Wharton Stories

Why I Chose to Major in Quantitative Finance

“The pace of technological advances is very likely to result in a new era in investment management. The future of finance will be more quantitative than ever.”

Launched in 2020, Wharton’s quantitative finance major brings together students from a variety of academic backgrounds, such as computer science, engineering, and technology, and prepares them for successful leadership roles in finance. The major allows students to dive into financial economics and data analysis while also gaining the leadership and communication skills that are at the heart of the Wharton MBA experience.

“Finance, much of it quantitative, fuels the world’s economy,” said Dr. Bruce I. Jacobs, G’79, GRW’86, co-founder of Jacobs Levy Equity Management, whose gifts to Wharton bolstered the new quantitative finance major by creating a professorship and a Scholars initiative for top students in the program. “Innovations created by quantitative finance contribute meaningfully to global economic growth and will continue to do so at an increasing pace. It’s imperative that future business leaders have a basic understanding of quantitative finance. Wharton’s new major provides the opportunity to explore this vitally important field.”

We spoke with six inaugural Jacobs Scholars to learn more about why they decided to major in quantitative finance, how it has impacted their academic experience, and what they hope to accomplish in the future.

Abisola Otesile, WG’21

Previous Education: Imperial College London, MSc in Advanced Mechanical Engineering
Previous Experience: Started at Procter & Gamble as a Process Engineer before joining McKinsey & Company where I served corporate clients across Africa and NA
Wharton Major/Program: Quantitative Finance and Operations, Information, and Decisions

What has your Jacobs Scholars Program experience been like so far?
It’s been a stretch experience for me. I’m surrounded by incredibly brilliant colleagues and faculty, who share their perspectives on finance and key trends. It’s really opened my mind to the world of finance and now I believe I can understand technical topics that I never understood before Wharton.

Why did you decide to pursue the quantitative finance major?
I believe a good grasp and understanding of investments, especially around the application of financial tools and techniques for infrastructure investors, is key to unlocking the African economy for unprecedented growth.

I want to be at the forefront of infrastructure investments in Africa. I believe I have the requisite tools to get me started.

Tony Maggio WG’21

Previous Education: University of California, Berkeley, BS Civil Engineering; Stanford University, MS Civil Engineering
Previous Experience: Coastal Engineer at Moffatt & Nichol
Wharton Major/Program: Quantitative Finance

Why did you decide to pursue the quantitative finance major and what advice do you have for someone considering this path?
My engineering career gave me a strong quantitative and statistical background, which I wanted to apply to finance in pursuing a career in investment banking. Do not be shy or intimidated by the major! Despite the complicated subject matter, the faculty and resources will truly turn anyone into an expert.

What most excites you about the Jacobs Scholars Program?
The most exciting part of the program is the access to staff and faculty. This has included meeting Dr. Jacobs himself, special lectures from professors, and other academic opportunities for Jacobs Scholars to extend our knowledge beyond the core curriculum.

Emily Peach, WG’21

Previous Education: Oxford University, MChem Chemistry
Previous Experience: BCG London
Wharton Major/Program: Quantitative Finance and Business Analytics

What has your Jacobs Scholars Program experience been like so far?
I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience so far. Meeting others in the class with similar interests and working with them on projects in classes has been great. In addition, the opportunity to hear about Dr. Jacobs’s experiences has been extremely enjoyable and insightful.

What advice do you have for someone considering the Wharton MBA Program and the quantitative finance major?
The quantitative finance major has several incredibly interesting classes which have given me a great background in multiple finance topics including derivatives and fixed income securities. It has also allowed me to follow other interests, including a class on international financial markets.

Raj Thaker, WG’21

Previous Education: Dartmouth College, BA in Economics and Mathematics
Previous Experience: Head of Equity Risk at State Street Global Advisors (2017 – 2019), Investment Risk Analyst (2014 – 2017)
Wharton Major/Program: Quantitative Finance, Accounting, and Management

What most excites you about the Jacobs Scholars Program?
As a former practitioner in the field, this has been an excellent program to learn more about the theoretical side of quantitative finance. Many people think of quantitative finance as using formulas to calculate an answer, but it’s very important to understand the theories these formulas are built upon. By presenting the history and work leading to these concepts, the curriculum has substantially strengthened my knowledge of the field.

How is the quantitative finance curriculum preparing you for post-graduation success?
After graduation, I’ll be working in consulting. This rigorous curriculum has served to sharpen both my quantitative and analytical skills, which I believe will prove valuable no matter where my career takes me.

Aditi Kamat, WG’21

Previous Education: Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, BTech in Electrical Engineering (Honors) with Computer Science (Minor)
Previous Experience: Associate at Bain Capital Advisors – Private Equity (2017-19), Business Analyst at McKinsey & Co. (2015-17)
Wharton Major/Program: Quantitative Finance and Business Analytics

What most excites you about the Jacobs Scholars Program?
The pace of technological advances is very likely to result in a new era in investment management. The future of finance will be more quantitative than ever. Today, backed by knowledge and support from notable professionals, I feel empowered to contribute meaningfully towards cutting edge research in investment management across the world.

