When you reach the top, you can get comfortable sometimes. You sit on your proverbial lead, believing your own hype and afraid to take risks. And that – as every business case shows – is when you are most vulnerable.
Wharton could easily rest on its laurels. The nation’s oldest business school, Wharton regularly trades the top spot with Harvard and Stanford in MBA rankings. And the school includes the top undergraduate program and research faculty to boot. Still, Wharton has never yielded to temptation, to coast on its reputation. Instead, it is continuously adapting and investing, making the Wharton degree all the more valuable for its 100,000 alumni.
Considered among the best MBA programs for finance and marketing, the school has moved aggressively in the startup space too. This fall, Wharton is slated to open its $46 million dollar Tangen Hall. Seven stories high and covering 68,000 square feet, the building will house the university’s entire startup and innovation ecosystem. This includes the university-wide Venture Lab and Research Center along with the Integrated Product Design Program, a partnership between Wharton and Penn’s Engineering and Design schools. Space will also be devoted to a virtual reality lab, laser cutters, and 3D-printers. It will even include a pop-up space to test new retail concepts and products.
The university calls Tangen Hall a “game-changer,” one that brings together all of the startup community’s moving parts into close proximity to spur new ideas. Technically, Wharton will maintain its San Francisco campus. That way, students can enjoy the unique networking and internship opportunities available on both coasts.
“I wish applicants knew more about the Semester in San Francisco,” admits Blair Mannix, director of Wharton MBA Admissions. “We have a beautiful campus on the Embarcadero in San Francisco and we give our students the opportunity to spend a semester studying in San Francisco, taking classes in entrepreneurship and technology while working with some of the best Wharton faculty. A lot of prospective students don’t realize that as full-time MBA students, they have the opportunity to spend one of two semesters in our West Coast campus: the spring semester of your 1st year or the fall semester of your 2nd year. It’s a great opportunity to make connections and even line-up an internship in the area; at least one-third of the cohort during the Semester in San Francisco complete internships in the Bay Area during the semester, connecting with venture capital firms and building their own startups. Wharton really is a bicoastal MBA program.”
Entrepreneurship isn’t the only area where Wharton is making a move. This summer, the school will also open the Wharton Academic Research Building (WARB), with over 80,000 square feet allocated to research, study, and classroom space. However, Wharton’s big play remains FinTech and analytics. With the latter, the school formulated Analytics At Wharton, a restructuring that centralizes all data-related programming – including data science, neuroscience, and customer and people analytics – into one academic area. In March, Wharton launched the Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance, a FinTech platform that connects academics and students with experts and entrepreneurs.
“With FinTech morphing from a buzzword into the rocket fuel of financial innovation, information technology is poised to revolutionize financial services — from mobile payments to microcredit, from lending to insurance, from cryptocurrencies to financial planning, and more,” explains outgoing Dean Geoffrey Garrett in a statement. “The Stevens Center will bring together the best thinkers from academia and industry to ensure that Wharton continues to chart the future of finance.”
Together, these new facilities and centers represent fundamental change at the school. However, the biggest shift – demographics – has been more subtle. In the United States’ third-largest business school, U.S. minorities account for a record 36% of the class. Even more striking? Women make up for 47% of the class – or 402 of the 856 members of the Class of 2021. How did they achieve this mark? Simple, says Blair Mannix – they worked very hard to make it happen.
“The increase is due to a conscious effort to show more woman applicants that Wharton is a great place to learn and to lead,” Mannix notes in an interview with P&Q. “We partner with organizations like the Forte Foundation, among others, and sponsor on-campus visit days for women to show not only how the MBA can help students reach their potential, but also showcase our inclusive and welcoming community.”
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