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- CBE helps ITDP investigate Chinese Investment in African Urban Transportation Infrastructure
By: Daniel Shen, Sophia Zhou, Fiona Millan, Kevin Tan, Khanh Le, and Daniela Shuman Chinese investment in the African region has steadily increased over the past two decades, ranging in the billions of dollars annually. However, there is little public research about these investments, their motivations, and their outcomes; investment negotiations often occur privately, without opportunity for external stakeholder input. This presents a problem to organizations that have been working for decades with existing governments to develop climate-friendly and resilient transportation infrastructure. How can these organizations gain leverage in negotiations with Chinese investors and African developers to pursue “greener” infrastructure projects? To solve this problem, a team of CBE and Insight Program members developed a comprehensive study detailing the process and outcome of Chinese investment in African transportation projects. A novel motivation framework for these investments was constructed, providing insight on the future of Chinese monetary flow to Africa. This white paper is a contribution to research on Chinese investment in Africa and an informative analysis for those interested in this field of affairs Click here to download our entire slide deck: Click here to download a database of Chinese Investment Projects in African Transportation infrastructure:
- One Year Later: Updates from the Winners of CBE Ventures 2019
As we prepare for the 2020 competition, the CBE Ventures team has reconnected with our 2019 winners and their progress since Pitch Day almost one year ago. Starting from our own student community, these entrepreneurs have made incredible strides to revolutionize their industries, and CBE is proud to support their work towards a better and more sustainable future. Grand Prize Winner: ShelfLife For craft food and beverage producers, ShelfLife’s ordering platform and vendor network provide volume discounts on common packaging materials and services. Since our competition last year, ShelfLife has raised $325K in pre-seed funding from NextView Ventures, MBA Fund, Rough Draft Ventures, Dorm Room Fund, Switch Ventures, HBS Rock Center, and Harvard Undergraduate Capital Partners. ShelfLife has piloted its product with Lamplighter Brewing Co., generating purchase orders for $10,000-$12,000 in raw materials per week. Currently, they are in the process of launching packaging resources and automating purchase orders. ShelfLife is on its way towards its goal of becoming the go-to, managed marketplace for food and beverage primary packaging in the US. Runner-Up: Debate Spaces Debate Spaces is an education non-profit that uses debate to foster activism and connect middle school students from around the Greater Boston area. This past year, Debate Spaces has raised $20K in its first seed funding round and expanded its reach by adding a community organizer and teacher to their team. While the shift to online learning has affected the delivery of education around the world, Debate Spaces has shifted its in-person programming to remote offerings so its students can continue to build their core skills of debate, engage with current events, and meet new friends from their homes. Debate Spaces is also committed to making racial justice a central focus of its curriculum, holding an emergency session to discuss police brutality and systemic racism, as well as raising additional funds to ensure that its services are accessible to students to process and create change regarding racism in our communities. Sustainability Prize: Troav Troav offers a monthly subscription membership, allowing users to access a large inventory of physical goods quickly and easily. For the past few months, the Troav team has been building out a local instant delivery service for the past few months, partnering with gig drivers and suppliers to enhance their reach. They have worked on adapting their model to navigate the pandemic, spending the summer in Boston to build their service for its users.
