Late yesterday afternoon, video screens around the world were glowing as the winners of the 23rd annual HBS New Venture Competition (NVC) were announced. This year’s finale, which was all virtual in this COVID-19 era, featured 20 student and alumni finalist teams vying for $300,000 in cash and in-kind prizes. The top prize in the student business, student social enterprise, and alumni tracks was $75,000 each.
The Harvard Business School New Venture Competition is open to all students and alumni interested in launching new business and social impact ventures. The School’s Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship and its Social Enterprise Initiative, in partnership with HBS Alumni Clubs & Associations, organizes the annual competition. This year, 241 teams entered the virtual competition—71 in the Student Business Track, 53 in the Student Social Enterprise Track, and 122 Alumni Track teams in eight regional competitions around the world. Since its inception in 1997, there have been more than 6,000 participants, and almost $3 million has been awarded to the students and alumni who are creating groundbreaking new businesses and social impact ventures.
“In these very unusual times, innovation and entrepreneurship are more important than ever,” noted Jodi Gernon (MBA 1991), director of the Arthur Rock Center. “These winners will help to drive growth as we begin to come out on the other side of this pandemic and its related economic slump.”
“When we talk about the NVC, we talk about being adaptive, forming partnerships, collaborating, testing, experimenting, and pivoting when we need to,” said Laura Moon, managing director of the HBS Initiatives. “We are so proud of all the student teams that participated, adapted, and really discovered the strength of their commitment to the ideas they are pursuing.”
HBS Professor Shikhar Ghosh, faculty co-chair of the Arthur Rock Center, asked the participants to consider the similarities between General Electric, General Motors, IBM, Disney, Microsoft and What’s App, Uber, Slack, AirBnb, Instagram. “All of these companies were founded in bear markets and recessions,” said Ghosh. “If you look at successful companies measured by the Inc. or Fortune 500, what you find is that well over half were created during recessions. When there are a lot of uncertainties and stress in the system, it’s one of the best times to create a company.”
Executive Dean for Administration Angela Crispi, on the call with a Klarman Hall Zoom backdrop, welcomed and thanked the teams. “Nothing will stop us from being together or hinder us from doing what needs to be done. This is a moment for ingenuity. We’re accelerating into the future right now, and you are the future—your ideas will accelerate us,” said Crispi.
In addition to the $300,000 in cash prizes, sponsors have donated in-kind tools and services that will help the startups launch and grow. In-kind sponsors are Airtable, Amazon Web Services Activate Credit, Hub Spot for Startups, Google Cloud for Startups, Sketch, CASE Smart Impact Capital, MassChallenge, Foley Hoag LLP, and Harvard i-labs.