Way back in 1988, when I was approaching my graduation from the Wharton MBA program, I was given a unique entrepreneurial opportunity for which I will be forever grateful.
Michael Milken WG’70 had provided a generous grant to The Wharton School to create a community outreach program that would impact the surrounding neighborhoods and engage business students in meaningful community service. I am quite certain I was the only former school-teacher across my MBA cohorts, having taught at Parkway Gamma—back then a somewhat dilapidated structure at 39th and Walnut Streets. I suppose this out-of-the-box background made me the ideal candidate to be hired as the Executive Director of this new Wharton-Milken venture.
At the time I went to several of my professor/mentors, most notably Anita Summers and Ian MacMillan, for input, as the opportunity to design a program was wide open. (Both have remained extremely supportive to this day.) I also spent much of my time meeting with community leaders throughout West Philadelphia to garner their support and partnership. By August that first summer, we had recruited over 40 high school students and launched an innovative youth entrepreneurship program on the Wharton campus. Students were brought to campus for two intensive weeks of an MBA boot camp taught by renowned Steve Mariotti and his newly forming Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. During the fall, we used a then-new concept, mentoring, and recruited enthusiastic MBAs to serve one-on-one in this role. Each year, the program culminated with a venture capital board, with mentors working with students to prepare presentations seeking start up grants for micro-enterprises.
This past Saturday, we brought together the mentors and mentees who met 25 year ago, and since, in the Milken Young Entrepreneurs Program at Wharton. Wharton Dean Garrett and Vice Dean Lundquist renewed their welcome to this awesome and enthusiastic group with a reunion for past program participants.
Among the more than 50 attendees was former volunteer Marco Lentini C’96/WG’02, who addressed the group with encouraging words emphasizing a true entrepreneur’s can do! outlook as well as the importance of giving back. Marco is a hallmark Wharton alum whose chain of healthy eating restaurants, Kitchen Gia, grace Penn’s campus as a universal favorite. The day brought together Wharton alumnus Kevin Holmes and his mentee Mkemo London, who have maintained communication through the years. Kevin and Mkemo were thrilled to see each other and continue their dialogue about their various business ventures: Kevin in real estate in New York City and Atlanta, and Mkemo in book publishing and public speaking in the Philadelphia area. Kanika Dewan W’98—recently profiled as one of Wharton’s 40-Under-40 list of young alumni to watch—has maintained her support and enthusiasm of the program throughout the years. Others who spoke included past program participants Keeya Branson, now running her own media relations/special events business and Keith Chennault, developing a realty empire in West Philadelphia.
The combination of past students, MBA volunteers, teachers, and administrators who came together were a testament to the power of this program—to social entrepreneurship, connection, grit, and lasting impact. It started here on our own campus, and ultimately became the model for a national expansion through the Milken Foundations.
If you were a past mentor in the Milken Young Entrepreneurs Program, please reach out and re-connect. After all, it’s been 25 years!
Bio: Lisa S. Hoffstein has devoted her professional life to urban education and community development designing and implementing programs that provide opportunity and support for under-served children. Hoffstein was recruited to play tennis for the University of Pennsylvania as an undergrad, sub matriculated to the Graduate School of Education to obtain her BS, eventually returning to obtain her Wharton MBA. In addition to her work with the Milkens and Wharton, Hoffstein is the Founder of The Katie At The Bat Team—Helping Kids Hit Home Runs In Life and has served on various local and national boards. Some of her honors include: Intercollegiate Tennis Association Rolex Achievement Award, inductee in the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and most recently, Wharton Women In Business (WWIB) 2014 Distinguished Alumna Award.