What has your Jacobs Scholars Program experience been like so far?
The Jacobs Scholars Program has provided me immense encouragement to pursue my passion in finance with a renewed vigor through advanced courses in quantitative finance and networking opportunities with notable investors and academicians. Such opportunities will surely expand my knowledge and help me develop a unique, dynamic approach to investing that combines human intuition and quantitative methods.

Eric Sun, WG’21

Previous Education: University of Pennsylvania, Bachelor of Science in Economics
Previous Experience: Technology, Media, & Telecommunications (“TMT”) Investing at KKR and Management Consulting at BCG
Wharton Major/Program: Quantitative Finance, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, and Organizational Effectiveness

What has your Jacobs Scholars Program experience been like so far?
The Jacobs Scholars Program introduced new coursework offerings and enhanced career opportunities. It combines the best elements of an MBA program and technical finance knowledge. Having a community of peers with a shared interest in quantitative finance has been conducive to my and my classmates’ learning.

How is the quantitative finance curriculum preparing you for post-graduation success?
While my career goals are evolving as I learn, I have enjoyed work that requires a strong understanding of finance. I expect applications of financial concepts to permeate my career. Knowledge of data science applications in finance and of asset pricing models will be valuable.

— Erin Lomboy, W’21

Posted: February 18, 2021

Wharton Stories

What to Know About the Moelis Advance Access Program Before You Apply

“We read hundreds of applications from brilliant, innovative, and visionary young minds. And I couldn’t help but feel inspired and motivated to help cultivate such an amazing, diverse, and influential group of individuals.”

Traditionally, business schools look for three to six years of full-time work experience to apply to top MBA programs. This one-size-fits-all track can be a barrier to some undergraduates eager to make an impact on the world. That’s why Ken Moelis, W’80, WG’81, and Julie Taffet Moelis, W’81 launched the Moelis Advance Access Program, to offer both undergraduate and full-time master’s students in their final year of study guaranteed admission to the Wharton MBA after two to four years of full-time work. Students apply and secure their spot in the future class with the freedom to explore any career path, including traditional business industries as well as entrepreneurship, social impact, or a passion project.

Wharton MBA Director of Admissions Blair Mannix and Director of the Moelis Advance Access Program Jake Kohler address the most asked questions, the advantages of deferred enrollment, the Moelis Fellows community, and takeaways from the 2020 Moelis Fellows cohort profile.

What is the Moelis Advance Access Program and how did it come to be?

Jake: The Moelis Advance Access Program is a deferred MBA admissions opportunity. College students, whether undergraduate students in their final year of study or master’s degree students in their final year study, have the opportunity to apply to the Wharton MBA. And then, in the period after they’ve been admitted, work full-time before actually arriving in business school.

Blair: We looked at our student population and saw that there were a lot of students that had an interest in an MBA as college students, starting to poke into graduate management education as sophomores, juniors, and seniors. But what we heard resoundingly from these students was that they felt nervous to go out into the world and not do what they perceived as the “traditional” MBA pathway from college graduation to MBA application. We wanted to provide an avenue for those students to be themselves and take risks, start the companies they wanted, give back to society, explore business internationally, and be part of social impact endeavors; giving them the opportunity to apply and gain admission as successful college students, and then later matriculate, provides them with the freedom to go out into the world and take those risks and start that company that maybe they wouldn’t have if they were trying to put together four to five years of so-called “perfect work experience” to gain admission into the best MBA program in the world.

Why apply to Wharton via this deferred admissions program, as an undergraduate or master’s degree student, instead of directly to Wharton MBA after several years of full-time work experience?

Jake: The idea of risk plays a big role. I’m going to paraphrase some of the advice that Ken Moelis himself shared during a recent conversation with our Moelis Fellows community. Mr. Moelis talked about the value of using de-risking experiences, such as being admitted into a top business school in the world, to provide a confident foundation to take advantage of risks. By being in deferred admissions, you can take, and you should take, more professional risks, personal risks, and pursue those areas that you might not have had the confidence to pursue otherwise. I’m a big believer that risk-taking is analogous to early investments with regards to the benefits gained. Early risk-taking begets greater knowledge, greater opportunity, and greater achievement later on, much in the same way that an early investment yields both earlier returns and greater returns over your lifetime.

Who does Wharton hope to attract to this Moelis Advance Access program?

Jake: Students who see themselves being leaders of organizations, innovating within industries, or creating their own companies sometime in the future. For some of the candidates applying, they might be ready to take those steps next year and create that innovative new venture. But for others, they see themselves in those roles years in the future. But no matter what the timeline is, if you see your leadership extending beyond the team to being the person that will inspire and influence departments, organizations, industries — you see that an MBA program can play a role in your professional journey.

What qualities do you look for in an applicant?

Blair: The successful applicants who come through this program are students that have done really well academically in college. That does not exclusively mean they have the highest GPAs, but they’ve learned a lot and are already seeking to apply that knowledge and skill in the real world. Beyond that, it really is what you can do and what you can achieve and how you can lead and influence others as a college student. Many of you might be thinking, “Oh, I haven’t done enough.” But being a college student, doing well in school, and making an impact in your environment is exactly what we’re looking for.

