Shira Kaplan AB '08; CEO & Founder, Cyverse

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? 

Israelis are all about risk-taking. They live in a risky neighborhood, which makes them prone to taking risks also in the business world. Ex-military and intelligence veterans like myself often start their own companies, and focus on cyber-security, which is a mega-growth industry. 

Shira Kaplan

Shira Kaplan

What three pieces of advice/lessons learned would you give about the entrepreneurial journey?

Make sure you have an amazing business partner, and that he/ she complements you. If you’re young, consider working with an older, experienced entrepreneur who has already exited a few companies. If you’re a man, consider working with a woman. The diversity of mindsets and experiences is incredibly important to the success of your business. 

What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? 

I love the fact that I eat my own cooking. If I cook well, I’ll eat well and be fat. And if I fail – I’ll starve... So failure isn’t an option. 

Do you believe there is some sort of pattern/formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

I find that immigrants - or people who feel like immigrants – often do well as entrepreneurs in a foreign countries. They love to show everyone around them that their cultural background is an asset – and they build businesses around their home culture and values, which turns out to be innovative in the local context. 

How has your Harvard education benefited you personally, professionally as an entrepreneur?

Harvard opens doors – everywhere. As a Harvard alum, there’s not a single person who will ignore your email, or refuse to speak to you on the phone. This has been my experience so far. 

Keith Frome MTS ‘89, JB Schramm MDiv ‘86; Founders, PeerForward / College Summit

Keith_JB.jpg

Keith Frome and J.B. Schramm became friends at Harvard as College proctors and Divinity School students. Their friendship powered their social entrepreneurial journey at College Summit.

What inspired you to become entrepreneurs and co-founders of College Summit?

Keith Frome: J.B. and I co-founded College Summit (together with our colleague Derek Canty) drawing from our own experiences as youth. J.B. attended urban public schools, where he had friends who were “college material” as much as J.B. was. But since their parents hadn’t gone to college, they missed out on the coaching that helped J.B. make it to college. The college opportunity changed J.B.’s life as much as the missed opportunity affected the trajectory of his friends’ lives.

JB Schramm: My experience was different. Even though I was a good high school student, my parents discouraged me from applying to college. Determined but without family support, I washed dishes and took classes at a local 2-year college which served as a launch pad for my journey to Harvard Divinity School and eventually Columbia University where I received a doctorate in education and philosophy. My first-hand experienced is what led me to College Summit: that encouraging and supporting students’ hopes, dreams and aspirations can make all the difference.

What three pieces of advice/lessons learned would you give about the entrepreneurial journey?

  1. Dive in and measure from the outset. Get involved in a messy challenge that people think is ‘unsolvable.’ As you roll up your sleeves, you will encounter seemingly intractable barriers that will make you smarter and inspire solutions, forcing the insight out of you.

  2. Be a pitbull. Entrepreneurs take “no” as an invitation to try new approaches. Relentlessly.

  3. Focus on your core insight and don’t be distracted from it. For us, the core insight is that same age-peers matter. For close to 25 years, we’ve helped partners create opportunities by helping young people tap peer influence

What do you enjoy most about being entrepreneurs?

Being able to see and measure the impact on individual students our team creates.

Do you believe there is some sort of pattern/formula to becoming successful entrepreneurs?

  1. Experience and serve in the field so that you understand its topography.

  2. Dive-in (see above)

  3. Find some way to unstick what’s stuck in your field

  4. Experiment right away; try out your hypothesis. Test how customers and the market responds.

  5. Refine, repeat, record, until you’ve got measurable proof of impact.

  6. Scale

How has your Harvard education benefited you personally, professionally, as entrepreneurs?

Early days…

Early days…

Mentors and professors including Rev. Peter Gomes, Richard Reinhold Niebuhr, Richard Marius, Stanley Cavell, and Sharon Parks taught us to combine intellectual rigor with moral conviction. On the College side, as proctors, Deans William Fitzsimmons, Burriss Young and Hank Moses taught us the power of building authentic relationships with students through the power of narrative and stories. Our peers were an amazingly talented group of people who became life-long friends, many of whom continue to help build College Summit today.

