Starting Up at Harvard

Not too long ago, Daniel Saul '95 left his "respectable" job as a management consultant with Booz•Allen & Hamilton in New York and...

Not too long ago, Daniel Saul '95 left his "respectable" job as a management consultant with Booz•Allen & Hamilton in New York and moved back to Cambridge with thoughts of becoming an entrepreneur. Little did he know just how precarious his life as a fledgling start-up was going be.

jhj-behrens

Jeff Behrens '89 with Clipper, the mongrel he and his wife, Lori Rutter '89, adopted from Saveadog.org. Clipper was named after the first computer-programming language Behrens used--as a Harvard senior--to explore a career in consulting. Photograph by David Carmack

"So, it was me on the floor of my living room with a computer, a fax machine, and a telephone. I had no furniture," Saul recalls. "People on the phone kept telling me, 'It sounds like there's an echo in there,' and it was because there was nothing in the room." A bed did finally arrive, making his few nonwaking hours a bit more comfortable. But most of the time was spent alone, typing away, his only companion the remote blueness of a computer screen.

Craving human contact and answers to questions like how to create a business plan and where to find funding, Saul got to know two like-minded fellow alumni, Jeff Behrens '89 and Will Hartmann '90. They were nascent new economists themselves, but Saul says they were further along the labyrinthine path. "I sought them out for mentorship, for understanding--as people who wouldn't make fun of me for wanting to leave a good-paying job and a nice expense account to sit on the floor with my computer," Saul says. "It was reassuring to know that other people had taken an entrepreneurial route and been successful at it. At the same time, it added comfort to know that they thought it would be okay even if I tried and failed."

The trio (who also shared a common interest in Harvard Alumni Association activities) soon found themselves getting together to talk about business and the burgeoning world of start-ups. At some point in 1998, Saul says, "We realized that what we were doing was something that other people would probably benefit from and that we could probably benefit further from as well."

Thus evolved the cooperative, virtually free network of (mostly) Harvard-affiliated entrepreneurs now called "Harvard Startups" (www.harvard-startups.org). In the last two years, the group has grown to include about 800 people at both on-line and land-based companies around the world, although fully one-third of the members are located in Greater Boston. Members can participate in a daily on-line discussion network where queries, answers, and experiences are traded along with job postings, office-space listings, and tips from experts. The group also hosts monthly meetings on such topics as intellectual property rights, writing a business plan, marketing brand names, and venture capitalism. The May meeting, held at a Boston law firm, lured almost 60 people to hear about "Dancing with Angels."

"Students and alumni are far-flung groups and often don't cross paths, but many of them are interested in helping each other," says Behrens, the de facto leader of the group when he's not running his own computer-systems management firm, The Telluride Group, in Newton, Massachusetts. "One of our goals was to create a virtual and real network to promote and support the extended Harvard community." That's exactly what Harvard Startups is.

The group has been so successful in attracting enthusiastic alumni from both the College and the professional schools that the Office of Career Services (OCS) used many of its members to put on Harvard's first-ever career fair focused on entrepreneurship, "Step Up to Start-ups," last February. Despite nominal publicity, the fair attracted more than 300 undergraduates and 30 companies. Fifty firms eager to recruit at the fair were turned away simply because of space limitations, says OCS assistant director Nancy Saunders. "Many students thanked us for being ahead of the curve, for not relying on the old standbys, the traditional companies, but for looking forward to new developments in the field."

As the new economy grows, career-service offices nationwide have been pressed for help by students seeking to become a part of it, Saunders explains. The Harvard Startups network offers an invaluable service to undergraduates and OCS now provides physical space for some of its meetings. "It's not classroom advice, it's 'Been there, done that' advice," she says. "It's asking unbridled questions--nobody feels embarrassed. How do I get started? How do I find someone with deep pockets willing to invest in my project? Who should I talk to? How do I practice my pitch to venture capitalists?"

The network's workshop on venture capitalism saved time and effort for Philip V. Gormley, M.B.A. '98, who launched Catalyst Medical Solutions with other alumni in May. The company has found a way to reduce procedural paperwork for doctors. What did he glean? "Explain clearly what your idea is, who is on the team," Gormley says. "Also what are the risks and what are the opportunities--and you want to be brutally honest about that. Get to the bad news early."

