By Miranda Wang C’16, founder of BioCellection
Editor’s note: Before she was the first undergraduate to win the Business Plan Competition (with a record breaking five prizes!), Miranda Wang attended Spring Pitch at Wharton San Francisco.
At first, I didn’t even know that Wharton had a campus in San Francisco.
Then when I did learn about Wharton San Francisco, it sounded too fancy for someone like me: a mere undergrad, always running around trying to get small grants here and there to bootstrap a startup. Rumor had it that the lecture halls looked like Huntsman classrooms except “much nicer”—but I didn’t actually know anyone who had been inside.
Now I’ve been inside. And it’s true, the classrooms are really nice. But more importantly, there is a place for someone like me there, someone with a startup and the will to turn it into reality.
It all started with an email. The Founders Club sends a weekly opportunities email, and this one included an invitation to apply for the Wharton San Francisco Spring Pitch.
Spring Pitch, it turns out, is a pitch competition that brings entrepreneurs to Wharton San Francisco every spring, and it’s judged by investors who are also Wharton alumni in the Bay Area. As a full time student entrepreneur, the co-founder and CEO of BioCellection, I recognized that this would be an incredible opportunity to accomplish a few different things. The first was to gauge the enthusiasm level of Bay Area VCs in BioCellection. My team engineers proprietary bacteria that eat plastic pollution and produce a valuable compound called rhamnolipid for the textiles industry. As a biotechnology company, we constantly need a lot of resources and cash in the early stages for research and development. So naturally, I wanted to see if anyone would be interested and to begin some conversations. I was also looking forward to discussing our business model with seasoned investors and learn from their various perspectives.
In addition, when I graduate, we’ll probably relocate our biological research to the San Jose BioCube. Since the judges and attendees were all Wharton alumni, I hoped we would find mentors, supporters, and friends in this crowd if they knew that my team would be moving near them, straight from our classroom lab and the dorm room.
And, of course, I was curious to see Wharton San Francisco for myself.
After getting into the competition, I realized that out of 12 total teams, we were one of only three student teams being sent in from Philadelphia—and the only undergraduate team. The other teams were led by alumni. The nervous energy this generated helped me in getting prepared through a coaching process organized by the amazing people at Wharton San Francisco, where I received one-on-one pitch training from Nathan Gold, a well-known pitch coach. Wharton Venture Initiation Program Advisor Jeffrey Babin C’85/WG’91 also helped me in honing the content in the pitch so that I could articulate BioCellection’s very complicated technology and business in only 5 minutes.
With this terrific mentorship to bolster me, I packed my bags and flew to SFO on a ticket purchased by Wharton Entrepreneurship. I actually missed my flight, and arrived just 3 hours before the event—12 hours later than planned. But despite my struggle, I was very excited to be in sunny California, and I took the long commute to memorize my pitch by listening to recordings on my iPhone during all those hours at the airport. I was relieved when I finally reached Wharton San Francisco, which is inside a building that’s labeled “Hills Bros Coffee” and faces the stunning Bay Bridge near the pier.
The beautiful office and classroom spaces were modern, and had a creative vibe to them. Windows along an entire side of the building faced the waterfront, and the Wharton team was incredibly welcoming. The pitches began in the early afternoon. Each team gave two 5-minute pitches followed by 10-minute Q&As. Although I had butterflies in my stomach, I somehow delivered two very energetic pitches and received some very helpful feedback and expert questions from the judges. The most encouraging part of the experience was seeing how much everyone cared about plastic pollution and wanted to do something about it. In the evening, a wonderful reception took place, where approximately 200 alumni came to listen to all the teams’ elevator pitches and then network with us. I went second and was surprised by how familiar and comfortable I felt about my pitch, even though this was likely the most intimidating elevator pitch I had ever given in my life. I think I will always remember Spring Pitch for that one moment where I overcame my nervousness and was able to hold the attention of every person in that room.
Vice Dean Karl Ulrich and Senior Associate Director Irina Yuen C’90/G’96/WG’96 addressed everyone afterwards and announced that Wharton Entrepreneurship is working on bringing members of the community on both the east and west coasts closer together through more events like the Spring Pitch, so that young startups like BioCellection could have the best chances of succeeding. In that moment, I realized how fortunate I am to be a member of the Wharton Entrepreneurship community and how much I want to give back one day if BioCellection does make it.
I also realized that Wharton San Francisco was not at all how I had first imagined it to be. It is a place of inclusion, innovation, and impact. In addition to winning the competition and receiving the perk of being featured on the Wharton radio show “Bay Area Ventures,” this short trip showed me the power of the Wharton network and gave me the opportunity to meet some exceptional and supportive figures in our community. I hope that next year, more undergraduates will make the trek out to the west coast and experience the hospitality of Wharton San Francisco.
Bio: Miranda Wang is a synthetic biologist, environmental advocate, and student entrepreneur. As the Co-founder and CEO of BioCellection Inc., a seed stage synthetic biology startup that is using bioengineered bacteria to transform polystyrene waste into valuable products, she is a member of the Wharton VIP and Weiss Tech House communities. BioCellection recently won five awards—including the Grand Prize—at the 2016 Wharton Business Plan Competition. Miranda is currently a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying molecular biology, engineering entrepreneurship, and philosophy.