College Summit is now PeerForward

Linda Rottenberg, AB ‘90; Co-founder & CEO, Endeavor Global

Linda Rottenberg

Linda Rottenberg

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

I didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur – I became one accidentally when I came across a problem that I just had to solve! The now infamous founding story behind Endeavor is that I was riding a taxi in Buenos Aires circa 1990s when I learned that the driver had an engineering degree but couldn’t find any other job. He didn’t want to work for the corrupt government or the private head honchos, yet the concept of starting one’s own business was outlandish at the time in Latin America. I co-founded Endeavor to help othersbecome entrepreneurs by creating support networks that would encourage people to take risks, think big and affect change.

What three pieces of advice/lessons learned would you give about the entrepreneurial journey?

  1. You don’t need a hoodie, Silicon Valley zip code or golden rolodex to have a million-dollar idea!  The biggest barriers to entrepreneurship are not financial, structural, cultural, or political; they are psychological. The keys to unlocking success are believing in yourself and finding others who believe in you.

  2.  Surround yourself with mentors or role models who can offer you a rotating mixture of tough love, fresh insights, strategic expertise and clear direction for when you lose your way—as every entrepreneur inevitably does! 

  3. Accepting the world as it is will likely lead to a life that’s, well, acceptable. If you want to have a more fulfilling life, you’ll look at the world around you not as it is, but as it can be.

What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?

It’s a great excuse to be crazy! I always say, If you’re not being called crazy it means you’re not thinking big enough. Being misunderstood is par for the course! 

Do you believe there is some sort of pattern/formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

I believe that there are recommended strategies but no surefire formulas. We have more than 1,400 entrepreneurs in the Endeavor network today and none took the same path to get there. Take two of our earliest and most successful entrepreneurs from Argentina: one of them (Wences Casares, Founder of Xapo) is the son of sheep farmer who started several failed ventures before striking gold; the other (Marcos Galperin, Founder of MercadoLibre) graduated from Wharton and Stanford then worked at JP Morgan before returning home to start his now NASDAQ-listed company. An entrepreneur is fundamentally in the business of disrupting the status quo and doing the unexpected, so the idea that there could be a set rulebook for going about it is oxymoronic!

How has your Harvard education benefited you personally, professionally as an entrepreneur?

I majored in Social Studies which trained me to think about the various drivers of social impact, from the political to the cultural to the individual. It also introduced me to Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian economist who argued that a nation’s “fiery spirits” (a.k.a. entrepreneurs) are its most powerful economic change agents as forces of “creative destruction.” He’s the one that spoke out to me most from my requisite shelf of dead white men (Webster, Tocqueville, Durkheim, etc) that I still keep in homage to my SocStud days! My global education has continued off the page and deepens everyday as I speak with entrepreneurs in emerging markets tackling problems in innovative ways. I can’t overstate the importance of spending time in other countries to gain a global understanding of doing business and doing life!

Endeavor Inc.

Established in 1997, Endeavor is leading the global high-impact entrepreneurship movement by selecting, mentoring, and accelerating fast-growth companies around the world. To date, Endeavor has screened more than 50,000 entrepreneurs and selected more than a thousand individuals leading over 850 companies that have created 650,000 jobs and generated $10 billion in revenues. Headquartered in New York City, Endeavor currently operates in 28 countries throughout Europe, Latin America, North America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East

contact@endeavor.org

www.endeavor.org.

Dr. Imdat As, DDes ‘05, Founder Arcbazar.com

Dr Imdat As, D.Des ‘05

Dr Imdat As, D.Des ‘05

Arcbazar.com is the first-of-its-kind online competition webpage for small to medium scale design projects to allow an easy and fast connection interface between clients, young architectural designers and contractors.

Founded in 2010, arcbazar.com is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? 

I found the concept of crowdsourcing, which has been on the rise for the last decade, truly fascinating. The idea of people from across the world coming together for one project and being able to connect via a digital platform has transformative powers. We are increasingly living in a freelance society, enabled by platforms like Upwork, Airbnb, Uber and others. As an architect by training, I saw an opportunity to bring the same freelancing, crowdsourcing spirit to the industry. Arcbazar started out from the need to offer homeowners and businesses a more affordable solution for architectural design, and give architects and designers more freelance employment opportunities. Crowdsourcing was a perfect fit.

What three pieces of advice/lessons learned would you give about the entrepreneurial journey?

