Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love for Startups @ 2401

By Carlos R. Vega, Wharton MBA 2014 and School of Arts and Sciences Undergrad 2003; Founder, tesor.io

Last Sunday I was sitting in Philly’s Reading Terminal Market. In the late 19th century it was considered an innovative hub and several hundred merchants gathered there to forge ahead together. While waiting for an order of sugar-coated beignets from Beck’s Cajun Café amidst award-winning sandwich shops, local cheese producers and Dutch Amish delicacies (closed on a Sunday of course), I couldn’t stop thinking of our community at 2401 Walnut, Wharton’s improvised summer co-working space.

Brince & Baron partners Stephanie Mou WG’14 and Prarthna Vasudevan

I came to Wharton with a business concept in mind and the goal of transforming it into an operating company by graduation. Going into the summer after my first year, I knew it was an essential make or break timeframe to build momentum for the coming school year… but I needed a place to work.

As luck would have it, Wharton had recently created a new venue for MBAs at 2401 Walnut Street. Last spring, as co-organizers of Founder’s Club, Zach Simkin (C’06 WG’14) and I approached the School about using spare space over the summer—and they delivered. Thirteen other startups and I, founded by current Wharton MBA students, now had offices for the summer with views of 30th Street Station, the Post Office building, the Schuylkill river and in the distance, sitting above the inspirational “Rocky Steps”, the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We fourteen startups have formed a community here and are using the summer to put our dreams to the test and see if we can turn them into real companies.

Justin Sapolski
Justin Sapolski W’08 WG’14, co-founder (with Nicole Capp WG’14) of Matt & Marie’s Modern Italian Sandwiches

We’ve received tons of both official and unofficial recommendations about what it takes to start and build a company—get the pitch right, form a team with diverse skill sets, stay lean, hack the system, and “Do things that don’t scale”. Some former students suggest skipping on-campus recruiting altogether and not taking an internship if you already have an idea.

However, by far the most important advice that we’ve gotten was that we should stick together and immerse ourselves in the startup scene. In one form or another we were forewarned that entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster ride that tests your passion and commitment. This is easy to forget during the initial buzz of getting tactical matters straight, but it can be a tremendous challenge as we each settle in to the day-to-day work of starting a business.

At 2401 Walnut we span children’s toys, fashion, 3D printing, social contact management, clinical analytics, co-working spaces, financial technology, child-care and even a gourmet Italian deli. We’ve formed a community in this building that has fueled our passion and strengthened our commitment as we celebrate each other’s success and work through our challenges together. If we had been working from home or random coffee shops we would have missed out on moments like these:

Senvol team members Annie Wang C'05/WG'13, Aedhan Loomis SEAS'16 and Mike Drewniak WG'14
Senvol team members Annie Wang C’05 WG’13, Aedhan Loomis SEAS’16 and Mike Drewniak WG’14
    • I got high-fives all around when I got back from a promising sales pitch I’d practiced on the group at 2401 for a Fortune 500 company—one I biked 8 miles to visit.
    • We’ve been well fed with taste tests from Matt & Marie’s modern Italian sandwiches, and offered ‘biting’ criticism that has shaped their launch menu.
    • Custom suits startup Prince & Baron has had us testing new looks and providing opinions about men’s fashion.
    • When one startup made the tough decision to fold, the founder was immediately welcomed as a free agent by many of us in need of his expertise. He was soon flooded with offers from more established startups and we helped him work through the process of choosing which opportunity was the right fit.
    • Demo day was coming up for two of our colleagues in a local accelerator and with just two hours’ notice they had fifteen engaged entrepreneurs, a Student Life Associate Director and Wharton Entrepreneurship Associate Director providing feedback on their pitch.
    • The community lives beyond the walls of 2401 and spills into restaurants, bars and late night conversations around Philly to discuss startup names, ask for introductions, or vent about getting kicked out of 2401 Walnut at 2 am, when the building closes.

Sitting in Reading Terminal Market, enjoying my beignets, I thought about the hundreds of merchants, farmers and entrepreneurs who have cycled through Reading Terminal Market over the years. Three original vendors from 1892 are still around today. They, and the vendors who joined them, banded together to make it through the Great Depression, both World Wars and several crises.

Thanks to the Student Life Associate Directors, fourteen startups found a home at 2401 Walnut this summer. We’ve banded together to make it through a salary-free summer sandwiched between two years of business school loans, and we hope to gather again in the near future to celebrate the next great startup to emerge from Penn.

 

Carlos VegaBio: Carlos R. Vega is a current MBA student at The Wharton School where he is also a Leadership Fellow and an organizer of the Founders’ Club. Prior to Wharton he worked in investment banking with Lazard Frères’ JV in Latin America, he co-founded a supply chain finance company in Panama and worked in the corporate finance group at General Motors Asset Management. This summer Carlos has focused on development of tesor.io, a marketplace start-up for working capital finance.