How do admitted students engage with Wharton during their deferment period?

Jake: This is one of the key tenets and one of the distinguishable aspects of the Moelis Advance Access Program. We’ve created a web-based, mobile-friendly platform where our Moelis Fellows community can engage with Wharton, take advantage of Wharton resources, and connect with alumni. But just as important as engaging with the business school, creating the online community allows our Moelis Fellows — who are currently spread across six different continents and work in multiple different industries — to interact and support one another.

We want the Fellows to learn from each other’s experiences and utilize one another as part of the Wharton network before they arrive in Philadelphia. For example, the analysts that are currently located in Hong Kong, Shanghai, London, New York, San Francisco, and other cities around the entire world can share critical insights about their work projects and share tools and resources that empower all of their successes as they explore their early professional years. Since this online community is limited to just the Wharton Moelis Advance Access Program, it is a safe space to ask questions and learn.

Blair: Once you are admitted and matriculate to the Moelis Advance Access Program, you are Wharton family members. Before you are current students — you’re part of our Wharton family.

What are the top takeaways from the Moelis Advance Access Program admitted student 2020 profile?

Jake: I was blown away by the ambition, the diversity of thought, and the types of institutions and locations from which students applied. We admitted that cohort in the summer of 2020, in the midst of this pandemic, when it seemed as though our immediate life was uncertain. We read hundreds of applications from brilliant, innovative, and visionary young minds. And I couldn’t help but feel inspired and motivated to help cultivate such an amazing, diverse, and influential group of individuals.

Blair: The two words that come to me, first is grateful: grateful that these students who are so immensely talented wanted to be members of the Wharton family. And second, is excitement. Just seeing the things that they’ve been able to accomplish this young and early in their lives. We want them to go out and change the world. Take risks. It’s an apt time in society to be able to do that. So I’m excited to see them come back with the hopes that we’ll see some interesting things have happened off their desks over the last two to four years.


— Erin Lomboy, W’21

Posted: February 4, 2021

Wharton Stories

Students, Get Involved With Social Impact This Semester

Learn about student programming, events, and other ways to get involved with the Wharton Social Impact Initiative for the Spring 2021 semester.

Penn and Wharton students: Learn more about the intersection of social impact and business, virtually! From programs with the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, online events with industry experts, diverse courses, and more, here are a few opportunities to explore this semester.

1. Apply for the Jacobs Impact Entrepreneur Prize

First-year MBAs, do you have plans to launch or expand your social enterprise? The Jacobs Impact Entrepreneur Prize can help power your education-related startup. Three awardees will receive funding ($5K–$50K) to sustain the development of their venture, connect with a global network of supporters and advisors, access professional development, and more. Apply by February 1.

2. Take Social Impact Courses at Wharton

It’s not too late to sign up for a class! If you’re interested in social impact, Wharton offers numerous courses that will help you understand and tackle many of the most pressing social and environmental challenges in the world. We’ve highlighted just a few of the many courses available, or you can check out our full listing of social impact courses offered this semester and beyond.

3. Become a Wharton Social Impact Assistant

Passionate about social impact and business? Looking for valuable, cross-functional experience? Wharton Social Impact Initiative is seeking a highly organized and detail-oriented undergraduate work-study eligible student to support its general operations. In addition to working with the whole Wharton Social Impact team, you’ll also attend special virtual activities hosted by WSII, including speaker series, trainings, and group meetings. This is an opportunity to work closely with social impact practitioners and faculty and to learn about the field. Apply now.

4. Attend Virtual Coffee Chats

Over the last year, we had engaging discussions about impact investing and responsible business with special guest speakers. We heard from Radhika Shroff (Managing Director, Impact Investing Private Equity at Nuveen), Joe Lipscomb (Co-Founder and Partner at Arborview Capital), and Gayle Jennings O’Byrne and Pialy Aditya (Co-Founders and General Partners at WOCstar Fund). We’ll send you updates throughout the year as other industry experts join us in conversation. Sign up to be in the loop on events.

5. Listen to the Dollars and Change Podcast

Have you checked out our podcast, Dollars and Change? Grab your headphones and a coffee, and catch up on episodes with leading industry experts who are changing the world through social enterprises, impact investing, corporate social responsibility programs, social impact research, and more. Recent guests include leaders from Google, Vital Farms, Ford Foundation, Adasina Social Capital, and more.

6. Sign Up for our Student Email List

As you may have guessed from our other ways to get involved above, opportunities like paid positions and virtual events pop up throughout the semester. If you haven’t already done so, take a minute to sign up for our student-specific list. You’ll not only get our monthly newsletter that shares general social impact updates, but you’ll also receive information tailored specifically (and exclusively!) for Penn/Wharton students.

Visit the Wharton Social Impact website for more ways to stay connected.

