Penn Grads Meet a Wharton “Angel” on “Make Me A Millionaire Inventor”

By Janie Kim C’19

When Alicia Syrett W’99 met entrepreneurs Matt Lisle ENG’15 and Adrian Lievano ENG’15 on the CNBC show, their Penn bond was the start of a lasting partnership.

Everwaters founders Matt Lisle ENG'15 and Adrian Lievano ENG'15
Everwaters founders Matt Lisle ENG’15 and Adrian Lievano ENG’15

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Decisions, Decisions: How to Choose Your Investors

Karthik Sridharan W’07/ENG’07, Co-founder and CEO of Kinnek

Properly choosing your investors is one of the most important, but often overlooked, aspects of building a tech company. As an early-stage entrepreneur, you’re constantly dealing with so many major existential questions (“Will our company exist next week?”, “Why can’t we convince a single person to invest any money in us?”), that the matter of deciding between multiple investors seems like a real first-world problem. I had many friends volunteer the advice that “beggars can’t be choosers” in those early-stages; they figured we should just take money wherever we could find it. Boy, am I’m glad I didn’t listen to them!

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Winds of Change in Entrepreneurial Finance

By Bruce Blechman W’61, Founder of The Capital Institute

Editor’s Note: This post was previously published on the Wharton Magazine blog.

What was intended when President Barack Obama signed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act on April 5, 2012, is here. It has taken three years to start thanks to the SEC taking its time to put out its regulations, but for the first time in 82 years, anyone with capital can invest in any private business in the country. Nonaccredited investors and anyone who is not a millionaire, which is to say 98 percent of the population, can put hard-earned money to work helping entrepreneurs build this country back to where it was years ago when that privilege was taken from them by the 1933 Securities Act.

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5 Tips to Help You Raise a Seed Round

By Karthik Sridharan W’07/ENG’07, Co-founder and CEO of Kinnek

For first-time entrepreneurs, raising a seed round can seem like a daunting task.  We went through our own seed fundraise at Kinnek back in December 2012, so I know the difficulties firsthand.  While there’s of course no magic formula or trick that can guarantee you a successful fundraise, there are definitely certain things that helped us tremendously and I wish I had been aware of sooner.  I’ve detailed five tips below that I feel can definitely put you on advantageous footing when it comes to raising a seed round of financing:

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Congratulations, Graduates!

By Nadine Kavanaugh, Associate Director, Wharton Entrepreneurship

Lane Rettig GraduationEvery year, Wharton Entrepreneurship goes through the bittersweet process of seeing our students graduate. We’ve watched them come up with a venture concept, do research, cold-call industry leaders,  write plans, change plans, find co-founders, chat up alumni, have disagreements with co-founders, scrap venture concepts completely come up with new ideas, plan these out based on better research with new partners, launch their business, raise funds, pivot… and on and on. The entrepreneurial life is one of many twists and turns, a unique journey for every person who engages in it. Read more Congratulations, Graduates!

No Such Thing As A Perfect Pitch

By Zander Adell WG’12, founder of Doorman

Some people are born orators, or at least have enough practice at it that public speaking is an unremarkable part of their week. And some are born salesmen, daring the world to say No so they can get closer to that Yes.

Zander Adell - Doorman cropped
Zander Adell pitching at the Spring Startup Pitch event.

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Cash Management for Startups

By Mike Taormina, Wharton MBA alumnus and Co-founder of CommonBond

Editor’s note: This article came out of an exchange on the Venture Initiation Program listserv, where current and former members of the program go to ask the community for help in solving their entrepreneurial problems. We thought Mike’s advice to a fellow VIP alumnus was so terrific that we asked him to turn it into a blog post.

Commonbond logo

There is a wealth of advice out there for startups trying to raise money—and for good reason. Without that first round or seed funding, many great ideas would never become anything more than an idea.

We also live in a highly innovative fundraising environment today, and the attention paid to helping entrepreneurs navigate their options and access capital is critical. As a founder, it’s incredibly exciting to be starting a business at a time when doing so—while I wouldn’t say is “easy”—has never been more possible for so many people.

