Two Harvard Extension-affiliated teams, led by an alumnus and a current student, won awards at Harvard Innovation Labs’ President’s Innovation Challenge this month. This is the first time in the 10-year history of the President’s Innovation Challenge that teams affiliated with Harvard Extension have been awarded prizes.

Harvard i-lab, part of Harvard Innovation Labs along with Launch Lab X Geo and the Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab, is a collaborative space where Harvard students, including eligible Harvard Extension School degree candidates, can come together to explore entrepreneurial ideas with expert advisors, coaches, and fellow innovators.

For students who hope to develop a successful start-up, winning venture capital at the annual President’s Innovation Challenge is the ultimate goal. Even a small share of the awarded $510,000 awarded may prove to be the stepping stone to potential future success.

Yet for Harvard Extension and other Harvard students who join the i-lab community, the benefits go well beyond the potential for awards. The i-lab offers expertise and informative resources, as well as a creative, collaborative community.

The skills and personal connections students can acquire through this experience will likely benefit them on any future career path.

Twenty-seven teams from Harvard Extension School participated in the i-lab’s spring 2021 Venture Program (VP).

The VP is designed to help select Harvard students achieve their goals and advance their entrepreneurial ideas. It is a multi-week immersive program with events, workshops, and special programming designed to help participants take their ventures to the next level. Participants in the VP are selected from a highly competitive application process in the fall and spring. Each spring, VP participants are automatically enrolled in the President’s Innovation Challenge.

Eligible Extension students can also take advantage of expert office hours, which offer an opportunity for one-on-one time with industry experts and coaches who can provide focused guidance on idea development and execution.

From the Venture Program, Abigail Daniels won the Ingenuity Award grand prize of $5,000 for her venture, CshFlow. Daniels hopes that her CshFlow app will enable unbanked individuals around the world to gain access to financial services. She is exploring the potential that blockchain technology holds for offering services such as frictionless payments and remittances.

Andy Chen, ALM ’20, won the $75,000 grand prize in the Alumni track for his Launch Lab X GEO venture, Matice Biosciences. Chen’s entrepreneurial project focuses on developing next-generation skincare for scarred skin. His goal is to harness the power of regenerative biology found in nature with cutting-edge bioinformatics. Chen hopes to launch this exciting new consumer biotech company later this year.

The VP helped Ayu Nabilah, ALM ’21, develop the skills she believes she needs to develop and promote her start-up idea. Her venture, Well-Made World, participated in the VP in fall 2020 and spring 2021. Nabilah’s goal is to leverage her experience in the Venture Program to launch an online marketplace of sustainably-produced consumer products.

“We had the idea [for Well-Made World] before we joined the i-lab. But we felt like we needed navigation. We needed someone to guide us,” Nabilah said.

Nabilah found the i-lab’s office hours to be one of the most important parts of the program.

“The best piece of advice I got during office hours was to develop a long term vision and big goals. But from there, you have to work backwards. That means you need to work step-by-step toward that overarching goal. And ask for advice from the experts, from people who have been there, who have been in your shoes. It will be helpful,” Nabilah said.

The i-lab also hosts workshops and events focused on innovation and the entrepreneurial process. Some events, like the annual Halloween party, are simply for fun. Others are designed to build specific skill sets, such as how to build a presentation deck. Networking and collaboration are also key objectives behind many of these events.

Joanna Smith (ALB ’16 and current ALM student) created her EdTech start-up AllHere while she was a student. The company provides attendance monitoring interventions to public school systems across the country and received nearly $1 million in federal grants in 2018. Smith has again recently participated in the Venture Program and was featured in the Forbes 2021 30 under 30 for her work on AllHere.

“So much of the beauty of the i-lab is that [it’s a] cross-school environment,” said Smith. “They’ve displayed either authentic joy at meeting someone from the Extension School or extreme pleasure at working with someone from the Extension School.”

Nabilah’s advice for Harvard Extension students interested in entrepreneurship is to take advantage of the opportunity to connect with the experts at their office hours and to engage with the wider community of students.

“Connect with a professor. And keep networking with other students, too. They really helped me on my journey, and they will be your best resource,” she said.

Qualification Requirements for Extension Students

Participation in the i-lab and the Venture Program is a privilege for eligible degree candidates at Harvard Extension School.

To be eligible to access the i-lab, Harvard Extension students must be admitted in either a Bachelor of Liberal Arts or Master of Liberal Arts degree program, and they must be currently enrolled in at least eight credits (generally, two or more courses). Access is not available in the summer.

Generally, the facility and its programs are in-person only, although access has been virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are interested in learning more about the i-lab or have questions about eligibility requirements, contact the Career and Academic Resource Center.