The 20th Annual Entrepreneurship Conference @ HBS:

The 20th Annual Entrepreneurship Conference at Harvard Business School drew record numbers with close to 800 participants attending. The Conference was graced by industry leaders and pioneers, featuring keynote speakers Bill Coleman, Founder, BEA Systems; Stelios Haji-Ioannou, Founder, easyJet and easyGroup; David Neeleman, CEO, JetBlue; and keynote moderator Terry Jones, Special Venture Partner, General Catalyst, and Former CEO, Travelocity.

With the theme “Make it happen!” the Entrepreneurship Conference sought to send a positive message – that entrepreneurship is alive, that successful entrepreneurial ventures abound, and that opportunities exist for entrepreneurs to seize. The Conference theme was also a call to action – a proactive message highlighting that there are numerous lessons, skills, knowledge and tools that could be gained to enable success in entrepreneurship – and that the Conference was there to help “make it happen!”

T. Kenneth Escoe (OE), Conference Co-Chair, reflects on the event: “We set out to create a conference that would provide members of the greater HBS & MIT communities every opportunity to learn from successful entrepreneurs, network with investors, and explore strategies for overcoming the barriers to successful entrepreneurship. Additionally, we sought to strengthen the awareness among the general business community that entrepreneurship is alive and well at HBS. We are acutely aware that many recruiters feel that HBS is full of investment bankers and management consultants. We are intent on broadening those views, and improving the brand identity of Entrepreneurship at HBS. This year’s conference drew a record crowd of nearly 800 attendees, and received rave reviews from the members of the press who were present. I’d say we succeeded in our mission!”

To achieve its goals, the Entrepreneurship Conference featured numerous industry luminaries, pioneers, and much admired CEOs including Dan Schulman, CEO, Virgin Mobile; Eva Jeanbart-Lorenzotti, CEO, Vivre; Jonathan Stern, CEO, Eliyon; Bob Fabbio, CEO, VIEO; Ruta Fox, CEO, Divine Diamonds; Craig Swanson, Co-Founder, Definity Health Corporation; Colleen Murphy, President, Asparity; Praveen Chaturvedi, President and CEO, Scion Pharmaceuticals; Brad Kimler, SVP, Health & Welfare Consulting; Douglas Kronenberg, Chief Strategy Officer, Lumenos; Greg Schmergel, CEO, Nantero; Michael Yavonditte, CEO, Quigo; Helen Greiner, CEO, iRobot; Shabbir Dahod, President, SupplyScape; Nate Quigley, President, ELEVEN; Avner Schneur, CEO, Emptoris; Steve Papa, CEO, Endeca; and Joseph Rosenberg, CEO, EduFund International.

Besides connecting participants with leading entrepreneurs and CEOs, the Conference was designed to enable participants to focus on three areas critical to entrepreneurship: intelligence on industries and emerging market trends, getting started on an entrepreneurial venture, and building and managing one’s business. The morning Industries and Markets series featured panels on “Emerging Areas in Technology,” “Emerging Trends in Healthcare / Life Sciences,” “Consumer / Retail Goods,” and “Emerging & Developing Markets.” This series was followed by concurrent panels focused on Getting Started on the entrepreneurial venture, and explored subjects such as “Intellectual Property and Legal Issues,” “Taking the Plunge,” “Search Funds,” and “Going to Market.” The afternoon series focused on the subject of Building and Managing Your Business, with panels on “Innovation – Startups vs. Established Companies,” “Work / Life Tradeoffs in Entrepreneurship,” “Financing Your Venture,” and “Building the Right Team.”

Beyond offering panels, the Conference showcased a Career Fair featuring opportunities to work in entrepreneurial ventures, as well as workshops that tackled topics like futuristic vision-setting. Numerous networking opportunities were also presented, with an open cocktail bar on both Thursday and Friday evenings to encourage Conference participants to network, socialize and have fun.

Adding to the richness of the Entrepreneurship Conference experience was the diversity of backgrounds of the approximately 800 participants at the event. Conference attendees ranged from entrepreneurs and VCs, to participants from investment banks like Goldman Sachs, to students and faculty interested in entrepreneurship. In addition to the usual suspects from HBS and MIT Sloan, attendees included MBA students from Wharton, Columbia, Stanford, Babson, BU and Northeastern, as well as undergrad students from Harvard, MIT, Wharton, Babson, BU, Mount Holyoke College and Tufts. The Conference was also widely marketed throughout Harvard University, attracting students from the Kennedy School, Law School, Graduate School of Education, and Harvard Medical School.

To attract attendees, numerous marketing partnerships were set up with external organizations, such as 85 Broads, the global network of women currently/formerly from Goldman Sachs and from 12 of the leading business schools. Invitations were sent out to HBS alumni in the Northeast, members of the Massachusetts Small Business Administration, and members of organizations like TiE, a leading network of Indian entrepreneurs. Partnerships also extended to include student organizations such as Babson’s Entrepreneurial Exchange, Harvard College’s Student Entrepreneurship Council, and the Harvard Undergraduate Women in Business. As a result, the conference reached a record attendance and attracted a highly diverse population.

The Entrepreneurship Conference elicited positive responses from attendees and the media: “I felt the conference was tremendous – the panels were very insightful, the guest speakers were both high profile and captivating, and I personally made several very useful contacts that I intend to follow up with. Your efforts with the conference certainly paid off handsomely!” comments Thomas Schmittzehe of the Wharton Business School’s Wharton Journal.

Escoe attributes the Conference’s success to teamwork, collaboration and
thoughtful execution among organizers: “The strength of this conference lies in the people who planned it. The 60+ organizers from HBS and MIT worked diligently, pulling very long nights and sacrificing a considerable amount of personal time to bring this conference to fruition. I am very proud to be associated with this winning team and we thank them for their dedication to excellence!”

The 20th Annual Entrepreneurship Conference at Harvard Business School was sponsored by General Catalyst Partners, Testa Hurwitz, Thibeault, LLP, Weston Presidio, Highland Capital, Pilot House Ventures Group, and Glaceau VitaminWater.