One year in, the three secrets to Harvard i-lab’s success


In today’s Globe, D.C. Denison has a great profile of Harvard’s i-lab, and he goes into a bit of what makes the university’s incubator successful a year into its existence.


Denison follows the story of Vaxess Technologies, a start-up that drew its founders from Harvard’s business school, the Kennedy School of Government, the law school, and Harvard’s department of chemistry and chemical biology.

“There’s no way the four of us would have met if we didn’t meet here,’’ cofounder Patrick Ho told Denison.

Expect a lot more of that mixing to occur as i-lab ramps up: In its first year alone, the i-lab had 14,000 student visits and spawned 131 teams, and it also encourages alumni to make use of the space.


That’s a lot of potential for spontaneous connections, and the lab has been designed to encourage that kind of chance encounter.


It does that by encouraging movement: The lab itself, Denison writes, is in a state of flux.

“I’ve always viewed this as a start-up,’’ Gordon Jones, the i-lab’s managing director, told Denison.

But beyond the metaphysical, the space itself, in true start-up style, is built to expand, collapse, and rearrange as need: Tables, whiteboards, and even team lockers, Denison notes, are all mounted on wheels, ready to create an impromptu office when the next big idea — or willing investor — comes knocking.

Expect that momentum to continue as the lab sets its sights higher: The i-lab plans to expand from a focus on the lower-hanging fruit of consumer apps to meatier subjects like life sciences.


With all those first-time entrepreneurs, there’s a lot of learning to do — both for the innovative start-up founders, as well as the university which is learning how to run an incubator as it goes along.

i-lab connects young entrepreneurs with both faculty and outside mentors, and a number of participants have found the cache of Harvard beats out typical start-up venues.


“This is also a good place to meet prospective investors’’ Ho told Denison. “It has a lot more credibility than a Starbucks.’’

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