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HBX Business Blog

CORe Student Spotlight: J. Holden Gibbons

Posted by J. Holden Gibbons on October 6, 2015 at 4:18 PM

While a member of Combined Joint Special Operations Task-Force Afghanistan, Holden had the pleasure of serving alongside various international allies, including the Swedish Army, pictured here.

Holden Gibbons is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who returned home with a commitment to social change. He enrolled in the June 2015 HBX CORe cohort to realize his entrepreneurial ambitions and gain a strong business skillset. 

What prompted you to sign up for CORe?

I am the quintessential entrepreneur whose creativity and ambition is boundless. Yet I lacked some of the (no pun intended) core competencies to be able to bring my ideas to fruition. My first tech start-up failed in 2008 due to lack of financial and managerial discipline, and I joined the Army to be able to afford to go back to school and realign myself.

I told myself that before I would try to start another non-traditional business, I would do myself a favor and seek an educational foundation to allow me to understand, and converse, with the more corporate/fundamental side of the business world, on their terms. When I heard about CORe, I knew I had found the right program.

What was your favorite part of the program?

My favorite aspect, by far, was the truly astounding variety of students that HBX drew together for our cohort. I have met several of them in person, often resulting in significant gains for me intellectually and personally. I really cannot underscore the ability of HBX to use the power of the Harvard brand to bring together a truly impressive mix of individuals, who are motivated to impact the world around them, in a myriad of ways. Even though our cohort is all wrapped up, I am still meeting people, or deepening my connection with them, via social media and personal interactions.

How are you applying the skills you learned in CORe?

As a recent Honorably Discharged Veteran of the war in Afghanistan, I am working feverishly to use my life experience, and intellect, to create a more empathetic and sustainable world. To that end, I am currently completing my undergraduate education on the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

I am working with my University at the highest levels to increase Veteran enrollment, as well as catalyzing the Veteran community to better understand progressive issues that could use authentic Veteran support such as gender equality, civil rights (on many dimensions), financial reform, and access to quality education and employment.

Holden with fellow ROTC members and 40 of the 78 living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor gathered for a private memorial service in Cambridge, MA.Holden with fellow ROTC members and 40 of the 78 living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor gathered for a private memorial service in Cambridge, MA.

CORe has helped me make the business case for one of my main initiatives, Veterans Combating Child Hunger, which utilizes volunteer labor to sustainably farm vacant and delinquent land in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland, OH) for the purpose of engaging more stakeholders in the community, reducing government budget waste, reducing society's carbon footprint as it relates to food supply, and reducing government food subsidy reliance by replacing it, slowly, with locally scaled/owned/operated/sourced food.

Kevin, Lewis, China, Nicole, and Arzell during an impromptu outdoor classroom session covering urban agriculture, environmental awareness, and healthy nutrition.Kevin, Lewis, China, Nicole, and Arzell during an impromptu outdoor classroom session covering urban agriculture, environmental awareness, and healthy nutrition.

I have utilized all three courses taught in CORe to make the case, from Opportunity Cost (Economics for Managers), Ethics/concept of a “going concern” (Financial Accounting), to being able to identify and quantify hidden/significant variables via regression analysis (Business Analytics). We are now one week from our inaugural harvest, which will go to benefit the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland!

Recently, I have begun work on my first post-Army tech startup. My ability to not only have an amazing concept, but make the business case for it to potential Venture Capital/early stage investors, would not be holistic were it not for my newfound knowledge base, thanks to CORe.

I won’t pretend to be a perfect student, but since our cohort has finished, I have found myself continuously referencing my notes and ‘take away bundle’ to reaffirm my understanding of a concept, such that I can properly utilize it for my real world activities.

"CORe has been my Rosetta Stone in helping me to translate my ideas and visions for the world around me into empirical reality.“

KarmaBoard.com, a jobs board/social media platform that connects businesses/employees/customers that share the same values, (and mobile app versions) will be launching in Spring/Summer of 2016, and CORe helped me communicate effectively with stakeholders necessary to make that happen. In the Army, as a member of the Infantry we had a saying, “jack of all trades, master of none.” With the help of CORe, you can be a “jack-of-all-trades,” and the master of your own trajectory.

Any advice for people who will be taking CORe?

I have two suggestions: First, try to look at the course syllabus beforehand and try (your best) to set aside appropriate time to be able to digest material, and be able to interact with others in the discussion tabs, complete the modules/weekly assignments thoughtfully. It is important to offer help to those who might not be as quick as you, for you may be in the same boat down the line! This will also help save you undue stress as technical issues and last minute time crunches will inevitably crop up.

Second, reach out to as many people, from as many different backgrounds, as possible. Often times, “birds of a feather flock together,” holds true, but that would strip CORe of one of its primary features: the diversity of your fellow cohort members. I shamelessly ‘added’ everyone in my cohort on social media, and don’t regret it, at all. I have been challenged, supported, and enriched by all of them, and I know this will only continue as I maintain and grow these personal relationships.


The CORe community consists of a rich and diverse group of learners. Want to learn more about other students who've participated in the program?

Read Additional Student Profiles


Topics: Student Profiles, HBX CORe, HBX Student Spotlight