Launch Pad: Neural Computing & A Lifetime of Innovation

Karl Ulrich describes Dan Goldin as “thinking in galactic terms,” and that’s exactly what makes their conversation so deeply fascinating.

Dan’s very first job was at NASA, where “we were doing the Apollo program I was working to build ion engines and plasma engines powered by a nuclear power source to take astronauts to Mars.” After that, “I ended up developing proof that direct broadcast TV works and we could go from giant dishes that used to be outside businesses and bars and illuminate just an 18 inch dish, which we now have ubiquitous around the world. I did that experiment in 1976. I’ve developed blue green lasers to communicate under the ocean. I’ve had the opportunity after I worked in national security for a giant aerospace firm, I ran one of the larger space activities in the world, I got a call from the President of the United States and he wanted to know if I would be willing to run NASA. I did that for ten years under three presidents.”

Dan ran NASA. For ten years.

You want to know what an innovator sounds like? Listen to this interview, for an intriguing glimpse inside the mind of a person who has literally spent a lifetime pushing the boundaries of the possible.

That’s right: a lifetime. Dan Goldin is currently in his mid-70s, and he’s been working on his latest startup, KnuEdge, for the past decade.

KnuEdge is suitably big picture. Dan doesn’t waste his time on the little stuff. He quotes an ad he ran early on, looking for people to work with him on the project: “If you’re an incrementalist looking to make improvements on existing technology looking for ten, 20, 30 percent improvement, afraid of failure, you need not apply. But if you’re not afraid of failure, shooting for orders of magnitude, come on and join us.”

As for what KnuEdge actually does: “We want to do nothing less than change how people partner with machines. We want anyone to have a capacity to have a powerful artificial intelligence experience with anyone anywhere and on any device. We want it to be frictionless, we want it to be easy to use. And most of all we want to empower individuals and corporations. And we hope to be ubiquitous.”

Do yourself a favor and listen to this interview; it will be one of the most interesting things you hear this week, for sure. And you may just get inspired to try to have as innovative a life as Dan Goldin.

Pennovation Center Opens

Dean Geoffrey Garrett on the grand opening of the Pennovation Center and the state of innovation and entrepreneurship at Wharton and Penn

On Friday, October 28, the Pennovation Center officially opened the doors to its three-story, 58,000-square-foot facility located on the banks of the Schuylkill River. The multipurpose space offers co-working, lab, and production spaces, and more resources for researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs seeking collaboration and community.

The Pennovation Center joins two key initiatives to enhance the overall innovation profile at Penn and Wharton — The Mack Institute for Innovation Management and Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship.

“We’ve got a fantastic skill set when it comes to innovation at Penn,” said Dean Geoffrey Garrett in a video message to celebrate the launch.

“The Mack Institute is focused on a key challenge — innovation in large, mature organizations, that really want to innovate but sometimes find it hard to get that innovative mindset.” “Then on the student-facing side, [Penn] Wharton Entrepreneurship provides incredible opportunities for our students to learn by doing,” continued Dean Garrett.

The Center is already home to 20 startup companies and over 100 individuals, ushering in a new hub for innovation and entrepreneurship at Penn.

To learn more about the new Pennovation Center visit


Mentoring a Penn President’s Innovation Prize Winning Team

By Hoag Levins, Editor of Digital Publications at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (LDI)

It’s almost the stuff movies are made of.  A young professor charged with teaching a new university course in health care entrepreneurship meets a brash sophomore interested in taking the class. But then, quixotically, the undergrad decides to skip the course and asks the professor to mentor him and his fellow sophomore business partner as they figure out the complexities of entrepreneurial practice on their own.

Three years later, the two students win the University’s highest award for inventiveness and marketing savvy. And to complete the circle, the two are invited back to their mentor’s classroom to lecture his pupils on entrepreneurial chutzpah.

