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Charles River or the Seaport District? “Imagination & Implementation” Harvard Innovation Lab Opens

Platform for innovation and entrepreneurship debuts in Allston

Article Courtesy of:  Harvard Gazette

Harvard University officially launches the Harvard Innovation Lab today with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and remarks by President Drew Faust, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, and Business School Dean Nitin Nohria. The ceremony will be followed by an open house and self-guided tours of the Allston facility.

The Innovation Lab, or i-lab, is designed to foster team-based and entrepreneurial activities and to deepen interactions among students, faculty, entrepreneurs, and the Boston community. It supports Menino’s innovation agenda by encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship and creativity.

“The Harvard Innovation Lab is a bridge between imagination and implementation. What we have done on Western Avenue is create a space that increases the likelihood of planned and unplanned encounters among our students, faculty, staff, and members of Boston’s innovation community, a space where one ought to expect the unexpected,” said Faust.

“Harvard’s i-lab is embracing the idea of shared innovation that’s at the core of my administration’s agenda,” said Menino. “We’ve seen Boston’s entrepreneurial spirit take on new life with the growth of the Innovation District on the waterfront. In Allston, the i-lab will build community between neighborhood entrepreneurs, students, and faculty. Just as important, it re-energizes a building by giving neighbors a new place to collaborate.”

Located on the first floor of Batten Hall at 125 Western Ave. on Harvard’s Allston campus, the i-lab reactivates the building that once housed WGBH-TV’s studios. The lab includes academic space such as classrooms and meeting areas designed to serve both undergraduate and graduate students. It also provides public areas and meeting rooms designed to foster project work, as well as business development resources for companies, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and other individuals in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood and Boston area. This will be a central place where students, practitioners, and local businesses can work together, share knowledge, and collaborate on ideas.

Organizations including SCORE, the Small Business Administration, the Center for Women & Enterprise, and the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network have committed to one-on-one coaching and business advising, workshops, and training sessions in the lab. The i-lab will also host lectures, panel discussions, and presentations that will be open to the public, as well as networking events for student teams, local businesses, and nonprofits.

“The i-lab is an exciting new platform that visibly demonstrates a University-wide commitment to entrepreneurship and innovation,” said Nohria. “Its very existence encourages members of the community to think differently about what is possible. I believe the University and the community will be enhanced by the ideas that are developed inside.”

“Creating a better-connected and more collaborative Harvard is one of my highest goals for the University,” said Faust. “The i-lab is a place where we can begin to realize that goal. Here, aspiring and established innovators, mentors, and networkers from across our campus will gather under a single roof and use knowledge to create a future that none of us can imagine.”

The i-lab has already hosted several activities this fall, including last week’s Startup Weekend Scramble, an intense, 54-hour event for more than 100 student innovators and entrepreneurs from across Harvard. The event paired diverse teams of undergraduate and graduate students with mentors from Boston’s startup community to work on new ventures over a weekend.

To learn more about the i-lab, go to: http://i-lab.harvard.edu.

For future i-lab events and activities, go to http://i-lab.harvard.edu/events.

Lauren Marshall

Kristen Raymaakers


Introducing the i-lab

Opening ceremony draws visitors from Harvard, Allston

Article Courtesy of:  Harvard Gazette

By Katie Koch

Harvard Staff Writer

When Mark Zuckerberg returned to Harvard earlier this month to recruit for Facebook, there was one was stop he added to his schedule — and it wasn’t his old Kirkland House dorm.

Rather, Zuckerberg made an unexpected detour to visit the new Harvard Innovation Lab, or i-lab.

On Friday, the concept that so intrigued America’s most famous social networker drew a crowd of hundreds to the official public opening of the lab, located at 125 Western Ave. Harvard President Drew Faust, along with Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, and a host of University deans and administrators involved with the i-lab’s development, welcomed students, faculty, staff, and members of the Allston community for remarks, a ribbon cutting, and an afternoon of self-guided tours.

The event was the first communitywide celebration of the new space, which has been buzzing with entrepreneurial activity since September. (The building, previously empty, once housed WGBH.) The i-lab — which sprouted quickly after Menino’s January 2010 call for building an “innovation agenda” in Boston and its universities — is designed to foster team-based innovation at Harvard and deepen ties among students, faculty, and the Boston business community.

Harvard President Drew Faust (left) and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino did the official ribbon cutting at the opening of the Harvard Innovation Lab in Allston.