— Nisa Nejadi

Posted: January 19, 2021

Wharton Stories

Two Crucial Things Student Social Entrepreneurs Need — and How to Get Them

If you’re a first-year MBA student at Wharton and you’re launching or leading a social venture, learn how the Jacobs Impact Entrepreneur Prize can help power your startup.

When we ask student entrepreneurs what it takes to succeed, they usually emphasize the same two things. No, the two essentials are not “getting more sleep” and “having more time” — although, we wouldn’t be surprised if these are needs #3 and #4. The two things student entrepreneurs tell us they need are funding to sustain the development of their venture and a network of supporters and advisors to lean on.

That’s why Wharton Social Impact is thrilled to partner with the Swiss-based Jacobs Foundation — an organization that invests in the future of young people so that they become socially responsible and productive members of society  on the Jacobs Impact Entrepreneur Prize.

“We are excited to see the changes and impact that Wharton MBA students will achieve with the Jacobs Impact Entrepreneur Prize,” said Dr. Urs Arnold, the Foundation’s head of operations.

A cohort of three selected first-year MBA awardees from the Class of 2022 will receive an initial $5,000 stipend to support their venture development. We’ll follow the journey of these three “Jacobs Fellows” as they develop, launch, and/or scale their social ventures. During their second year as MBA students, one of these three Fellows will receive additional funding of $45,000 to launch or scale their startup. A total award of $50,000 can be the catalyst needed for a student to develop their enterprise so they can make a positive social impact on the world.

But funding is just half the picture. Awardees also become part of a global network of Jacobs Fellows that they can lean on for support and advising, while expanding their community of like-minded peers. They’ll even have the opportunity to access professional development and attend “Swiss Week” — a weeklong networking and learning session. The opportunity to be included in this diverse global community sets the Jacobs Prize apart from other programs.

“I benefitted immensely and would strongly encourage anyone with an idea that combines both business and social good to apply,” said Jacobs Fellow Divya Balaji Kamerkar, WG’21. “The network provides opportunities to connect with and learn from like-minded Fellows from all over the world. Through connecting with other Fellows, it is also a powerful platform to expand your business geographically and conceptually.”

David Lawrence, WG’21, another Jacobs Fellow, added, “It has been a transformative experience that I would recommend strongly. The leadership at the Foundation wants to be your thought partner, they want to connect you with people who can help you, and they want you to have an impact.”

Eager to change the world with your impact venture? Learn more about the Prize, and apply by February 1Education-related ventures preferred.

— Nisa Nejadi

Posted: January 1, 2021

Wharton Stories

How This Bendheim Awardee Is Championing More Diversity in STEM

Matt Stephenson, WG’11, founded his nonprofit Code2College after many years of working in finance and education. He reflects on the current opportunities and challenges in the STEM field, and how the Bendheim Loan Forgiveness Program impacted his career.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What sparked your interest in social impact?

Matt Stephenson: I’ve got Jamaican roots, but was the first in my family to be born in the U.S. I grew up in New Rochelle, NY, just a few minutes outside of Manhattan. Two things that my family always stressed were education and public service, and so throughout my childhood I was always involved in activities that centered on either area, such as serving each Saturday at my church’s soup kitchen and becoming a math tutor.

After graduating from NYU Stern with degrees in finance and information systems, I started my career at Goldman Sachs working in credit risk and covering credit derivatives and mortgage-backed securities.

And while I learned a great deal at Goldman, I recognized that my true passion and calling was still in education and public service. So I began to consider roles that would allow me to realize impact in those areas.

What was your journey from business school to the nonprofit world?

Stephenson: After Goldman, I entered the nonprofit space to work for Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) based out of New York. This program places Black, Latinx, and Native American undergraduate students into a variety of front office roles like investment banking and sales & trading at bulge bracket banks and other top-tier institutions. The level of access and opportunity that we were delivering for these students inspired me. I wanted to replicate this type of work and offer access and opportunity to Black and Brown high school students who may not have considered college as an option. So I applied and was admitted to Wharton, and started to focus on how to develop the right experience to launch such an organization.

After Wharton, I became a high school math teacher, which was not a conventional path by any means, but gave me the opportunity to gain a deep understanding of the needs of students and families. My teaching experience was also a great complement to the entrepreneurial and technical skills that I developed at Wharton. From there, I served in a few other roles focused on the education finance and social enterprise space before launching Code2College five years after receiving my MBA.

Tell us more about your organization, Code2College.

Stephenson: The mission of Code2College is to dramatically increase the number of minority and low-income high school students who enter and excel in STEM (i.e. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) undergraduate majors and careers. We source volunteers from over 60 corporate partners including Google, Atlassian, Indeed, and more to deliver skills-based volunteer programming to our students who are primarily underrepresented minorities. Most (76%) of our students are Black or Hispanic and more than half of them are female (53%) and economically disadvantaged (51%).

Fifty percent of women and low-income students, two-thirds of Hispanic and almost three-quarters of Black undergraduate students who initially select a STEM major ultimately switch to a liberal arts degree or drop out of college completely. STEM careers are traditionally high-wage and in-demand. However, the U.S. faces a dearth of technical talent — particularly diverse, technical talent — to fill these roles. Code2College is focused on supporting our students to and through college and into these technical careers.

