Jodi Goldstein grew up in Vermont, the daughter of small-business owners. A graduate of Harvard Business School, she found success in venture capital, launching startups and orchestrating the creation of the Harvard Innovation Lab, the university’s entrepreneurship center that helps students incubate companies. Goldstein, 47, took the helm of the i-Lab last year and is looking to expand its reach beyond Boston. She spoke about how Harvard is like a startup and why wine can sometimes lead to the best ideas.
1. Harvard was admittedly late to latch onto the Boston area’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Its students were famously more likely to drop out to launch their businesses (Facebook, Microsoft). But Goldstein says that despite being a bit slower than a certain university down the Charles River, Harvard finds itself ahead of the curve by having one dedicated space where students from all of the university’s schools can convene and collaborate.
“The happy byproduct of being late to the game is that it has enabled us to have something that is more augmented than most of what other schools have right now,” she says. “It allowed us to be a nimble startup and practice what we preach. And the interesting thing we’ve learned is that everyone wants to do what we’re doing now.”
2. In addition to hosting student startups, Harvard is looking to help alumni businesses thrive. In the fall, Goldstein oversaw the expansion of the Launch Lab, a co-working space for Harvard graduates to house startups. It’s a concept that Goldstein hopes will go global.
“We are tripling in size here in Boston to extend our reach to a broader alumni community. I’m hoping that someday there are Launch Labs all around the globe to bring alumni resources and build community in a way they’ve never been able to do before.”
3. Goldstein’s penchant for startups stems from her upbringing. When she was a small child, her parents operated a 60-room hotel and restaurant near the Mount Snow ski resort in Vermont. Goldstein grew up exposed to travelers from around the world.
“I was one of those strange kids who actually lived in a hotel. My parents were consummate entrepreneurs, and from a very young age I had a very strong work ethic. When most kids were out playing, I was cleaning the rooms and bussing the tables. I had a lot of independence at a very young age, and that breeds resourcefulness.”
4. After earning her MBA from Harvard Business School in 1999, Goldstein chose the path less traveled at the time and decided to pursue startups and venture capital instead of finance. It was a decision, she says, that has shaped the rest of her career.
“My favorite thing is a blank sheet of paper. I always loved early stage. I eschewed the typical MBA career path and joined a startup. Once down that path, I was incapable of ever getting a real job again. I love trying to identify the market opportunity and the business model and how do you do more with less. That’s where my passion is.”
5. After a decade working in startups, Goldstein decided to launch her own in 2008 . . . after a few glasses of wine.
“I was traveling in Italy with friends and drinking lots of wonderful wines but could never remember the names of them, so I started taking pictures of the bottles. This was right after the iPhone had come out and launched their App Store. A lightbulb went off one night after we’d all had a few glasses: What if we developed an app for researching and remembering wines? Six years later, Drync is still going strong.”Janelle Nanos can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.