- The New Health Economy
I. Overview In the last few years, the Life Sciences industry in the US industry has been facing unique challenges, as costs rise, government regulations change, and operational barriers mount. A new paradigm has been created called the New Health Economy, which also includes consolidating hospitals for efficiency, changing expectations of patients, and increasing calls for price reforms. To combat these challenges, the industry has grown more consumer-facing and collaborative.  A significant result of this shift is that life sciences organizations—particularly pharmaceutical groups—have begun to tailor the healthcare experience towards patients directly. Data-driven product development has led to more personalized treatments, although the lack of big data talent in bioinformatics has been hampering growth. In the next few years, companies will move towards a more flexible and interactive approach by directly interfacing with patients, delivering better experiences for patients and gathering valuable data for drugmakers.  Life sciences groups have formed geographic clusters, particularly in Boston and in the Bay Area . However, this means that rising rents and an increasingly competitive recruitment pool can lead to increased costs. Finally, many potential external factors must be prepared for, as they could reshape the industry. Changes in insurance policies and the politics behind them can wildly affect pricing and customers’ level of willingness to pay for certain services. Diseases and pandemics can occur without prior notice and could change the drug development focus, as seen with the Ebola crisis. Particular inventions or discoveries (such as new antibiotics and genetic treatments) can also change research directions. II. Industry Sectors Biotech Boston is a major hub for biotech and pharmaceutical startups, including many of our former clients. The gamut of organizations is vast, with capabilities ranging from using virtual reality to cure lazy eye to incentivizing proper health practices with a mobile app. They often focus on individualized medicine made possible through data analytics. Looking forward, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council expects the following four trends to impact biotechnology: a strategic hunt for revenue growth, an influx of new sources of capital, real estate solutions driven by tight markets, and talent acquisition. A changing tax regime may also have a significant impact.  Pharmaceuticals Pharmaceutical organizations generally expect to see returns on investment only after at least 8- 10 years. Thus, drug development is an expensive and time intensive process that requires a long-term commitment towards R&D before monetization. This also means that the pricing of the drugs is usually very expensive and relatively inelastic. A series of lawsuits, nevertheless, has been highlighting predatory pricing in this field, which could bring some relief to customers. Often smaller companies that develop direct market competitors to other pharmaceutical companies will sell themselves to the competitor to gain more resources. Pharmaceutical organizations are focusing on using enterprise analytics and data sciences to influence their business decisions, leveraging big data analytics. As medical records move to the cloud, imaging becomes progressively higher quality, and genome information becomes widely available, these companies take in the large data sets to help with drug development. This means that cloud-services, privacy, and security become primary concerns for the organizations. III. References 1. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/life-sciences-and-health-care/articles/lifesciences-outlook.html 2. https://www.strategyand.pwc.com/trend/2017-life-sciences-trends 3. http://www.us.jll.com/united-states/en-us/research/industry/life-sciences-companies 4. https://www.massbio.org/news/blog/top-4-trends-impacting-the-life-sciences-industry-ingreater-boston-and-across-the-us-125972
- Sustaining Impact in COVID-19 Era
A little over a month ago, we received news that Harvard would require students to move off campus amid growing concerns over COVID-19. Shortly thereafter, we sprung into action. We doubled down on our commitment to supporting our members, providing stipends for relocation relief. And once everyone managed to settle down — to the extent this phrase can aptly describe these unprecedented circumstances — we announced the launch of the CBE COVID-19 Action Team. Within days, the task force expanded to over 50 people, consisting of both past and present CBE members. CBE was founded on the fundamental premise that community matters. Anchored by the “Environment” in its name and the pillar of sustainability that guides its work, CBE has long held the view that generating positive impact is critical in confronting a modern world facing increasingly complex challenges. Moreover, the fundamental aim of consulting is to solve problems. As an undergraduate consulting group, we recognized that there was much impact that students could