2016 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Laura Huang, The Wharton School

Laura Huang Wharton

Laura Huang

Assistant Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship

The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

For the past several years, entrepreneurship has arguably been one of the hottest topics in business schools. Wharton professor Laura Huang says the increased interest among students and alumni has made her a very busy person. Huang’s popular research looks at the impact that “surface” characteristics have on an investor’s decision to invest in a business proposition. In other words, Huang finds that factors such as physical attractiveness, speech accents, and other non-pitch related things actually play a decisive role in investor decision making. Apply these findings to the real world and you’ll begin to uncover things like why there are more male entrepreneurs than female, challenges facing foreign vs. domestic startup leaders, and the influence of appearance on success.

“She has done extremely impactful research on female entrepreneurship – and the findings from her research have helped women entrepreneurs anticipate and address many of the gender hindrances that they face,” says fellow Wharton professor Ian MacMillan.

Huang’s expertise and passion for her subject also leaves lasting impressions on her students. 2016 MBA candidate Tony Campos says, “As a professor of entrepreneurship, she embodies the dynamic teaching style that any student would hope for. Her remarkable impact has helped me pursue a career in venture capital and I am grateful for all the advice she has given me personally.”

Age: 37

At current institution since: 2012

Education: PhD in Management, University of California-Irvine, 2012; MBA, INSEAD, 2005; MS, Engineering, Duke University, 2001; BSE, Electrical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Duke University, 2000

Courses you currently teach: Entrepreneurship

Professor you most admire: Lyman Porter, who sadly passed away in 2015. He was one of a kind.

“I knew I wanted to be a b-school professor when…I had always thought that I would like teaching, but had no idea what research was about until I started working with a professor during my MBA. We were working on a project that looked at how the tsunami in December 2004 affected the lives of individuals in a small fishing village in Thailand. I was completely hooked and couldn’t stop thinking about the local entrepreneurs in the village. It was then that I really understood the impact I could actually have through my research.”

“If I weren’t a b-school professor…I would start a school for underprivileged kids. Maybe I’ll still do that someday.”

Most memorable moment in the classroom or in general as a professor: Definitely the ‘thank you’ notes and the moments when students contact me years later to thank me for helping them pursue their dreams and achieve success. Also memorable was getting a baseball in the mail after I published a paper on investor decision making and entrepreneurial ‘home runs’ – with a note attached from a mentor that said “Look forward to seeing you hit many more home runs.”  

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Graduating from college with an engineering degree, and in doing so, allowing my family to feel like the decision to immigrate to this country was a worthwhile one.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? The opportunities to engage and interact with some amazing entrepreneurs, investors, colleagues, and students.

What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? Mean students – luckily I haven’t had many.

Fun fact about yourself: My first job offer out of college was to work for the CIA.

Favorite book: There are too many favorites to name just one – When the Legends Die, Love Story, Girl in Translation, Flowers for Algernon, Our Town

Favorite movie: Again, there are too many favorites to name just one – Rudy, Spare Parts, My Cousin Vinny, The Sound of Music, Brooklyn

Favorite type of music: A genre that I have affectionately dubbed “high school girl”… Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, basically anything a high school girl would listen to. 

Favorite television show: The West Wing – haven’t found one that tops that yet.

Favorite vacation spot: Taipei and Brussels (both totally under-rated)

What are your hobbies? Traveling, reading, baking, eating

Twitter handle: @LauraHuangLA

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…” Lots of hands-on, interactive, experiential learning.

Students say…

“I took Prof. Huang’s Entrepreneurship Class last year and she has mentored me throughout launching a few ventures of my own.

Prof. Huang’s Entrepreneurship course was by far my most memorable class at business school. She has so much knowledge about the field and is an active angel investor in some of her former students. So needless to say, the incentive to pay attention and develop a worthwhile venture is pretty high 🙂

1. Lasting Impact. Her advice still resonates in my ears as I think about running my own venture (“Hire slow, fire fast”)

2. Tools to Succeed. Prof. Huang covers an enormous amount of material in a short amount of time. She teaches hundreds of students every year – many with varying degrees of familiarity with entrepreneurship – and regardless of background or previous motivations, they all come out of class with the tools to succeed in venture.

3. She’s the real deal. Prof. Huang weaves in her own case studies (from previous experience) into the lessons, which makes a huge impact on that class. She also has an amazing network and many of her contacts come to class to serve as judges in the end of class venture pitch competition.”
Steve Weiner – MBA Candidate Class of 2016

“I first met Professor Huang about a year ago in her Entrepreneurship class. At the time, I was leaning toward a fairly typical post-MBA career path; one that I know today would have been a mistake. Fortuitously, a friend of mine planned to start a business and hoped I might get involved. Professor Huang gave me the confidence to make that decision and company a reality. Professor Huang teaches her class with a dynamism that’s transformative. I ripped off emails and texts to my future business partner after each session to discuss what I learned and how we could apply it. Later on, I asked Professor Huang to advise me in an independent study focused on the new business. I relied on her counsel throughout the intervening year for everything from how to set a price for our product to how we should cultivate a diverse workforce. Without her, I doubt the company I started (STRIVR Labs) would have had such a tremendous first year.”
Michael Manuccia – Wharton MBA Candidate 2016]

“I nominate Professor Huang for her passion for supporting entrepreneurship, particularly for women. It is rare to find a female business school professor, let alone a female entrepreneurship professor. It is clear to anyone watching that she thrives in her role as mentor and role model to a generation of entrepreneurs. She brings years of real experience as an entrepreneur and angel investor to the classroom and it shows. She grounds her curriculum in solid academic theory, but integrates experiential learning exercises into every class, for which she has won a teaching innovation award. There are activities for navigating founding team challenges, delivering elevator pitches, and negotiating term sheets.

