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2021-2022 Innovation Fund Investment Team


The Innovation Fund Investment Team is responsible for reviewing applications and making funding decisions. The Investment Team members are selected for their diverse backgrounds and expertise so that applicants can receive substantive feedback.
Questions? Contact Jill Anick, Senior Associate Director, Venture Lab
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Lead Investor

Rachel Cole GEN’22 is a student in the Masters of Integrated Product Design program, jointly offered by Penn Engineering, The Wharton School, and The Stuart Weitzman School of Design. Prior to beginning her Masters, Rachel worked as a technology consultant specializing in User Experience Design and Product Management for National Security and Civilian clients. She also possesses deep technical experience in Enterprise level digital transformations, including SaaS implementation, technical architecture and re-engineering, and data consolidation and management. Rachel graduated magna cum laude from West Virginia University in 3 years with her BS in Marketing. Her portfolio is available at kitchcole.com.

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Lead Investor

Samantha Linn W’22 is a 4th year undergraduate at The Wharton School concentrating in Finance and Entrepreneurship. This past summer, Samantha worked at Audax Private Debt, a leading middle market direct lender. Previously, she worked at Granite Creek Capital Partners, a Private Equity fund focused on investing in middle market companies. During her time at Penn, she has been a Fellow in the Penn Wharton Venture Initiation Program and has worked with Clove, a venture-backed startup designing shoes specifically for nurses, and Good Pizza PHL, a non-profit started by an MBA student to trade pizzas for donations to charities across Philadelphia. Samantha is one of the founding members of Sigma Eta Pi, Penn’s first entrepreneurship fraternity. Samantha is from the suburbs of Chicago, IL and enjoys running, cooking, and exploring Philly with friends.

Ben Auerbach is a PhD candidate in Genomics & Computational Biology and MS student in Statistics. During his graduate training he has studied the role of circadian rhythms in cardiovascular health and developed statistical algorithms for studying circadian rhythms in single cells. Ben graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science from Washington University in St. Louis. He enjoys skiing, playing squash, music, and cooking.

Peter Bertone is a 2nd year M.S.E candidate in the department of Bioengineering. Beyond his course work, Peter conducts research on soft robotic mechanisms to develop a novel medical device with a physician from Penn Medicine. With IP for the device, Peter explores ‘to-market strategies’ as a member of Wharton’s Venture Initiation Program. He recently lead his team through NSF’s I-Corps program at Penn’s Center for Innovation (PCI), and continues to work there now to advise Penn startups as the program’s TA. With a B.A. in Applied Physics from Colgate University, Peter is passionate about translating technical research to applied, innovative technology that can solve pressing, unmet clinical needs. He plans to pursue a PhD in Bioengineering next year.

Joy Chen W’24 is a 2nd year undergraduate in Wharton studying Business Analytics. At Penn, she has explored her interest in entrepreneurship through various classes and organizations including Sigma Eta Pi, Penn’s entrepreneurship fraternity, where she co-founded Bonfire, an app facilitating unique experiences in the Philadelphia community for Penn students to deepen their friendships. She is interested in food and restaurant technology and the ways that innovation can make kitchens more efficient and sustainable. Joy is from the suburbs of Los Angeles, CA and enjoys film photography, running, and cooking for her friends in her free time.

Merrick Eng W’22 is a 4th year undergraduate in the Wharton School concentrating in Business Analytics and Management, specializing in Entrepreneurship. When he first came to Penn, he worked with Candid Beauty, a startup meant to address the lack of transparency in the beauty industry. Since then, he has won the Estée Lauder Hackathon for an app targeting the travel retail market. Merrick interned at Stat Zero Ventures, a venture firm focused on gov-tech startups. Last summer he was at McKinsey & Company serving on an advanced analytics pricing solution deployment for a client in the retail and apparel industry. He also was part of Penn Student Agencies and served on the Board of Directors for ten student run businesses. Outside of Penn, Merrick is an ambassador for Saxbys, which is a coffee chain priding itself on student entrepreneurship.

