Big Changes for VIP

By Nadine Kavanaugh, Associate Director, Wharton Entrepreneurship

This month, we welcome a new class of student entrepreneurs to the Venture Initiation Program, and along with them, several exciting changes to the program.


First of all, our new staff member responsible for VIP: Valentina Goutorova. Valentina has been with Wharton Entrepreneurship since June. She comes to us from the NSF Innovation Corps at the University of Akron, where she mentored teams of faculty, students, and industry experts through the process of commercialization. Previously, she was the Vice President of Business Development at 5iTech, doing similar work, helping startups and innovators commercialize their technologies. She’s used to interacting with startups at every stage, but what drew her to Wharton, she says, is how rewarding she finds it to help them go “from idea to real application.”

Valentina Goutorova
Valentina Goutorova

Over the summer and fall, Valentina familiarized herself with the current student members of VIP, and quickly learned about what they thought worked well in the program—and where they craved change.

Starting now, VIP will offer a more guided process. “If we know how they’re moving forward and what specific challenges they have at each point, we can help them more,” explains Valentina. VIP members will now use the business model Canvas to provide a framework for how they are each progressing. Canvas provides 9 elements, from value propositions to revenue streams, that help entrepreneurs see what pieces of their businesses are working well, and what they need to concentrate on to move forward. Each month, VIP members will meet with advisors Jeffrey Babin and Patrick FitzGerald to go over their progress, using the Canvas elements to guide the conversation.

In order to introduce students to Canvas, Jeffrey Babin will hold a WE Weds workshop on the model twice a year, after each new class enters VIP. While the first advisor meeting will necessarily be somewhat time consuming, as new members work out how to categorize their progress according to Canvas, subsequent meetings evaluations should be quick and easy: the goal is to provide useful guidance, not add busywork.

Students have long asked for more interaction with alumni entrepreneurs, and VIP is now piloting a mentoring program to meet this need. Senior VIP members will be paired with alumni in their field those with industry experience and skills that can meet their specific needs.

In addition, VIP meetings and workshops are now integrated into Penn’s online Learning Management System, so that they show up on students’ schedules, along with their classes.

Finally, expect to see more of VIP on the blog in the future as well! We’re proud of our VIP members, and we want to introduce them to you.