In our program, volunteers deliver afterschool coding and web development education, professional skills workshops focused on resume building and interview techniques, college access programming, STEM industry case competitions, and ongoing mentorship to our students. In addition to the technical skills that they build, our students gain exposure to a variety of industries including FinTech, big data, and semiconductors. A growing number of our high school students are also placed into paid, summer internships with leading tech companies like Atlassian, Cirrus Logic, and VMware.

One major issue in STEM is implicit bias making its way into algorithms and machine learning. What do you think can be done to mitigate this issue?

Stephenson: To mitigate this kind of bias, representation is key. We need diverse professionals — namely Black and Latinx professionals — occupying leadership positions in business and tech. I’ll give you a story. Pre-COVID, I went to Orangetheory Fitness religiously and would use the automated water dispenser. Oftentimes, it wouldn’t dispense water and I would find the manual push-button dispenser after figuring that it must be broken. A few times though, another gym member who was white or Asian would use the dispenser after me without any problem. I reported the issue to management and after both watching them use the dispenser without issue and doing some research, learned that the machine dispenses water based on detecting your finger. However, with darker skin tones the dispenser will often not recognize or sense that a finger is there.

Similarly, when my gym heart rate monitor wasn’t working. Though I was maxing out, my heart rate was not being registered in the appropriate zone. When I told the manager, she said “Unfortunately, it’s the way that the device reads on your skin tone. Sometimes it just won’t work.” My skin tone isn’t the issue — the tech is the issue.

If someone who looked like me was designing and testing this technology, this would have been a no-brainer. This bug would have been caught way before the technology was actually released in the public, as opposed to a manager disconnected from the tech telling an end user, “Well, it’s just your skin tone.” I’m not the problem. The technology is the problem.

Implicit bias is impacting technology and it’s something that can and should be addressed by a diverse set of professionals who are able to recognize the flaws designed by a mostly homogenous group of technologists in the first place.

How did the Bendheim Loan Forgiveness Program impact your career? Why should a recent Wharton MBA grad apply to the Program?

Stephenson: I learned about the program during my first year of teaching. After applying, I was thrilled (and floored) that I was awarded the maximum amount. It was just such a weight off of my shoulders. I think that there are so many MBA candidates who want to put their skills to work for the good of the public, but when you graduate with six-figure student loan debt, it’s a difficult choice to make.

The Bendheim Loan Forgiveness Program has given me a great deal of financial freedom and has impacted my quality of life. For anybody attending Wharton and interested in working in the social impact sector, I would want to encourage them and share that there are a lot of programs out there that can help them enter a career in social impact. I still don’t know of other universities that have anything to the extent of the Bendheim Loan Forgiveness Program. Even just the fact that you’re eligible for five years in a row after you graduate —that’s huge. I can’t share enough positive feedback about the program.

What was a particularly important lesson that you learned during your time at Wharton that still makes a difference for you today?

Stephenson: The greatest lesson I learned from founding Code2College is one that I really started to learn at Wharton. I took Adam Grant‘s Negotiations class and learned about the relational aspects of communication, business, and life. There’s a mindset shift that happens regarding how you work with people, as well as how you approach problems and potential opportunities that is life-changing in a very positive way.

The biggest lesson I’ve taken from Wharton Social Impact Initiative is the value of a network. There are so many more Whartonites in social impact out there than I think most alumni realize. The Wharton network is powerful and second to none anyway, but if you’re involved in social impact work, folks are even more invested in supporting you.

What advice do you have for those who want to commit to making a positive impact on society?

Stephenson: All of us have a desire to do something bold and, more often than not, we get in our own ways.

Some of us can protest. Some of us can donate. Some of us can lobby and work towards policy change. Some of us can be the direct operators and work with beneficiaries on the ground. Some of us can manage the programs. We all have a part to play in the social impact arena. And so anytime somebody says, “I want to make change, but I can’t do it yet,” they are making an excuse.

We all have the ability to make that change — it starts with one step.

— Monica Volodarsky

Posted: November 24, 2020

Wharton Stories

From the Battlefield to the Boardroom

Veteran co-founders Chase Hobby, WG’20, and Evan Seale, WG’20, recall how their time in the armed services played a pivotal role in their desire to pursue entrepreneurship at Wharton.

Chase Hobby, WG’20, and Evan Seale, WG’20, are the co-founders of VRB Labs, a health and wellness brand that aims to enhance daily performance and quality of life by using the latest technology to cultivate and distribute natural supplements backed by proven clinical data. The duo, who met while pursuing their MBAs at the Wharton School, recall how their time in the armed services played a pivotal role in their desire to pursue entrepreneurship.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Chase: I was born in Baltimore, MD and raised in Clearwater, FL. I was lucky to earn an appointment to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD and again when I earned a spot in flight school. I ultimately qualified as a Naval Flight Officer with an assignment to operate the weapons systems in jets flying from the aircraft carrier. The 10 years I spent in the Navy were incredibly fulfilling and provided me with a lifetime’s worth of experiences and friendships that I will carry with me forever. Following my time in the service, I decided to pursue an MBA with the ultimate goal of starting a purpose-driven business.