Wharton School Assistant Professor and LDI Senior Fellow Matthew Grennan (center) has been mentoring Penn seniors Aaron Goldstein (left) and William Duckworth (right) for three years. The two students just won a Penn President's prize for entrepreneurial achievement.
Wharton School Assistant Professor and LDI Senior Fellow Matthew Grennan (center) has been mentoring Penn seniors Aaron Goldstein (left) and William Duckworth (right) for three years. The two students just won a Penn President’s prize for entrepreneurial achievement.

Read more Mentoring a Penn President’s Innovation Prize Winning Team

Coming to an Innovation District Near You

By Jeff Voigt WG’85, Principal, Medical Device Consultants of Ridgewood

A not-so-quiet revolution around medical innovation is taking place in the Philadelphia area. The Penn Center for Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania, the Bossone Research Center at Drexel University and the Jefferson Innovation Center are all helping startup medical companies get to market.Innovation District 600 x 450 Read more Coming to an Innovation District Near You

Are You An Intrapreneur?

By Justine Lai WG’16

Over the past few years, Wharton has become a hub for entrepreneurship; beyond increasing its related class offerings, aspiring entrepreneurs at Wharton have access to support and funding through resources like Wharton Entrepreneurship, Weiss Tech House, and the Penn Center for Innovation, along with student-run communities like the Founders Club and E-Club.

But even as more and more Wharton students enter with entrepreneurial ambitions, the truth is that most are unlikely to start a company immediately or even five years after school. An enormous opportunity exists for Wharton to provide these students the tools and training to become intrapreneurs.

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The Innovation and Design Club, busy innovating and designing.

Read more Are You An Intrapreneur?

Slidejoy Wins Wharton Business Plan Competition Perlman Grand Prize

By Nadine Kavanaugh, Associate Director, Wharton Entrepreneurship

Slidejoy - Grand Prize Winners (smaller)
Slidejoy team: (from left to right) Diana Kattan W’12, Jaeho Chung (on leave), Robert Seo WG’12, and Sanghoon Kwak G’14/WG’14 (Team Leader)

Slidejoy, founded by Sanghoon Kwak G’14/WG’14, Jaeho Chung alumnus, Robert Seo WG’12,  has won the $30,000 Perlman Grand Prize at the 2014 Wharton Business Plan Competition. The prize was awarded at the Wharton School’s annual Venture Finals, May 1, 2014, where student finalists received more than $125,000 in combined cash prizes and in-kind legal/accounting services. Read more Slidejoy Wins Wharton Business Plan Competition Perlman Grand Prize

VeryApt, Wharton Business Plan Competition Finalist

By Ashrit Kamireddi WG’14, Team Leader for VeryApt

Team Members: Scott Bierbryer WG’14, Andrew Mackowski, Ross Bierbryer

VeryAptVeryApt is TripAdvisor meets Pandora for apartments.  VeryApt helps users find an apartment they will love, quickly and easily by combining user-generated reviews with big data analytics to deliver intelligent, personalized apartment recommendations.

Read more VeryApt, Wharton Business Plan Competition Finalist

Abaris, Wharton Business Plan Competition Finalist

By Matthew Carey C’07/WG’15, Team Leader for Abaris

Team Members: Jason Grimes WG’15, Nimish Shukla G’15/WG’15, Adam Colombo ENG’14/W’14

Abaris is an Orbitz for Annuities. We are creating the first of its kind online marketplace enabling consumers to easily compare quotes on insurers’ guaranteed lifetime income offerings.

Read more Abaris, Wharton Business Plan Competition Finalist

Androids vs. Dinosaurs

By Lane Rettig, Wharton MBA 2014, School of Arts and Sciences 2014 (Lauder Institute); Co-Founder, Seratis. He spent the Fall 2013 semester at Wharton ǀ San Francisco.

The United States, a wealthy and technologically advanced country, has divided into two camps: Androids and Dinosaurs. The Androids live in California, New York, and Boston, and in a handful of bubble communities such as Austin and Seattle. They use smartphones with the latest apps, drive Teslas, eat “ethnic” food and think they’re pretty smart. In fact, life in Androidville is brutally meritocratic: the better solution always wins because, well, it’s better, right? So why not?

