Updated: March 30, 2021 at 2:58 p.m.
Eight teams across three categories — student business, social enterprise, and alumni — were awarded a total of $325,000 in prize money Tuesday through Harvard Business School’s annual New Venture Competition.
Established in 1997, the New Venture Competition draws a competitive pool of alumni and graduate students at Harvard and around the country to compete for funding for their startup ventures.
In this year’s competition, more than 300 teams competed and were judged by more than 150 judges, who ranged from lawyers to social entrepreneurs.
During the finale, 12 finalist teams presented 90-second pitches to the audience, vying for one of three prizes awarded in each category: grand prize, runner up, and crowd favorite. Ultimately, eight teams were chosen for those prizes across the student business, social enterprise, and alumni categories.
Robert B. Lane, a first-place winner in the student business track and a second-year MBA student, said he was in “absolute disbelief” when he learned his team was named a grand prize winner for their venture, Concord Materials, which digitizes workflow for ordering bulk construction materials.
“We have real plans to deploy this technology quickly to really help people, and this will give us a significant amount of runway to deploy faster to implement our vision,” Lane said. “It really, really makes a tremendous difference at this stage of our lifecycle and for the type of value we can create for our customers.”
Other winning teams discussed how the funding will enable their ventures to reach a wider audience.
First-year MBA and MPA/ID student Camille T. Ang — whose team won the grand prize in the student business track alongside Concord Materials – said she and her co-founder Jiawen Tang, second-year MPA/ID student, will use the funding to launch a full pilot of their digital healthcare insurance accessibility venture, Hive Health, in the Philippines and Southeast Asia over the summer.
“Having NVC not just validate us but to help us in our journey to think about the critical issues and help us reach out to an audience of people interested in this space as well — and then we get inbound inquiries of people who are also solving similar problems — that's encouraging,” Ang said.
Second-year MBA student Shelly S. Xu, whose team won the crowd favorite and grand prize in the social enterprise category, said she plans on using the prize money to hire some of her team members and invest in technology for her sartorial sustainability venture, Shelly Xu Design.
“We have some amazing talent on our team, and I really want some of them to become full-time. So, probably the funding will go toward that,” Xu said. “Also, we’re working on this proprietary algorithm that allows us to scale zero-waste designs, and so they can be applied to other styles out there right now.”
“And then lastly, I think investing more in our manufacturing hardware, so that we can actually produce zero-waste designs better,” she added.
Second-year MBA student William H. “Hunter” Goble, whose team won the Tough Technology Prize for “breakthrough science, engineering, and leadership,” said he was excited and grateful for the “opportunity to continue telling our story” and for “exposure.”
“I was ecstatic. I think it just was encouraging that someone heard our story and what we were trying to do and found it compelling enough to advance us to the final round of a competitive competition like this,” Goble said.
Some finalists said they valued the team and skill-building aspects of the competition as well as the judges’ feedback.
“We’ve made friends with some of the other teams and kind of worked together to determine how we can strengthen our value propositions and our stories,” first-year MBA student Ilana R. Springer said. “We’ve kind of built this community of entrepreneurs who were also involved in the New Venture Competition process.”
First-year MBA student Sylvan Guo said she valued the “transparent feedback” offered throughout the competition.
“We’ve done other pitch competitions, and at the end, it’s like, ‘Oh, we have six finalists teams and then we’ll choose one,’ but with NVC you get to see every single judge, what they rated you, and why they rated you,” she explained. “So you know that in your next iteration, then, you can improve on X, Y, and Z.”
Omolara O. Fatiregun ’00, a doctor of education leadership candidate at the Graduate School of Education, said she appreciated the platform the competition provides aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Harvard is a massive platform, and just being on this stage alongside other ventures has just been a really phenomenal experience,” Fatiregun said. “The visibility, the access to investors, mentors, and other social entrepreneurs in this space is phenomenal.”
Fatiregun added that the competition made her feel pride for her background and reaffirmed her commitment to expanding access to educational resources.
“It’s not lost on me that I’m a Black woman, I’m the child of immigrants, and so many people who look like me or who have my family story — whether they’re Black people, brown people, or new Americans — don’t get to go to Harvard,” Fatiregun said. “I am particularly proud for all of the identities that I have and the communities that I represent. I want to bust the door open and just improve access to these amazing opportunities so everyone can thrive.”
—Staff writer Carrie Hsu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.