Evan: I’m originally from Sugar Land, TX and got involved in sports as soon as I could walk. I was eventually recruited by a few colleges to play D1 soccer and selected West Point. I played all four years in college and eventually captained the team senior year. Post-college, I served in the Field Artillery branch and went into Special Operations early in my career to serve with the 75th Ranger Regiment. Throughout my 5 years in service, I conducted 3 combat deployments to Afghanistan. When I reached the five-year mark (my obligation for service) I decided to get out with the hope to pursue entrepreneurship.

What drew you to Wharton?

Evan: Shoot for the stars, right? Wharton has always been known for being one of the top institutions in the world so that was where I set the bar. When I compared programs, the Wharton Veteran’s community is what stood out to me.

Chase: Three things that drew me to Wharton were the incredible breadth of course offerings, the people, and the Wharton Veteran’s Club. Coming from a career in the military, it was important to familiarize myself with everything from finance to operations strategy. Wharton was the clear choice for me on that front.

What was your experience with the entrepreneurship ecosystem?

Chase: Incredibly supportive. From the Venture Lab faculty, our entrepreneurship and marketing professors, to our classmates we have received so much support it’s hard to overstate. Wharton is chock full of entrepreneurial-minded people that bend over backwards to help one another.

Evan: Small but close-knit. Wharton is known as a finance powerhouse, so I don’t think a ton of students are coming to Wharton to be entrepreneurs. Having said that, it’s clear that Wharton is making moves to change that.

You recently launched VRB Labs. Can you tell us about the experience?

Evan: This has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. The feeling of being on your own and betting on yourself is liberating. We’re chasing the American dream; this is what it’s all about — going out and building something instead of trading time for money. I have no clue where this road is headed but I guarantee I will never regret this decision to go all in and run after my dream.

How did you validate the opportunity? What was your source of advantage?

Chase: We ran a pilot and sold out of our inventory within 3 weeks with compelling qualitative feedback from our initial customer cohort. In terms of our advantage, we felt that our R&D process was unique, and driven by science and boots-on-the-ground experience. We were driven to create these products because of the opaque nature of the existing products on the market. We were thoughtful in our process and steadfast in making sure we were building clean and effective products that would set a new market standard.

How’s the business going so far?

Evan: I am obviously biased, but I think it’s going great! We are cash-flow positive and working on some cool initiatives with plenty of room to grow.

Chase: We’re really enjoying the learning and growing process. I couldn’t be happier with the choice I made to go all-in on it!

What advice would you have to give to aspiring student entrepreneurs?

Chase: Your timing will never be perfect and there will always be good excuses not to pursue your dream. Don’t listen to that voice. Get out there and build the venture and life you’ve imagined.

Evan: If you’re saying things like, “Yeah, I think it might work” or “I don’t know, we will see how it goes,” then you’re already setting yourself up for failure. This is your mind planting safety nets to protect you from complete failure. This type of talk allows you to point back and say things like, “See, it just wasn’t in the cards.” Commit and believe in yourself.

VRB Labs (@vrb_labs) is part of Venture Lab’s Venture Initiation Program, a co-curricular incubator for students and alumni interested in turning their ideas into full-fledged ventures. The incubator accepts students from across the University of Pennsylvania and admission into the incubator is on a rolling basis. Find more information about the program here. For more information about VRB Labs, visit their website at vrblabs.com.

— Taylor Durham

Posted: November 10, 2020

Wharton Stories

Community Away from Campus

All around the world, MBA students are connecting virtually with alumni in their own cities through the new Wharton Alumni Welcome program.

This fall, Wharton students are coming together virtually from all over the world. Some are nearby in Philadelphia, while others are at home far from campus. To bridge that distance, administrators have been brainstorming ways to help students tap into the valuable resources right in their cities — Wharton alumni.

“Wharton has plenty of excellent existing programming that connects current students and alumni, and most of it will continue seamlessly in a virtual format this semester,” said Shannon Connelly, Executive Director of Alumni Relations. “But we wanted to offer something additionally to provide more personalized encouragement for students in these unusual times.”

Introducing Wharton Alumni Welcome (WAW), a program that matches MBA students around the world with local alumni for one-on-one mentoring. Once paired, alumni and students have the flexibility to choose when and how they meet, via video call, phone, email, or in person if public health guidelines in their region allow.

The project builds off of other novel virtual solutions put to the test during COVID-19. Kacey Barnes, Director of External Engagement for Wharton MBA Admissions & Financial Aid, saw how MBA admits took to Wharton’s new hub on Workplace by Facebook. “We had tremendous success with our online community, Wharton HQ,” she said. “We saw the power behind combining both a virtual platform and physical communities through our alumni clubs.”

