“What do you mean you didn’t even apply to Stanford?” folks would ask me when I told them I was going to business school to learn about technology, start-ups and entrepreneurship. It’s a fair question – in 2012, Stanford graduated 13% entrepreneurs versus HBS’s 7%. And this doesn’t even take into account the Stanford MBA’s who drop out to start business. So why didn’t I apply to Stanford? Wasn’t that the clear choice for tech entrepreneurship? What was I thinking, going to HBS to start a company?
I graduated from Harvard Business School in 2012 and I have to say, I’m so glad I chose HBS. The HBS network has already proved extremely useful as I start my own women’s jeans company, and it was awesome being one of the only weird start-up kids running around HBS – I received a ton more resources than I would have at Stanford. I’m not saying everyone should go to HBS over Stanford to start a company, I’m just really glad that I did!
Remember, HBS is not a poor institution. And what’s the number one reason start-ups fail? Money! HBS is focusing more and more on entrepreneurship, especially under Dean Nitlin Noria, and is freeing up a bunch of resources for budding entrepreneurs. My second year at HBS, they opened the Innovation Lab, an incubator space on campus where folks like me could meet one-another. I learned a ton from my peers, but I was also given access to some really great mentors. I also entered the business plan competition both years. My first year I even thought about entering two different plans. HBS gave me $1,000 for each plan I considered entering, whether or not I actually submitted a plan by the deadline! I also applied for the $5,000 minimum viable product competition. Although I never won, a few of my friends did, and some of them used these resources to test out a business they were thinking of starting. Some of them are still working on those businesses. Some failed quickly and are now working on other projects. $5,000 doesn’t seem like a lot compared to a business degree, but if you’re going to get a degree either way, might as well get some of your money back to work on your business. Similarly, I was granted special fellowships as an entrepreneur. And I was allowed to put my business towards class credit –saving me three months of burn rate while I was working on the business faster than I would have if I’d had a full course load. Net-net, I’m in a much better financial position because of HBS’s support than if I’d gone to another school.
And I’m not the only one! There are tons of HBS entrepreneurs out there. True, we only graduated 5% entrepreneurs, but we’re a much bigger class. Everywhere I go in the start-up scene in New York, especially in the fashion-tech world, I meet HBS startups, a lot of whom are some of the best, smartest, most prepared entrepreneurs I’ve met. I also met HBS alumni along the way who have served as advisers and may turn into investors one day.
I’m sure I could have started my business at Stanford. But as a New Yorker in fashion, I’m really glad I went to HBS instead.
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Julia Kastner is a Veritas Prep GMAT instructor based in New York. She runs her own socially responsible, fair trade denim company called Eva & Paul and before starting her business she was working on nonprofit outreach projects of all kinds.