generate if they collectively leveraged their capabilities and resources to tackle these issues. While we had numerous plans in place to expand our sustainability work and programming this semester, many were crowded out by COVID-19. Yet, in recognizing the urgency of the public health crisis, along with the numerous parallels between the pandemic and climate change, we quickly pivoted our sustainability work towards COVID-19 relief efforts. We formed partnerships with organizations including Response4Life and Group 17a, working on pro bono consulting projects in which we analyzed ventilator manufacturing processes and county-level responses to coronavirus outbreaks in jails, respectively. Through these partnerships, members of the CBE COVID-19 action team were able to not only advance pandemic relief efforts, but also learn more about the insidious challenges that COVID-19 presents. A screenshot taken from our initial COVID-19 meeting. Since then, our team has grown and taken off! Since we kicked off these initial projects, we have pursued several other efforts as well. We launched our first-ever partnership with Harvard Effective Altruism on a “Giving Game” event to welcome the incoming Harvard College Class of 2024. At this event, CBE donated $1,000 to two nonprofits, GiveDirectly and Greater Boston Food Bank — these decisions were informed, in part, by “effective altruism” frameworks to understand how organizations like CBE and their members could maximize the impact of their donations. Furthermore, we partnered with Project Concern International, an international development nonprofit, to create several internships for our members. These members will be analyzing how a better understanding of data analytics and health outcomes can inform and improve COVID-19 relief efforts. We do not intend to stop here. We recognize that we have a long road ahead to adequately stem the COVID-19 pandemic, let alone climate change. We will continue to iterate on the insights we gather from our initial projects and investments to inform a more thorough understanding of how we can best pursue future ones. CBE is, and always has been, about environment, impact, and problem solving — moving forward, we will continue to act with these values in mind. We are eager to partner with organizations on projects advancing COVID-19 relief. If you or your organization could benefit from a partnership or a pro bono consulting project, please do not hesitate to reach out. We eagerly await the collaborative journey that lies ahead.
- A Year of Progress: Updates from the Winners of CBE Ventures 2018
by Kavya Kopparapu It’s been almost a year since our first Ventures Initiative, and our winning teams have been hard at work revolutionizing and making significant impacts in their respective fields. As an organization, we’re incredibly proud to support organizations who sustainable and mission-driven, as well as provide a forum on campus for the exchange of ideas between students and companies. Since last year, our three winners have had significant progress in their respective ventures: Loro: Grand Prize Winner Loro is a startup building a smart personalized companion device giving people with limited mobilities the freedom to connect with the world. The team has worked hard in the past year and has gained significant traction! Loro has been tested on over 60 users who have demonstrated overwhelming enthusiasm and support for the product. Currently, Loro already has 75 customers on their waitlist and plan to launch product Loro 1.0 soon! In April, Loro won First Place at the Harvard College i3 Innovation Challenge, Harvard's premier startup competition; Second Place at the Harvard China Forum Pitch Competition, winning funding from GGV Capital and ZhenFund; First Place at the AARP Innovation Challenge in New Orleans; and a $160K grant from Fit4Start in Luxembourg. Apothecary: Grand Prize Runner-Up Apothecary.ai is a data-driven skincare consultation service. They take the guessing out of product discovery with targeted recommendations and enable users to test out products for less through their curated collection of trial minis. Apothecary is in beta testing and is looking to raise their pre-seed in the next couple of months. MakerFleet: Sustainability Prize MakerFleet is making hardware as scalable as software by building a distributed manufacturing system, providing hardware modules that connect underutilized 3D Printers to the cloud to increase accessibility. They had their own booth in the startup section (Eureka Park) of CES 2019, one of the largest technology trade shows, in Las Vegas! MakerFleet is currently undergoing a pivot that will allow the company to be much more scalable and decreases marketing costs by leveraging a unique network effect. As we gear up for this year’s Ventures Initiative, we’re looking to support another group of talented students looking to change the world with great ideas. If you think your student-run venture fits this description, apply for the 2019 Ventures Initiative! We’re looking forward to your application.