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Chris Ferrer WG’22 is an MBA Candidate, Joseph Wharton Fellow, and Toigo Fellow at The Wharton School, focusing on Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Strategic Management. Prior to Wharton, he spent the last five years as a product manager in the FinTech space in San Francisco. At FutureAdvisor, a robo-investing startup acquired by BlackRock, he led onboarding and monetization. Chris has also been a product manager at Guardian Analytics, an AI/Behavioral Analytics startup, and the Mission Asset Fund, a national FinTech non-profit. Chris double majored in Philosophy and Literature at Claremont McKenna College, where he was a Dunbar Fellow. He also started a dry cell hydrogen generator startup and won second place in the Kravis Concept Plan Competition. Chris grew up in Hawaii, is a huge foodie (makes TikTok recipe videos), and is an audiophile.

Jeff Franco WG’23 is a first year MBA at Wharton. Prior to Wharton, Jeff worked in Strategy & Operations for Cardiva Medical, a medical device company focused on the vascular closure market. Prior to that, Jeff was an Associate at Mountaingate Capital, a Denver-based, middle-market private equity firm investing in companies across business services, distribution, manufacturing and marketing services. Before that, Jeff started his career in the investment banking division of Citigroup, advising energy companies on M&A, equity and debt transactions. Jeff earned a Masters of Accounting and Bachelors of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Austin. In his free time, you can find him exploring the outdoors, singing country music karaoke and watching San Antonio Spurs basketball.

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Dave Hafford WG’22 is a 2nd year MBA at Wharton. Prior to coming to Wharton, Dave worked at Platform Ventures, a seed / Series A venture capital fund investing in consumer and technology companies. In addition, Dave was the Chief Financial Officer of Shadowbox, a NY-based boutique fitness studio. Prior to that, Dave worked in the investment banking division of Stifel, advising consumer and retail companies on various transactions in the middle market. At Stifel, Dave was a member of the active lifestyle group, focusing on branded consumer products. Prior to working at Stifel, Dave worked in the life sciences investment banking division of Wedbush Securities. Dave holds a Masters of Accounting from the University of Michigan, and a Bachelors of Business Administration from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Ivan Kuznetsov WG’23 is a first year MBA student at Wharton focusing on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Prior to Wharton, Ivan worked at Bain Capital Credit as the VP responsible for investments in non-performing loans and distressed real estate in Portugal, and has experience across most of Southern Europe in the same fields. He has also worked with Bain Capital Ventures on select FinTech, financial services and banking investments in Europe. Ivan started his career at Blackstone’s Advisory Partners group (now PJT) in their London office. His primary interests lie in FinTech, tourism & hospitality, and real estate.

Mitch Plesser M’25 is a medical student at the Perelman School of Medicine. He previously spent time in clinical and biological research, working with industry partners and scientists to develop innovative therapies with better outcomes for patients. He graduated from Cornell University with a degree in cellular and molecular biology and a minor in business. In his free time, Mitch loves playing tennis and basketball, and getting beaten playing chess.

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Matias Porras Paniagua GR’23 graduated from MIT with a degree in chemical-biological engineering. Afterward, Matias was an analyst in Genentech’s operations rotational leadership development program (ORDP) where he obtained experience in large scale manufacturing, R&D and forecasting. Throughout his time at Genentech, Matias pursued a master’s degree in Management Science & Engineering at Stanford. Matias is currently a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the department of Bioengineering and is interested in developing novel cellular therapies for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. In addition to his lab endeavors, Matias is also a Pear VC student fellow, the VP of finance at PennHealthX, one of the VPs of education for the Wharton PE/VC club, a team member in Venture Foragers, and a 2019-2020 PWIF Lead Investor.

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Keaston Simmons GRD’22 is a “visionary capitalist” interested in applying futures thinking to venture capital and philanthropy in order to facilitate higher returns for investors and positive impacts on the world through civic and social innovations – particularly in the areas of education, wellness, and finance. He is currently a doctoral (Ed.D.) student in the Penn Chief Learning Officer (PennCLO) program at the Graduate School of Education, as well as a consultant to various U.S. Federal government executive branch agencies. He previously served on active duty as a contingency contracting officer with the United States (U.S.) Air Force. And, during his career he has managed approximately $5.5 billion (USD) in public sector business requirements.