As for the Dinosaurs? Well, that’s pretty much everyone else. They’re the normal people, with families, and jobs, and more important things to worry about than whether they’re running the latest iOS version or how quickly their hardware will become obsolete.

Here’s the catch: there are a lot more Dinosaurs than there are Androids.

And here’s what most Androids don’t get about Dinosaurs: they hate change. It’s not that they haven’t bought an iPhone or a Tesla because they don’t get it, can’t afford it, or aren’t smart enough to use it. In fact, the Dinosaurs are a pretty smart bunch. It’s that they hate change because, well, things are pretty good the way they are, right? So why change them?

The Dinosaurs aren’t just country bumpkins. They include entire swathes of brilliant people. Doctors, some of the smartest and hardest working people in the country. Manufacturers, the ones building snazzy cars and enormous jet planes. And the Armed Forces, protecting us from threats near and far. Many Dinosaurs are conservative by necessity. Doctors embrace technology: pharmaceuticals, medical devices and procedures save millions of lives every year, and improve the quality of life for countless more. The resounding motto of Silicon Valley is, “Move fast and break things.” But this motto “does not apply to healthcare.” Think of what happens when a medical device, a jet plane, or a military helicopter malfunctions. Real people die real deaths.

If Dinosaurs are just a little too cautious, a little too unwilling to embrace even modest change, Androids are too fast to dismiss them as backwards, obstructionist, or just plain dumb. Through founding a healthcare technology company and through meeting visionaries such as Jon Sobel, WG’07, I’ve come to understand that we Androids are really the exception that proves the rule.

Sobel should know. As co-founder and CEO of Sight Machine, an Industrial Internet company based half in Silicon Valley and half in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he’s been working to bridge Androids and Dinosaurs his entire career. Jon’s company employs engineers in Silicon Valley and Ann Arbor who write brilliant video processing algorithms to help traditional manufacturers in places like Michigan reduce errors and improve product quality. Sobel visited Wharton ǀ San Francisco to tell us about these two worlds.

“I would encourage you to soak up with an anthropologist’s lens what’s going on here,” he advised. “Every industry, every geography has its strengths and its shortcomings. Soak up what’s cool but don’t drink the Kool-aid.”

The hacking culture of Silicon Valley is great, Sobel explains, but “hacking is not about robustness, it’s about coming up with cool stuff.” Translating “cool stuff” into a robust, reliable, scalable product—and then convincing conservative Midwest executives to adopt these products—requires a lot more than technical competence. It requires vision, superb attention to detail, experience, and the ability to “speak two vocabularies,” as Sobel puts it. His customers don’t use PowerPoint, aren’t impressed by the cloud or open source, and only care about one thing: “Does it work?”

What does this mean for us aspiring Wharton entrepreneurs? For starters, give the Dinosaurs a break: they are conservative for a reason and you won’t convince them to adopt your whizz-bang new technology without putting yourself in their shoes and understanding the reasons for their aversion to change. More importantly, there are absolutely enormous business opportunities for those who can bridge two or more worlds, bringing modern technology to bear in traditionally conservative industries like healthcare, government, education, and manufacturing, in a scalable, robust fashion. This is what my cofounder and I are working on at Seratis.

I agree wholeheartedly with Sobel’s parting thought: “the future belongs to people who can knit together multiple worlds.” Learn to speak both Dinosaur and Android, and you’ll do well.

bio_photo_bw croppedBio: Lane Rettig (WG’14/G’14) is a dual-degree Wharton/Lauder student in the Lauder Chinese track. Prior to Wharton, he worked as a software developer at D. E. Shaw & Co., a New York-based hedge fund, in their New York and Hong Kong offices. Lane was co-chair of the 2012-2013 Wharton Business Plan Competition, and this summer he and a classmate co-founded a healthcare technology startup, Seratis (, which recently graduated from the DreamIt Health accelerator program in Philadelphia.