Biochemistry concentrator Amita Shukla '98 left a job at Merrill Lynch to become chief executive officer of PickAnything.com, a group of more than a thousand portals that guide consumers to information on travel, jewelry, jobs, toys, loans, books, insurance, and many other topics. Now based in Maryland, she heard about the start-ups network through friends. "Often people in start-ups have the same questions," she says. "This is a great platform because you have the opportunity not only to pose your own questions, but also to observe the interactions among others" as solutions to similar problems are exchanged every day.

On the flip side, Kristin Rhyne, M.B.A. '99, finds that she's been the one answering the questions, especially those from women entrepreneurs. Her company, Polished Inc., will begin offering beauty and wellness services to airline travelers and employees this fall (see page 54). "I've given advice to women about real estate and about venture capital specifically for women-owned businesses," she says. "We used that to our advantage, so I just passed along all the information I had."

For Stever Robbins, M.B.A. '91, Harvard Startups is more of "a huge job network. I don't need a job," he explains, "but I work with a lot of people who do." As leader of VentureCoach.com, he focuses on helping entrepreneurs grow. "As horrible and old boyish as it sounds, you know all the people are Harvard alumni and that eliminates about four weeks of the romance and screening period," he says about evaluating job candidates and potential clients. "I know I have a smart person, and I have faith they can do the job."

Behrens himself could have used the network when he was starting out in the "lonely, confusing world of entrepreneurship...It would've helped me steepen my learning curve and figure out how to build this business more quickly." As it is, Telluride Group logged $3 million in sales this year, raised $500,000 in angel financing, and has 30 employees. It's constant work--and Behrens concedes that running Harvard Startups, as it grows in popularity, is beginning to consume too much of his time. Will Hartmann has moved on to business school at Duke University. (In the interval, he cofounded Counsell Group Inc., which became Breakaway Solutions, a Boston-based high-tech consulting company that went public in October.) Saul, though still very involved with the network, is increasingly busy running his own company, SmarterLiving.com, a discount-travel site that employs a dozen people in Cambridge. "It's clear that as the network takes on a life of its own, it's going to have to be an independent and professional organization," Behrens says. "We've reached a certain plateau. To take it to the next level, it's going to have to change."

Exactly what Harvard Startups transforms into, or who will oversee it, is unclear. The network's dynamic structure--as a real-time, grass-roots organization run primarily by its members' needs--appears antithetical to institutional control, yet, as it grows, central administration is necessary. The group's power and effectiveness, Saunders and Behrens say, also lie in the fact that it appeals to and includes members of the Harvard-wide community--undergraduates, professional-school alumni, faculty, and others--who do not ordinarily communicate with one another directly.

"I think the group would like to see some shepherding, some stewardship, coming from the institution," Saunders says. "That would help it become a more substantive, more full-service organization." One option is to become more like MIT's long-established Enterprise Forum, a nonprofit organization that promotes new businesses through 22 chapters nationwide and overseas. Behrens says he's glad to see entrepreneurship getting more attention at Harvard these days and thinks that one place for the network might be within the proposed Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (see "Inc.@theCollege," May-June, page 61). Another possibility is for the network to become affiliated with the Harvard Alumni Association, which is planning new services for its 31,000 on-line alumni users and already offers some professional networking options. "As entrepreneurs," Behrens says, "institutions and bureaucracy scare us. We have to find a place where the group can be dynamic and thrive and be independent, but retain a relationship with Harvard."

~Nell Porter Brown

The Oldest Graduate

At the age of 104, Dorothy Summers Green '17 of Lexington, Massachusetts, is the oldest living graduate of Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges. In April, she discussed some memories of undergraduate life with her son, Winslow Green '58, M.D. '62.

* * *

"Are you glad that you went to Radcliffe?" (Her favorite high-school teacher, a Radcliffe alumna, talked her out of applying to Wellesley.)

"Oh yes. Harvard and Radcliffe were the most distinguished. I had a scholarship and I think I did pretty well for myself for a little country girl."