  1. The learning process never stops and its importance can’t be underestimated. 

  2. Don’t try to go it alone. Find people with the skill sets you are missing and empower them.

  3. Irrespective of how hard you work, the route of an entrepreneur is never linear. Expect numerous ups and downs - truly appreciate it when things are going well and get ready to work extra hard when things are going down. Eventually, those ups and downs won’t seem like life and death moment.

What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?

Undoubtedly, it is the freedom to execute my vision and that of the people I work with. 

Do you believe there is some sort of pattern/formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

Perseverance and hard work are the only two must-haves. As for formulas, there are so many success stories - all different in terms of business models, industries, offerings, budgets, team sizes, etc. - that it will be a gross simplification trying to narrow them down to a recipe for success.

How has your Harvard education benefited you personally, professionally as an entrepreneur? 

A solid understanding of the industry is extremely important when starting your own business. The high standards of Harvard’s educational programs meant that as an entrepreneur, I had a deep understanding of the architectural industry - its struggles, its opportunities, what it takes to be an architect and what goes into actually putting a project together. As for personally, the exposure to highly determined and talented peers provided a great source of inspiration and motivation.

Avnish Gungadurdoss, MPA/ID '12, Managing Partner and Co-Founder, Instiglio

Avnish Gungadurdoss MPA/ID ‘12

Avnish Gungadurdoss MPA/ID ‘12

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? 

Like many social entrepreneurs, I am inspired by the cause I am passionate about and the belief that my team can make a unique contribution to it. For me and my team, it’s the opportunity to help people grow out of poverty and live out their potential.   

I grew up in the island nation of Mauritius, and from a very young age I got involved in community service, volunteering at homeless shelters or building affordable housing. I was taken aback by how much their conditions depended on the mere and random chance of where they happened to be born, and nothing else.

At the Harvard Kennedy School, I met professors and classmates who were working on fixing this problem. Together with two classmates, we worked on a solution that we believed would radically increase the effectiveness of public policies and development programs. Our idea was to use well-designed incentive schemes that would hold implementers accountable, drive an increased focus on the performance of public policies and ultimately deliver reliable pathways out of poverty. We launched Instiglio to deliver this promise and that was the beginning of my journey in entrepreneurship, with a $10,000 prize grant from Harvard.

What three pieces of advice/lessons learned would you give about the entrepreneurial journey?

  1. The entrepreneurial journey is packed with tough moments where you will want to give up. Your purpose has to be strong enough to keep you going.  

  2. Work with a team that is equally committed and whom you can trust – I cannot overemphasize enough the fundamental role that the initial, small team of six individuals played in materializing the idea of Instiglio. They all believed in the idea, they all had a high sense of ownership and purpose, and stuck through thick and thin. 

  3. Being “reasonable” can potentially stand in the way of taking the bold leap of pursuing a risky dream. 

What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? 

The freedom and mandate to develop new knowledge; the satisfaction and “completeness” that comes with demonstrating that these ideas can actually have a meaningful and long-lasting impact on people’s lives and on the way the whole sector of international development is set-up. The thrill to be a part of something unimaginably bigger, to see transformative ideas expand and reach all corners of the world. The every-day excitement of working with a team of like-minded individuals, who are not constrained nor afraid to work outside their comfort zones, to explore the unknown and keep pushing after every fall in order to change paradigms.  

Do you believe there is some sort of pattern/formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

I don’t think anyone has a magic recipe and there are so many things you will have to learn to get right over time. But, that said, I believe a particular mindset can help. First, see every failure as an important learning and have the resilience to pick yourself up after failing (there will be many of those). Have the humbleness to know when you need help and how to rely on your advisors and teammates. Connected with the last point, be an avid and fast learner, always recognizing that your challenge is evolving and you need to continuously adapt and upgrade your capabilities to drive your organization forward. Finally, the last thing you want is to become the bottleneck. It’s important to know when to let go and delegate. 

How has your Harvard education benefited you personally, professionally as an entrepreneur?

  1. The classmates and professors of the MPA/ID program who inspired me to think disruptively.

  2. The incredibly cutting-edge and multi-disciplinary approaches we learned and applied to policy making. New ideas do not come from old frameworks. For instance, I remember the classes of though-leaders like Lant Pritchett, Ricardo Hausmann and Matt Andres being particularly formative.

  3. The community I built with current and future decision-makers and change agents and being able to partner with like-minded, equally prepared professionals to drive change in our day-to-day work in Instiglio. 

  4. The space, funding and support to start Instiglio.