Prevent Plagiarism, Teach Political Correctness, Be a Boss in Business

By Matt McGuire WG’16

Editor’s note: Lucy Peng and Lucy Zhang received a Wharton Innovation Fund award and won a Wharton Venture Award for 2015, and spent the summer in China, working on their company. Read about their experience here

It’s really pretty tragic when you think about it. Imagine: You spend your entire life in a hyper-competitive system fighting for a spot in a prestigious university. You get to school at 6:30 am for an hour of intense pre-class reading. After classes get out at 5:30pm, you dine with your classmates for an hour then go back school and study until 10pm. Then you go home and study for at least another hour. And that’s Monday through Saturday—and then also Sunday, Lucy Peng (WG’16) tells me. Peng then proceeds to quote one of her teachers when she was a student in China: “You are free every Sunday afternoon to take a shower.”

That’s what school is like in China.

SetSail blog Read more Prevent Plagiarism, Teach Political Correctness, Be a Boss in Business

Wharton Venture Award: A Judge’s Perspective

By Carol Curley WG’81

This year was my second opportunity to serve as a judge for the Wharton Venture Awards.  In addition to working with a great team of fellow judges to select the award recipients, I also have the opportunity to continue to follow the progress of the students. After last year’s program, I was able to act as a mentor to one of the recipients, Katlyn Grasso, CEO and Founder of GenHERation. The progress she has made on GenHeration is amazing and I was thrilled to learn that Katlyn had recently been awarded the University’s “President’s Engagement Prize” which not only validates her business proposal but also provides funding to help her actually build her business. As an active angel investor, supporting young entrepreneurs and celebrating their successes is one of the most rewarding aspects of being involved in the early-stage ecosystem.

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GenHERation: Wharton Venture Award 2014

By Katlyn Grasso W’15, Founder of GenHERation

At 4:03 AM in the morning, my team met at the entrance of the Philadelphia airport with eight suitcases, four banners, and optimistic smiles. As part of the first GenHERation Summer Leadership Series, we were scheduled to visit five cities in the next seven days to hold workshops for more than 500 girls across the United States. GenHERation is a female empowerment network for millennial girls. We provide girls the opportunity to work with national corporations and nonprofit organizations to develop their own advocacy campaigns to address community issues. After receiving the 2014 Wharton Venture Award, I dedicated my summer to the national expansion of GenHERation.

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GenHERation in Los Angeles

Read more GenHERation: Wharton Venture Award 2014

$40K for Wharton Entrepreneurs: Wharton Venture Award Winners

By Nadine Kavanaugh, Associate Director, Wharton Entrepreneurship

Every year Wharton Entrepreneurship gets to give a few students an amazing gift: the gift of time to work on their ventures. 

We do this through the Wharton Venture Award (WVA). Serious entrepreneurial students from any school at Penn can apply for their final summer before graduation, and the winners receive $10,000 each to assist them financially over the summer in lieu of a full-time internship. Instead, they work on their ventures.

Earlier this year, we went to previous WVA winners to ask them what the award had meant to them.  You can read their answers here, but to summarize, I’ll quote from Vikram Joshi WG’08, founder of Red Ladder Media and Proxim Diagnostics, 2008 WVA winner: “The WVA was instrumental in nurturing my entrepreneurial ambitions.  It allowed me the freedom and resources to try things and fail…. The WVA experience gave me the confidence and validation to know that I could thrive in this kind of life”

This is what we hope to give to WVA winners every summer. For the summer of 2014, Wharton Entrepreneurship is delighted to award $10,000 each to four students. This year, for the first time, two of the four awardees are undergraduates.

2014 Wharton Venture Award Winners:

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Matthew Carey C’07,WG’15 & Adam Colombo W’14, Eng’14

Abaris Abaris is the Orbitz for annuities.

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Daniel Fine W’15

Glass-U Fully folding sunglass company that makes custom and licensed sunglasses for 185 universities, nearly every Greek organization in the US, and FIFA.

