What do you need to know about applying to Startup Operations?
Applications for Startup Operations Fall 2023 will open in April!
Q: How are ventures selected for the course?
A: We seek to have a diverse set of industries/sectors and each venture must be past the ideation stage for the course. We do not select ventures based on market viability or long term strategy, however there should be adequate testing of the idea and at least some early customer adoption (prototypes, beta tests, etc.) to provide a robust learning experience. We expect all ventures to have demonstrated a minimum of three months focused effort. We do not expect the business to be at product market fit, but a business is never too far along for this course. See the bottom of this page for more specifics.
Q: How are joiners selected for the course?
A: After we select ventures, we'll round out enrollment by choosing a group of students who wish to work on student ventures. Student joiners are typically "startup curious" and considering a role at a startup or VC after HBS and/or may launch their own business some day. This group of joiners will be chosen by Prof. Austin who will take into account: 1) your reasons for wanting to enroll in Startup Operations and 2) the value of having a diverse group in terms of past work experience, undergraduate degrees, etc. Student founders may find joiners from within their section/EC community and should encourage them to apply!
Q: I am a masters student at another Harvard school or at MIT. May I apply to Startup Operations?
A: We will only consider cross registrants from other Harvard or MIT graduate programs who are team members of an HBS student or to join an HBS entrepreneur team on an exception basis. We do not accept founders and their teams from outside of HBS. If you are a co-founder of an HBS student or interested in joining an HBS student venture for learning purposes only, please contact Prof. Austin directly for consideration. jbaustin at hbs dot edu.
Q: What is the workload for Startup Operations?
A: Startup Operations is a project-based Field course. All session deliverables are designed to move ventures forward. Because each venture may be on different timelines, each team will commit to a tailored set of goals and milestones for their company. Enrolled students should expect to spend a minimum of one full day outside of class sessions working in small teams on assignments and business operations.
Q: How do we manage the EC course selection process if Startup Operations is application-only?
A: Choose your schedule in the EC toolkit around Startup Operations and/or put a lower ranking course in the overlapping time slot. In late August, we will notify the registrar of all students invited to enroll in Startup Operations. You will be responsible for dropping any conflicting courses. We expect this course to have a waiting list - therefore, please let the instructor know ASAP if you do not wish to enroll or wish to withdraw your application so we can allow other students to enroll.
Q: I am not sure my venture will be far enough along to apply for the fall. What should I do?
A: If you are unsure whether your venture will make enough progress this summer to be accepted into our fall cohort, apply anyway! We will meet with every team that applies and assess the best fit for the cohort as well as offer guidance to help you make progress this summer. We will not be offering this course in the spring in 2022-2023, however Prof. Austin will be leading a founder cohort of IPs in the spring. Startup Operations founders will have first priority for this cohort, but we should have a few spots for additional IPs who meet the cohort criteria.
Q: Is it ok to apply if my venture is post-revenue and/or we've raised venture funding?
A: Absolutely! We are eager to have a variety of ventures in post-ideation stages in the course. Because there will be a set of goals and milestones tailored to your company, you can move at the pace that's right for your business. Each session deliverable will be of value regardless of the stage of your venture.
Q: I have had prior experience at a startup or in venture financing, is this course right for me?
A: This course is for students who have never started a business before, had a startup failure experience, or with limited experience (<1 year) through an internship or advisory role. Those with startup experience in other industries (e.g., CPG transitioning to software) may also find the course valuable.
Q: How is this course different than Startup Bootcamp or the Startup Toolkit SIP during J-term?
A: Bootcamp and the Toolkit are great overview of what it takes to develop an idea into a business. It is ideal for students considering starting or joining a startup to get a feel for what's involved. In Startup Operations, we go multiple levels deep into the details of starting a business with each team's deliverables focused on their particular venture. While we don't get deep into business models or raising capital in the course, we do prepare founding teams on how to work product strategy and business operations into these aspects of a pitch. Further, we spend time discussing how to go from MVP to a fully featured product, at scale. In short, Bootcamp and the Toolkit are perfect primers for those who wish to enroll in this course!
Q: When are ventures selected for the course?
A: We'll inform applicants about our selection decisions around August 12, 2022. For students who are invited to enroll, we'll then run a process to match student joiners to ventures. Our goals will be to: 1) give both sides of the match -- Founders and Joiners -- as much agency as possible to choose who they want to work with; and 2) expedite the matching process, so we can jump right into things at the start of the term -- ideally, without devoting much class time to team assembly. Consistent with these goals, we'll reserve the right to assign students to projects if our matchmaking process leaves some orphans.
Q: If I am a founder, will I have to share equity with or give IP rights to the joiners on my team?
A: Working on a classmate's venture will NOT earn a joiner any equity stake in the business nor any claim on intellectual property, unless all parties agree to such arrangements. That said, it is not unusual for co-founders find each other in the course!
FOR STUDENTS PROPOSING VENTURES ONLY
Q: Can more than one student apply as founders?
A: It's okay to apply as a team of two, three or four; you can specify that option in the application. Solo student founders MUST be willing to have joiners on your team for the term. This requirement to accept a joiner also applies to HBS students who have co-founders who do not enroll in Startup Operations or who are not within the HBS community. Such co-founders are welcome to attend class, but we will still ask you to expand your team to include joiners from this course.
Q: What types of ventures are best suited for Startup Operations?
A: A venture suited for Startup Operations will meet these criteria:
You've done at least 3-4 months of customer discovery work to have some confidence that you've identified a real problem to solve. Customer discovery work must be more than conducting interviews and/or ad/landing page tests. For example, ethnographic research or WoZ or concierge testing.
You tested your hypotheses about potential solutions via low fidelity prototypes and you may have started to develop those solutions.
You already have a product /service in market and you are preparing to scale, make a significant set of changes or pivot towards a new target customer/use-case (e.g., from B2C to B2B).
Any industry or sector - Software, Hardware, CPG, Social Enterprise, Etc.
Projects that are solutions looking for a problem will not be accepted.
Q: Is there funding available for ventures in Startup Operations?
A: Yes! New in 2022-2023, each accepted team may qualify for non-dilutive funding for the term. Funding amounts will depend on how much capital a team has already raised and the number of ventures enrolled in the term. Further details on funding will be shared during the application process.
If you are not sure whether your project is a fit for Startup Operations, you are encouraged to schedule a call or meeting with Prof. Austin over the summer, before the application deadline.