Venture Incubation Program FAQs:
- What is the criteria for admission to the Venture Incubation Program?
To be eligible to apply, teams must have:
- one or more cofounders who are full-time, degree-seeking Harvard students
- demonstrated dedication to venture thus far
- willingness to engage in the i-lab community
- demonstrated expertise / interest in the industry or market
- clearly defined and well-researched problem and solution
- a plan for gaining traction
- an innovative idea with growth potential, clearly articulated
- What kinds of ventures are a good fit for your program?
We welcome an incredibly wide variety of ventures, across almost every industry you could think of! We look for ventures that demonstrate the following:
1) a deep understanding of a problem they wish to solve
2) a proposed solution that has the promise of real impact
3) a proposed plan for growth, scalability, and/or traction, and a demonstration that these things are feasible.
There are certain types of ventures that not to fit well within this rubric:
- “One-offs” – ventures that exist to plan for a single event or outcome
- Search funds, aka entrepreneurship through acquisition. We’re looking to incubate original venture ideas.
- Consultancy or advocacy groups. While these have the potential for important impact, we’re looking for ventures who want to innovate and disrupt a market.
- I have a great idea for a venture, but I haven’t started working on it yet. Should I apply?
Probably not, as you wouldn’t yet be in a position to best utilize VIP resources or engage meaningfully with other VIP members. We’ve had successful teams that started with not much more than a great idea, but who quickly made progress in creating their venture. There’s a lot that goes into a “great idea,” though: a deep understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve, why your proposed solution fits, and some plan for bringing your idea to fruition. Simply having a concept for a product – but not the research or understanding to justify it – is not enough to be accepted into the program.
If all you have right now is a great concept for a product, come to the i-lab and utilize our other resources: workshops, events, and office hours with staff advisors and experts in residence. These can help you to develop your concept and gain some traction, and you’ll be in a good position to apply to the VIP for next term.
- I have an idea, but I don’t have a team. Can I apply to the VIP just as one person?
Yes. We have many successful solo founders, so please do apply. In fact, rushing to find cofounders just to create a “team” is something we’ve seen before, and it rarely ends in a perfect match. We base our admission decisions on dedication to the venture and our program, not on being ready to launch a successful product right away. We expect most teams to grow and change throughout the program.
- Are postdocs, resident fellows at the hospitals, or research fellows eligible to apply?
Yes, medical residents and postdoc researchers are eligible for the VIP, although most are admitted on a case-by-case basis. These designations do not normally have access to the i-lab through their HUID. Research fellows (i.e., university employees) are not eligible, as they are not finishing a degree.
- I’m not a Harvard student. Can I find a Harvard student to join my team so that we would be eligible?
No, that’s not how this program works. The VIP exists to support ventures founded by Harvard students. We understand that Harvard students often wish to collaborate with talented friends or colleagues who are not current students, so we do not require that all team members be Harvard-affiliated. However, we do not accept teams whom we suspect have just “token” Harvard founders, but are not truly Harvard-founded.
- I have a venture that is already a growing or thriving business. Can we apply to the VIP, or is it just for brand-new ventures?
That depends. The VIP is an incubator, so we help new ventures get started. But of course, the definition of “new” can be subjective. We have accepted plenty of ventures that were started a year or so prior to applying, but applied to get help in growing or gaining traction.
If you have already gained significant traction on your own, this probably isn’t the program for you. However, we welcome you to utilize our other resources to support your learning and progress.
VIP Application FAQs:
- Can we submit supplemental materials such as our pitch deck or written business plan?
Nope, we challenge you to fit everything you want to say within the answers to our questions. (That way we’re assessing the clarity and impact of the ideas themselves, and not how polished or professional a slide deck might look). You also have the opportunity to submit a 2-minute video to include anything we don’t ask explicitly in the applications. We encourage you to be creative!
- Can I meet with staff at the i-lab to discuss my application?
We do not hold individual meetings about the VIP application process or to specifically discuss your application. However, we hold regular office hours during the school year to advise on your venture. We strongly recommend booking office hours with the staff advisor in your industry/vertical before applying to the program, though; we can help you assess the progress of your venture and recommend steps that could make you a better fit for the program.
- What are some common reasons that VIP applications are not accepted?
Each application is reviewed carefully by several senior advisors, then discussed. We take into account every facet of the application and make a holistic decision. Teams are not required to have every aspect of their venture fully figured out: e.g. a team could demonstrate either traction or a well-informed plan with a robust team, but does not necessarily need both to start.
While we cannot give individual feedback on each of the hundreds of applications we receive, here are some of the most common situations in which we might not grant acceptance:
- Not a clearly articulated problem + solution – either the team has failed to provide evidence that this problem is really a problem that they understand well, or we don’t have enough reason to believe that the proposed solution will address the problem in a meaningful way.
- Not far enough along – the team members have found a problem and think they have a solution, but have not done enough research/work to validate that it could become a viable venture.
- Insufficient market understanding – we don’t have evidence that the team deeply understands its market (including content expertise, competitive landscape, current trends, potentials customers, etc.).
- Insufficient expertise/skills – we don’t have evidence that the team has the skills or experience that would be required to realize the venture.
- No clearly articulated business opportunity – even if there is a feasible solution to a problem, we are given no evidence that the team will be able to acquire customers or funders.
- Insufficient dedication or engagement – we don’t have evidence that the team members are really committed to bringing the venture to life, or we have reason to believe that they are unlikely to participate as members in the i-lab community.
- Not eligible – the team does not fit the eligibility criteria described above (e.g. we believe that the Harvard “founder” listed is merely a token founder).
- It’s a consultancy, advocacy organization, a one-off, or a search fund (see above). While we applaud the creation of these types of organizations, they are not the types of organizations that we have the resources to best serve.
- The application was not thoughtful, coherent, or complete. We view the care and thought that you put into your application as an indication of the care and thought that you’ll likely put into your venture.
- What are some common reasons that Renewal VIP applicants are not accepted?
Acceptance into the VIP for one semester does not guarantee acceptance in future semesters. We expect teams to demonstrate growth and community engagement while part of the VIP; if teams do not, we will not accept their renewal applications. Here are some of the most common reasons for choosing not to renew teams:
- Lack of community engagement – the teams did not engage with other community members, meet with their advisors, or utilize the i-lab resources.
- Lack of venture engagement – we did not have evidence that the team was working hard to achieve meaningful growth on their venture
- Not taking feedback well. Arguably our most valuable resource is our advisors. If we have reason to believe that a team was unwilling to meet with advisors, or unwilling to reflect on and grow from advice, we will choose not to renew that team to make space in our program for teams who are going to benefit from that advice.
- Not making reasonable progress / traction. We do not expect ventures to turn into hugely successful businesses in the span of a few months. However, if we don’t believe that you’ve made meaningful progress over the term, we are unlikely to renew you for the next term. We still strongly encourage you to keep utilizing other i-lab resources while working on your venture, and to reapply in future terms.
- Lack of a thoughtful application. Do not make the mistake of thinking that if you were accepted once, the renewal application is a mere formality. In fact, we hold renewal applications to an even higher standard: the application must clearly express the problem and solution, the progress made so far, and a sense of what the team has learned through the process of being in the VIP.