By Nadine Kavanaugh
Wharton Entrepreneurship is proud to celebrate 15 amazing years of the Wharton Business Plan Competition. For over a decade and a half, the WBPC has inspired students across the University of Pennsylvania to create partnerships and build businesses. Each year, nearly 400 Penn students submit approximately 150 venture concepts, and 250 judges, predominately alumni—professionals in their fields—offer feedback and criticism. What’s more, many of the companies envisioned for the contest have moved far beyond the planning stage, and are in fact up and running today—or have been sold for a very tidy profit.
PayMyBills, founded by Jeff Grass and John Tedesco, both Wharton MBA’99, was a finalist in the first WBPC in Spring 1999. Jeff and John grew the online bill pay service, at the time a revolutionary idea, to a company of over 200 employees. It was valued at $67 million when it was sold in 2000. Both men have become serial entrepreneurs. Jeff is now the Chairman, CEO, and President of buySafe, a WBPC finalist in 2001; his newest venture is LiveSafe. John has founded three SaaS companies and is currently the COO at Sport Ngin.
On the scientific side, Dr. Ben Doranz, who holds both a Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology from Penn Medicine (1998) and an MBA from Wharton (2001), entered two companies in the 2001 WBPC. He took both Grand Prize and third place. Ben brought together research from the two ventures in Integral Molecular, which today is a thriving company providing innovative solutions for scientific research and drug discovery, with Ben as President and Chief Scientific Officer.
Not only the companies, but also the partnerships forged during the WBPC have proved durable. The fashionable and philanthropic eyeglass company Warby Parker was a WBPC semifinalist in 2009 (known then as ONE|VISION). Of the four founders—Neil Blumenthal, David Gilboa, Jeff Raider and Andy Hunt, all of whom received their Wharton MBAs in 2010—Neil and David stayed on as co-CEOs, while Jeff is now the co-founder and co-CEO of Harry’s, which is bringing a very Warby Parker concept to shaving: “a great shave at a fair price.” Andy has remained a Director at WP, and is flourishing in the VC world.
Undergrads have made their mark on the WBPC as well, such as Alexander Mittal and Arjun Srinivas, both ’07 graduates of the Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology. They won second prize in the 2008 WBPC with Innova Dynamics, today an exciting nanotechnology company that’s disrupting technology in fields from touchscreens to water treatment. Alex has also gone on to innovate in the crowd funding space as co-founder of FundersClub.
We at Wharton Entrepreneurship can’t say enough about how proud we are of all of the successful companies and entrepreneurs who have come through the Wharton Business Plan Competition over the past 15 years. Their stories are too numerous to tell. And these are just the recorded finalists and winners, the ones we’ve been able to keep tabs on. We know there are many other companies that were first imagined during a WBPC brainstorming session or grew out of a connection made during the competition.
That’s the point of the WBPC, after all. The contest provides the impetus for Penn’s immensely talented students to come together to learn about the venture development process, yes, but beyond that—during the year-long WBPC process, these students become entrepreneurs. They learn that they can start a company, and change the world. That’s what we’re proudest of. And we hope to keep doing it, for another 15 years and more.
We said that there were too many stories to tell, and that’s true, but for those who’d like a little more detail, here are some terrific entrepreneurs and businesses that have come through the WBPC over the past 15 years:
1999: PayMyBills – Jeff Grass and John Tedesco, both Wharton MBA’99 (Finalist). Revolutionary online bill pay service.
2000: Netconversions – Andy Liu, Wharton MBA ’01, and David Niu, Wharton MBA’02 (Semifinalist). Netconversions was sold to aQuantive in 2004, but Andy and David continued their partnership with BuddyTV. BuddyTV is the TV watcher’s friend, with show recaps, episode videos, spoilers, and more.
2001: Integral Molecular – Ben Doranz, Ph.D.’98 in Cellular and Molecular Biology from Penn Medicine and Wharton MBA’01 (Grand and third prizes). Scientific research and drug discovery
2002: buySAFE (fka BondMyAuction) – Steve Woda, Wharton MBA’01 (Finalist). Protects online buyers.
2003: The grand prize winning team spawned two companies: PetPlan – Chris & Natasha Ashton, both Wharton MBA’03 (Grand Prize). Pet insurance. In addition, the other two members of the winning team, Laura Bennett and Alex Krooglik, both Wharton MAB’03, started their own pet insurance company, Embrace Pet Insurance.
2004: InfraScan – Sandeep Naik, Wharton MBA’04, and Baruch Dor (Grand Prize). Handheld brain hematoma detector.
2005: TerraPass (fka Benven) – Tom Arnold, Wharton MBA’05 (semifinalist), developed with Wharton Vice Dean of Innovation and CIBC Professor of Entrepreneurship at e-Commerce Karl Ulrich. Carbon offsetting products.
2006: SalesRoads (fka Home-Base) – David Kreiger, College of Arts and Sciences undergrad ’99 and Wharton MBA’07 (3rd prize). B2B appointment setting.
2007: Angiologix – Maria Merchant, Wharton MBA’08 (Finalist). Maria is a serial entrepreneur who has founded 2 more life sciences companies after Angiologix, which was a medical diagnostic device for early detection of heart problems.
2008: Innova Dynamics – Alexander Mittal and Arjun Srinivas, both graduates of the Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology’07 (2nd prize). Nano-materials.
2009: Warby Parker (fka ONE|VISION) –Neil Blumenthal, David Gilboa, Jeff Raider and Andy Hunt, all Wharton MBA’10 (semifinalist). Disruptive eyeglass company, plus philanthropy.
2010: Kembrel – Stephan Jacob, Lauder Institute: dual MA/MBA’11, Cherif Habib, Wharton MBA’11, and Aymeric de Hemptinne, Lauder Institute: dual MA/MBA’11 (Finalist & People’s Choice Award). “The better boutique.”
2011: Baby.com.br – Davis Smith, Lauder Institute: dual MA/MBA’11 (3rd Prize). Online baby supplies, in Brazil.
2012: RightCare Solutions – Eric Heil, College of Engineering’05 and Wharton MBA’12, Matt Tanzer, Wharton undergrad’02 and MBA’12, and Mrinal Bhasker, Wharton MBA’12 (Grand Prize), who developed their technology with Dr. Kathy Bowles, van Ameringen Chair in Nursing Excellence and Professor of Nursing at the School of Nursing. Reducing hospital readmission rates.
2013: Zenkars – Jean-Mathieu Chabas, Wharton MBA’13, and Venkat Jonnala, Wharton MBA’13 (Grand Prize). Online used cars, with a peaceful buying experience.