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Katlyn Grasso W’15

GenHERation GenHERation is a female empowerment network for high school girls that inspires them to become catalysts of social change.

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Ford Kerr WG’15

Fitly Fitly is a mobile web app that combines healthy meal planning, online grocery ordering and delivery into one easy-to-use platform.

Funding for the Wharton Venture Award is provided in part by the generosity of William F. Holekamp WG’72, The Kopelman Foundation and The Heller Family Foundation.  

Take Some Risks To Change The World

By Davis Smith, Wharton MBA’11, Arts & Sciences MA’11, co-founder of Baby.com.br and Dinda.com.br

In June 2013, I met with a group of Lauder students on a rooftop in Rio de Janeiro with a stunning view of Botafogo Bay and Sugar Loaf Mountain. After encouraging the students to look beyond traditional job opportunities and take risks that would allow them to “change the world,” one of the students asked me if I felt I had changed the world with my businesses that sold pool tables and baby products. The question was sincere, but it stung. Unbeknownst to him, I had been asking myself the same question in the previous months and had already decided I was going to make a change, but this student’s question increased my sense of urgency to take my own advice.

While I was at business school at Wharton, my cousin and I closed a $4.3 million round with a PowerPoint and a killer domain, nothing more. Brazil was hot, and we knew it. It wasn’t by coincidence that we chose Brazil or the baby market. We spent our first year in school coming up with 60 business ideas, which was facilitated by my involvement in the Venture Initiation Program. During the summer, I was fortunate enough to receive a Wharton Venture Award, which allowed us to rigorously research, vet and test our plans. By the end of the summer, we had narrowed the 60 to 1 and knew that we had a game-changing idea.

Just two years earlier, my friends, family and neighbors thought I was crazy. My cousin and I had started PoolTables.com out of undergrad, and had grown it into the largest retailer of pool tables in the US. When we told people we were going back to school, nobody understood. Life was good, but we believed MBAs would give us the knowledge and networks needed to build something truly meaningful. We sold our business, essentially burning the ships. It had seemed reckless, but now appeared brilliant.

Within eighteen months of the Baby.com.br launch, we had raised $40 million and built a business that had become a household name in Brazil, especially among young families. Our team consisted of one of Brazil’s biggest celebrities and many of the most seasoned e-commerce professionals in the country.

For all the company’s successes, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. We were battling fierce competitors, Brazil was incredibly difficult to navigate, margins were slim and our business was extremely capital intensive. Despite these challenges, we found ways to push the business forward. We launched Dinda.com.br and continued to see our businesses grow beyond what we’d ever hoped. It was every entrepreneur’s dream-come-true. However, after three years of working on the business, I unexpectedly began feeling it might be time for a change.

Once again, the comments of old began: You’re crazy to leave your company now! Just as before, people didn’t (don’t) understand the timing. I admit that stepping away was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever made. My decision to leave was based on two major factors that I couldn’t work around:

First, I was unhappy with our founding dynamics. My cousin and I had worked together for years, building some amazing businesses. There are partnerships that work well; in fact, ours had worked for a decade, but running a business as Co-CEOs was taxing. Ultimately, as many founding relationships do, our friendship began to sour. Trying to salvage our relationship became more important to me than power, control or money. I felt strongly that it was time for us to part ways as business partners.

Second, I wanted to make a bigger difference with my work. My reason for becoming an entrepreneur in the first place was to have a positive impact on the less fortunate. My co-founder, family and friends knew this. It has always been my life’s passion, largely driven by the fifteen years I’ve lived in the developing world (nearly half my life). Around this time, that desire to do good began to burn deeper than ever before.

Just four months after meeting with those Wharton students in Rio de Janeiro, I left my day-to-day role at Baby.com.br/Dinda.com.br and moved back to the US to begin my next adventure. Cotopaxi will be launching in Spring 2014.

