Innovation & entrepreneurship

Start-ups are part of Harvard's history and its current culture.

Microsoft, Facebook, and a dozen other innovative ideas came to light in the wee, dark hours at Harvard.

Networking is easy.

From free mini-MBA seminars to working with faculty members who have founded their own companies to summer internship opportunities at companies like Google, IBM, Microsoft, and McKinsey Co., engineering and applied sciences students have many avenues for on-the-job training before they graduate.

Feel free to come up with the next great big idea. We are here to help.

Right on campus, budding entrepreneurs can get a boost from the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH) and the emerging Translation Lab.

Both initiatives provide courses and one-on-one consulting for students interested in exploring idea generation and technology transfer.

Global experiences are easy to find.

We also encourage real-world (and off-campus) experiences. Engineering students have been awarded, among others, Weissman scholarships, which enable participants to live and work across the globe.

Moreover, as cultural literacy has become increasingly critical for science and engineering, we’ve made it easier for even S.B. students to have experiences abroad.

Your education is more than just about classes and clubs.

In addition to coming up with the next Great Big Idea, we encourage you to heed the advice of a Harvard graduate and now faculty member: “Think of your freedom of choice—of what courses to take, of how to spend your Sunday afternoons, whatever—as a commodity that is precious in and of itself.”

What are some recent student-based endeavors?

Roving Apps

The Rover platform invented by a team of Harvard undergraduates—Alex Bick '10 (Engineering Sciences), Joy Ding '10 (Computer Science), Drew Robb '10 (Physics and Mathematics), Cameron Spicker '10 (Computer Science) and Winston Yan '10 (Physics)—won the grand prize in AT&T's Big Mobile On Campus Challenge, fetching a cool $10,000 and a trip to the EduCause 2009 conference where they presented to university CIOs from across the country.

Rover re-packages the 2009 Unofficial Guide to Life at Harvard into an easy-to-use application (“app”) for an iPhone or iPod Touch.

Fueled by GPS technology and social networking features, the interactive guide provides students with an up-to-date window about what is happening in their “campus microenvironment”.

By offering a live feed of “local deals, events, and transportation” the creators hope to better connect students with their campus and extended community. Practically, that means the moment Ben & Jerry’s in the Square offers a free scoop, users would find out the details, including the fastest route to their favorite flavor.

The innovative app earlier won the campus venture track of the 2008 I3 Harvard College Innovation Challenge. It was further developed in the Innovation Space, which opened last November as Harvard's first dedicated environment for experiential innovation and entrepreneurship education, providing undergraduates across campus with resources to learn and work in teams on entrepreneurial projects.

To learn more about Rover

Kinetic Energy

In many developing countries, heavy reliance on kerosene lamps has led to myriad health problems. The World Bank, for example, estimates that breathing the fumes created from burning kerosene indoors equals the harmful effects of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

Burning kerosene for lighting also generates some 190 million metric tons a year of carbon dioxide emissions, according to recent estimates — the equivalent emissions of about 38 million automobiles.

But four Harvard students are betting that the popularity of soccer around the globe can help reduce the use of kerosene.

They came up with the idea for the sOccket, a soccer ball that generates and stores electricity during normal game play. The stored electricity in the ball can then be used to light an LED lamp, or charge a cellphone or battery.

Ms. Lin and her fellow students — Jessica Matthews '09, Julia Silverman '09 and Hemali Thakkar '09 — came up with the idea of an energy-harvesting soccer ball as a class assignment. The initial inspiration, they said, came from dance floors that can capture energy from the dancers’ movements.

They are working with a prototyping team and a technical adviser associated with the Laboratory at Harvard, a new idea incubator at the university. The group has also received a handful of grants, including support from the Clinton Global Initiative University.

Early prototypes of the ball use an inductive coil mechanism similar to the technology found in shake-to-charge flashlights. The movement of the ball forces a magnet through a metal coil that “induces” voltage in the coil to generate electricity.  For each 15 minutes of play, the ball can store enough energy to illuminate a small LED light for three hours, according to initial trials. 

The group recently tested the ball in South Africa, to gauge the children’s interest and to assess the ball’s performance during play. “Obviously, this won’t be a regulation ball,” Ms Lin said. “You won’t see David Beckham using it. But it’s a big improvement over some of the makeshift balls the kids create from things like old plastic bags.”

Their goal is to have a completed version of sOccket that can be distributed by the end of 2010.

“We’ve received some comments about how this ball isn’t going to solve the energy problems of the developing world. And, of course, we realize that,” Ms. Lin said. “We are trying to make a bigger statement about energy needs. Even if our project just starts people thinking about different ways to bring energy access to places like Africa, that’s really important.”

(Adapted from The New York Times.)

Growing Up

Elizabeth Nowak ’10 isn’t entirely sure why. Visiting Kibera last summer to test VertiGrow—a planter designed to take advantage of vertical space so “you don’t have to have a lot of land in order to grow food”—she found the residents friendly and welcoming. Despite the lack of street signs, or even streets, she learned her way around within a few days, hopping nimbly back and forth through the lanes, the sun flashing off her blond hair.

Nowak designed VertiGrow with her classmates Windsor Hanger and Yongtian Tina Tan in the “Idea Translation” course. The course also connected them to Rye Barcott, M.B.A.-M.P.A. ’09, who during his own undergraduate days at the University of North Carolina had founded Carolina for Kibera (CFK), a non-governmental organization (NGO) whose credo is, in his words, “The poor have the solutions to the problems they face.” Barcott agreed to connect Nowak with CFK social workers who could translate for her and make introductions in the community; with funding from the Harvard Initiative for Global Health, she was on her way.

“It’s kind of cool to come in with an idea and see that they’re already doing that, or they have a better idea,” she said one August morning, looking around and surveying the women. One stood cracking rocks with a sledgehammer, hacking them down to a suitable size for use in a planter. Another was extricating garbage from a large pile of dirt that would be used for planting; the garbage would be burned to heat a knife for cutting water-runoff holes in the tough plastic of the planting tubs. In the resourceful fashion typical of Kibera, nothing would go to waste. Said Nowak: “They come up with things I never would have thought of.”

(Adapted from Harvard Magazine.)

Where can I find out more?