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Several new faculty members across a wide range of policy areas are joining Harvard Kennedy School this fall. We take this opportunity to introduce them to the HKS community.
Carl Byers MC/MPA 2012 is an adjunct lecturer in public policy. Byers works as a venture partner at Fidelity Biosciences, a healthcare focused venture capital fund. He is also an advisor to health-related startups. From 1997 to 2010, Byers served as Chief Financial Officer at athenahealth, Inc. where he was a member of the founding team.
Q: What brought you to the Kennedy School?
Byers: This appointment came out of a discussion with Dick Cavanagh, adjunct lecturer in public policy, about the needs of students who are interested in launching entrepreneurial ventures. I have a background as a practitioner in for-profit and not-for-profit settings and I appreciate how essential it is to have proficiency with the language of finance when creating a new organization.
It was seen as a real need to develop a course at HKS that conveys key financial knowledge from the perspective of entrepreneurship. I am also inspired by the idea of giving people hands-on experience in building financial plans, so that they can better evaluate, promote, and implement their ideas. As an HKS alumnus, I believe wholeheartedly in the school's mission and I am excited to have an opportunity to contribute to it through this course.
Q: What are your primary areas of research?
Byers: I am most interested in what drives entrepreneurial success. Balancing experimentation and speed against the benefits of careful planning is one key. The question for any entrepreneur should be, "How can I gain traction quickly, so that I can have my desired impact?" The process of financial plan development I am using in this course is designed to expose the key drivers of success, so that risks can be minimized and results can be accelerated. I would like to develop materials that illuminate the essential ideas entrepreneurs need to understand and implement, which come from a wide range of disciplines.
Q: What courses will you be teaching?
Byers: I will be teaching a modular length course (half a semester) both in the Fall (Mod 2) and in the Spring (Mod 3). The class is called Entreprenurial Finance (MLD-829M), which can complement other offerings in the area of entrepreneurship and can also provide an efficient way to cover the subject matter generally.
The emphasis of the class is on building literacy with financial concepts and tools, focused sharply on the perspective of entrepreneurs. My favorite definition of entrepreneurship is "creating something from nothing," and this class is geared toward inspired entrepreneurs, social and otherwise, who have set their sights on such a goal. Those who are interested in entrepreneurship from the standpoint of policy may find the class helpful.
Q: How can the work being done here at HKS help address some of the world’s most significant public policy challenges?
Byers: There may never have been a more exciting and fertile era for entrepreneurship. The Internet and information technology continue to break down old structures of organization, interaction, and development. "Creative destruction" is occurring at a rate that challenges social and policy leaders markedly. Entrepreneurs now have access to novel tools, networks, and financing mechanisms that can fuel their passions.
Additionally, a greater awareness of social impact metrics is coinciding with new financing vehicles. From impact investing to crowdsourcing and public-private partnerships, people who are motivated to do good on a broad scale have many more avenues available to them to finance their ideas. HKS's mission and its evidence-based approach to taking action make it well positioned to expand its emphasis on entrepreneurship.
Q: What are you currently reading?
Byers: There is a steady stream of books in the general realm of entrepreneurship and finance that I read together. For example, Noam Wasserman's, “The Founder's Dilemmas” and Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson's “Venture Deals” are two that I found to be worth reading simultaneously and both will have excerpts included in my syllabus.
I also have done considerable work in healthcare, so I digest a lot of related information. I do this, in part, through my work outside HKS at a venture capital firm. In that vein, I recently re-read Clay Christiansen's book, “The Innovator's Prescription,” which is excellent.
Outside of entrepreneurship, finance, and healthcare, I have wide-ranging interests. This summer, I enjoyed reading Amor Towles' novel, “The Rules of Civility.” Bruce Hood's “The Self Illusion,” which examines the architecture of the brain and how humans generate a sense of self, was also a very interesting read.