1. Davis headshot - smilingBio: Davis Smith is a serial entrepreneur, a graduate of the Wharton School and Lauder Institute’s Class of 2011. He is the founder and CEO of Cotopaxi.

What Did the Wharton Venture Award Mean To You?

By Nadine Kavanaugh

Every year, Wharton Entrepreneurship awards up to $50,000 through the Wharton Venture Award (WVA).  Penn students in their final internship year may apply for the $10,000 grant  to assist them over the summer as they  focus exclusively on developing their own entrepreneurial ventures rather than seeking a traditional internship.

The award is given to multiple students each summer, with a total of 28 awards granted from 2007-2012. These awardees have met with an astonishing level of success:

  • 60% of the ventures supported by the WVA are either still a going concern (35%) or the entrepreneurs have exited (25%).
  • Over 90% of the students who received the WVA are active entrepreneurs.

This year, for the first time, any full-time Penn student in their final internship year at Penn can apply for the Wharton Venture Award, and we hope you do.

The due date for applications for the summer of 2014 is Monday, January 27 at noon. Apply here.

In advance of this year’s application deadline, we went back to previous winners to ask them what the WVA had meant to them and their ventures. Here are some of the answers we received from grateful winners:

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“Winning the WVA was a humbling experience. Throughout the process, the advisors and judges were all very accomplished entrepreneurs, so to get their feedback and endorsement certainly meant more to us than the cash itself. It was certainly energizing as well to receive that level of support from the board and judges. Practically, the award gave us legs for the summer and allowed us to work full time on 1DocWay and invest in the development and sales costs that were needed to land our first few clients. It was certainly seed money we were able to put to good use.”

Samir Malik C’08/W’08/WG’14, founder of 1DocWay, 2012 WVA winner

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“The Wharton Venture Award provided both practical and intangible support in the summer following my first year of business school.  I had just landed my first customer and the advising support very much helped me to manage those early stages.  What’s more, I was able to travel to the west coast for a period of time to meet with potential customers.  The WVA’s financial resources made this possible– not only did I have more time to work on the business, but I had the extra cash to make important, in-person connections.”

Sarah Russell WG’11, founder of Rx-Text, 2010 WVA winner

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“My venture was media-related with a target market of China.  The award allowed my team and me to go to China and produce short films and test market these videos on the Chinese equivalent of Youtube.  The practical benefit was the economic means to survive that summer while other classmates were in their paid internships, and to be able to spend some of the proceeds on building our Company. The WVA was instrumental in nurturing my entrepreneurial ambitions.  It allowed me the freedom and resources to try things and fail.  It also put an emphasis on progress and learning.  After all, you had Wharton stakeholders to update.  I don’t think it is an accident that I am currently founder of another startup company since graduating.  The WVA experience gave me the confidence and validation to know that I could thrive in this kind of life.”

Vikram Joshi WG’08, founder of Red Ladder Media and Proxim Diagnostics, 2008 WVA winner

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“One of my mentors, Farhad Mohit, was one of the first investors in my company, Twice (liketwice.com). His advice throughout the summer and afterward has been invaluable, and he has helped us navigate everything from product development to hiring to fundraising. I’m extremely grateful I had the opportunity to work on an entrepreneurial venture that summer rather than taking a traditional internship.”

Noah Ready Campbell W’10, founder of Twice, 2009 WVA winner

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“We were amazed by how many doors opened up for us after winning the award. Thanks to the funding provided by the WVA, we were able to dedicate our summer to product development ranging from sourcing the right materials, testing out samples, and vetting the right New York based manufacturer—all in addition to basic startup costs on a student budget.  This time spent on developing the Dagne Dover brand and product over the summer of 2012 was invaluable as it laid the foundation for the business that we have built since then.”

Deepa Gandhi WG’13, co-founder of Dagne Dover, 2012 WGA winner