In addition, she conducts cutting edge research on how female and minority entrepreneurs can overcome barriers facing them; her work has been featured in top academic journals and popular media outlets such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc., WSJ, CNBC, and Chicago Tribune.”
Andy Wu

“As a professor of entrepreneurship, she embodies the dynamic teaching style that any student would hope for. She combines her research into classroom discussion as well as focuses on the latest business trends in the tech world. Her interview with Elon Musk showed to us what it takes to be a successful leader in this industry. In addition, she had all of her students create a business idea and develop a pitch deck. Then on the last day of class she brought in local venture capitalists to judge our five minute pitches. As an aspiring entrepreneur, this was incredible experience and showed us the detail and way of thinking that is needed to be successful. Her remarkable impact has helped me pursue a career in venture capital and am grateful for all the advice she has given me personally.”
Tony Campos, MBA Candidate, Class of 2016

“Professor Huang is one of the most engaging professors I have had at Wharton, and her immense amount of knowledge and experience in the world of entrepreneurship, as well as passion for the subject, shined through every class and was contagious. Entrepreneurship, and its ambiguity, is hard to be taught, yet Huang gave each of us the tools, encouragement, and confidence to use the course of the class to ideate, test, and build a MVP, while simultaneously giving us an unprecedented opportunity to receive real-time feedback from her, her distinguished guest speakers, and the rest of the class.

She is also incredibly available to students – from listening to startup ideas to encouraging us to make the jump into entrepreneurship to general advice. I conducted an Independent Study with her on building a startup as well, and her guidance, mentorship, general encouragement and support was invaluable as I navigated the waters of fundraising for our Series A. She is the type of professor I came to Wharton to meet – one who knows her stuff cold yet is accessible and engaging, and is there 150% for each one of her students.”
Emily Motayed MBA Candidate | Class of 2016

“There are few professors that effectively instruct, inspire, and make an impact on students equally – Laura Huang at Wharton is one of these select few. I had the pleasure of taking her course, Entrepreneurship, for the entrepreneurial management core. In a short 6-week course, Prof. Huang provided us with a critical overview of key concepts for future entrepreneurs (e.g., fundraising, pitching, ideation, pivoting, etc.). She also inspired students to develop business plans and pursue them. However, perhaps most importantly, she has remained an important mentor in our lives. Prof. Huang finds time and budget in her busy schedule to regularly take aspiring entrepreneurs out to lunch and advise them on business challenges. When I began to pursue independent studies on the commercial space industry, there was no other professor I thought to ask to serve as my advisor. Not only does Prof. Huang pursue unique academic research on commercial space and research with leaders such as Elon Musk, she also takes a personal interest in students’ activities. Prof. Huang is without a doubt one of the 40 most outstanding business school professors under 40.”
Anne-Marie Chun MBA Candidate, Class of 2016

“Dr. Huang has been a great mentor for me during and after business school at the Wharton school. Her class on entrepreneurship was one of my favorites but the lessons did not stop there.

I am currently working as an Investment Banking Associate for a bulge bracket bank in New York City but my passion has always been technology. Dr. Huang has a gift of providing support and helping you figure out what you in fact want to do when you are as confused as I was when I started my job search six months ago. When I started my job search my scope was the following: Technology in New York City. Now my scope is: A mobile focused firm and in an operations and strategy role.

She is helpful is helping you break down ideas and poke holes in your thesis. She is also willing to go above and beyond when you ask her for help. She has been an invaluable source of perspective which would otherwise be missing in my entrepreneurship and technology endeavors.”
Ben Shephard

“I was fortunate enough to have Professor Huang as a professor for Wharton’s Entrepreneurial Management class and as an advisor for an independent study project during my time at Wharton. In the classroom, Professor Huang has the unique ability to find the perfect balance between experiential learning, case study discussions, and theoretical concepts, resulting in a fun and engaging environment. She further invigorated my interest in pursuing an entrepreneurial route later in my career and provided me with the tools and references I need to be successful. On a more personal level, during my independent study project, Professor Huang not only willingly sponsored my project on top of countless other obligations, but also mentored me as I strived to make the most of my business school experience with a young family and figure out my next step after Wharton. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to learn from Professor Huang, and I strongly believe she’s had a similar impact on other Wharton MBA students.”
Joe Butcher MBA Candidate | Class of 2016