You’ve Got Questions; Founders’ Retreat Has Answers

By David Kimball WG’15

Last year, I remember the days leading up to the Founder’s Retreat.  I felt nervous and anxious, wondering if others would see me as a legitimate entrepreneur.  I was excited to be around other like-minded people and meet some new VCs / angel investors.  Most of all, I wondered if I would have a moment of clarity and receive some long-awaited answers to questions that had been ringing around my mind for months.  Were the two years and $120,000 I was about to spend worth it or should I spend that time and money launching a company?  Should I launch a biz during school or would I be happier getting a job and launching one later down the road? Are the faculty at Wharton engaged in entrepreneurship or simply happy to teach their classes and conduct their research?

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This year, I was filled with nostalgia to watch entrepreneurs in the class of 2016 receive similar answers to similar questions.  Is Wharton worth all of the time and money? Yes, every minute and penny.  Just ask Davis Smith who, before Wharton, was known as the “pool table” guy.  During school he raised $4 million and launched two incredible companies in Brazil (and today he’s running a new venture, Cotopaxi, an outdoor gear company with a strong social mission).  Or ask alumnus David Klein who, before Wharton, worked at McKinsey and Amex.  Now he’s loaning millions of dollars to students at incredible rates through CommonBond.  We listened to these two as they explained how the Wharton brand and network helped in countless ways as they started their companies.

Is it better to launch a company now or later in your career?  According to Professor Ethan Mollick and his research, it doesn’t matter.  The only thing that matters is that you eventually launch a business—those who do so are significantly happier and wealthier than their less-entrepreneurial counterparts.  Roughly 10% of students launch companies immediately after school, but the vast majority of start-ups begin later in alumni careers.

Is the faculty truly engaged in entrepreneurship?  Ask any student that attended the Retreat. We heard from Professor Kartik Hosanagar, co-founder of Yodle, now generating $160 million/year in revenue, who walks with students to class each day and provides feedback on their entrepreneurial ideas, and Professor David Bell, the marketing advisor for Warby Parker, Harry’s, Bonobos and other such ecommerce companies soaring through the stratosphere.  Yes, faculty is engaged in an incredible way.

Finally, I must say that I am impressed by the entrepreneurs of the new class. Tickets for the event sold out within an hour! Afterward, dozens of emails inundated the Founder’s Club inbox with requests to attend the Retreat.   The energy and excitement throughout the day was tangible.  Speakers were dragged off stage as the students had a never-ending amount of questions.  Students (and Professor Bell) were kicked out of Benjamin’s desk later that night; apparently, a seven-hour conference just wasn’t enough, they wanted more.  Something tells me this is going to be a great year for Wharton entrepreneurship as students continue to seek answers to their questions and fulfill their entrepreneurial aspirations.

Note: To those who couldn’t attend because of space constraints, we apologize. If we had accurately gauged the high level of interest, we would have found a larger venue. We hope that all Founders will join us on Tuesday nights at 6 pm, starting September 9. Email kimballd@wharton.upenn.edu to be added to the Penn Founders’ Club Listserv.

dave kimball picBio: David Kimball is 2nd year Wharton MBA student.  Before school he started several companies in the transportation and software industries.  He spent his summer working on his new start-up, a telemedicine company targeting the Medicaid population.