Keith Bender (MBA ’20) and Raunak Kasera (MBA ’23) report on HBStartups, the community for early-stage startup founders among the ranks of HBS alumni which goes live this month.
At Pear VC, we recognize that entrepreneurship is perhaps the most popular way that HBS graduates meet their alma mater’s calling to be “leaders who make a difference in the world.” An oft-cited statistic holds that nearly half of all HBS alumni start companies within 15 years of graduation.
With so many alumni beginning the first steps of an entrepreneurial endeavor each year, we saw an opportunity to help connect founders across class years. This month, Pear is teaming up with HBS alumni to launch HBStartups, a community platform dedicated exclusively to HBS-graduate-founded, early-stage entrepreneurs.
Each month, we will showcase the newest companies led by HBS alumni looking to make a difference in the world, across industries such as software, healthcare, financial services, and e-commerce. Along the way, we will host regular fireside chats with HBS founders, investors, and advisers, and connect our community members to mentors within our network. Our hope is that HBStartups will be the gathering place for the many HBS alumni founders we have met over the years—and for the many more to come.
HBS-graduate founders have often mentioned that they miss the camaraderie found among section and class cohorts at HBS—specifically within the community that forms around entrepreneurially-focused EC courses and programs. Often, this community continues after graduation informally and briefly in the WhatsApp and Slack groups that accompanied these courses and programs. But, as one founder told us, these channels soon atrophy.
“I find that there’s not a ton that goes on there,” said Ross Lerner (MBA ’20), founder of OnRamp, an enterprise software company for customer onboarding.
“Most activity is limited to people posting ‘We’re hiring—does anyone know great engineers?’ It turns out that we’re all looking for great engineers!”
Perhaps the larger limitation for these channels is their inability to include founders at the same stage from other class years—or to scale to include new founders from the same graduating class. As artifacts of programming long-since concluded, they typically lack defined moderators, and they rarely expand as communities.
HBStartups aims to change this by offering a unified, enduring hub for alumni founders at pre-seed and seed stages. Pear has invested in sixteen HBS-founded startups in the past eight years, and we have seen time and again the power of connecting entrepreneurs through their commonalities as early-stage founders, a shared connection that transcends industry, geography, or graduating class year.
We are excited to help support the community of HBS alumni founders as it continues its staggering growth. While not all alumni-founded ventures pursue venture capital backing, those who do have collectively raised nearly $20 billion since 2015, according to data from Crunchbase.
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of venture investment dollars in companies led by HBS graduates flow to later rounds of financing—HBS alumni raised $3.9 billion in Series B financing rounds and later in 2020, marking 47% year-over-year growth in funding totals for the past five years. But investor interest in seed financing for HBS grad-founded companies has increased, too—growing 42% year-over-year from 2015 to a record $205 million in 2020.
As more HBS alumni start companies each year, we know that a network of peers will be among the most important resources a founder can have—we have heard it many times over from founders.
“In retrospect, we would have really benefited at the early stage—when we were seeking initial product-market fit—from someone to speak with for a low-pressure, friendly conversation who understood the challenges of the stage,” said Andrew Knez (MBA ’18), founder of Covalent Networks, a cloud-based workforce qualification platform that has raised $5M to date.
HBStartups aims to facilitate precisely these types of conversations—insightful, empathetic, and low-pressure. For that matter, the HBStartups motto, if it had one, might be this: the best pitch decks have a little Skydeck in them. We are sure that is a message that will resonate with HBS alumni founders beginning their entrepreneurial journeys around the world.
Keith Bender (MBA ’20) is an investor at Pear VC in Palo Alto. He joined Pear after graduating from HBS, and invests at pre-seed, seed, and Series A rounds across industries. Previously, Keith worked at Bessemer Venture Partners and BCG. He is a graduate of Harvard College and is originally from Arizona.
Raunak Kasera (MBA ’23) is a Product Manager at Microsoft and a Pear VC Fellow. He graduated with a Masters in Computer Science from Stanford and previously worked at Amazon, Salesforce, and two Bay Area venture capital firms.