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Harvard Business School New Venture Competition: Entrepreneurs Adapt in Challenging Times

05 Apr 2021

Read the full HBS Press Release.

Entrepreneurship continues to thrive during a year of unprecedented challenges, with innovative founders identifying novel solutions that meet ever-changing demands and solve new problems. The remarkable entrepreneurs announced as winners during the virtual 24th annual Harvard Business School New Venture Competition (NVC) on Tuesday, March 30 are no exception.

The 22 student and alumni finalist teams pitched for a share of the $325,000 in cash as well as in-kind prizes. The top four teams within each of the three tracks—Student Business, Student Social Enterprise, and Alumni—made it through a multi-round judging process and vied for the runner-up and grand prize. Viewers also had the opportunity to select a crowd favorite within each of the three tracks, with a prize value of $5,000. In a separate process, hard technology ventures competed for the $10,000 Tough Technology Prize (pdf).

The NVC is open to all students and alumni who are launching new business and social impact ventures. The School’s Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship and its Social Enterprise Initiative, in partnership with HBS Alumni Clubs & Associations, organizes the annual competition. This year, 301 teams entered the virtual competition—85 in the Student Business Track, 50 in the Student Social Enterprise Track, and 166 in the Alumni Track. Since its inception in 1997, there have been more than 6,500 participants, and over $3 million has been awarded to the winning teams.

“The teams across all of our tracks continue to challenge the status quo in every industry and around the globe,” said Jodi Gernon (MBA 1991), director of the Arthur Rock Center. “This year's batch of teams are addressing challenges in 3D modeling, insurance of our devices, and measuring institutional investors success in addressing environmental, social and governance goals. They are applying AI/ML to a variety of industries and creating new platforms in healthcare, consumer products and services, and in e-commerce and industrial sectors. Even more importantly, the ideas go beyond the US border and address challenges in places such as Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.”

“In a grueling year that has laid bare so many social challenges across the globe and in our own back yards, it seems that we have never needed more the innovation and courage of our NVC teams,” said Rob Zeaske, director of the Social Enterprise Initiative. “We invite our entire community to join in supporting their success in addressing some of our most pressing and solvable global problems."

HBS Professor Shikhar Ghosh, faculty co-chair of the Arthur Rock Center, reminded the participants of the impossibility of recognizing which early-stage ideas will be successful. “The important thing is that you have taken the step, that you’ve decided to put yourself on this journey, that you’ve committed your time, that you’ve committed your passion to it—and at the end, in the same way as having a child changes you, this journey will change you. It will push your limits. It will get you to understand what you’re capable of. So, thank you and congratulations!”

In addition to the $325,000 in cash prizes, sponsors have donated in-kind tools and services that will help the startups launch and grow. In-kind sponsors are Airtable, MassChallenge, Amazon Web Services Activate Credit, Hub Spot for Startups, CASE Smart Impact Capital, Foley Hoag LLP, Baker for Business, and Harvard Innovation Labs.

This year’s Social Enterprise Track winners are:

Peter M. Sacerdote $75,000 Grand Prize:
Shelly Xu Design
A design-tech startup that makes beautiful, 100 percent zero waste clothing that costs 55 percent less to produce.
Team: Shelly Xu (HBS 2021); Ahmed Fardin; Junga Park (HBS 2021)

Peter M. Sacerdote $25,000 Runner Up Prize:
Vocal Justice
Empowers Black and Brown youth to become socially conscious leaders by teaching them how to communicate authentically and persuasively about social justice issues.
Team: Shawon Jackson (MPP 2021)

The Sacerdote Prizes were initially established in 2003 by Peter M. Sacerdote (MBA 1964) to encourage more HBS graduates to become involved in social enterprises and to support their efforts.

Read more about some of the New Venture Competition finalist teams, and for further information, please visit the following websites:
Social Enterprise Track Finalists
Business Track Finalists
Alumni Track Finalists