Facing Challenges Together

Alumni response to the initial kick-off has been amazing, said Connelly. Earlier in August, over 35 global alumni clubs welcomed MBA students in their area who opted to take virtual fall courses outside Philadelphia and invited them to local programming. Then, in September, those same students were matched with individual alumni nearby.

“The most frequent question I hear in my conversations with alumni is, ‘How can I help Wharton students right now?’” Connelly said. “Alumni participation in this program spans from those who graduated this past May to our most senior board members.”

WAW also aims to connect every single MBA student in Philadelphia with an alum by early November and launch a pilot program connecting undergraduate students with Wharton board members and alumni club leaders.

“What I love about the Wharton community is that fellow alumni genuinely pick up the phone and want to help each other out,” said Alana Rush, WG’15, who is currently in Dublin, Ireland. Guidance from Wharton alumni helped Rush land her first three jobs after graduation. 

Now COO of international tech company Shortlist, she still vividly remembers her introduction to the Wharton community during MBA Pre-Term six years ago. “I was next to a 6-foot-tall veteran as we battled another Cluster in tug of war,” she said. “At that moment it struck me that ‘networking’ at Wharton doesn’t mean exchanging business cards and leveraging elite connections. It means sharing experiences and pulling for one another — in this case, quite literally.”

She’s looking forward to participating in the WAW program as an alumna herself through the Wharton Club of the United Kingdom. “Whatever challenges I faced on campus, it was invaluable to talk to students and recent alums who had been in my shoes before,” she said. “The WAW program can help students by connecting them with Wharton alums when they first get to campus, and also down the line when they start navigating the recruiting process, deciding what classes to take, and thinking about next steps.”

Forming New Partnerships

Behind the scenes, bringing the program to life has been a collaborative effort across the Graduate Division, including MBA Admissions, Student Life, and External Affairs. “We anticipate that we will expand our partnerships both within Wharton and in our alumni networks,” said Barnes.

For Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives, the WAW format has also inspired new ways to enrich remote student life. They’ve created a version of WAW called Squads, in which students in the same class and location can form groups with whom they can learn, study, and socialize in person on a smaller scale.

“Second-year students are already doing some of this on their own, but we wanted to provide a way for first-years to connect in person safely,” said Catherine Molony, Director of Alumni Engagement for Philadelphia and San Francisco, and Philadelphia Program Director. “The Squads project opened up the possibility of connecting first-years to second-years, as well as alumni.”

Even after the pandemic subsides, WAW will remain active and continue to facilitate ongoing and potentially lifelong relationships, both professionally and personally.

Rush said she has been encouraging fellow alumni to participate in WAW as well. “I’m excited to help the newest batch of Wharton students as they embark on a life-changing journey, and I appreciate the opportunity to give back to a community that has given me so much.”

— Gloria Yuen

Posted: September 14, 2020

Wharton Stories

Growing Hockey in China from the Ground Up

Image: Courtesy of NHL
NHL media strategist Louis Gilbert, G’19, WG’19, is developing a local fanbase for hockey in China, where the sport is growing in popularity.

Louis Gilbert, G’19, WG’19, was fascinated by the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he saw the opening ceremony as a high school senior.

“I started reading about China in the news,” Louis recalled. “I showed up at Yale freshman year, and part of the curriculum was a language requirement. I thought, why not Chinese?”

Fast forward and Louis is now a Senior Manager of Media Strategy at the National Hockey League (NHL). His current project: growing Chinese interest in hockey.

“There’s a lot of analysis, thought, strategy, and negotiation that goes into sports media rights and distribution, and that’s the focus of the team that I’m on at the NHL,” Louis said. “China is committed to developing hockey and expects to expand its participation in all winter sports by 2022. We’d love to make use of this momentum to grow the global audience for hockey.”

Louis traveled to Beijing in August 2019 to help Alex Ovechkin, winger and captain of the Washington Capitals, manage his five-day tour in the city.

As a graduate of the Lauder Institute’s MBA/MA International Studies program, Louis credits his Lauder thesis project — known as the Global Knowledge Lab (GKL) — for his current role.

“Without the GKL I wouldn’t have my job right now,” he said. “Lauder gave me an opportunity to do a year-plus long research project that had funding, on any topic that I wanted. It was an opportunity unique to Lauder that I wouldn’t have had, had I not done this program.”

Researching Baseball in Asia 

While Louis is a long-time sports fan and conducted research in China as an undergrad, he didn’t put those interests together until he started working on his GKL. 

“Something that had always been on the back of my mind from the time I had spent in China is why basketball is so unbelievably popular there, while a sport like baseball is not,” he said. “Baseball is huge in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, and yet historically it hasn’t had much of a following in mainland China. That was the start of the research question.” 

He teamed up with two classmates — one a Japanese native in Lauder’s Global program and the other a Japanese-American specializing in Japanese — along with advisors Prof. Ron Granieri and sports consultant Mireia Lizandra. They reached out to a G’15, WG’15 alumnus working at Major League Baseball (MLB). Within two hours, the alum put them in touch with the head of MLB’s Asia-Pacific Operations.

