“Bear with me,” Jonathan Zittrain urged the audience as his talk — up to this point, a romp through the early history of the internet — lurched into Kantian philosophy: “I’m about to get all ‘East Coast’ on you.”
Zittrain, faculty director of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, was in Palo Alto, Calif., delivering an energetic presentation on the ethical responsibilities of tech companies toward consumers in the era of artificial intelligence. About the shift of technology environments from unowned to owned and tightly controlled, he asked, “When is it that ‘can’ implies ‘ought’?”
His provocative keynote was the culmination of a Harvard Tech Startup Night hosted by Harvard Office of Technology Development (OTD) and the law firm WilmerHale at its Palo Alto offices.
The soirée on June 26 showcased six early-stage startups that are commercializing innovations developed in Harvard research labs. Though all are based in the Northeast, the event provided an opportunity for the company founders to expand their West Coast connections and for Harvard to raise the profile of its tech startup scene in the heart of Silicon Valley.
“Who would have thought that two chip companies would have come out of Harvard?” remarked Sam Liss, OTD’s executive director for strategic partnerships, opening the event, which drew a standing-room-only crowd of about 100 Bay Area venture capitalists and tech industry leaders. He pointed to HyperLight Corp. and Boréas Technologies, which both launched out of the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) in the past three years.
In fact, more than 120 startups in hardware, software, materials, and a whole host of biomedical fields sprang from the work of Harvard researchers over the past decade. Scientific innovators receive support on campus from OTD’s accelerator programs, entrepreneurs in residence, and a growing community of those who have already taken the leap to become founders.
The companies that presented at the event included two emerging startups that are nearing launch and are “looking for that first chunk of seed funding,” as Liss put it, another two that have initial funding in hand, and a pair that have already raised $20–30 million in investment.