Our Financials: Understanding HSA
Dara Li headshot
Dara Li
April 5th, 2019
Why does HSA - a student run business - pride itself in being the second largest employer of Harvard students behind Harvard University?

While there are dozens of Harvard student-run businesses on campus including The Crimson, Harvard College Consulting Group, and conference organizations like the Harvard College China Forum, Harvard Student Agencies (HSA) is by far the largest. Among these business organizations, HSA is unique in that it pays every single one of its student employees, totaling $1.3MM in student wages a year. How does HSA afford to pay its 675 students on payroll?

In all of our websites, recruitment emails, LinkedIn pages, we state that Harvard Student Agencies (HSA) is the world’s largest student-run business with $8MM annual revenue and 12 separate companies “called agencies”. Understanding how HSA is financially structured is a bit tricky and is often misunderstood or misrepresented in press. A large factor into why I decided to launch HSA’s blog is to help share HSA’s missions and values not just with its large family of employees but also the greater Harvard community and general public.

Three Financial Institutions

Here is what’s confusing about HSA’s finances. HSA is comprised of three financial institutions: Harvard Student Agencies, Inc., a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, The Harvard Shop, a private for-profit corporation, and Let’s Go, a private for-profit corporation. As separate institutions, HSA Inc., The Harvard Shop, and Let’s Go have separate board of directors and separate employee payrolls. While private, The Harvard Shop and Let’s Go are wholly owned subsidiaries of HSA, and HSA is the only stakeholder in them. As such, no individual makes any profit from any of our companies. HSA Inc. invites external auditors to review its financials for its 501(c)(3) companies annually.

Harvard Student Agencies Inc.

Non-profit report for FY17 (fiscal year ending January 2017) shows revenues just above $2MM, 30% of which are translated directly to salaries. HSA Inc. is guided by the mission of business education for its members and providing gainful employment opportunities for Harvard students. All of its income is reinvested into the company, such as our 2018 acquisition of student-founded startup Campus Insights. The members of HSA Inc. are its active student employees, all of which have voting power in matters such as amending bylaws and voting for student board members. The 9 companies in HSA Inc. include (in FY20): Cleaners and Dorm Essentials, HSA Tutoring, The Academies at Harvard, Studio 67, Campus Insights, Harvard Bartending Course and Bar Services, Harvard Distribution, HSA DEV, and the Cronin Center for Enterprise.

The Harvard Shop and Let's Go

As with all private corporations, The Harvard Shop and Let’s Go financials are not public (unless they file S-1 to go public, which is not HSA’s mission). The Harvard Shop is comprised of two brands: The Harvard Shop and GroupGear. Let’s Go is its own brand and company. Although financially separate from the nonprofit agencies, HSA, The Harvard Shop and Let’s Go are operated as one cohesive unit.

Together, these three institutions comprise Harvard Student Agencies, a 62-year-old haven of small businesses, new business ventures, and endless business education. With its 675 undergrad employees, its four-story headquarters at 67 Mount Auburn Street, and its four brick-and-mortar locations, HSA is a massive student run business - one of several throughout the nation - that strives to provide valuable business experiences for its members.