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Xfund and Harvard Student Agencies present the

Startup Ethics


April 6-22, 2021 7-8:30 PM EST


The Ethical Startup

This selective online program is a three-week series designed to challenge, motivate and inspire students and prospective founders to build their companies ethically. The line between right and wrong can seem grey at times -- especially in the high-pressure, high-stakes world of a startup -- and the program will help students build a foundation of integrity as they become founders and CEOs. The program will explore a framework of the three “C’s” of business ethics: compliance, contribution, and consequence.


Students will prepare for each session with a selection of readings and case studies that will set a foundation for the topics to be covered. Each 90-minute interactive session will allow students to have direct, personal contact with renown guest lecturers who will relate and discuss their experiences in an intimate, closed-door setting. The cohort of 36 students (selected by application, and evenly divided between Harvard and Stanford students, and undergraduates and graduate students) are expected to commit to all six sessions and to engage actively with the speakers and each other.

Applications due March 28th at 11:59PM EST. 

About the progam

Small decisions make big differences. Join us for this joint program that combines Harvard and Stanford students in a unique setting. 

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April 6, 7:00-8:30 PM EST 
How do we think about startup ethics?
Tom Eisenmann, Patrick Chung, Brandon Farwell, Jadyn Bryden 

Meet your classmates from all around the world and who (normally) attend classes on both coasts. The Xfund team lays out the “Three C’s” of business ethics . One of Harvard Business School’s most popular professors, Tom Eisenmann, debuts an unpublished case study: the story of uBiome, a Stanford-founded startup that begins with great promise — and ends in an FBI raid.

April 8, 7:00-8:30 PM EST 
Should we ask permission, or beg forgiveness? (Compliance)
Kevin Hartz

Kevin Hartz, one of the brightest luminaries in Silicon Valley, co-founded Eventbrite and Xoom. He was an early investor in Airbnb, Gusto, Opendoor, Palantir, PayPal, Pinterest, Reddit, Trulia, and Uber. Kevin will lead a case discussion with you about his struggles moving Xoom forward while being restrained by the myriad regulations, customs, and laws that govern entrepreneurial activity. At times, Kevin, opted not to be in compliance with the law. What drove these decisions?

April 13, 7:00-8:30 PM EST  
You want to be Facebook. Or do you? (Contribution)
John Pinette, Annie Ta

In the early days of Facebook, Annie Ta helped launch technologies like Facebook Exchange and Facebook Connect, which gave the company unprecedented abilities to reach targeted individuals with resonant messages. These technologies would compound for more than a decade and come to cement Facebook’s dominance of our attention. In recent years, this dominance has allowed Facebook to exert enormous influence over issues from George Floyd to Donald Trump.


Facebook’s current VP of Global Communications John Pinette and Pinterest’s current Head of Inclusive Product Annie Ta bookend an era that began with great promise, and has ended in a confrontation with the President (and much of the government) of the United States. They grapple with their responsibilities to their shareholders versus their responsibilities to society.

April 15, 7:00-8:30 PM EST  
You Don’t Want the Truth. You Can’t Handle the Truth! (Contribution)
Jessica Lessin 

Veteran Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Lessin has covered startups and tech for the last 16 years, but now she fears that the “democratization of news,” cults of personality, and the reality distortion fields they produce will swallow the truth. Lessin founded The Information in part to defend that truth.  What are the boundaries of this role?  How do founders like Lessin trade this off against the necessity to run a profitable entity?

April 20, 7:00-8:30 PM EST  
The Social Dilemma – What's Inside the Algorithm? (Consequence)
Jeff Seibert

Good intentions (and fiduciary duty) can have unintended consequences. As former Head of Consumer Product at Twitter, Jeff Seibert saw the inner workings of the social media industry, and the damaging side-effects of ads-based businesses, first-hand. The Social Dilemma, the premonitory film he advised and starred in, brought his concerns mainstream. How would you build an ethical social network?

April 22, 7:00-8:30 PM EST 
We Accelerated at Full Speed. And Then We Crashed. (Consequence)
Jenna Golden

Jenna Golden was Head of Political Sales at Twitter during the 2016 election. Her team sold one of the most valuable and expensive ads to Donald Trump. And then it all went wrong. What happened? What would you have done differently? We conclude the series with a riveting and recent case study that ties together all we have learned.

Who Can Apply?

Harvard and Stanford undergraduate students and graduate students who are motivated to create a strong ethical foundation for their professional careers founding startups and beyond. Applicants should be aspiring or current startup founders. The program will be limited to 36 places, evenly split between Harvard and Stanford undergraduate and graduate students.  Admission to the program is by application. Apply by March 28th at 11:59PM EST.


What is Xfund?

Past Events

Xfund is the early stage venture capital fund designed to support founders from universities. Check us out at and in some recent press here, here, and here.

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What is Harvard Student Agencies?

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Founded in 1957, Harvard Student Agencies is a non-profit with 12 businesses across various industries that provides educational and business opportunities to students. Managers get the chance to learn about retail, publishing, research, advertising, engineering and more, while making a tangible impact on the Harvard community. With more than 600 employees, HSA strives to defray the costs of education with student wages and inspire the next generation of business leaders.

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