Title: West Fest 2012: All Roads Lead to the (California) Corner Office

After a few months of sub-par Mexican food in Philadelphia, a team of 30 First and Second Year Wharton students embarked on a cross-country trip to satiate their hunger for mission-style burritos in San Francisco and to meet with some of the hottest tech firms and start-up companies in the game.


West Fest, a weekend co-organized by the Tech Club and Entrepreneurship Club, brought these lucky students out to Wharton’s Bay Area campus in an effort to showcase the Semester in San Francisco Program and to offer a foray into the local eBiz community with an extensive network of alums.  Over three action-packed days from October 26th to October 28th, West Fest was filled with company visits, student start-up demonstrations, alumni panels, and pirates.


No, that is not a typo.  But at the very least, if you were not one of the insightful few who were on top of David Teetzen’s meteorology reports and managed to abscond from Philly before Hurricane Sandy struck, you should applaud the clairvoyance of the West Fest participants who were conveniently “stranded” in wine country this week. Still, if you consider the weekend festivities alone, attempts to create your own wine country shelter in a Center City apartment to ride out the storm do not hold a candle to this westward trek. Here is a rundown on the official three days of the trip:


Day 1: Company visits + SF Pub


The first day began at Google, which is conveniently located in Wharton West’s backyard (literally). Students met with Google executives, including Wharton alums Stephanie Lyras (WG’08), Senior Manager for Agency Development, and Archana Ravichandran (WG’08), Global Head of Services for Google Analytics Premium. After a delicious lunch and a ride down the Google slide (we were assured by these Google execs that the tales of required post-eating downtime only applied to swimming…not slides), students headed over to the fast-growing mobile gaming studio PocketGems (PG).


PG is known for having developed the Tap franchise, including Tap Farm, Tap Zoo, Tap Jungle and Tap Campus Life, which are top-grossing games available on iOS. After being enthusiastically welcomed by our pirate-host, Marc Mooney, students were led through a cloud of cobwebs and a 150-person office festooned with top-notch Halloween decorations to sit down with PG execs.  Despite being dressed as Buzz Lightyear, Dr. Funk, and swashbuckling pirates, PG executive Ilian Georgiev and his team shared serious insights into the decision process they use to determine which games are brought into production and the data metrics they monitor to track the success of their games.


The next stop on the excursion was a visit to Hipmunk. Students were fortunate to meet with founder and CEO, Adam Goldstein, and head business development lead, Joe Gambescia, and to talk with them about industry trends and the future of online travel, as well as to hear their interesting ideas for other travel start-up opportunities. Goldstein also shared an inspiring story from the company’s early days, when he landed a partnership with Orbitz after boldly sending a one-liner email to Orbitz’s CEO. Overall, it was a very educational and insightful visit.


After students were armed with hopes, dreams, and a bag full of Hipmunk swag, the trek moved on to the headquarters of the online user review and local search site, Yelp, and then to the online residential real estate site, Trulia. The last company visit of the day brought students to the gorgeous Intel complex in Presidio, where they were toured around by Wharton alum, John McDowell (WG’11). Following a presentation on Intel’s Accelerated Leadership Program (ALP) for MBA graduates, the tour ended with Intel-sponsored drinks at a nearby bar.


Intel’s festivities served a great segue into the Wharton SF Pub night, where students got the chance to unwind from a full slate of company visits and mingle with second-year MBAs from the Semester in San Francisco program, SF EMBA students, and alums who live in the SF area.


Day 2: unConference


The second day of West Fest featured the “unConference” at the Le Méridien hotel.  The student-organized event, with an ethos that would make their Haight-Ashbury predecessors proud, was defined as a “conference whose agenda is not determined ahead of time,” and where attendees collaboratively fill a schedule board with discussion topics at the outset. unConference content was then presented throughout the day, with contributions welcomed from everyone, maintaining a collective focus on active participation and mutual learning in breakout sessions. Attendees, which included trek participants, SF EMBAs, and MBAs from the SF Cohort, were required to come to the unConference prepared with two questions: one “that you want to ask at the conference” and one “that you might be able to answer.”


Fittingly, the Dean of Happiness himself, Dr. Kembrel Jones, made a cameo appearance, bringing the unConference amicably together. Breakout sessions featured topics like redefining mobile, launching a startup from A-Z, startup opportunities in the social space, and the future of online fashion. First Year Andrew Karlin noted: “I was very impressed with the concept of the unConference, and particularly how productive, engaging, interesting, and useful the discussions and presentations were. It was a unique format and a great way to get to know those with similar passions and interests, including 2nd years and eMBAs currently studying in SF.”


Day 3: Campus visit


The last day of West Fest began with a tour of the beautiful San Francisco Wharton campus, which is located on the Embarcadero and arguably has the best view of the Bay Bridge. Then, the trek participants attended panels led by the SF Cohort. Most First Years had already realized that exams are easier in SF after the MGEC 611 Final, but these panels allowed students to learn more about the Semester in San Francisco and get a true, firsthand account of life away from Philadelphia.


The trek culminated for the 30 students with an afternoon career workshop facilitated by Wharton alum Avnish Sabharwal (WG’08). The workshop was appropriately framed around distilling personal goals from the weekend and “forming a path from where you are…to the next level.” For most of the West Fest participants, it was not surprising to find that many of these paths are planned to head right back through Wharton’s campus in San Francisco.



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