Generative AI: How does it affect HBS entrepreneurs?

Recent advancements in AI model architecture have spurred a new wave of creativity in leveraging generative AI tools to enhance efficiency and productivity. This surge is particularly evident among enterprises, with 85% of CIOs aiming to integrate AI into their organizations*. However, the impact of generative AI extends beyond corporate realms and into individual entrepreneurship. Given the entrepreneurial environment at HBS, I set out to explore the influence of generative AI on the entrepreneurial process by creating a survey to assess where and how HBS entrepreneurs use gen AI*.

Entrepreneurship is a nebulous concept, so I needed to find a way to assess the surveyed entrepreneurs across the same spectrum. To do that, I looked into various frameworks that have been created to make entrepreneurship more teachable and digestible. Among these are the Lean Startup Method, Business Model Canvas, and Design Thinking*. At HBS, budding entrepreneurs often adhere to a structured set of steps taken from a mix of these frameworks: ideation, customer interviews, market/opportunity validation, MVP development, and execution. I decided to use these steps to more effectively segment the surveyed individuals, and speculated that generative AI tools would be most useful during ideation and MVP development, particularly benefiting non-technical founders by facilitating code generation.

The results of the survey both supported and challenged some of my initial hypotheses. Of the respondents, 70% acknowledged employing generative AI tools at some stage of their entrepreneurial journey, with chatbot assistants being the most popular tool mentioned (including ChatGPT and Claude). As expected, most of these entrepreneurs were in the ideation and opportunity validation stages. They reported using gen AI for crafting customer interview questions, conducting market research, and even as sounding boards for ideation sessions, with some integrating them into their daily routines.

Surprisingly, there was no mention of the use of code copilot tools during MVP development. Upon further investigation, entrepreneurs highlighted the inherent complexities faced by non-technical founders in fully harnessing these tools. While they offer efficiency gains in development, copilot tools were perceived as less intuitive for those without technical expertise, underscoring the ongoing need for technical talent.

Though respondents had a generally positive outlook on the impact of generative AI on entrepreneurship, an adoption gap persists among the remaining 30% of surveyed students who have yet to leverage these tools. Barriers to adoption mentioned include a lack of clarity on tool selection and optimal use cases, as well as the creativity required to effectively integrate generative AI into the entrepreneurial process. Curious about potential use cases for entrepreneurs, I came across this article, which underscores some interesting ones, such as automating operational tasks, optimizing financial management, and mitigating risks.

While the insights from HBS entrepreneurs provide valuable perspectives, they represent only a fraction of the broader entrepreneurial landscape. According to the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year Program, 18% of finalists reported employing AI in some capacity in 2023, with expectations for this figure to rise*. This uptick in adoption signifies a paradigm shift in the landscape of entrepreneurship, democratizing access to information and technology, thereby fostering heightened global competition and accelerated timelines*.

Nevertheless, it’s important to acknowledge the limitations of gen AI tools within the entrepreneurial context. While these tools can offer significant improvements to the process, they remain incapable of fully replacing the tactical skills and empathy required for effective business building*. Furthermore, empirical evidence suggests that AI still falls short in addressing complex entrepreneurial inquiries, necessitating human intervention.

All in all, generative AI stands poised to disrupt various facets of individual and enterprise-level operations, including entrepreneurship. Leveraging existing tools empowers entrepreneurs to delegate routine tasks, enabling them to focus on work requiring human ingenuity and empathy. However, it is crucial to approach generative AI as a complementary tool rather than a cure-all for entrepreneurial challenges.


Ankita is NextView’s 2023-2024 MBA Associate. She is currently finishing her first year at HBS. Prior to business school, Ankita held product roles at a few tech companies such as Facebook, Applied Intuition, and Streamlabs. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.