March 16, 2016

HBS Students Give Up Spring Break to Lock in Startup Concepts

This week, Harvard Business School students are opting to give up a week of freedom and fun for an alternative approach to spring break.

Instead of spending the week traveling, volunteering, or relaxing at home, HBS students Andrea Coravos, Rohan Ganesh, and Ben West are spending five days in lockdown mode. Joining them are Angela Nicholas, software engineer at Formidable in Seattle, and Sydney Rossman-Reich, student at San Francisco’s Dev Bootcamp. The group is participating in Startup Lockdown, an alternative spring break concept that’s now in its fourth year.

From Sunday through Thursday, the five come together to focus on five business ideas. Each concept receives its own dedicated day, where the team tests various components of each business, leveraging feedback and input from potential customers to guide them.   

Here are the business concepts Startup Lockdown's focused on this year:

  • Sherpa: Collaborative map where friends can share travel recommendations

  • Physiatrix​: On-demand physical therapy

  • Phosify: A marketplace for brain fitness

  • Densr: The tech-enabled solution for men who want to keep their hair

  • Omega: The quantified-self wellness app

“Each day, one student is a sponsor and they have done lots of research on what they want to test,” explained Coravos.

“These [businesses] are still fledgling ideas. We look at one idea that’s fragile in the beginning of the day and have five people who work together to figure out how to make things happen,” she added.

Startup Lockdown’s approach has proven successful in the past. In 2013, the program’s first year, HBS spring breakers spent one of the days prototyping Hello Alfred, a weekly subscription service that helps users save time by tackling their chores. The business has received massive media attention and went on to raise $10.5M in Series A funding last spring.

This year, the group is looking to the public to contribute to testing and has been using Twitter and Tumblr to conduct surveys, polls, and other methods of gathering feedback. If you’re interested in checking out the business concepts and weighing in, follow Startup Lockdown on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram.

Scaling Startup Lockdown for Success

The alternative spring break was born out of HBS’s Whitespace, a seed stage collective focused on building scalable, sustainable businesses.

“Our goal was to raise a little bit of money and look for Whitespace opportunities in the market, then quickly prototype and test many iterations of our ideas,” said Marcela Sapone, co-founder and CEO of Hello Alfred and a member of Whitespace’s founding team.

“If we found something with legs we would form a team around the idea and spin it out (exactly what happened with Hello Alfred). Essentially, it is a fully integrated VC that starts and funds its own ideas,” she added.

Annually, Whitespace accepts applications from people interested in hosting Startup Lockdown. It then choose who to “hand over the keys to the experiment”. Last year, that individual was Caitlin Strandberg, HBS student and advisor at Flybridge Capital Partners. Whitespace spent time with Strandberg and the 2015 Startup Lockdown team, helping them record their learnings to make handoff easier for 2016.

“Each year, the experiment [of Startup Lockdown] gets better,” Sapone said. “We believe the process behind these five days is the real secret sauce.”

“The first year, we knew that we wanted to repeat the process in the future. So we recorded everything, made templates, and an extensive how-to guide. We imagined that Startup Lockdown could be repeated in many places as run out of whitespace,” she added.


Kaite Rosa is Director of Content & Marketing at VentureFizz. Follow her on Twitter: @KaiteRosa.

Image via Andrea Coravos.