- Reflections from CBE Sustainability Day, Fall 2019
Earlier this month, CBE held its third bi-annual Sustainability Day! Founded in Fall 2018 to commemorate our organization’s 10th anniversary, the Sustainability Day initiative aims to connect all 80+ members of CBE with local non-profit projects to engage in hands-on volunteer work. Not only is it a great chance to get off campus, meet members of the community, and contribute in a small way to sustainability efforts in the Greater Boston area, but it is also an invaluable chance for members of CBE to gain experience with other forms of impact work, beyond business, consulting, and academia. This semester, we partnered with Greenovate City of Boston, Neville Place Assisted Living, Fresh Pond Reservation, and Food For Free. Below, four of our members reflect on their experiences with these projects. Greenovate: The CBE team spent the morning working with Greenovate at an “urban wild” in West Roxbury. Upon arrival, the team split into two groups to work on beautifying the area and making the trail more accessible. The first group focused on picking up garbage, whereas the second used cutters to remove excess or overgrown wildlife. It was fantastic to reconnect with Greenovate leader, David Corbie, who we last worked with last fall and work alongside members of the Greater Boston community. - Andy Fan ‘21 Neville Place Assisted Living: We spent most of the bus ride over re-remembering how to make paper cranes from our childhood. We were about to spend the next two hours teaching residents of Neville Place origami, but we had to do a bit of learning ourselves first. When we got there, we split up, with each resident having about two CBE members to work with. As the hours progressed, more and more residents filed in and more and more paper animals appeared on the table. Towards the middle of our time at the residence, many of the residents were done doing origami and were more excited just to have a genuine conversation with some of the CBE members. Another CBE member, Nyla, and I talked to former a English Professor. He had escaped Nazi-controlled Budapest at 15 and remarked how he took pride in the fact that him, a “Hungarian boy,” taught English to thousands of American students. He gave Nyla and I some much-needed life advice and positivity as did all the residents to our CBE members. Needless to say, we’ll be back during the semester for another session of conversation and paper cranes! - Javin Pombra ‘22 Fresh Pond Reservation: Our first time working with the Fresh Pond Reservation, we were thrilled to be hosted by Park Ranger Jean, who put us to work filling wheelbarrows with wood-chips and creating new jogging trails with them. We had a great time creating the paths, flattening and shaping them with our rakes, as other CBE members ran the wheelbarrows filled with wood-chips up and down the hill. By the end of our time, we had used up the entire pile of wood-chips and Ranger Jean commended us for being one of the most productive volunteer groups she has worked with. We hope to continue to work with the Fresh Pond Reservation moving forward! - Siona Prasad ‘23 Food For Free: A group of CBE members collaborated with Harvard University Dining Services and Food For Free to package leftover food, diverting it from going to waste, so that it could be given to food insecure members of the greater-Boston community. Working in the kitchen of Annenberg, we created a meal of pork and rice and a meal of chicken, plantains, and squash. As someone who has had a long-time interest in the issue of food waste, it was great to have the chance to be directly involved in Harvard’s efforts to minimize its waste. - Jasper Johnston, ‘20 Thank you to all of the organizations which hosted us this fall! If your organization is in the Greater Boston area could use volunteers at anytime during the fall or spring, please be in touch. We are always looking for new partnerships. To learn more about our flagship sustainability initiatives, check out https://www.harvardcbe.com/community-impact.
