Wharton Entrepreneurship

By Nadine Kavanaugh, Associate Director, Wharton Entrepreneurship

Whether you’re exploring entrepreneurship, developing your idea, or ready to launch, Wharton Entrepreneurship can help. We’re here to enable entrepreneurship at Penn, through academics, with the Goergen Entrepreneurial Management Program; through research, with the Sol C. Snider Entrepreneurial Research Center; and through our many co-curricular programs, competitions, and awards that engage and encourage student entrepreneurs.

Unbeknownst to some, Wharton Entrepreneurship is home to the School’s very own educational incubator, the Venture Initiation Program (VIP). While in VIP, students join a vibrant entrepreneurial community and receive access to office space, professional advising, educational workshops, and networking opportunities. Members are eligible for the Sol C. Snider Seed Award ($2,500), for those in the initial stages of their business plans, and the Emil K. Woods Award ($7,500), for those who have made substantial progress in the development of their businesses. Wharton Entrepreneurship takes no equity in the student companies.

Serious entrepreneurs can also apply for the Wharton Venture Award (WVA), which awards $10,000 each to multiple students every year. The WVA supports students financially over the summer in lieu of an internship, so that they can concentrate full-time on developing their ventures. Any Penn student can apply for the summer before their final year in school.

Furthermore, the Wharton Business Plan Competition (WBPC) draws nearly 200 teams from schools across the University to complete for prizes totaling over $125,000 each year. Going far beyond just plans, the WBPC is a months-long platform that helps students and their teams launch new businesses. Over a dozen awards range from $1,000-$45,000 in total value, including this year’s new Wharton Social Impact Prize: $10,000 to the semifinalist team with the best example of social impact in their business plan. The “Great Eight” finalists present live at the Venture Finals, a thrilling entrepreneurial afternoon that is free and open to the public.

Biweekly workshops for Penn entrepreneurs, known as WE Wednesdays, tackle essential subjects from startup legal issues to outsourcing software development. These run throughout the school year and give students practical advice from faculty and alumni. For those who want to talk one-on-one with our prominent alumni entrepreneurs, the Entrepreneur in Residence Program (EIR), schedules 30-minute sessions for conversations about the student’s entrepreneurial challenges and aspirations.

Students who intern at an early-stage company can also apply for the Wharton Entrepreneurship Internship Program, which provides awards of up to $4,000 to supplement company stipends. In 2013, 39 students received these fellowships.

Wharton Entrepreneurship is here to help you find your unique entrepreneurial path. Our students and alumni continue to achieve great things, and many trace their successes back to the support they received from our programs and people:

  • Warby Parker was founded by 4 Wharton MBAs 2010: semifinalists in the WBPC, they received a WVA to develop their business model, and VIP helped them prepare the company for launch. That launch was covered by GQ, Vogue, and Daily Candy; within weeks, they had exceeded their first year sales goals. Four years later they continue to have both great sales and great press.
  • Davis Smith, Wharton MBA ’11 and Arts & Sciences MA’11, served as co-chair of the WBPC. VIP and a WVA helped him develop his concept: a Brazilian baby supply ecommerce company. He raised $4.4M while still at Wharton, and launched Baby.com.br shortly after graduation—then raised another $40M within the next 18 months. In fall 2013, Davis moved on, determined to use entrepreneurship to do good in the world; his new venture, Cotopaxi “Gear for Good,” launched in April 2014.
  • Chris and Natasha Ashton, both Wharton MBA 2003, came to Wharton knowing they wanted to start a company: the result was Petplan. They won the WBPC Grand Prize for their idea for a pet insurance company, and built the company in VIP. In 2014 they were named Entrepreneur of the Year in the Greater Philadelphia region by Ernst & Young, as well as appearing, for the second time, on Forbes’ list of America’s Most Promising Companies.

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