The Rise of the Student-Entrepreneur

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  • June 26, 2012

If you asked most people today, they would probably agree with the notion that a college sophomore can develop technology or launch a business that can transform an entire industry and define a generation. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have already blazed that trail. But often, just when those student entrepreneurs are ready to take off, they... well, take off.

This is a story I know well. I was part of the team in 2004 that left Harvard and headed west to build Facebook. The site had been spreading like wildfire at Harvard and about 30 other schools when we packed our bags, rented a house in Palo Alto, and headed for Silicon Valley. At the time, it felt like an unavoidable choice: student or entrepreneur.

Eventually, I made it back to Harvard, finishing my undergraduate degree in 2007 and even going back for a Master's in Education three years later. I don't regret the choice to go back for a moment. But I do regret that it had to be a choice in the first place.

With the launch of The Experiment Fund, a seed-stage venture capital fund anchored at Harvard, and backed by a handful of top VCs, soon it may not be. The path from student to entrepreneur is changing from sequential to concurrent, and it finally seems clear that Harvard is committed to fueling and fostering entrepreneurship on its campus. Initially founded by NEA, the Xfund is announcing today that Accel and Polaris are joining as partners. Additionally, I will be joining as one of three new advisers.

As an angel investor, entrepreneur and Harvard graduate, I couldn't be more pleased. In addition to its talent, Harvard's greatest strengths have always been its network and its vast institutional resources. Now budding entrepreneurs can continue to take advantage of those strengths, while adding some of the world's best investors and company builders to the list, each bringing their own formidable resources and networks. And of course, while students and entrepreneurs alike are known for getting by on caffeine and ramen noodles, as Harvard knows, a little money never hurts, either.

Could the next Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates begin changing the world from inside those ivy-covered walls? It just became a whole lot easier.