Future (and Current) Founders Find Each Other

By Simran J. Singh, Wharton MBA 2015

The 3rd annual Wharton Founders’ Retreat met on August 18 at the newly renovated Benjamin’s Desk, a co-working space at 1701 Walnut. Organized by the Penn Founders’ Club, the invite-only event welcomed 65 newly admitted MBA students from the class of 2015, as well as selected 2nd year MBA students to lead the breakout groups and staff from various departments of Penn and Drexel.

Founders Retreat 2013
Founders talk in small groups, sharing their stories.

As the participants mingled over snack bars and coffee (the two essential ingredients for any start-up team), Prof. Ethan Mollick formally kicked off the event by quantitatively comparing the happiness, satisfaction and financial rewards of entrepreneurs, bankers and consultants. And oh, just in case you are wondering – entrepreneurs win on all three counts!! The congregation was then broken down into smaller groups to allow the participants to share their experiences and aspirations. The exchange of ideas was mindboggling – one person spoke about founding a low cost housing company in Nigeria, while another shared the experience of evaluating SnapChat, and others talked about working in startup roles within established organizations.

For those who might be looking to raise capital, panelists from FirstRound Capital’s Dorm Room Fund, Blueprint Health, MentorTech Ventures and RobinHood Ventures shared first hand insights into what they look for in an idea, a pitch or a team – an essential how-to for every first time entrepreneur. Zach Simkin (C’06/WG’14 and Organizer, Founders’ Club) showcased the best ways to leverage Wharton & Penn resources while starting up at school. Surprisingly (or apparently not), his presentation featured full-page slides of pizza slices.

Prof. Kartik Hosanagar discussed the eternal question of why we come to business school if we want to be entrepreneurs. It turns out that 57% of Wharton MBAs achieve profitability as an entrepreneur – which is a highly disproportionate number as compared to the general population. The key is to recognize the limitations of yourself and your program, then learn to work around those limitations and highlight your strengths.

The last session of the evening fittingly featured Wharton entrepreneurs from Curalate, CommonBond and inSparq. Moderated by Wharton Lecturer Jeffrey Babin, the discussion revolved around how to balance school and startups and how to best leverage the immensely powerful Wharton network.

Every aspect of the event involved startups. Benjamin’s Desk is a startup with the coolest co-working space in Philly. Lunch was served by Matt and Marie’s, a WG’14 startup: delicious, hearty Italian sandwiches and appetizers with ingredients directly flown from Italy. (Watch out for their grand opening in Center City over the coming weeks.) Carlos Vega (C’03/WG’14 and Organizer, Founders’ Club) thanked the rest of the organizers – Jill Anick (Associate Director, Wharton Entrepreneurship), Maria Halpern (Director of Student Engagement, MBA Career Management) and Dave Wynne (Wharton Design Club Co-President) before declaring the happy hour open. After all, startups require the most motivation.

The event elicited tremendous response and the Founders’ Club was unable to accommodate all requests. However, those interested in entrepreneurship should look out for upcoming Founders’ Club, and eClub events, where highlights of the retreat will be recounted. Also highly recommended is Wharton Entrepreneurship’s Entrepreneurship Expo, which will be held in Hoover Lounge, Vance Hall on September 11 (5-6 pm).

The start of school and the changes associated with it can be overwhelming at times. By helping build a community of individuals who share similar goals, the retreat allowed aspiring entrepreneurs to refocus on our ultimate goals. The event also served as a platform for people to share their stories and identify those among this community who may become our “informal” sounding boards for ideas and execution. Knowledge of the Penn resources and the point person for each will ensure efficient use as companies take birth in the Penn ecosystem.

I can’t help but wonder how many future business partners met for the first time at this event.

Simran SinghBio: Simran J. Singh is a current MBA student at The Wharton School. Prior to Wharton, he worked in private equity in Asia and management consulting in Latin America, the Middle East, and South East Asia. Simran divides his time at Wharton between school work and running http://buyt.in, India’s largest shopping search engine.