So, let’s assume for a moment that you’ve successfully raised capital for your business (congratulations, by the way). The question then becomes: “What is the best strategy for managing this newfound cash?

Given the diversity of products and the multitude of providers, this could quickly become a time-consuming, complex process. When CommonBond raised its first round of funding in November 2012, we confronted the same question on how to best manage our cash, and it was incumbent upon us to find the optimal answer.

Here’s how we approached it:

First, the considerations.

1.     Capital preservation is critical.

Angels and VCs invest in entrepreneurs to take risks in operating their businesses, not to take risks in making financial investments. Compounding the issue (no pun intended), any upside in today’s yield environment is so meager that it simply doesn’t compensate for any risk-taking, given the amount of cash early-stage companies have to manage. For example, let’s assume your $1mm account has an average balance throughout the year of $500,000. If we further assumed a yield of 0.10% (which would actually be quite high for a low-risk money market fund at today’s yields), we’re talking $500 for the year. That’s it.

If you instead decide to expose your cash to more risk in the hopes of a higher return, one of two outcomes are likely:

If the investment works out, yes, you’ll have more cash, but probably not a meaningful amount; or,

Your investment does not work out, and you lose principal—a cardinal sin that can quickly lose both your investor and your credibility with respect to subsequent fundraising rounds.

Given the relatively small capital base of a startup, there is simply too small an incentive and too great an investor confidence risk to take much investment risk with your cash management.

2.     Liquidity. Uncertainty abounds in startup land. You may need to liquidate an investment to free up cash, so make sure that doing so doesn’t lead to an uneconomical investment. Bank CDs, for example, typically provide a higher yield than T-Bills or money market funds, but only if you lock up the cash for a period of time. The penalty for exiting a CD early (and the negative yield it can create) may be reason enough for a startup to stay clear of CDs as instruments for short-term cash management.

3.     Cost management. Watch out for banks with minimum balance fees or those that charge a relatively high commission for a simple T-bill trade—a cost which can also lead to a negative yield on the transaction.

4.     Counterparty risk. If you invest in a money market account, make sure you’re comfortable with the counterparty risk—the likelihood that your financial institution of choice will run into bad times that results in either a lock-up or loss of your assets with the institution.

What to do next: 

  • Bank account. If you open a checking or savings account, you have the $250,000 FDIC protection, so this is a great place to start from a capital preservation standpoint.
  • Bank CDs. You could then invest in bank CDs. If you go this route, keep in mind consideration #2 above (“Liquidity”). You don’t want to end up locked up in a CD and having to pay a penalty to get out, negating any deposit income (again, for minimal yield upside).
  • Brokerage account. If you have a brokerage account, you could invest in T-bills, money market funds, or sweep accounts. With T-bill purchases, just make sure the fees being charged don’t lead to a negative yielding investment. So long as the yield covers the fees, this is a great way to preserve capital, since FDIC insurance only covers up to $250,000 for checking accounts. With money market funds, make sure the fund’s investment mandate and holdings align with your low-risk, capital preservation strategy.

In the case of CommonBond, we decided on a combined approach: we set up a checking account and a brokerage account, both at the same bank so that wire fees or transfer time were never part of the calculus. The brokerage account invests in short-dated T-Bills and/or in a bank deposit sweep account, and the checking account is funded to ensure the company has sufficient cash for one to two months of operations—an amount that will likely not exceed the FDIC insurance threshold for the typical early stage startup.

Doing some very basic but important cash management will allow you to focus on running your business. And pushing the business forward should, and will, generate infinitely more value than any cash management strategy could ever deliver.

Mike TaorminaBio: Michael Taormina is CFO & Co-Founder of CommonBond, a student lending platform that provides a better student loan experience through lower rates, exceptional customer service, and a commitment to community. CommonBond is also the first company to bring the One-for-One model to education and finance: for every degree fully funded on the company’s platform, CommonBond funds the education of a student in need abroad for a full year. Mike is a former VP at J.P. Morgan Asset Management and a CFA Charterholder.