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Harvard’s Big Moves to Improve Its Startup Spirit: An HBS Student’s Take

Dimitri Dadiomov
December 10, 2014 · 3  min.

NextView Ventures is excited to welcome Dimitri Dadiomov to the team as an MBA Associate. He is currently a second year student at Harvard Business School and will be focused on supporting the early-stage startup community in Boston and its schools. He’ll work with NextView through his final semester at HBS. This is his first post to The View From Seed.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about startup fundraising by graduates of various business schools. Chief among them was an initial study done by EverTrue founder and CEO — and Harvard Business School grad — Brent Grinna. You can find his initial study here, as well as a Wall Street Journal follow-up here. Along those lines, I’m excited to work with the NextView Ventures team over the next and final six months of my time at HBS to examine more of the data and help build institutional seed-stage funding into the fabric of the emerging Harvard tech cluster.

Boston’s talent pool is unparalleled. The current dialogue around the city is that, if this ecosystem is built the right way, Boston may manage to keep some of the great companies that originate here. Entrepreneurs from Boston and/or its schools that left to build their companies elsewhere resulted in some of tech’s biggest names, such as Microsoft, Facebook, Dropbox, and YCombinator. It is too simple to say they all left because they wanted better weather. It is more true to say Boston never put up a fight to keep them here in the first place. With Harvard’s Allston plans and an entrepreneurial ecosystem that includes new players such as NextView Ventures, that may finally be changing.

Buildings That Buzz

harvard-allston-buildings

When I was a freshman, a wise mentor told me, “Pick your major based on something for which the Stanford engineering department is creating new buildings.” That made a lot of sense to me, and at the time, it restricted my choices to energy and environment, material science, or computer science.

In a positive twist, that advice would be far less helpful to Harvard undergrads today. Harvard’s new master plan in Allston is to build an entire science and engineering campus … from scratch. Billed as “a campus for Harvard’s next century,” the new buildings are a real estate manifestation of what is happening here in Boston, from the Harvard computer science department doubling thanks to Steve Ballmer’s recent gift to a wave of funding for startups coming out of Harvard Business School. Harvard is betting big that a mashup of business school and engineering buildings will make each better.

This plan for expansion didn’t always seem so likely. Harvard’s original plans were scrapped following the 2008 financial crisis, as the Harvard endowment failed to deliver the performance that was required to fund the new campus. But today, the development is back on track and, given Harvard’s centuries-long history, a five-year delay is barely noticeable anyway.

The current plan calls for a new greenway connecting the business school to the new Science & Enterprise District housing the engineering schools and other research facilities. Some of the buildings that are already up and running, such as Harvard’s i-Lab, may feel slightly isolated today but will make more sense when surrounded by a buzzing engineering campus. Having already been endowed with some of the richest talent pools, world-class academics, and plenty of capital, Harvard is aligning all the elements required for the sort of commercially-minded technology development that is the hallmark of the 21st century.

Buildings are important, because buildings are a preview of things to come. But real estate is nothing without the people that house it, and a thriving ecosystem that takes half-baked ideas out of universities and into the real world needs entities to fund them to become stand-alone companies.

Lee Hower, Rob Go, and David Beisel created NextView Ventures in 2010 to build a seed-stage fund that can serve as entrepreneurs’ first call specifically in the Boston ecosystem. Having previously lived and worked in cities where tech entrepreneurship drives the local economy, such as San Francisco, Seattle, Tel Aviv, and Berlin, I see the need for that in Boston quite clearly. It’s that first gentle, commercial push for student ideas that need to get out in the market. It’s that first institutional touch that raises the stakes and turns a project into a company. And done well, local seed capital can be the catalyst for the new Harvard engineering campus in Allston.

I’m excited to work with the NextView team to examine some of the recent startup successes coming out of Boston and to help foster a community that is more active and supportive of Boston’s entrepreneurs. Someday perhaps, the space in these buildings under construction in Allston will fill with a buzz that spills out of those buildings and changes all of Boston and hopefully the world.

You can watch a video from Harvard about their Allston expansion and future vision here.