“Before the i-lab, students like Mark connected and collaborated wherever they could find space,” Faust said. “Mentors mentored, and networks networked, and speakers spoke, and each of these things was happening. But now they can happen in one place.

“We are gathering great minds under a single roof so that they can become greater together,” she said.

The lab includes academic space, such as classrooms and meeting areas for both undergraduate and graduate students. It also provides public areas and meeting rooms designed to foster project work, as well as business development resources for Allston-Brighton and greater Boston — a population full of entrepreneurs that Harvard seeks to both help and tap into.

In January 2010, Menino called for “a new era of shared innovation fueled by Boston’s combination of ingenuity and perseverance.” His words seemed to spark unusually quick action. Already, the waterfront innovation district he envisioned has attracted 90 businesses that provide 3,000 jobs, he said.

“Boston is a place where big ideas are born, because we have the talent to make those ideas a reality,” Menino said. “Harvard’s new i-lab will play an essential role in fostering those new ideas.”

He called on the i-lab to build connections among local businesses and University researchers, students, faculty, and surrounding neighborhoods. The Center for Women & Enterprise, the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network, and the Small Business Administration have already agreed to offer one-on-one coaching, workshops, and training sessions through the i-lab, according to Menino.

“I think this is a really exciting day for the Allston community, for the University and the entrepreneurs and innovators across the city of Boston,” Menino said. “The guys in Cambridge will need a passport to get here, but we’ll let them in every once in a while.”

Menino (from left) talks with Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria and Joseph Lassiter, professor of management practice, during the opening ceremonies.

The i-lab represents a promise not just to the rest of Boston, but to would-be innovators and entrepreneurs around Harvard looking to connect with like-minded collaborators, Nohria told the crowd.

“President Faust has been steadfast in her belief that Harvard acting as one University can achieve more than any student or faculty or School can achieve individually,” Nohria said. “The i-lab is in some ways the physical and tangible representation of that belief.”

He cited recent talks at the i-lab by renowned Spanish chef and entrepreneur Ferran Adrià, “Lean Startup” guru Eric Ries, and Peter Thiel, technology entrepreneur and the founder of PayPal. Hosting those lectures and other workshops and events, the i-lab welcomed more than 4,000 guests in September and October alone.

“The i-lab, indeed even the idea of the i-lab, has caused new things to happen within the University,” Nohria said. “More than anything, it represents a wonderful spirit of ‘Why not?’ and ‘How about?’ ”

That spirit was on full display in the i-lab’s main workspace, roped off behind a ceremonial red ribbon. After Faust and Menino cut the tape, guests poured in to tour the sunny, free-flowing space (Xbox gaming room and fully stocked snack fridge included) and to talk with student and alumni entrepreneurs who have been using the i-lab to work on their startups.

In one area, Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow Laurent Adamowicz and his team of students and recent graduates explained their personalized mobile application for healthy eating, Bon’App.  Around a corner, Lei Guo, a graduate student in statistics, and Vladimir Bok, a College sophomore studying computer science, explained Coco Voice, their iPhone app for sending quick, short voice messages (“like instant voicemail”).

“We just met last weekend,” Guo said, referring to the i-lab’s recent Startup Weekend, a 54-hour scramble where 120 students gathered to pitch their ideas and develop business plans. “I presented my concept and we figured out a marketing plan the next day. …We’ve been coming here every day since then, sometimes until 1 a.m.”

The i-lab demonstrates Harvard’s potential to bring disparate parts of the University together, said Provost Alan Garber, who arrived at Harvard in September.

The Harvard Innovation Lab in Allston held an open house on Friday to mark its official ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“My first reaction when I saw the i-lab was ‘I’ve come to the right place,’ ” Garber said as he toured the facilities. “A lot of people are interested in working more collaboratively across the boundaries of the University. … But that is much easier to do around something that’s concrete. What’s easier still is when you can see examples of success.”

Gordon Jones, director of the i-lab, and the i-lab’s faculty chair, Joseph Lassiter, MBA Class of 1954 Professor of Management Practice at HBS, milled about answering questions for guests.

“Today is a day of celebration,” Jones said. “Tomorrow, we’ll hit the ground running.”


The Harvard innovation lab is a new and innovative initiative fostering team-based and entrepreneurial activities and deepening interactions among Harvard students, faculty, entrepreneurs, and members of the Allston and Greater Boston community.


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