- The language of business doesn’t change
Translating consulting skills from the US to Japan Americans have a tendency to exoticize the rest of the world. Even as the world globalizes, other countries and cultures remain foreign, exceptional, and special to us; these landscapes of indecipherable languages, mannerisms, and ideas are incomprehensible. Taking a moment to look a bit closer, however, reveals that in fact this façade of differences belies the reality: fundamentally, people are still people with many of the same dreams, problems, and motivations. This past summer, I had the fortunate experience to be a part of the HKIC (Harvard Keio Initiative for Creators) program, a week-long experience organized by Keio University students in Tokyo, Japan where Harvard students and Japanese students interact, learn from each other, and solve problems. The students we met were fun, friendly, and always eager to both learn and teach; they became wonderful and close friends! At the same time, the goal of the program came down to a consulting project. Japan has some major issues due to its aging population demographics. Restrictions on immigration and cultural norms have meant that there is now a surplus of unskilled labor jobs. The startup we worked with is seeking to solve this problem by incentivizing young people to quickly take up jobs for short periods of time. Their mobile app lets employers post jobs requiring unskilled labor and then matches those jobs with jobseekers, assured of both short-term employment and instant payment. The interview process is eliminated along with any long-term commitments. Over the last few years, the company has grown dramatically and aims to grow dramatically over the next three years. The task given to us was to build a business plan to reach that target growth rate. Working in Japan, as a foreigner, requires figuring out how to break down the barriers of language and culture such that the real business fundamentals can be tackled. Fortunately, our team included two incredible Japanese students who were able to translate not only the language but also the cultural context. Transposing the business into terms that we understood showed how the problems facing the startup came down to fundamental issues faced by all mainstream technology companies. We broke the company down with a SWOT analysis, noting its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. From there, we moved into a classic breakdown of its Pirate Metrics of Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, and Revenue (AARRR) with a goal of highlighting where this startup could grow its user base. Finally, we walked through the company’s financials, translating them from Japanese to English and modeling them to see trends and growth rates. In the end we discovered that the startup probably would not expect to reach its revenue targets with just an expanding user base. The required growth rate was too high. Even if the desired number of users were achieved, each one would not bring in nearly as much revenue as expected. We realized that we had to not only grow the core business but also the expanding monetization of their current customers. We ended up recommending, in order of feasibility, that the startup: 1) Automate employer onboarding; 2) Create premium subscriptions for both employees and employers; 3) Gameify employment; 4) Monetize collected data; 5) Expand to foreign markets; 6) Build a holistic recruiting platform. Strikingly, none of this would be out of place in the United States. The process, the team, and the results all parallel classic tech consulting cases with which we are familiar. The language of business, in capitalist, globalized societies doesn’t fundamentally change around the world. The context, scope, and values may change, but business, and consequently consulting, remains the same. As a result, we connected fluently with the Japanese students and with the startup's leadership in spite our linguistic divide. The cultural and language barriers dissolved as we found that we weren’t so different after all. Dhruv Gupta is a Managing Director for CBE, and a senior at Harvard studying Computer Science and Government.
- A Year of Change, a Future of Growth
Wow. It’s been an incredible year. When I joined about a year and a half ago, Harvard Undergraduate Consulting on Business and the Environment was a different organization. We served only startups and local businesses. We had only 25 members handling about 6 cases and a community that severely lacked any sort of cohesion. That’s since changed, thanks particularly to our outgoing President, Kevin Stephen. Thank you Kevin for your leadership and guidance. We now have over 75 members in our organization, have successfully completed 18 cases with multiple Fortune 500 companies including Microsoft and Roche, and are a completely different organization. We’ve had parties in Boston hotels, fun outings to paint balling, and a community that has come together as a large family. In the past year, we helped fund Breaktime, a Harvard startup that provides work for the homeless, secured $10,000 in funding for sustainable initiatives on campus through our Sustainability Grants, volunteered with multiple local organizations during Sustainability Day, and offered $15,000 in prize money for Harvard student led startups via Ventures. We have made a significant impact on our local community. We can’t wait to continue all of this in the future with our new leadership team from the Board to the Case Team Leaders and Associates all under our new President, Rainbow Yeung. While our focus in the past year was on external growth and development, our focus this year is on internal stability and analyst education. We aim to do this in three main ways based on suggestions that analysts have made. Lifelong Learning All of our analysts are incredible Harvard students with a wealth of experience in various fields. It’s time that our analysts get an opportunity to help guide their peers through lifelong learning initiatives. This upcoming semester, we will plan events that will allow any member of the organization to hold a workshop and teach a valuable skill. A workshop on financial modeling, on speaking with clients, on slide design. Analysts are exceptionally skilled and can offer so much to our organization. Most importantly, such workshops will allow others to learn, which is of course the whole point of joining such an organization. Diversity It is extremely important to us that we have a roomful of not only intelligent people, but diverse perspectives. We know we have not done super well on this front up until now, so this semester we will focus on ensuring that we have people from various backgrounds joining our organization. We plan on partnering with other organizations that represent underrepresented communities as well as finding ways to provide role models for those communities. CBE can only grow to be an effective organization if we have a community that can have a positive impact on everyone, no matter where they’re from. Community Finally, we want to make sure that CBE feels like a home to the undergraduates who join us. Up to this point, analysts have often felt siloed in their case teams, finding limited opportunities to meet members of other teams. That has to change. We will work towards ensuring that we provide ways for analysts to meet people working on cases dissimilar from their own and learn from others in the organization. At this point, we hope to try a bunch of stuff and see what sticks! If one of them helps us break the barriers we’ve inadvertently formed between the cases, then we know we’ve succeeded. I, for one, am extremely excited for next semester. This is an ever-growing, ever-changing organization driven completely based on analyst feedback. We can’t wait to involve analysts in every initiative that we push and have another successful semester. Till then, happy new year!
