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

The application for Startup Operations Fall 2024 is now open!

Course Catalog Description


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 customer discovery 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 about more mature ventures.

Q: What types of customer discovery is expected and when must it be completed?
A: Customer discovery via testing hypotheses about the problem to be solved and/or the target customer/market segment is mandatory for the course. Simply running ad tests or demonstrating interest via a landing page or collecting email addresses will not suffice! We expect that you've completed scrappy tests to truly understand the problem at-hand and/or to experiment with a solution. We will seek evidence of these tests such as data about your key personas, photographs, videos, demos, or other artifacts that demonstrate you are on the path towards a solution. We will also be excited to see if you already have customers, letters of intent (LOIs), or other in-market data, but that is not required. See below for more details.

We expect that some students will do this deep discovery work during the summer. That is OK! We encourage you to apply and share your summer plans with Prof. Austin early on so she can both advise you and track your progress over the summer. Applying early and sharing your summer plans does not guarantee you a spot in the course! However, it will definitely give you a head start 😊 

Q: How are joiners selected for the course?

A: After we select the maximum twenty 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 as an investor after HBS and/or may launch their own business in the future. This group of joiners will be chosen based on: 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.

Q: How does founder-joiner matching work?

A: Once we select our group of founders and joiners, we will connect solo and two-person founding teams with joiners to commence the matching process. Student joiners will get a list of projects to assess interest areas and founders will get the list of joiners to assess complementary skills and/or domain expertise. It is our experience that most founder-joiner connections happen successfully without intervention. Our goals are 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.

NOTE: Joiners are not employees or interns. They are equal team members for the term. See below for more information on equity and legal agreements.

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! All students enrolled in the course will sign a Student Participation Agreement that protects both your venture and the University from any legal consequences.

Q: I do not attend HBS. May I apply to Startup Operations?

A:  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. The course has a heavy workload in Q1 to get momentum for the remainder of the term. Q2 will focus more on allowing time for team-specific commitments outside of class.

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. This course will 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.

NOTE: You should plan to follow the same process if you intend to apply for the Startup Operations Studio (SOS) in the spring term.

Q: I have had prior experience at a startup or in venture financing, is this course right for me?

A: Unless you are a serial entrepreneur, any student interested in new ventures will find the course valuable.

Q: How is this course different than Startup Bootcamp or the Startup Toolkit SIP?

A: Bootcamp and the Toolkit are great overview of what it takes to develop an idea into a business. 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. Bootcamp and the Toolkit, as well as TEM, 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 1-2 weeks before the start of the new term. For students who are invited to enroll, we'll then run a process to match student joiners to ventures.



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.

Q: Is my venture a fit if it is post-revenue and/or we've already raised venture funding?

A: Absolutely! We are eager to have a variety of venture 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: Can more than one student apply as founders?

A: It's okay to apply as a team of two, three or four, but each team member must apply separately. You can specify whether you are part of a team in your 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. We do not accept teams greater than four students.

Q: I have a section-mate, HBS colleague, or cross-registrant joiner interested in working with me in this course. How do they apply?

A: Student founders are encouraged to find joiners from within the HBS community. These colleagues must apply separately and note in the application that they will be working on your team. We only accept cross-registrants from the Harvard & affiliated communities as co-founders or joiners of HBS teams.

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

A: A venture 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 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.

  2. You tested your hypotheses about potential solutions via low fidelity prototypes and you may have 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, Services, Etc.

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

Q: Is there funding available for ventures in Startup Operations?

A: Yes! 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. Further details on funding will be shared upon acceptance into the course.

Q: Is Startup Operations offered again in the spring term?
A: No. However, all students who successfully complete this course in the fall will meet the prerequisite for the Startup Operations Studio - an extension of Startup Operations - in the spring.

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.

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