(She concentrated in fine arts, probably the first Radcliffe student to do so, and was president of the art club.) "What did you do in the art club?"

jhj-oldestalum
Photograph by Helen Fowler

"Well, we begged for a model, somebody to draw from. We wanted a naked model, but all we got was one of our classmates dressed in a heavy business suit. So I never learned anatomy."

"Did you play any sports?"

"I couldn't play field hockey because I was scared of the ball. I would stay late to play on the basketball team, and how tired I was when I got home. (She commuted from Braintree for three years to save money.) My mother would sit with me, having supper, expecting to hear of all the wonderful things that happened, but I was too tired to talk."

"There were no boys in your classes, of course. How did you meet boys?"

"We used to go to church parties in Harvard Square. And we'd meet them at the choral society."

"Did you know any of the boys who went off to the war?"

"Yes, I did."

"And did they all come back?"

A pause. "I wish I could see them again."

"What do you remember with the most pleasure from those years?"

"My classes, friendships, everything."

"Your Radcliffe classmates were your closest friends all your life?"

"Yes. We used to get together every month in Cambridge. We'd have a little supper. There'd be about 20 of us."

"Mother, you know that you are now the oldest living graduate of Harvard and Radcliffe."

"No!!"

"How does that feel?"

"I always knew that I'd live to be the oldest."

"How did you know?"

"I don't know. Instinct."

* * *

Today, Green's family is represented at the College by her great-grandson, Christopher Kemball '01, a biochemical-sciences concentrator and a resident, appropriately enough, of Pforzheimer House in the former Radcliffe Quad.

The Bartons

alumni-barton

Commencement day was something akin to a family reunion for the Bartons this year: five members--a mother and four children--were in town to celebrate major or minor reunions. "Has such a confluence ever occurred in Harvard alumni history before?" asked the youngest member of the group, Allen Barton '90 (at left). Beside him are Alice '75, Fred '80, Ruth (Breitenfeld) '50, and William '85.

 

C-oldest
Photo by Jim Harrison

Staying Power

This year as last, John Heagan Eames '22, at 100, was the oldest marcher in the alumni procession. Marion Coppelman Epstein '24, at 97, was the oldest alumna present. Their elders include Dorothy Summers Green '17 (see page 93); E. Pollak-Ottendorf '21, 104, of Bronx, N.Y.; Charles Hartshorne '21, 103, of Austin, Texas; Jennie Hubbard Farnham '21, 101, of Broomall, Pa.; Alice Preston Phinney '25, 100, of Wareham, Mass.; Ruth Lasker Rivkin '23, 100, of Bethesda, Md.; James George Jameson '22, 100, of Brookline, Mass.; Elizabeth Gilpatrick Stewart '23, 100, of Needham, Mass.; Charles Henry Warner '21, 100, of Berkeley, Cal.; and James Gerald Dunton '23, 100, of Falls Church, Va. Since 1993, all 10 of the stalwarts on this list have been 100 or older.

John Heagan Eames '22 bused down, alone, from Boothbay Harbor, Main

Election Winners

Members of the Board of Overseers have elected higher-education specialist Sharon Elliott Gagnon, Ph.D. '72, their new president. A resident of Anchorage, Alaska, Gagnon holds a doctorate in French literature and has long been active in Harvard alumni affairs. She succeeds Joan Morthland Hutchins '61.

This year, 34,858 alumni, representing 17.9 percent of the eligible voters, cast ballots in the annual selection of Overseers and elected directors of the Harvard Alumni Association. The results were announced at the HAA's annual meeting on June 8.

Elected to the Board of Overseers for six-year terms were:

Aida Alvarez '71. Washington, D.C. Small Business Administration.

Franklin W. Hobbs '69, M.B.A. '72. New York City. Former chairman, Warburg Dillon Read.

M. Lee Pelton, Ph.D. '84; A.B. '74 Wichita State University. Salem, Ore. President, Willamette University.

Patti B. Saris '73, J.D. '76. Boston. U.S. district court judge.

Steven A. Schroeder, M.D. '64; A.B. '60 Stanford University. Princeton, N.J. President and CEO, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Overseer Mildred Dresselhaus, A.M. '53, has withdrawn from the board after three years, pending her appointment as director of the Office of Science at the U.S. Department of Energy. The candidate elected to complete her term is

Barbara Schultz Robinson, HRPBA '52; A.B. '51 Wellesley College. Cleveland, Ohio. Chair, Ohio Arts Council.

