By Daniel Reardon C’15/W’15, Co-founder and CEO of Athways
This fall, I enrolled in Management 231: Entrepreneurial Venture Initiation in order to receive mentorship and advice on launching Athways, a startup I have been working on with some friends. Though we made solid progress over the summer, as undergraduate students who have never launched a company before, we felt that we could use some guidance in building this startup. This class has been incredibly helpful in that regard; it has enabled us to go from a group of students with an idea and a landing page to a company with a written plan and communicable vision that will launch a product in a matter of weeks.
Management 231 is a unique class; rather than learning through readings, problem sets, or exams, students navigate the real-life challenges of starting their own companies. Students are expected to spend a substantial amount of time outside of the classroom working on their startups. In class, we learn how to handle some of the common challenges facing startups, such as pitching the company to investors, incorporating and other legal aspects of entrepreneurship, and speaking to the press. By the end of the semester, students will have written a full business plan and pitch deck. The class culminates with a “demo day”, during which students pitch their companies to real Venture Capitalists with the aim of receiving funding.
Learning in Management 231 is highly experiential. During class, all students talk about the different aspects of their respective startups and engage in relevant mock exercises, receiving feedback from both the professor and their classmates. One of the best aspects of this class is its sense of community. Since everyone is working on their own early-stage venture, class members are happy to offer advice to one another on how to tackle the similar problems that their companies are facing. Additionally, it is great to learn from an instructor, Patrick FitzGerald, who has substantial experience as an entrepreneur and has gone through the process of starting several companies. Because of his connections to the Philadelphia entrepreneurship scene, about once every two weeks we hear from current entrepreneurs, VCs, lawyers, or other members of this community. These guest speakers are very insightful and provide advice regarding the best paths that we can take as early-stage company founders.
Through this class, I’ve learned that we have a unique opportunity as student entrepreneurs. In a college environment it is possible to start a company without much financial risk—most college students do not need to provide for their families or worry about making mortgage payments. As students, it is also easy to reach out to others for help and advice. People in the business world remember what it was like to be in college and are often willing to speak with proactive students. The strong Wharton brand means that a @wharton.upenn.edu email address goes a long way towards getting a response.
However, even though we are students, Patrick has treated us like adult entrepreneurs over the course of the semester. This mentality is the biggest takeaway that I’ve gained—to be a successful entrepreneur you need to think of yourself as more than a student and your company as more than a side project. You are the founder of a startup who is going to make your company a success. Once you really start to believe this you will begin to command respect from others and, with some luck, turn an idea into a strong company.
Bio: Daniel Reardon C’15/W’15 is cofounder and CEO at Athways, a startup that provides the easiest way for coaches and athletes to create, share, and track workouts. He is a senior at Wharton who is studying Finance and Hispanic Studies. He can be reached on Twitter @reard96.