- CBE's Commitment to Sustainability: Beyond a Day's Work
CBE is committed to improving sustainability—locally, nationally, and internationally. In recognition of our organization's 10th anniversary, and in an effort to further our mission, this fall we held our inaugural Sustainability Day. This initiative aimed to engage the organization in hands-on impact in the greater-Boston community. On November 10th, 2018, every member of our organization partnered with one of a handful of local non-profit organizations to partake in volunteer work. The projects included the following: Greenovate City of Boston: Work with the Boston mayor's office to improve a local park - pulling out invasive species and cleaning up litter. Habitat for Humanity: Work with the Harvard branch of Habitat for Humanity - a nonprofit organization that helps people in our community and around the world build or improve a place they can call home - to build and paint houses. HARTZ: Work with HARTZ, a PBHA program that sends volunteers to visit Cambridge Rehabilitation and Nursing Center residents as a group and entertain them by playing bingo, leading art classes, coordinating outings to Boston landmarks, and planning holiday-themed parties. Y2Y: Work with Y2Y - a student-run organization that provides temporary housing, meals, and other services to at-risk youth. As a member of the team working with Greenovate City of Boston, the day began at 8:15AM on Saturday, November 10th in the Malkin Athletic Centre parking lot. Our group of about 25 CBE members took public transit to Jamaica Plain, Boston, where the work site was located. The commute was quite a long one, but allowed for interesting conversation and a chance to get to know members outside of our respective case teams. Upon arrival at the site, we were broken up into smaller working teams and equipped with gloves, loppers, organic waste bags, and garbage bags. It was an experience far removed from our typical casework, but meaningful in being able to get on the ground and create an evident change. The locations in which we were situated were visibly cleaner. Although the weather was far from ideal as we were outdoors, the day went very smoothly overall. It can often be difficult to see the impact being made, especially in doing casework that serves a top-down rather than bottom-up approach in sustainable action. Therefore, this opportunity to create tangible change, though small in its long-term impact with respect to the work itself, allowed CBE members to bond with one another and connect to our mission statement of sustainability. CBE’s Sustainability Day is just one of several initiatives held in keeping with the organization’s commitment to sustainability and impact. On a higher level, CBE’s casework seeks to help clients improve their operations and sustainable practices. CBE’s Sustainability Grant enables and encourages individuals and organizations to pursue in innovative sustainability projects. While CBE's work, people, and resources enable us to cultivate positive change, there is room yet for this impact to grow. Much can be done to further CBE’s work in creating a more sustainable world and demonstrate that industry does not necessitate a depreciating environment. There is great potential in bridging the two, as environmental conservation allows for sustainable growth of the economy. To reconcile the environmental damage that is often associated with business, it is not only essential that sustainable business practices are adopted, but that we can begin to rethink our current models and form regenerative, environmentally conscious systems. CBE continues to seek ways to further our impact in the near future; we plan to roll out initiatives such as a high school sustainability scholarship, while fortifying our environmental casework and current projects of the Sustainability Grant and Sustainability Day.
