The trend of viewing entrepreneurship as a viable alternative to more traditional career paths such as banking and consulting continues to gain momentum at Wharton. In one sign of how times have changed since the days when a CV drop at McKinsey and Goldman was default behavior for MBAs, this September marked the start of the Semester in San Francisco (SSF) program, a new initiative designed to cater to Wharton MBAs focused on entrepreneurship, startups, and venture capital. Wharton’s increasingly entrepreneurial profile was also in evidence at Disrupt SF, the highly anticipated annual tech / startup conference organized by TechCrunch. This year’s conference, which over 25 Whartonites from the MBA class of 2013 attended (more than any other business school), featured a who’s who of luminaries from the technology, startup and venture capital arenas. Among the more high profile speakers were Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures, Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Jessica Alba of The Honest Company, and Jack Dorsey of Twitter.
Wharton descended on Disrupt in a big way. In addition to the 25 SSF participants who attended, several alumni entrepreneurs made their presence felt as well. Jacob Rosenbloom (G’11/WG’11), co-founder of Emprego Ligado, a Sao Paulo-based, 500 Startups-backed company focused on disrupting the Brazilian labor market, was an exhibitor at the Brazil Pavilion. Emprego Ligado, which was recently “TechCrunched”, leveraged the conference to generate awareness around its innovative model for enabling employers to recruit blue-collar candidates via mobile phones. Davis Smith (G’11/WG’11) was also present at the conference, and took time out of his schedule to visit Wharton West and discuss how he raised over $22M in capital from top-tier VCs less than 2 years after launching Baby.com.br.
While several hot topics were in discussion at the conference, three themes resonated particularly powerfully during the 4-day event: (1) The rise of Mobile as the next frontier for investment and innovation within the tech world; (2) the emergence of Latin America as a fertile breeding ground for some of the world’s hottest new startups; and (3) education as a space ripe for tech-enabled disruption.
Excitement around each of these themes was driven by different factors. With respect to Mobile, given the rapid rate of global smartphone penetration to date, and the widespread belief that nearly every human will have a smartphone in hand within the next 15 to 20 years, it’s no surprise that Mobile was on everyone’s mind. The high level of excitement around Latin American startups was driven by the presence of country-specific startup pavilions for four Latin American nations – more than for any other region of the world. Pablo Pedrejon (WG’13) echoed this sentiment, stating that he was “excited by the significant expansion of startup culture in Latin America on display during the conference.” As for education, Ariel Quinones (WG’13) captured the sense of excitement around this theme when he stated that “the panel on education was outstanding. Panelist Sal Khan (founder of Khan Academy) captured the imagination of many in the audience when he mentioned that we were “at the top of the first inning” when it comes to using technology to empower educators.”
Wharton’s presence at TechCrunch Disrupt SF – which most SSF attendees found to be an excellent introduction to Silicon Valley’s culture of innovation – serves as a reminder of the continuing shift in emphasis towards careers in entrepreneurship. Supported by Wharton Entrepreneurship’s ongoing effort to make Wharton a place where budding entrepreneurs can grow and thrive, this trend is set to continue.