New Harvard i-lab Head Talks Global Expansion, Startup Initiatives

The Harvard Innovation Lab’s incoming managing director isn’t wasting any time getting started. Jodi Goldstein, announced Wednesday as the lab’s successor to current head Gordon Jones as of June 1, is already working on expansion plans, including a possible new fund for supporting startups.

Goldstein has been at the i-lab since its launch in 2011, so she’s well-versed in the dynamics of the entrepreneurial community, as well as the politics of Harvard. She’s a product person at heart, so she’s thinking about the i-lab roadmap in those terms.

“I see version 2.0 as building upon the platform, the community we’ve built,” Goldstein says. Now the big goal is “how do we extend our reach and bring our value proposition to a larger population,” she says.

Among her immediate plans is to expand the recently opened Launch Lab, a neighboring facility that houses startups that have at least one Harvard alumni founder. The space currently has 15 teams in residence (about 50 people), and the plan is to triple the space and hold something like 50 companies, starting this summer. The biggest current resident is Censio, a 14-person startup that makes a mobile app for tracking driver behavior.

Jodi Goldstein

Jodi Goldstein

From there, Goldstein is also thinking about opening “Launch Labs around the world,” with the idea of bringing Harvard alumni founders “under one roof in other geographic locations.”

Running the Boston-based i-lab itself—with its student and faculty teams coming and going across fields that include tech, life sciences, and materials—would seem to be a big enough challenge. But Goldstein says, “We’re at a maturity level that there’s core programming we know how to do efficiently. Before, I had to be very hands-on. Now I want to focus on these new initiatives.”

Some of which she can’t really talk about yet. But one idea is to raise an i-lab fund for startups. It wouldn’t work like a typical venture or seed fund, Goldstein says. There would be no equity stakes involved, and it would be evergreen and focused on pre-seed startups, to help entrepreneurs develop a prototype or first product. The fund would operate “more like a loan jar,” she says. (It will be interesting to see how this might compare to existing university models, such as the Deshpande Center and E14 Fund at MIT.)

More broadly, her goal seems to be to continue the i-lab’s growth trajectory and raise its impact level—both locally and globally. “We want to continuously innovate and iterate on what we do, and keep bringing in the highest-quality people,” she says. “I’d rather keep our mentor program very small and highly selective.”

In case anyone doubts Harvard’s commitment, Goldstein adds that the lab should be “comfortably resourced for a long time to come.”

That will mean plenty of opportunity to expand what the i-lab does, while also putting in place the necessary checks and balances for a growing institution. “I see myself overseeing an umbrella of i-lab products,” Goldstein says. “We’ve created a nice base of programming and resources, and we’ve been able to test different things that work. Now how do we productize that and put more structure and framework around that?”

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