrees, as well as more than 175 Executive Education programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching, to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The School and its curriculum attract the boldest thinkers and the most collaborative learners who will go on to shape the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.