Wharton’s Big Push Into Startups

Wharton's new San Francisco campus is in the historic Hills Brothers Coffee building on the Embarcadero

Wharton’s new San Francisco campus is in the historic Hills Brothers Coffee building on the Embarcadero

What are the most popular electives for those who are interested in doing a startup at Wharton? What do those courses actually teach? 

Leinweber: We have such a wealth of courses that it’s hard to pick the ones that are most popular. One of the features of the entrepreneurial management major is that we have a whole set of courses for entrepreneurship. [And that’s] because we know that students are pursuing all different kinds of ventures, which is a very big strength of Wharton.

Some of the standouts are any course that focuses on writing a business plan or implementing the business so that the culminating deliverable would be something that advances that venture forward, such as a business, marketing or implementation plan. Market research [and innovation] courses are also popular. We offer a class, very popular, on venture capital entrepreneurial management, which tries to look at both the entrepreneur’s  and the venture capitalist’s point of view when it comes to fund-raising. I think it’s important for students to get that perspective. Social entrepreneurship remains a very hot topic and students are very interested in how to integrate social mission into entrepreneurial ventures in all different ways. We have an emerging markets course on how do you build a venture in an emerging market where the risks are higher and the infrastructure is not as solid. [It covers] the questions you can be asking and the ways you can be preparing yourself in a market in a developing country.

(For descriptions for Wharton’s entrepreneurial courses, click here).

Statue of Ben Franklin on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

Statue of Ben Franklin on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

Do you think interest in entrepreneurship has hit its peak in MBA programs – or do you see entrepreneurship as continuing to grow among MBA students and lead to even more startups in school?

Leinweber: I think that based on the environment on campus right now, there’s a swelling of interest and a renewed commitment to working across campus. We’ve been doing a lot of this work for a long time, trying to come up with interesting new ways to market our program to students outside Wharton. Judging by the strength of the MBA major, the collaborations with other entities across campus, the interest of the undergrads in our foundational courses, and the steady interest in our business plan competitions and our incubator, I don’t think we’re at a peak yet. I really don’t.

What are three emerging trends in entrepreneurship — and how will they impact Wharton students looking to move into entrepreneurship? 

Amit: I see three major trends. One is globalization. We’re seeing companies that are set up here that see the market as a global market. The internet and other communications technology enable that.

Secondly, entrepreneurship obviously combines innovation and technology. I see a trend that goes beyond technology in launching entrepreneurial ventures. For example, take a company like Warby Parker, which our former students started. They use technology, but they are not a technology company. Harry’s, a men’s grooming company, is another example…as is Petplan, which is insurance for pet that was created by two of our students (who happen to be husband and wife now).

My point being, there are three trends. Number one, it is globalization. Number two, social entrepreneurship is very big here at Wharton. We devote substantial resources to social impact and social entrepreneurship – we offer courses one at the graduate level and one at the undergraduate level, along with independent study and other programming. And the third trend is going beyond technology. These are the three trends that I have been following closely and see prevail in the future.

Let’s talk about the future of the Wharton’s entrepreneurship program. What are two or three of the biggest developments that we can expect in the program in the next few years? 

Amit: The biggest changes I envision is, number one, globalization. We are opening up our campus in Beijing in March. In preparation for that, I’ve already written cases about entrepreneurs in China, to provide us with better grounding about entrepreneurship in China.

The second thing is much better, much tighter integration between what we do here at Wharton with other initiatives across the university. We are operating in different schools (i.e. engineering, law, etc.). But entrepreneurship is interdisciplinary by its very nature, so it’s very important to get a better integration around the university. And we have plans on that very issue.

The third element I see in the next two-to-three years is a substantially enhanced footprint in Silicon Valley. As much as we love Philadelphia, the reality is that there is a lot of innovation happening in Silicon Valley. We have opened up a campus in San Francisco. In fact, I was the one who wrote the business plan for that campus. And that was because I realized back then that if we wanted to be a player in entrepreneurship – and for our school to be known for entrepreneurship and not just finance – we have to be out there. I see a substantial expansion in the role that entrepreneurship plays in our San Francisco campus and am taking the lead in that.

Do you have any additional points you’d like to make?

Leinweber: It is very interesting to me that entrepreneurship, as a topic, is so interesting to a general audience. [Entrepreneurs] are very interesting stories…I think about some of the companies that have come out of Wharton and the ways in which they have benefitted from our various programs, the courses, and the ways they have connected up with each other. [You have] founders who have sold those companies or exited them and then paired up with a classmate and founded another company. There’s something about those interweaving stories that I think are very compelling. [They are] kind of an American story, but they are really a global story about how you think of something, build it, launch it and achieve success, however you define that.

In my work with other alums around the world, even those who aren’t entrepreneurs, they are very interested in the topic of entrepreneurship. And they are very interested in hearing about what is coming out of the school and what students (and alumni) are working on. And I just find that quite fascinating.

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