Reflections of a New VIP Member: To Good Beginnings and Sound Sailings!

By Tess Michaels C’15/W’15, Founder of Soceana

Editor’s note: Tess Michaels was recently accepted into our educational incubator, the Venture Initiation Program. We asked her to reflect on why she wanted to join VIP, and what she hopes to gain from the experience.

On my 21st birthday, I learned a doozy of a lesson from a serial entrepreneur. If I want my company to be valuable, I must have a secret—one that results from charting an uncommon vision and exploring uncharted frontiers. The advice came from Peter Thiel, who was in Philly for a book signing.


In his book Zero to One, Thiel extols how PayPal’s secretive culture transcended the company, and how the founding team created extraordinary value far beyond the original company. It helps to be in the company of like-minded entrepreneurs as we strive to unravel the secrets of this world.

It is a set of secrets that energize us and bind us at VIP; the secrets we have figured out, and those we have resolved to unravel. We are all in the throes of being born, with a shared passion for ingenuity. Each company has a value proposition that could bring the future one step closer for humanity.

For example, BioBots is reshaping the science of organ regeneration by creating the 3D environment of cells using additive manufacturing. A team of freshmen are redesigning Google Glass to deliver a ThirdEye to the visually impaired. Oncora harnesses the power of Big Data and predictive analytics to aid oncologists in diagnosis and treatment of terminal diseases. We at Soceana seek to multiply social good by integrating philanthropy and volunteerism using philas, a social currency to pay forward.

Soceana continues to be a rewarding journey, whether I’m raising seed capital, hiring employees, pitching at business plan competitions, or meeting with leaders at client and partner companies, including government leaders and executives at Cisco, Comcast, IBM, Booz Allen Hamilton, HP, and others. I’m energized by the strategy development, continuous learning curves, and our ability to transform traditional social interactions with each new idea and implementation. The Penn community facilitated our success in assembling the team, developing our product and engaging our first few customers; VIP will swiftly complement and accelerate this.

True to Benjamin Franklin’s charter for Penn graduates, VIP is built on the ethos of innovation and impact. VIP members seek to elevate the human experience of life by delivering value that eludes our customers.  The millennial members share their insights and challenges, and motivate each other to excel. They benchmark each other at each milestone and navigate their course guided by VIP advisors, alumni, and administrators. The professional relationships and ties endure far beyond the program. Participants are remembered for what they create and share, not for what they take and keep. These are a few distinctive features that make VIP path-breaking for its members. It is an honor to be on board the Venture Initiation Program among a cohort of bold entrepreneurs and smart humanitarians.


VIP 2015 Summer Cycle New Admits:


Venture Name Description
LifeCycle Jonathan Sockol (WG’16) LifeCycle™s software manages motorcycles w/ life-saving equip to reach any point in 3 mins while saving millions of $
Hawthorne Brian Jeong (WG’16) Hawthorne delivers quality, fairly priced cologne by cutting out the middleman.
Local Pulse  Natalie Vane (W’04 WG’15) LocalPulse transforms vacant retail stores into vibrant pop up shops specializing in local, high quality & unique goods
Elev8Tracks Blake Englehard (W’15) Elev8Tracks is a music video site curated by/for users that aims to elevate the music finding and listening experience
Ethical Animal Research Ben Lewis (V’12 WG’16)Brandon Yoshimura (WG’16) Ethical Animal Research is the World’s First Humane Animal Research Company
CLVmetrics, Inc. Daniel McCarthy (ENG’06, W’06, GRW’17) CLVmetrics is a web-based analytics platform allows firms to calculate how much their customers are worth.
Airport Sherpa Patrick DellaValle (WG’15)Mayank Gandhi (WG’15) A free app for travelers to help efficiently spend time at the airport by discovering the best food, retail ,entertainment
GTRACK Technologies Teddy Guenin ( ENG’15, W’15)Ashwin Amurthur ( ENG’15, W’15) GTRACK is creating revolutionary chemical tracers to characterize oil reservoirs, giving high oil extraction efficiency.
Soceana Tess Michaels ( C’15, W’15) Soceana bridges philanthropy & volunteerism using a patent-pending digital social currency and creates network effects.
Handshake Andy Liu (W’16) Handshake is your central hub for connecting all of your virtual and social profiles with others – instantly.
LocalAventura Andrea Vidler (WG Lauder’15)Eugena Brown (WG’15) LocalAventura is the easiest and most authentic way to explore Latin America. Connecting travelers to awesome guides.

San Francisco:

Venture Name Description Manisha Gupta(WG’16; WEMBA 40) Heartyy meals cooked by Heartyy servers ordered conveniently via the Heartyy mobile app.
 Silver Lining Rel Lavizzo-Mourey(WG’15; WEMBA 39) Pav Dharwarkar(WG’15; WEMBA 39) Silver Lining creates custome lined outerwear to highlight the idea that it’s what’s inside that counts.


Tess_Michaels1 smBio: Tess Michaels (W’15, C’15) is the founder of Soceana, one of the winners of the 2015 Wharton Business Plan Competition. Tess co-founded Penn Biotech Society and served in leadership roles in Student Government and Wharton Finance Club. Her contributions to Penn have been recognized with the Alumni Award of Merit, the Wharton Award for Innovation, and the Benz Prize for Excellence. She strives to be a change-agent and believes that successful companies of the future would be social enterprises that generate social good as well as profits.