The Best B-Schools For MBA Startups

The University of Pennsylvania Wharton School – Ethan Baron photo

Both Ponzo and Clare Leinweber, the managing director of Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship at the Wharton School say their schools have recently bolstered resources in entrepreneurship, alumni engagement and tracking of ventures. Leinweber says her program has also gone as far as changing its name to let the rest of the university know they’re ready for cross-campus collaboration. “We became Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship instead of Wharton Entrepreneurship. We are open across Penn,” Leinweber says.

Also, Leinweber explains, the school’s entrepreneurship program is trying to “bust open” Wharton’s stereotypical finance-centric curriculum and focus. “We’re very proud of the fact that we are known for finance and it’s such a strong area. That’s always going to be a draw for students and we certainly don’t want to diminish that,” Leinweber begins. “It’s so linked in the public’s mind, though. Sometimes we’ll have students who talk to the media and say they’re from Wharton and they (the media) will drop it out of the story because it doesn’t seem relevant. But to us, it’s very relevant and we want to capture the imagination of prospective students and the rest of the world as well.”

However, while schools like Stanford, Columbia, and Harvard can boast rich entrepreneurial communities within their metro areas, Wharton cannot. As reflected on our list of top MBA startups, the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, and Boston continue to be hotbeds for entrepreneurship. Of the 100 ventures to make this year’s list, 66 reside in those three areas. Only two are in Philadelphia.

“I think Philadelphia is coming into its own in the tech and life science ecosystem,” Leinweber says, noting Wharton students often come from outside of the Philadelphia metro area and therefore, leave. But for Leinweber and her office, it’s more about getting students where they have the most opportunities to thrive. “We want them to be wherever they need to be depending on where there businesses will succeed,” she says.

NEW YOR CITY’S RISE TO COMPETE WITH SILICON VALLEY

According to Ponzo, who began his role at Columbia Business School in 2014, Columbia’s strengths lie in the Columbia University and New York City ecosystems. “You’re not just in a class of business school students anymore,” Ponzo says of the traditional entrepreneurship courses at Columbia Business School. “You’re in a class with engineering students or undergrads and international affairs students.”

As for Columbia’s New York City location? “You’ve got 8 million consumers here,” Ponzo points out. “If you’re looking for a specific demographic, you’re only a subway ride away from most any kind of demographic.”

Ponzo says New York City’s rise in tech has made it a more attractive place and likely taken some talent from Silicon Valley. Some 15 years ago, Ponzo points out, the only place for a coder to go was Silicon valley. “If you were part of a startup and it failed, there were plenty of companies in area you could go and reset,” Ponzo says. “I think you were seeing a lot more of the talent being pulled out to New York City because of that safety net in Silicon Valley.”

Still, the entrepreneurial climate within New York is different, Ponzo explains, and will likely never overtake the tech innovation in California. “I don’t think New York City will ever overtake Silicon Valley,” Ponzo concedes. “I think what you will see are more diffused startup hubs across the country. People can work remotely now. You don’t have to be tethered to a specific area. I think what you’re seeing in a lot of different markets like Atlanta, Miami, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, or Los Angeles, other cities where they have a university, they have an industry expertise, rent is cheaper, cost of living is cheaper. It’s going to be less about Silicon Valley and New York and it’s going to be more about local startup ecosystems across the country. Each one with its different flavor and nuances.”

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