Last November, with great fanfare, Harvard celebrated the opening of its sparkling new $20 million Innovation Lab. A soaring 30,000 square-foot testament to contemporary architecture built right into the heart of the Harvard Business School, the I-Lab represents something profoundly new for the university: a full-throttle effort to transform itself into a leader in the increasingly important world of tech entrepreneurship. The goal, both simple and ambitious, is to bring together the world’s best and brightest young entrepreneurs, to nurture them in a stimulating and collaborative environment, and to help them transform their ideas into real-world businesses. “Gathering great minds under a single roof” is how Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, described the mission of the I-Lab at the opening ceremony, “so that they can become great together.”
Tech entrepreneurship is the new sexy. It’s what legions of promising teens and twentysomethings are crazy for today, and Harvard wants in on the action. Sure, the university can claim two of the great tech entrepreneurs of the age, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, as its own. But they had to drop out of Harvard in order to transform their world-changing ideas into reality. “Zuckerberg did Facebook over our dead body,” says Joe Lassiter, the faculty chair of the I-Lab. “The commitment to [entrepreneurship] at this level, and across the university, is quite a new thought.”
True to form, Harvard has been touting the creation of th...