What do you need to know about applying to Startup Operations?

Applications for Startup Operations Will Open May 1, 2021!

To be considered for enrollment in Startup Operations, please submit this form before 5 PM on Thursday, August 12, 2021. Early applications are welcome and encouraged!

Course Catalogue Description


Q: How are projects selected for the course?

A: We seek to have a diverse set of industries/sectors and each project must be past the ideation stage for the course. We do not select projects based on market viability or long term strategy, however there should be adequate testing of the idea and at least some early customer adoption (low fidelity and/or beta tests) to provide a robust learning experience. We expect most projects to have demonstrated a minimum of three months focused effort.

Q: How are joiners selected for the course?

A: After we select projects, we'll round out enrollment by choosing a group of students who wish to work on projects originated by classmates. 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, although we'll 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 project 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: Cross registrants from other Harvard or MIT graduate programs will be considered as project co-founders or joiners on an exception basis. 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 course with few case discussions. All session deliverables are designed to move your business forward. Because each project may be on different timelines, each team will commit to a tailored set of 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 company operations.   

Q: How do we manage the EC course selection process if Startup Operations is application-only?

A: Choose your schedule around Startup Operations and/or put a lower ranking course in the overlapping time slot. By August 23, 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 project will be far enough along by September and/or my schedule doesn't work to apply in the fall. What should I do?

If you already know the course is a better fit for the spring (based on stage and/or your schedule) then you should apply for Q3Q4. If you are unsure whether your project is a fit for the fall, apply anyway! We will meet with every team that applies and assess the best fit for Q1Q2 vs. Q3Q4. Students who apply now will have priority in the spring, assuming they meet stage requirements. Students who wait to apply for the spring must apply by December 10.

Q: Is it ok to apply if my company is post-revenue and/or we've raised venture funding?

Absolutely! We are eager to have a variety of companies in post-ideation stages in the course. Because there will be a set of 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 business.

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 find the course valuable.

Q: How is this course different than the Startup Bootcamp during J-term?

A: Bootcamp is a 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 startup. 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 is a perfect primer for those who wish to take this course!

Q: When are projects selected for the course?

A: We'll inform applicants about our selection decisions around August 23. For students who are invited to enroll, we'll then run a process to match student joiners to projects. Our goals will be to: 1) give both sides of the match -- project "founders" and "joiners" -- as much latitude as possible to choose who they want to work with; and 2) expedite the matching process, so we can jump right into things in early September -- 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 project founder, will I have to share equity with or give IP rights to the project joiners on my team?

A: Working on a classmate's project will NOT earn a "joiner" any equity stake in the project nor any claim on the project's intellectual property, unless all parties agree to such arrangements. That said, it would not be a surprise if co-founders find each other in the course!


Q: Can more than one student apply as project 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" help with your project. This requirement to accept a "joiner" also applies for students who have co-founders who aren't enrolled in Startup Operations. Such co-founders are welcome to attend class, but we'd still ask you to expand your team to include "joiners" from this course.  

Q: What types of projects are best suited for Startup Operations?

A: A project suited for Startup Operations will meet these criteria:

  1. You've done at least 3-4 months of customer discovery work to have some confidence that you've identified a real customer pain point and problem to solve.

  2. You tested your hypotheses about potential solutions via low fidelity prototypes and you've started to develop those solutions.

  3. 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). 

  4. Any industry or sector - Software, Hardware, CPG, Social Enterprise, Etc.


       Projects that are technologies looking for a problem will not be accepted. 

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.