While the rest of us scrambled to get that coveted summer internship, 5 Whartonites have been busy building what could be the next billion-dollar Wharton venture. These lucky Wharton Venture Award (WVA) recipients get not only a golden ticket out of recruiting drama, but also $10,000 in funding from the Heller Family Foundation to kickstart their ventures while the rest of us slave our way through that summer job.
Posterchild successes that have come out of the WVA in the past 4 years include Milo.com (sold to eBay for $70m in 2010), Invite Media (sold to Google for over $70m in 2010), Warby Parker (raised $50.3m in total venture funding to date), and Baby.com.br (raised >$22m in total venture funding to date).
Shortly after bagging the funding, these 5 recipients sat down with the Wharton Journal to give us a run-down of their ventures, what inspired them, and how the Wharton community has helped them get started.
Selected among a pool of 41 applicants comprised of first-year MBAs and undergraduate juniors are:
AlumVest (Lane Rettig, WG’14)
WHAT: Alumvest is an equity- and rewards-based crowd funding platform that connects entrepreneurs with alumni and peer backers, targeted at top schools. It gives student entrepreneurs access to the myriad intellectual and financial capital throughout their school and alumni network. It gives students, alums and other community members the opportunity to directly invest in student-led startups by providing time, money, or expertise. Finally, it gives schools an entirely new, unique channel to engage with alumni.
INSPIRATION: My co-founder, Lynn Chen, started a couple of companies in the past. She naturally turned to her school networks for support, guidance, and fundraising. All of this took longer and was more frustrating than it should have been. We realized that there was no system in place to make this easy for all interested parties, and furthermore we want to take advantage of changing legislation around crowd funding, which will become legal among the general public in the USA this year.
WHARTON: Alumvest is targeted directly at university ecosystems like ours here at Wharton, and at Penn. I’ve found good advice, support, and plenty of new ideas from countless people: fellow students, entrepreneurs, VCs, alums, and various university offices. Wharton Entrepreneurship, in particular, has made a huge difference by sponsoring events and programs such as WVA
(the Wharton Venture Award).
EKR (Evan Rosenbaum, W’14)
MacuLens (Frank Brodie, WG’14 / MD’14)
WHAT: MacuLens is an optical coating that can be applied to almost any surface. It reduces the discomfort, glare and temporary blind spots people experience when looking at bright lights at night (e.g., headlights). We’ve completed a clinical trial at University of California San Francisco (UCSF) with great results – some people even refused to give the glasses back after the trial because they liked the glasses so much! Right now we’re about to begin market tests in Ophthalmologists’ offices in Connecticut and Los Angeles. Additionally, we’re developing a product for athletes to help with the glare from stadium lights when playing at night. We believe that our product is incredibly versatile, offers an inexpensive solution to a widespread problem and has massive market potential.
INSPIRATION: Our ophthalmologist co-founders at UCSF repeatedly noticed that many of their patients had stopped driving because of the glare from new HID/LED headlights. In response, the team worked with scientists to develop a product that could provide relief from this problem and allow patients to regain the ability to drive at night. We were eager to try our hand at a startup and this seemed like a great consumer product that had a clear need and proven benefit.
WHARTON: Wharton has been a terrific place to start a new venture. There is an incredibly cooperative atmosphere where people are excited to collaborate and help in any way they can. Moreover, Wharton has terrific programs such as the Venture Initiation Program and the Wharton Venture Award, which provide the mentorship, community and resources that allowed us to make great progress this year. Everyone in the Wharton community has been exceptionally generous with their time, energy and connections.
ProfessorWord (Betty Hsu, WG’14)
WHAT: ProfessorWord offers an easier and more effective way for students to learn vocabulary online. The way we currently teach vocabulary in schools, primarily via rote memorization, just doesn’t work. Decades of research shows that the key is for students to read more, learn words in context, and study – which is exactly what ProfessorWord can help students do. Visit us at www.professorword.com.
INSPIRATION: Growing up with immigrant parents, I’ve watched my parents struggle to improve their English all of my life. Every night after dinner, my mother would sit down with the newspaper and painstakingly go through each article, stopping every few words to ask me for definitions. Over the years, I’ve tried to modernize her approach. Although she does her readings online now, she still refuses to use online dictionaries (“I don’t want to leave the page I’m on!”) or save new words so she’ll remember them (“Takes too long to type them up!”). And so, the idea for ProfessorWord was born. Our free bookmarklet lets you get definitions and save words to an account – all without leaving the page that you’re reading.
WHARTON: We are really grateful to be part of the amazing student entrepreneurship community at Wharton. Everyone is so supportive and helpful of each other, always willing to share time, resources, and connections. The support of the Venture Initiation Program and the Entrepreneurship Office has also been invaluable. Their encouragement and feedback has really helped us refine our idea and accelerate our progress.
Tink (Zach Simkin, WG’14)
WHAT: Tink is revolutionizing the supply of industrial spare parts (B2B) by leveraging 3D printing technology. We’re developing a database of manufacturer-certified spare part CAD files that will give businesses on-site, on-demand access to whatever spare part that they need. The best analogy is to think of Tink’s database as an iTunes, but instead of for music, it’s for spare machine parts. So anytime a business needs a spare part, they will simply log into Tink’s database, select the part that they need, and print the part out using their 3D printer.
INSPIRATION: When I first met my co-founder, Annie Wang (WG ‘13), in Innovations class in September, it was professional love at first sight! The second she told me her business idea I knew that I wanted to join her team, and we’ve been working on Tink together ever since. Annie has five years of operations consulting experience with supply chain and logistics projects, and she saw first-hand that the availability of critical spare parts is a major problem: Downtime and inventory are very expensive. To us, the solution of developing Tink’s database was clear, and Annie’s operations experience coupled with my startup experience are the perfect fit to tackle this problem. We have already secured our first customer and are extremely excited for what lies ahead.
WHARTON: The support from Wharton has been huge. Be it the collaboration among fellow entrepreneurs in the Venture-Initiation-Program, the advice from a multitude of brilliant professors, or the funding from the Wharton Venture Award, every entrepreneurial resource at Wharton has been truly first-rate. The Wharton Entrepreneurial Program staff is passionate about helping the students achieve their entrepreneurial goals and works tirelessly to that end.
I am honored to be one of the recipients of this year’s Wharton Venture Award and I am thrilled to be a part of the Wharton entrepreneurial community. I cannot envision a better environment within which to pursue my startup!