Thousands of Harvard affiliates gathered at Klarman Hall on Tuesday evening to hear investor and Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary judge pitches from eight Harvard students, who competed for an investment of $100,000 and a private conversation with O’Leary himself.
For the second year in a row, the event — which was moderated by Reza R. Satchu, a senior lecturer at HBS and longtime friend of O’Leary — began with the discussion of the mindset needed to start a business and build the students’ ventures. Students pitched ideas from a wide variety of fields, including technology, shoes, and property rental.
“The teachable moment, from my perspective, for all of you that are watching from the sidelines, as you watch these folks get up and commit to trying to make something happen, is what will it take for you to commit to something you care about, something that you feel passionately about?” Satchu said.
Known as “Mr. Wonderful,” O’Leary is known for his brutal honesty to contestants on Shark Tank, a business reality television show allowing entrepreneurs to pitch their ventures to five “sharks” in hopes of securing an investment.
“If you get the first two right, and you don’t know how you’re going to make money, you deserve to burn in hell,” O’Leary said during the event. “And I will put you there tonight.”
Before the competition began, O’Leary offered advice on the expertise he gained from his decades-long experience as a businessman.
“The hardest thing isn’t the failing because you will fail. Most entrepreneurs fail multiple times before they achieve success,” O’Leary said. “It’s to take the first step. Most people don’t take the first step.”
The event included three rounds to decide the winner. Each of the eight students was given two minutes to present — one minute to pitch their venture and another minute for a question and answer session with O’Leary.
“How am I going to save money?” O’Leary said. “Give me an example right now of why I would even talk to you.”
Four contestants moved on to the next round and elaborated on their initial pitches. Of the four, two pitches were selected for a final rapid Q&A session before O’Leary selected a winner.
After three rounds of competition, the event culminated in Crop Diagnostix CEO Brandon I. Chi winning the $100,000 investment. Chi’s company specializes in optimizing crop health through the use of AI technology.
“He's very good at articulating his questions very directly,” Chi said in an interview following the event. “And so if you can articulate your answers pretty directly back to him, I think he responds well to that.”
O’Leary, who advised students to continue their business ventures, implored attendees to proactively make decisions and shape their futures.
“You will have to make a decision. Do you own it? Do you control your narrative? Or do you let someone else write it for you?” O’Leary said. “I would highly recommend that you buckle down and control your own destiny, and tell your own truth because it’s your truth.”
Correction: October 25, 2023
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary heard pitches from eight Harvard Business School students. In fact, students from other schools at Harvard also participated.