The newest HAA Directors, elected for three-year terms, were:

Scott C. Collins '87, J.D. '90. Boston. Principal, Summit Partners.

F. Barton Harvey '71, M.B.A. '74. Baltimore. Chair and CEO, The Enterprise Foundation.

Walter H. Morris Jr. '73, M.B.A. '75. Washington, D.C. Partner, Ernst & Young.

Susan M. Williams '77, J.D. '81. Albuquerque, N.M. Partner, Williams, Janov & Cooney, PC.

Barbara J. Wu, Ph.D. '81; A.B. '75 Smith College. Chicago. Homemaker.

John C. Yoo '89; J.D. '92 Yale Law School. Berkeley, Cal. Professor, Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California, Berkeley.

 

 

Medalists

Three key supporters of the University, the winners of this year's Harvard Medals, were publicly thanked for their contributions at the annual meeting of the HAA on June 8. The following citations in their honor were read aloud by HAA president T'ing Pei '65.

alumni-yellowdress alumni-medal alumni-kane
Armstrong, Caulfield, and Kane (l-r).

For Charlotte P. Armstrong '49, LL.B. '53--With keen intelligence and quiet strength, you have served Harvard as President of the Board of Overseers and Elected Director of the Harvard Alumni Association, bringing to every issue a fine lawyer's mind and a love of the English language, punctuated by a wry and winsome wit.

For John G. Caulfield '50 --A principal of the Cambridge Public Schools, keeper of the gate at Dillon Field House, and member of the Harvard Baseball Hall of Fame, you are a true son of Cambridge and Harvard, whose loyal participation in town and gown has enriched the educational life of both communities.

And for Louis I. Kane '53--Respected Boston businessman and entrepreneur, magnanimous alumni leader and beloved friend, you have always answered Harvard's call to service with great warmth and distinction, inspiring the continued commitment of countless others to the University you have loved so well.

Armstrong and Caulfield were present on June 8 to receive their medals, but Kane, due to serious illness, received his at a private ceremony on May 11. He died on June 9, the day after Commencement. (An obituary will appear in the September-October issue of this magazine.)

 

 

Recordbreakers

Surpassing their own reunion slogan, "50 for '50," the Harvard class of 1950 went into the University record books with the largest (by almost $20 million) gift ever made by any reunion class in Harvard history--$50,119,037--and the highest participation rate of any fiftieth-reunion class, to boot. The Corporation's Senior Fellow, Robert G. Stone Jr., saluted the class and their class-gift chairmen--Fred Glimp, Richard Kimball, Rodger Nordblom, George O'Neill, Dean Phypers, and William Thompson--on the afternoon of Commencement day in his annual report on University resources.

Other reunion records fell before the class of 1975, who raised $27 million, and the class of 1965, whose donation totaled $17,350,000. The Parents Fund, Stone noted, gave $2.3 million and the class of 2000, $50,000. Looking ahead, Stone tactfully reminded his audience, "Harvard is more than anything else a community--and giving is a wonderful way to contribute to it."

 

 

Cambridge East

The Harvard-Cambridge Scholarships awarded each year recall the many historic ties between Cambridge University, where John Harvard attended Emmanuel College, and Harvard College. The class of 2000's winners were chosen from a pool of 134, a record number of applicants.

Ilana Kurshan, of Kirkland House and Huntington, N.Y., a history and science concentrator, is the new Lionel de Jersey Harvard Scholar at Emmanuel College. Geo!=rey Fowler, of Eliot House and Columbia, S.C., an anthropology and Afro-American studies concentrator, will be the Lt. Charles Henry Fiske III Scholar at Trinity College. Physics concentrator Joshua Goodman, of Pforzheimer House and Scarsdale, N.Y., becomes the John Eliot Scholar at Jesus College. Elizabeth Nathan, of Eliot House and New York City, who concentrated in physics and astronomy and astrophysics, is the Harvard-American Friends of Cambridge University Scholar at Pembroke College.

 
Read more articles by: Nell Porter Brown

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