$40K for Wharton Entrepreneurs: Wharton Venture Award Winners

By Nadine Kavanaugh, Associate Director, Wharton Entrepreneurship

Every year Wharton Entrepreneurship gets to give a few students an amazing gift: the gift of time to work on their ventures. 

We do this through the Wharton Venture Award (WVA). Serious entrepreneurial students from any school at Penn can apply for their final summer before graduation, and the winners receive $10,000 each to assist them financially over the summer in lieu of a full-time internship. Instead, they work on their ventures.

Earlier this year, we went to previous WVA winners to ask them what the award had meant to them.  You can read their answers here, but to summarize, I’ll quote from Vikram Joshi WG’08, founder of Red Ladder Media and Proxim Diagnostics, 2008 WVA winner: “The WVA was instrumental in nurturing my entrepreneurial ambitions.  It allowed me the freedom and resources to try things and fail…. The WVA experience gave me the confidence and validation to know that I could thrive in this kind of life”

This is what we hope to give to WVA winners every summer. For the summer of 2014, Wharton Entrepreneurship is delighted to award $10,000 each to four students. This year, for the first time, two of the four awardees are undergraduates.

2014 Wharton Venture Award Winners:

Abaris logo

Matthew Carey C’07,WG’15 & Adam Colombo W’14, Eng’14

Abaris Abaris is the Orbitz for annuities.

Glass-U logo

Daniel Fine W’15

Glass-U Fully folding sunglass company that makes custom and licensed sunglasses for 185 universities, nearly every Greek organization in the US, and FIFA.

GenHERation logo

Katlyn Grasso W’15

GenHERation GenHERation is a female empowerment network for high school girls that inspires them to become catalysts of social change.

Fitly logo

Ford Kerr WG’15

Fitly Fitly is a mobile web app that combines healthy meal planning, online grocery ordering and delivery into one easy-to-use platform.

Funding for the Wharton Venture Award is provided in part by the generosity of William F. Holekamp WG’72, The Kopelman Foundation and The Heller Family Foundation.  

Take Some Risks To Change The World

By Davis Smith, Wharton MBA’11, Arts & Sciences MA’11, co-founder of Baby.com.br and Dinda.com.br

In June 2013, I met with a group of Lauder students on a rooftop in Rio de Janeiro with a stunning view of Botafogo Bay and Sugar Loaf Mountain. After encouraging the students to look beyond traditional job opportunities and take risks that would allow them to “change the world,” one of the students asked me if I felt I had changed the world with my businesses that sold pool tables and baby products. The question was sincere, but it stung. Unbeknownst to him, I had been asking myself the same question in the previous months and had already decided I was going to make a change, but this student’s question increased my sense of urgency to take my own advice.

While I was at business school at Wharton, my cousin and I closed a $4.3 million round with a PowerPoint and a killer domain, nothing more. Brazil was hot, and we knew it. It wasn’t by coincidence that we chose Brazil or the baby market. We spent our first year in school coming up with 60 business ideas, which was facilitated by my involvement in the Venture Initiation Program. During the summer, I was fortunate enough to receive a Wharton Venture Award, which allowed us to rigorously research, vet and test our plans. By the end of the summer, we had narrowed the 60 to 1 and knew that we had a game-changing idea.

Just two years earlier, my friends, family and neighbors thought I was crazy. My cousin and I had started PoolTables.com out of undergrad, and had grown it into the largest retailer of pool tables in the US. When we told people we were going back to school, nobody understood. Life was good, but we believed MBAs would give us the knowledge and networks needed to build something truly meaningful. We sold our business, essentially burning the ships. It had seemed reckless, but now appeared brilliant.

Within eighteen months of the Baby.com.br launch, we had raised $40 million and built a business that had become a household name in Brazil, especially among young families. Our team consisted of one of Brazil’s biggest celebrities and many of the most seasoned e-commerce professionals in the country.

For all the company’s successes, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. We were battling fierce competitors, Brazil was incredibly difficult to navigate, margins were slim and our business was extremely capital intensive. Despite these challenges, we found ways to push the business forward. We launched Dinda.com.br and continued to see our businesses grow beyond what we’d ever hoped. It was every entrepreneur’s dream-come-true. However, after three years of working on the business, I unexpectedly began feeling it might be time for a change.

Once again, the comments of old began: You’re crazy to leave your company now! Just as before, people didn’t (don’t) understand the timing. I admit that stepping away was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever made. My decision to leave was based on two major factors that I couldn’t work around:

First, I was unhappy with our founding dynamics. My cousin and I had worked together for years, building some amazing businesses. There are partnerships that work well; in fact, ours had worked for a decade, but running a business as Co-CEOs was taxing. Ultimately, as many founding relationships do, our friendship began to sour. Trying to salvage our relationship became more important to me than power, control or money. I felt strongly that it was time for us to part ways as business partners.

Second, I wanted to make a bigger difference with my work. My reason for becoming an entrepreneur in the first place was to have a positive impact on the less fortunate. My co-founder, family and friends knew this. It has always been my life’s passion, largely driven by the fifteen years I’ve lived in the developing world (nearly half my life). Around this time, that desire to do good began to burn deeper than ever before.

Just four months after meeting with those Wharton students in Rio de Janeiro, I left my day-to-day role at Baby.com.br/Dinda.com.br and moved back to the US to begin my next adventure. Cotopaxi will be launching in Spring 2014.

1. Davis headshot - smilingBio: Davis Smith is a serial entrepreneur, a graduate of the Wharton School and Lauder Institute’s Class of 2011. He is the founder and CEO of Cotopaxi.

2013 Wharton Venture Award Winners Announced!

By Clare Leinweber, Senior Associate Director, Wharton Entrepreneurship

Wharton Entrepreneurship announced this week the five winners of this year’s Wharton Venture Awards. The Wharton Venture Award had its inaugural year in 2007, and has been funded by generous donors who sought to provide financial grants to Wharton first-year MBAs and undergraduate juniors so they could pursue their own ventures full time over the summer in lieu of traditional summer internships.  Since 2007, the majority of Wharton Venture Award winners have continued to pursue their original startups or have continued on an entrepreneurial career path in other ways.  Notable prior winners include Nat Turner (Wharton MBA 2008), founder of Invite Media (acquired by Google), Jack Abraham (alumus), founder of Milo (acquired by eBay), Jeff Raider (Wharton MBA 2010), co-founder of Warby Parker, and Davis Smith (Wharton MBA 2011, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences 2011) co-founder of Baby.com.br.

2013 WVA Logos

2013 Wharton Venture Award Winners

Lane Rettig (Wharton MBA 2014, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences 2014)

AlumVest is an equity and rewards-based crowd-funding platform that connects entrepreneurs affiliated with top universities with alumni and peer backers and investors.

Evan Rosenbaum (Wharton 2014)

EKR turns books into living communities.

Frank Brodie (Wharton MBA 2014, Perelman School of Medicine 2014)

Maculens Vision Technology is a patent pending polymer filter that dramatically reduces glare and discomfort from bright spots at nighttime.

Betty Hsu (Wharton MBA 2014)

ProfessorWord offers an easier and more effective way to teach and learn vocabulary.

Zach Simkin (School of Arts and Sciences 2005, Wharton MBA 2014)

Tink is leveraging 3D printing to disrupt the distribution and supply of industrial spare parts (B2B) by cataloging and developing a database of spare parts CAD files