The Rock Accelerator offers HBS students the opportunity to grow their business faster, while connecting with like-minded entrepreneurs. Shana Hoffman (NC), co-founder of the Rock Award-winning start-up CareSolver, considers the value of the Accelerator.
Over the past few years, HBS has increased its commitment to supporting the entrepreneurial interests of MBA students through a variety of programs – including the Rock Accelerator. The accelerator program selects approximately ten teams from a pool of applicants each term (around seventy five applicants for the spring term) and provides them with a $5000 award, along with a variety of other benefits and access to support resources to help them with the current stage of their venture. Ventures run the gamut from the idea stage through beta testing, to advanced products ready for the marketplace. However, all teams must be working on or almost have completed a minimum viable product to use in their market testing.
The program focuses on selecting teams who, over the course of the ten week program, can use the award money to buy learning from the market by testing their minimum viable product. This aligns with best practices espoused by Eric Ries in his well-known book, The Lean Startup. Teams must conduct hypothesis-driven tests in the market to inform their decision on whether to proceed with the venture, pivot on their idea, or disband their original concept and move in an entirely different direction.
Clearly, the financial value of the award is significant for lean startups. But there is more to it than just a monetary boost. The program provides teams with a peer network ready and willing to engage on their challenges, and to share their learnings. Having a group of peers who are all aspiring entrepreneurs, and who are all wrestling with the associated trials and tribulations, is valuable in helping teams with a range of questions – anything from how much equity to offer to a technical co-founder to how to manage interns or whether to apply to an accelerator. In addition, the peer network creates a great sounding board for students who are juggling the pressures of starting a company with the day-to-day stresses of the MBA program.
To stimulate these conversations, the program holds formal feedbacks clinics, during which teams present open questions on their ventures to the group. During a recent feedback clinic, one team presented their SAAS (software as a service) company’s proposed revenue models. In addition to receiving feedback from the group on the benefits and drawbacks of a referral-based model versus a paid monthly subscription model, they walked away with a list of additional contacts in and around the HBS community who have relevant experience in monetizing SAAS-based businesses. While these sessions are a great forum to help the teams get feedback, the follow-up conversations after the session are where the deeper problem solving happens, and where vital connections are made.
In addition to the peer network, the accelerator also provides each of the teams with one or more mentors. Mentors range from successful entrepreneurs and industry experts to venture capitalists from Harvard and the greater Boston community. In order to pair mentors with teams, teams participate in a mentor matching night – an entrepreneurial “speed-date” where each team pitches to all of the potential mentors. This process in itself helps teams crystallize and succinctly express the unmet market need they are trying to solve – and gives them a chance to explain why they are well-positioned to develop their proposed solution. Mentors and teams then select who they would like to work with throughout the ten week program and beyond.
Overall, the Rock Accelerator program provides valuable opportunities for teams to go through many of the required steps, and to answer questions that will be required in seeking either formal or informal investment and pushing their venture forward. By creating programs such as the accelerator, HBS has created a powerful sense of community among entrepreneurially-minded students. We can now look forward to the longer term impact of the Accelerator, as students pursue entrepreneurship as a career opportunity post-MBA.
Shana Hoffman (NC) and Arick Morton (NC) are co-founders of CareSolver (www.caresolver.com) a healthcare technology company focused on helping informal caregivers of elderly loved ones manage and coordinate their loved ones’ care more effectively. CareSolver was recently selected to participate in the spring term of the Rock Accelerator.