Today, Harvard announced that it had chosen Gordon Jones to head up its forthcoming Harvard Innovation Center. The news comes on the heels of last month’s announcement that the Boston Redevelopment Authority had approved plans to transform a vacant building into the center. (The intention to launch an innovation center was first announced back in October.)
We caught up with Jones, who made his name working with Gillette, Universal Pest Solutions, and others, to find out what we might expect from his leadership of the center. Fundamentally, he says, the center is about “helping student entrepreneurs go farther than they can go today on their own,” through the resources and knowledge the Center would provide. Though it’s early on yet–the center isn’t slated to launch in earnest until next fall–Jones already knows that it will involve courses and mentorship. “We’re looking to create a place to celebrate the journey of entrepreneurship,” says Jones.
The center will be open to both undergrads and graduates, and to students in all the schools. Jones says he’s interested to see what happens when you broaden the definition of entrepreneurialism to include not just tech startups, but all fields: lawyers as well as business people, Kennedy School bureaucrats-in-training as well as computer scientists, and so on. Is Harvard trying to get a piece of the action, laying claim to patents that might be developed by students? “Harvard’s not charging rent, it’s not taking a piece of student entrepreneurial endeavors,” says Jones.
Jones’s background is eclectic. He didn’t get his MBA at Harvard, but at Stanford (“I’m a Harvard man with a Stanford degree,” he says). “I cut my teeth in the Fortune 500 world,” he says, meaning it almost literally–he helped develop innovative oral health care products while with Gillette, including an “on-the-go tooth-cleaning product.” He also headed up divisions in lawn care, and helped build a pest-control company into one of the fastest growing companies in 2003. He also has a passion for education and mentorship, he says. Rather than just looking out for Entrepreneur Number One, he says, he’s looking forward to working with “30, 40, or 50 entrepreneurs at once.”
We had to ask: Do entrepreneurs really have to stay at Harvard? There’s this one guy we heard about who made his fortune by dropping out of Harvard. “I think for every Mark Zuckerberg, Harvard believes there are a number of graduates producing innovation,” Jones said. Whether the new Center would help hang onto the next Zuckerberg isn’t the question: “I’m not so sure it’s so tactical as hanging on,” says Jones of the center’s mission, “but about supporting the many entrepreneurs that exist today.”