Wharton’s Novel Bay Area Option For MBAs


For Miguel Gonzalez, Wharton’s Semester in San Francisco program was a no-brainer. Along with his brother who is in the MBA program at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, he is starting a company to help early-stage entrepreneurs succeed in their native Spain. So spending the just-ended fall semester in the Bay Area allowed he and his brother time to work on their startup and tap into a wealth of entrepreneurial knowhow.

For Molly Rose, the San Francisco option brought her back to the world’s most dynamic economies, a place where she had already worked for a pair of startups before getting into Wharton’s MBA program.

And for Michele Baik, who had worked for Procter & Gamble in Seoul, Korea, Wharton’s Bay Area program laid the groundwork for a career switch to tech marketing. She ended up spending the summer in Mountain View as a product marketing manager intern for Google.


There’s no doubt that the Bay Area has become something of a New Economy pilgrimage for business school students all over the world. Silicon Valley treks have become as essential a part of the MBA experience as math camp or a pre-MBA orientation. But few elite MBA programs can offer what the Wharton School now does: An entire semester on a San Francisco campus for full-time MBA students. The program, based in the Hills Brothers Plaza on the Embarcadero with an expansive view of the Bay Bridge, allows up to 70 second-year MBAs to spend their fall semester in the city by the bay. And as you would expect, the coursework is centered on the lifeblood of the Bay Area: entrepreneurship and technology, new product development, and the finance of innovation.

“This is a really unique experience,” says Maria Halpern, director of the program. “What it is really all about is giving students an opportunity to have an immersive learning experience, a very customized curriculum based in the hart of San Francisco. We want the learning experience to be really rich and we are investing in some of the best professors to be out there.”

The brainchild of Wharton’s Vice Dean Of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Karl Ulrich, the program started as a pilot in the fall of 2012 on the school’s existing campus which plays host to the West Coast version of its Executive MBA program. Exactly 65 students applied to head west that first year and all 65 got in. After three successful years in pilot mode, the school smartly made it a core offering in 2015. This past year, 130 students asked to be considered for the program in an application process that requires an essay and strong academic performance. There are even two application rounds for the San Francisco option.

For a school that has struggled to be acknowledged as much more than a place to study finance, the chance to spend a semester in the Bay Area is also something of a game changer for Wharton, an opportunity to show up its entrepreneurial chops. Applicants who might have chosen Stanford, Berkeley or UCLA for the chance to experience the tech revolution can now get the best of both worlds. The percentage of Wharton MBAs accepting jobs in the west has risen to 21.5% of this year’s class from just 16.3% in 2012 when the pilot began.


Wharton Vice Dean for Entrepreneurship & Innovation Karl Ulrich

Gonzalez, who had earlier worked for Google in Mountain View, Dublin and Colombia, saw it as an ideal opportunity to work on his own company with his brother. “Being at the world’s heart of technology and innovation was a priority for me,” explains Gonzalez, who is earning a dual degree in the Lauder Institute program. “I had been exposed to this from a work standpoint in the past but I wanted to experience this in an academic setting. This is the best place if you are working on a startup. It’s been a way to speed up development and to make connections for fundraising.”

The program was one of the reasons Rose wanted to get her MBA at Wharton. She had worked for startups Box in Los Altos and ZL Technologies in San Jose but wanted exposure to classmates from a wider range of careers and industries. “I knew I wanted an MBA but didn’t want to experience only the people in the tech bubble,” says Rose. “But my network is out here and I wanted to tend that garden.”

Baik, who once worked at Booz & Co. as a consultant, fell in love with marketing during her stint with P&G in Korea, but felt strongly she wanted to pursue that discipline in tech instead of consumer goods. “I wanted to continue my career in marketing but also knew I wanted to go into the tech industry. So much more is happening out here. I had done New York so for me it was a mini-pilot to see if I wanted to be out here (in the Bay Area).”


Wharton MBAs who move west for a semester not only dive deeply into the Bay Area’s entrepreneurial culture; they also get some of the best of Wharton’s MBA course offerings from star faculty who are flown out to teach. “These courses are almost impossible to get in one semester in Philadelphia,” says Gonzalez.

In the just-ended fall term, the range of courses included David Wessels’ “Venture Capital and the Finance of Innovation,” Cade Massey’s “Influence,” David Bell’s “Digital Marketing & Electronic Commerce,” Peter Cappelli’s “Negotiations,” and Karl Ulrich’s “Regional Seminar” that brings to class a series of entrepreneurs and VCs. Startup lawyer Matt Rossiter of Fenwick & West LLP taught a course on the “Legal Aspects of Entrepreneurship, while David Erickson and David Musto taught “Strategic Issues in Equity Finance.” Field Application Projects brings a bit of experiential learning to the program. Students work on projects with large and small companies, including Samsung Ventures, a Sonoma winery, and a local jewelry startup.

The schedule of classes in San Francisco is not nearly as structured as it is on the main campus in Philadelphia. Because Wharton profs are flown out for classes, some courses are delivered in intensive two-week spurts. In all, nine courses were available in this year’s fall semester, including several half-credit offerings. “I was surprised by the way the schedule is,” says Gonzalez. “You have large chunks of time to work on your startup without academics being a major distraction.” In fact, roughly half the students this year did internships with startups during the semester, putting in 20 to 25 hours per week of work on the side. Rose says she used one gap to travel with classmates to Korea to get a better sense of that country’s culture and economy.

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