VIP-SF is an accelerator open to Penn students and alumni entrepreneurs who are developing their own ventures. This four-month program runs twice a year, in the fall and in the spring. The team must be based in the San Francisco/Bay Area during their time in VIP-SF.
Monday, July 30th 11:59PM PDT
Questions? Email entrepreneurshipSF@wharton.upenn.edu
By Jeff Zhou, WG’15, Co-founder of Fig Loans
Penn graduates are the best and brightest minds, capable of solving the world’s most challenging problems. That’s what they told us at our graduation, and then we got whooped by the other founders in our Techstars class – and some don’t even have college degrees.
Before Techstars, I was convinced that the archetype for an ideal founding team was prestigious education and brand name job pedigree. Coming from this background, I saw many successful founders that reinforced the message. Education, experience and networks create strong foundational skills and gives you access to world class experts that significantly boost the profile of your company. How many companies can tell investors that they’re working with the world’s leading expert in behavioral data driven customer lifetime value? It’s an incredible advantage; but the founders I met at Techstars showed me it’s still not enough.
I’ve since come to realize that successful founders share a deeper characteristic, an insatiable desire to prove doubters wrong. This is the most important trait because starting a company is a slog. At Fig Loans, we’re always under resourced, never have the exact expertise needed, and every week we run into a new game-ending obstacle that seems impossible to get around. Our classes at Wharton and previous career experience gave us the tools to approach these problems, but it doesn’t change the amount of work! Those that carry the chip on their shoulder will work longer, fight harder, and overcome obstacles through sheer force of will. In entrepreneurship, the willingness to fight through beating after beating will determine the winners.
Now what you’ve been waiting for, examples of who gave us this whooping of a lifetime and how they did it.
If you need 1000 facebook likes, Chris will beg, buy, steal and hack his way to those likes in any way he can. Are you willing to debase yourself in front of your entire network for 1000 likes that have a 0.0001% chance of helping your startup in a meaningful way? If the first try fails, are you willing to retool and do it again? A third time? As many times as necessary? Chris was equal parts fearless and relentless in his pursuit of end goals. I didn’t realize how self-limiting my measured approach was until I watched Chris run circles around us.
During Techstars John and I prided ourselves on working finance hours, 7 days a week. We had the experience from our previous lives and it was an advantage we wanted to use. Alex consistently stayed later than us. Have you ever worked on a project until 4am and said, “I’m close enough, I’ll finish this tomorrow morning.”
Alex powers through. Even more impressive, he’s shipping production code that is instantly being used. If Alex is your competition, are you willing to commit all the necessary hours to keep up?
Like it was for me, it will be harder for you to find this voracious hunger, because all our lives we’ve been told we’re brilliant and we’re going to shape the world in tremendous ways. But if you have that itch to create something new to world, my advice is to dig deep and find the chip for your shoulder. I’ll be honest with you; it’s pretty uncomfortable. For me it was in my deepest regrets and insecurities, things I’d worked all my life to cover up. But in the painful memories I also found the drive to help us endure when Fig was nearly dead and those lucrative careers in consulting, finance, and tech never looked better.
As an entrepreneur, you have an amazing advantage in Penn. The network is everywhere and people will make time for you like they did for us, but don’t get caught thinking that alone is enough—or you might just get whooped!
Bio: Jeff is a co-founder and CEO of Fig Loans. He previously worked at the Boston Consulting Group, specializing in strategy for consumer facing products. Jeff is received his MBA from Wharton in 2015 with a major in Applied Data Analytics and holds a bachelors degree from MIT in Chemical Engineering.
During his time at Wharton, Aaron Goldstein received the President’s Innovation Prize, a Wharton Venture Award, a Wharton Innovation Fund award, a Weiss Tech House Innovation Fund award and a Snider Seed Award, Fever Smart won Second Prize in the 2015 Wharton Business Plan Competition, and he was a member of the Venture Initiation Program. Before he graduated last month, we asked him a few questions about what it was like being a student entrepreneur. Here’s what he said:
Recent Wharton Executive MBA grad Jennifer Meller took advantage of every entrepreneurial resource while she was a student, including becoming a member of our incubator, the Venture Initiation Program. Before she graduated last month, we asked her a few questions about her experience as a student entrepreneur. Here’s what she said:
By Stephen Robert Morse C’07, Co-founder of Skillbridge
I didn’t go to Wharton.
I majored in English and history—I know what you’re thinking… but at Penn, I started making films and founded a documentary film production company that focused on films that created social change. I teamed up with two friends, Jeff Levin C’07 and Jon Levy W’07 to pitch the company to the Wharton Venture Initiation Program (VIP). Somehow, we beat out a load of talented competitors and were selected for the program.
By Mike Kijewski LPS’10/WG’12, Founder of Gamma Basics
After undergrad, I was teaching AP chemistry and physics to suburban Philadelphia seniors. My young, undergraduate vision included inspiring them to look at the world in an inquisitive and analytical way and to strive for personal evolution. After three years of trying to help them discover their own dreams, I understood that I was failing at my own teaching. While I loved my experiences inside the classroom, I realized that I wanted a career that was more entrepreneurial while still helping to improve the lives of those around me.
By Alina Wong C’16 and Roopa Shankar W’16, Co-founders of NOMsense Bakery
‘Tis the season to celebrate indulgent moments through dessert with NOMsense Bakery, an e-commerce start-up that specializes in gourmet and handcrafted cookie sandwiches. The business, now officially a part of the Wharton Venture Initiation Program, is led by Alina Wong (C’16) and Roopa Shankar (W’16) and aims to add some innovation to the dessert space on the Penn campus… and to make the experience surrounding dessert fun again for Penn students.
By Matt Carey C’07/WG’15, Co-founder of Abaris
Editor’s note: This post was previously published on the Wharton Magazine blog.
Conventional wisdom used to be that Wharton was strictly a finance school. At a certain point, Wharton became known as a factory that churned out bankers and consultants. But this stereotype is wildly outdated. (To an extent, was it ever accurate in the first place?) Exhibit A: The new dean, Geoffrey Garrett, has put innovation and data analytics at the center of where Wharton is going. This is exciting because it reflects not only the future direction of the institution but also validates the foundations that already exist.