In addition to the amazing panels on growth hacking, early-stage AI investing, and a keynote speech from Wharton MBA alum Joey Zwillinger (co-founder of Allbirds), a major component of our conference was a pitch competition in which we looked for the top business school startups nationwide.
With over 60 applications, we narrowed it down to the top 10; these were invited to the conference to pitch to partners and principals from Lightspeed, Floodgate, NEA, DFJ, and Felicis.
These diverse startups ranged from a company tackling the nail salon industry to a company using blockchain technology to alleviate inefficiencies in banking systems.
AND THE WINNER WAS …
The winner of the competition was Mon Ami, pitched by two female founders from Stanford looking to enter the dementia care market, a $55 billion market in the U.S. that will only continue to grow as the population ages. By providing an online marketplace where people with dementia and their family caregivers can find and hire “activity companions,” Mon Ami makes it easy for customers — family members desperate to meet the human needs of their loved ones — to find their “mon amis.”
This particularly hit home for Shawn, whose father has Parkinson’s disease and recently suffered a stroke. His father now needs around-the-clock care at home, and their family has found it particularly difficult to find the right caregivers. As Shawn puts it, a company like Mon Ami should exist in the world, and he’s hopeful that one day they might grow into a company that could help families like his.
ONE VC ‘PLEASANTLY SURPRISED AT THE QUALITY OF THE TEAMS AND IDEAS’
Going into this conference, I had some concerns that the competitors would be merely “business school startups” that lacked technical sophistication. I feared that judges from the top VCs in the world might not be impressed. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
The pitch competition was very well-received, and the judges expressed delight at the quality of teams and ideas coming out of business schools today. Indeed, one judge in the pitch competition commented that Shawn and I “did a great job curating [the] companies. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the teams and ideas!”
And I found it most interesting that each judge had a different runner-up, an indicator of the diversity in thought among VCs, and the fact that different companies appeal to different investors for various reasons.
ADVICE FOR THE NEXT TIME AROUND
In addition to meeting other interesting and talented entrepreneurs, the conference also helped to make connections that strengthened the Wharton community. For instance, Brian Rothenberg, VP and GM of Eventbrite, was one of the speakers on our panel on growth, and during our subsequent conversation, he expressed an interest in guest lecturing at Wharton.
He already speaks frequently at Stanford and Berkeley, and he’s keen to become more involved in the Wharton community because he sees it as a fertile ground for dynamic, promising companies. Relationships like this are, in fact, why Wharton sought to establish a robust presence on the West Coast.
Of course, although we view this experience as a huge success, we still want to make it better. With this in mind, we were eager to hear detailed feedback and specific ideas. Attendees indicated that they loved the Networking Happy Hour (not sure if it was the open bar or the networking itself), but that it was too short.
Given that one of the main strengths of such an event is the space it allows for relationship-building and networking, they suggested more fully featured opportunities for business students, successful entrepreneurs, and business leaders to interact. Thus, in the future, we will have a longer networking event that includes name tags indicating what schools people are from.
AMONG THE EVENT’S SPONSORS WERE GOOGLE & ACCENTURE
Finally, I’m still amazed that the entire event was all self-funded. We hustled to secure the partnerships that made it possible for the event to be entirely free for the business students who attended. We can’t thank all of our sponsors enough for their generosity. Had it not been for Google, we wouldn’t have had a venue to host our event. Had it not been for Accenture, we wouldn’t have had a $20K cash prize for the pitch competition, a clear incentive for startups to come pitch. Had it not been for WeWork and WSGR, we wouldn’t have had an open-bar networking happy hour and founder investor dinner, respectively, and been able to meet and connect with like-minded individuals across schools.
Our corporate sponsors showed their dedication to nurturing the next generation of tech companies, and we are massively grateful for their contributions.
As the VP of the conference and with Shawn as the co-president of Wharton’s Entrepreneurship Club again next year, I can’t wait to do this again. It not only brings like-minded individuals from across the country together, but helps bring Wharton to the center of technological innovation and entrepreneurship. In the aftermath of that weekend, the answer to “why Wharton?” has never been clearer to me.
If you’re a VC, startup, student, or person with a general interest in being a part of next year’s event, please feel free to reach out! We can’t wait to see you soon.
Jerry Lu is a first-year MBA candidate at The Wharton School. Prior to Wharton, he worked at Google as a data scientist, helping support the launch and growth of YouTube’s first paid subscriptions business (YouTube Red, YouTube Music and YouTube TV). This summer, Jerry will be working as a VC at Lux Capital, an early-stage venture capital firm focused on deep tech.