- Breaktime & CBE: Sustainable Employment Opportunities in Cambridge
This semester, CBE is excited to announce our partnership with Breaktime, LLC. Breaktime is a student-run business in Cambridge whose goal is to create employment opportunities, vocational training, and career mentorship to homeless individuals in the community. The company was founded by Tony Shu and Connor Schoen, two undergraduates from the class of 2021 whose commitment to the Cambridge community and desire to build a sustainable employment model to alleviate a critical issue in our city have inspired all of us on the CBE team. Currently, Breaktime manages a catering service in partnership with local breakfast food providers like Union Square Donuts. This catering service works with student groups, corporations, and other local event organizers while training and employing individuals experiencing homelessness in the city. Simultaneously, Breaktime has just built out a salesforce team that utilizes the company’s growing workforce to do high-skill marketing and sales work in partnership with other companies and caterers in Boston. The company’s long-term vision is to open a brick-and-mortar location in Cambridge, Breaktime Café, to centralize sales and implement the company’s employment vision fully. We’re proud to support the company as they continue to take important steps towards realizing their brick-and-mortar goal. To help drive the execution of Breaktime’s medium- and long-term objectives, we have provided Breaktime with a renewable $5,000 grant to fund existing operations and future development. Our leadership team, in addition, has begun to provide the company with operational and strategic advice, transferring a lot of the same skills that have made our consulting group so successful with both Fortune 100 and startup clients. This partnership is CBE’s first step into the realm of social enterprise: companies in the private sector whose goals and operations are geared towards the greater good of the communities in which they reside. Moreover, our work with Breaktime emblematizes our commitment to a broad vision of sustainability, one that prioritizes public health, accessibility, and mobility opportunities for everyone in our community. Check out the work Breaktime is doing at their website, https://www.breaktime.us/
- Promoting Sustainable Innovation by Promoting Student Entrepreneurship
We have a unique position here on campus. As students, we're tasked with learning and completing our coursework. As consultants, we're tasked with going above and beyond for our clients. As members of the Harvard community, we're tasked with supporting the community and shaping it for the better. We take this last point to heart as a mission driven organization that hopes to promote sustainability through its initiatives and resources. And that's why I'm so excited that our CBE Ventures Initiative was so successful. There was an idea. The idea was to bring together a remarkable group of people to see if they could build something more. We knew that our fellow students were full of initiative, drive, and innovative ideas. All they needed was that extra nudge to bring their ideas to fruition. CBE Ventures was designed to fill the gap where there were no opportunities in the Fall semester for entrepreneurs to push their startups and ventures to the next level. Offering $15,000 in prize money across three different prizes, we knew we could help these companies succeed. After seeing all of the applications, it was very difficult for us to choose just ten finalists. All of the applications were incredible as a testament to the high caliber of entrepreneurs on campus. We were really glad to see undergrad driven projects and teams with vast social impact scopes ranging from education to energy to transportation. Our incredible judges hailing from incredible organizations helped us form a strong foundation to the the competition. Scott Xiao, CSO of Luminopia brought considerable background in the health-tech space. Jon Garrity, CEO of Tagup, brought a wealth of experience with startups and technology. Finally, Cayman Somerville, Recruitment and Wet Lab Development Manager at Greentown Labs, brought incredible insights into the sustainability space. We're very grateful for their coming and judging for us. Congratulations to our fantastic winners! There are some really incredible companies here. MakerFleet won our Sustainability Prize for their Cloud platform for 3D Printing, helping improve product iteration and reducing waste with sustainable materials. The company is led by Harvard Undergrads and supports local businesses and schools. Apothecary was our Runner-Up. This awesome company recommends sustainable and healthy beauty products personalized to your tastes. The company was founded by Harvard Undergrads. Our Grand Prize Winner was Loro Co. Loro is a companion product for the disabled in wheelchairs allowing users to navigate safely and communicate effectively. We're really proud to support this incredible company that pushes our sustainability goals and supports underserved communities. The CBE Ventures Initiative could not have been this successful without the support of our hard-working CTLs, Associates, and Analysts. They drove this event and ensured that it ran smoothly and successfully. We can't wait to do this again next year. We know we can improve our event with the feedback we've received and hope to continue to serve the Harvard Community. Until then, venture on.