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Micherice Tao ENG’23 is a 3rd year undergraduate studying Electrical Engineering. She hails from San Francisco, where she had her first exposure to entrepreneurship when she helped start Noviaris, a nonprofit that bridges the gap between San Francisco institutions and underserved communities by repurposing surplus technology. She has since further explored the startup space by working as a fellow with the Wharton Venture Initiation Program and a summer intern on the growth side of a venture-backed health tech startup. She is interested in all applications of technology, especially in the fintech, future of work, media, and consumer technology spaces. On campus, Micherice is a member of Wharton PEVC, a consultant on the Penn Undergraduate Biotechnology Society, and a board member of Penn Assistive Devices and Prosthetic Technologies club. In her free time, you can find her carefully curating her Spotify playlists, re-creating her favorite Great British Bake Off recipes, or beta testing new products.

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Thilan Tudor M’23 is an MD candidate at the Perelman School of Medicine and is passionate about healthcare and biotechnology innovation. Originally born and raised in the Toronto area, Thilan moved to Vermont to attend Middlebury College where he earned his BA in Molecular Biology & Biochemistry and Economics. Prior to medical school, Thilan learned about the intersection of valuation, operations, and strategic growth from his consulting work at Trinity Partners, corporate development experience at Intrexon Corporation, and equity research training at Goldman Sachs.

Madeline Warshaw GEN’ 23 is Master’s student in Integrated Product Design, a multidisciplinary program across Wharton Business School, Penn Engineering, and the Stuart Weitzman School of Design. Before her time at Penn, Madeline worked as a designer at Martha Stewart Living Magazine in New York City where she art directed Lifestyle, Beauty, Home, and Food stories for editorial. She is also the founder of Goose, a D2C sleepwear and lifestyle brand. Launched in 2020, Goose has been featured in The Cut and won a Women’s Health Magazine “Best in Sleep Award.” Madeline’s expertise lies in crafting and deploying creative brand strategy and designing beautiful, covetable products. She’s especially interested in the e-commerce, retail, and CPG spaces. Madeline graduated Magna Cum Laude from Wellesley College with dual degrees in American Studies and French with a concentration in Material Culture. See more of her work at www.madelinewarshaw.com and www.shopgoose.co.

Madelyn Wyner GEN’23 is a current student in UPenn’s Masters of Integrated Product Design program. Coming from an undergraduate background in computer science at Rollins College, Madelyn has since transitioned her technical problem solving aptitude into the physical design space with NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. During her time there she was a finalist in the 2019 Start-Up Bootcamp with NYU’s Entrepreneurial Institute for her project in accessible healthcare design. She spent the past two years in additive manufacturing at MakerBot LLC in Brooklyn, NY, working one-on-one with product designers to bring their creations to life. Her current work focuses on sustainable consumer product design and development.

Ben Yao C’24 W’24 is a 2nd year undergraduate in the Huntsman Program, double majoring in International Studies and East Asian Languages and Civilizations in the College and double concentrating in Finance and Business Analytics in Wharton. Over his freshman fall, he first created Spiritful, a superfood CPG that was ranked as a Regional Finalist at Hult Prize Syracuse, an international social impact startup competition. Heading into his freshman spring, Ben, along with his good friend Cooper Yerby, developed Rareflow, a mining tech startup that was named a finalist in Penn’s Y-Prize Competition and is currently completing lab testing. Ben also has experience working in startups as a VIP Fellow with Fulton, focused on the brand launch of their new insole product, and as a product intern with Order In, a future-of-work startup. In his free time, Ben likes watching Chinese reality TV, playing bullet chess, and ultralight backpacking. All in all, Ben loves the startup community at Penn and strives to do everything to grow it as much as possible.

Justin Zhou ENG’23, W’23 is a 3rd year undergraduate in the Management and Technology Program studying Computer Science and Management. He is a venture partner at Contrary Capital, and current Product Manager at Cloudflare. Prior to college, he was a software engineer at Fundrise, where he built business intelligence tooling and re-architected legacy systems. While in high school, he co-founded Remora Systems, an aerospace startup with the mission of reducing inflight loss of control (LOC) accidents. Remora Systems won a $25,000 grant from Airbus for innovations in flight safety. He has expertise in fintech, aerospace, and cybersecurity.