Combining Entrepreneurship and Experiential Learning: The Wharton SBDC

By Pirkka Padmanabhan WG’15

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared in The Wharton Journal.

Young rising stars helping young rising stars – what may sound like a cheesy slogan from a dubious self-help group is, in my opinion, the best description of the work that is done by the students, staff and supporters of Wharton’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC). One of the oldest institutions of its kind, the SBDC supports locally-based entrepreneurs and small businesses of all kinds and sizes: freshly launched start-ups, highly growing ventures and established small businesses.


From newly-launched Philadelphian chocolate producers seeking to gain social media traction to local fashion labels trying to test new sales strategies using a mobile ‘Fashion Truck’, the center has seen it all. In fact, the center is well-known on campus for helping innovative small Pennsylvanian businesses. However, what is less known is that the SBDC frequently plays a major role in helping Wharton MBA ventures get off the ground.

Consider the case of first year MBA consultant Ryan Moreland, who during his year with the SBDC’s high growth practice not only consulted a second year student in launching a 3D-printing business, but, in a second engagement, also led a team of undergraduate students to do a study on his very own winery, Corville Napa Valley, that he has run for the past five years. It is precisely these kinds of opportunities that make the SBDC program unique, as students are able to learn at the junction where entrepreneurship and consulting meet, while building client, team and project management skills – all in a relatively low-risk environment. So, what’s in it for the entrepreneurs? Real results! In the case of the Philadelphian chocolate producer, more than a million dollars in additional revenues (as well as free chocolate for the consultant). And in the case of Ryan Moreland, a roadmap for designing a comprehensive and disruptive digital advertising campaign in a business where face-to-face interactions and relationships are still key.

Whilst Wharton’s ‘Knowledge for Action’ slogan is primarily meant to allude to the academic work that we do during our two years here, my own experience with the SBDC has shown that programs such as these should be the real representatives of this slogan. Ultimately, it is this type of program in which you as a young rising star can help a classmate to also be a young rising star – no matter whether you are the consultant or the entrepreneur.

author picBio: Pirkka Padmanabhan is an MBA candidate at the Wharton School.


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