- Why Your Best Idea is Not Your Best
The company's first launch failed completely. So did the next three. Its revenue was $200 per week. Since it was a tech company, the founders tried to figure out how to alter the user interface to increase click-through rates and optimize the search engine results. It did no good. Luckily, an external mentor brought a change of perspective, and he told them, "the photos of the rental apartments your company is listing are dreadful. Buy a camera, fly to New York, and go photograph the apartments yourselves." "This is ridiculous," they said, "it won't work, but even if it does, it won't scale. We can't photograph every house." But surprisingly, the cross-country photography trip doubled revenue, and everyone knows the rest of the story. This is the story of Airbnb (as told by co-founder Joe Gebbia here and here), and it is a great example of how we can become wedded to a paradigm, a way of looking at problems, and eventually only think along those lines. We find a best idea, and we cannot let go if it. As Gebbia himself admits, "The reason [for the first four failures]…is that we had this Silicon Valley mentality that you had to solve problems in a scalable way because that’s the beauty of code…our first session with Paul Graham at Y Combinator...[he] gave us permission to do things that don’t scale and...it changed the trajectory of the business." Whether it's believing that the code is the panacea or some other firmly-held belief, we often close off potential solutions without even considering them. Avoiding this pitfall is highly stressed in Design Thinking (DT), an approach to design used by firms like IDEO (their clients include Apple, Bank of America, and the like) and companies like IBM and BMW. DT provides a methodology that unleashes creativity and finds effective solutions because it breaks down traditional ways of thinking. And so at its core, this post is about thinking, specifically about how our normal method of thinking can limit us. I attended a K-12 school that introduced DT in early elementary school and gave us access to a DT-themed maker space, so I’ve been using it my whole life. For me, the principle of deferring judgment when ideating is one of the most useful Design Thinking techniques. Deferring judgment means not disparaging any ideas as unworthy and not becoming wedded to any ideas either. Overall, DT encourages challenging our held assumptions. We have these assumptions because they work most of the time, but great ideas sometimes live outside the realm of “most.” In my experience teaching Design Thinking to everyone from young kids to Stanford graduate students, I found that the thing that people from all different backgrounds and ages struggle with the most is letting go of their ideas. “I'm done” and “I’m not going to come up with a better idea” are quite common retorts, but it's important to remember that great ideas can sound crazy at first and vice versa. To highlight an IDEO project, the firm was tasked with developing a banking platform for Bank of America. Instead of sticking with the banking industry's best ideas and conventional wisdom, they targeted extreme users who were historically unbanked by rolling out a debit card that rounded purchases to the dollar and added the change to a savings account—and the program has banked 2 billion dollars. Returning to the story of Airbnb, one might object that while the crazy photography idea worked once, it was a lucky break, not a scalable solution. I would point you to Airbnb's photography assistance program and for smaller listers their photography guide. Just because the initial idea doesn't sound easily expandable doesn't always mean we should write it off as such. It's important to say that one need not always follow this mindset in a structured fashion. Instead, it’s a useful mentality to be able to switch to. Most disciplines involve some facet of creative problem solving and design, and it's important to defer judgment there. I'll add that Airbnb has integrated this principle into their organization. Gebbia says, "Anytime somebody comes to me with something, my first instinct when I look at it is to think bigger...Come back to me when you've thought about that times 100. Show me what that looks like." And so don't take it from me, take it from an Airbnb Co-Founder. Your best idea is not always your best. Alexander Chin is a Case Team Leader for CBE and a Sophomore studying Mathematics and Computer Science.