In February 2019, the HBS New Venture Competition received 48 entries to the Social Enterprise Track, from student teams across Harvard University. Sixteen semifinalists presented at the beginning of April to expert judges from the field, who selected our four finalists. Learn more about each finalist team…
Gramhal - Unlocks post-harvest services of storage, credit, and market linkage for smallholder farmers.
Vikas Birhma (HKS 2019); Pankaj Mahalle
- How did you come up with your idea? Our team comes from smallholder agricultural households in India. We have witnessed the problem of distress selling first hand. The idea came from the intermediaries to whom we sell our food grains. They used to store our harvest and sell it at the later date when the prices are favorable. Similarly, our team is trying to provide the farmers with the agency to hold on to their harvest and sell it when prices are favorable.
- What was the "aha" moment for your start-up? We did field research, where we stored 20 quintals soybean in a warehouse and approached more than 23 banks for credit. The banks denied us the credit, citing the small loan amount. We felt rejected, but this also made us realize the need and opportunity for an innovative post-harvest service model for smallholder farmers.
- Why the New Venture Competition? Our team has applied to many competitions, but we find that at NVC, we were not competing with others but with ourself. The multiple steps in the NVC process are aimed at enriching teams not rejecting them. We received feedback after feedback from experts which has given us various opportunities to polish our idea, and resubmit the executive summary and presentation. It helped us in being better at communicating our work, and understanding potential risks and gaps that our idea faces. If you have an idea, we would highly recommend applying to NVC because here, irrespective of who wins the prize, all teams gain something.
- In one word, what does entrepreneurship mean to you? Collaboration
Hikma Health - Creates customized data management systems for healthcare providers caring for refugee patients.
Jordan Lebovic (HBS/HMS 2020); Senan Ebrahim (HMS 2021); Erik Grueter; Zahra Allkhateeb
- How did you come up with your idea? In Jan 2018, Senan was meeting with Syrian refugees and officers of multiple health and education NGOs in Jordan. Our Hikma Health team was originally focused on making a health education app. However, while in conversation with health workers, Senan realized there was almost no data infrastructure for refugee patients. Patients were confused about their health conditions, while physicians had minimal records of patient histories, hindering their ability to deliver care. We realized that a free health data platform, tailored to the needs of this population, would empower refugees and improve outcomes for patients with chronic conditions. Our team held several brainstorming sessions with our clinical partners, fueled by Turkish coffee. Working together from our diverse perspectives, we identified a major opportunity to provide a health data system that is efficient, intuitive, and customized to fit the unique environments in which these doctors work and these patients live.
- What was the "aha" moment for your start-up? "Nobody here has any idea what's happening with their health – not the patient or the family or the doctor!" Noor, a community health worker, exclaimed this observation, based on her years of work with Syrian refugee patients in Jordan. That cold January evening in Amman, our vision for Hikma Health crystalized: we will create a brighter world in which all refugee patients and their caregivers have access to personalized data-driven healthcare.
- Why the New Venture Competition? We entered the HBS New Venture Competition grateful for the opportunity to articulate and refine our vision as the Hikma Health team. The experience has given us so much more, including connections to a like-minded community of dynamic, forward-thinking advisors and passionate, high-impact entrepreneurs, with valuable experience to share across sectors and regions. We now think of ourselves as part of a mega-team of social entrepreneurs in the HBS ecosystem. We have been learning from our advisors, collaborating with our peers, and sharing strategies for scaling our impact with the wider community.
- In one word, what does entrepreneurship mean to you? Creation
New Teachers Thriving - Too many early-career teachers are burned out. And then quit. Our trainings help them thrive.
Tyler Hester (HGSE 2020); Crystel Harris (HGSE 2021); Akash Wasil
- How did you come up with your idea? Like so many others, we've experienced the personal challenges that come with the first years of teaching. And we've spent years leading teacher training programs, supporting hundreds of educators to navigate the pitfalls that come with being an early-career teacher. So when Tyler arrived at Harvard to begin his doctoral studies in education leadership, he knew that this problem needed solving. As a result, he spent his first year at Harvard delving into the research literature around new teachers, teacher burnout, teacher induction programs, etc. He interviewed dozens of educators, read dozens of books, and called on his own experience to begin crafting two distinct approaches to solving this challenge. First, he began working on a book with an exceptionally un-subtle title: Don’t Be Miserable in October. The book – currently in draft form – outlines the five major personal pitfalls that lead new teachers to experience a dip. Each chapter about a pitfall is coupled with another about what new teachers can do to overcome that particular challenge. In conjunction with the book, Tyler began developing a year-long training sequence that would support new teachers to navigate the personal challenges posed by their first year in the classroom. Over the course of this school year, that idea flourished into a highly successful pilot program in partnership with the Boston Teachers Union and Boston Public Schools and has generated interest and investment from school districts across the country.
- What was the "aha" moment for your start-up? Last summer, we approached the Boston Teachers Union and Boston Public Schools with the idea of running a year-long program to help early-career teachers overcome the personal challenges associated with being a teacher. Both the BTU and BPS were excited about the idea, so they gave it a green light. But they didn't anticipate much of a turnout. After we sent out the flyer, our partners at the union anticipated that maybe 15 people would want to take part, so they reserved a room for our first session that could fit between 10 and 15 participants. But we had over 75 applications for the program from teachers throughout the district. As the applications continued to pour in, it become clear to us that there was a hunger among teachers for the type of support that we would be providing. From that moment, we knew we were onto something!
- Why the New Venture Competition? We applied for the HBS New Venture Competition thinking that it could be a good opportunity for us to share about an idea we believe in deeply and to get feedback from thought leaders in the field. The encouragement and support have surpassed our highest hopes! Whether through formal feedback channels or one-on-one conversations with judges, we've benefited from absolutely outstanding ideas from some of the sharpest minds in all of social enterprise. If you're eligible and you want to take your venture to new heights of impact, taking part in the HBS New Venture Competition is a must!
- In one word, what does entrepreneurship mean to you? Creation
Vincere Health - We help people get paid for digitally proving health compliance, while keeping control of their data.
Jacob Keteyian (HSPH 2019); Shalen De Silva (HSPH 2019); Ollie Osunkunle (HBS 2020); Han Jin (HGSD 2019)
- How did you come up with your idea? Jake and I were spitballing ideas last summer around incorporating daily rewards for motivating health behaviors and how it could be achieved at scale, remotely by leveraging digital health monitoring devices. We thought smoking would be an interesting problem to tackle because of the huge social impact and prevalence. The more we dug into this space, the more we were intrigued to find that the economics, regulation, and payer dynamics made a lot of commercial sense, in addition to the scale of the problem. The smoking cessation market is very fragmented and few attempting tech solutions, particularly for demographics who need the most help.
- What was the "aha" moment for your start-up? The ‘aha’ moment for us was after the first week of running our first pilot and seeing that our test users had actually been using our device everyday and generating data that nobody else had collected in this way before! We could remotely see the poisonous carbon monoxide that many people were inhaling into their lungs every single day, in real time, and we were going to be the ones to figure out how to prevent this travesty.
- Why the New Venture Competition? The HBS NVC has been a standout experience for us because the process has demanded rigor in validating all aspects of our business, while allowing an opportunity for us to showcase exactly how much thought and work we’ve put into it. Having both the executive summary and pitching aspects allowed us to demonstrate substance as well clarity of presentation.
- In one word, what does entrepreneurship mean to you? Stamina