During the call, they learned that baseball has an extensive history in China, but lost its popularity after the sport was banned during the Cultural Revolution. MLB asked if Louis’ team would be interested in expanding their research to India, where baseball wasn’t really being played or watched much on TV. It was an opportunity to see whether growing the sport in a new market would be worth the investment.

Louis (center) at a baseball game in Tokyo with his GKL teammates, Shun and Olivier.

Their research and consulting work eventually contributed to a new MLB office opening in India. The completed GKL was also a runner-up for the Reginald H. Jones Research Prize, awarded to the best theses in the Lauder program. 

“Through doing this project, I met a ton of people in the sports industry,” said Louis. “That really jump-started my recruiting process. I had ongoing conversations with MLB, and I met a number of people at the NBA as well. I was able to have these conversations despite not having a professional background in sports or international strategy. Fortunately, the timing ultimately worked out perfectly for my current role at the NHL.”

Engaging Fans During the Pandemic

When the NHL 2019-20 season paused due to COVID-19, grassroots development efforts in China were put on hold. Louis shifted focus to help with the NHL’s media strategy for the season resumption. Keeping Chinese fans engaged on social media became a big part of his role. 

“We introduced a lot of social media initiatives featuring more China-focused content, such as showcasing local hockey stories, having Chinese fans send in pictures of their NHL merchandise collections, and creating a weekly cartoon series showing hockey in everyday life,” he said. “We saw incredible results.”

Episode one of newly launched animated educational show “NHL University” explains the NHL’s Return to Play format.

With the NHL season resuming in August and the Stanley Cup Playoffs around the corner, Louis says he’s excited for what’s to come.

Some current projects include the first-ever weekly NHL Chinese-language talk show, an animated educational series about the NHL, and a new initiative called “NHL Fan Leaders” that will be recruiting diehard NHL fans across China to be ambassadors for the League.

“We’ve been developing these initiatives for months, and it’s great to finally be introducing them to our fans in China,” said Louis, who’s now responsible for overseeing the NHL’s social media efforts there. “I’ve even gotten to conduct interviews of ‘Fan Leaders’ candidates in Chinese, which has been a great opportunity to use my Lauder language skills and get to meet our most passionate fans in China.”

 Gloria Yuen

Posted: August 7, 2020

Wharton Stories

How This Philly Start-Up is Making Fashion More Sustainable

A team of Penn students in Wharton Impact Venture Associates (WIVA) sourced an impact investment deal into a startup that aims to champion sustainable and ethical practices in the fashion industry.

When people think of the fashion industry, “sustainable” or “ethical” are likely not the first words that come to mind. wearwell, a clothing-subscription start-up based in Philadelphia that offers only ethically-sourced clothing, aims to change the narrative through championing sustainable practices. Sustainable (or ethical) fashion takes into account the full lifecycle of clothing, and aims as much as possible to reduce harm to the environment, the workers producing the clothing, and the consumers who purchase it.

After conducting rigorous due diligence on wearwell, the student team at Wharton Impact Venture Associates (WIVA) was thrilled to see an impact investment deal with the start-up go live on the crowdfunding platform Republic.

The Industry Issue

The fashion industry produces a staggering 10% of global carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply, while also contributing significantly to microplastic pollution in the oceans. Beyond the environmental aspect, the sector has also faced ethical problems around employee rights and working conditions. The 2013 factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh provided a much-needed wake-up call to the sector.

Given these realities, demand for more socially and environmentally conscious fashion is growing rapidly: online searches for sustainable fashion increased three-fold between 2016 and 2019. But in an era of “greenwashing,” being a conscious consumer can be challenging. Navigating complex certifications and verifying supply chains can make responsible shopping inaccessible and confusing.

Investing in Sustainable Fashion

Enter wearwell. Co-founders Erin Houston and Emily Kenney met while pursuing master’s degrees in International Development at American University. Both have backgrounds in brand management, impact measurement, and sustainability.

Through providing curated selections from authenticated brands, wearwell gives consumers access to socially responsible brands in a straightforward way. Their verification process dives into regulations and certifications, covering areas such as worker benefits, upcycled material use, and manufacturing waste. Working with their brands, wearwell prioritizes the quantification of environmental and social impact for improved transparency throughout the supply chain.

Exemplifying the interdisciplinary culture of WIVA, this impact investment opportunity was sourced and executed by Penn Medicine student Karan Naik, PSOM’22 and Wharton student Katie Ardiff, WG’21. “When assessing social impact, the environmental and ethical implications of the fashion industry are undeniable. We were excited by wearwell’s data-driven commitment to identifying conscious brands and believe their brand trajectory offers promising opportunities for success,” they said.

“How you measure impact, and what standards you use, is an important question,” said Rajith Sebastian, director of special projects, impact investing at the Wharton Social Impact Initiative. “In clothing, many sustainability standards exist. What impressed us most was how the founders used these standards, and also their own expertise and studies of sustainable supply chains, community development, and social enterprise, to tailor-make more meaningful impact standards for wearwell.”

Houston and Kenney, the wearwell co-founders, were equally excited by the opportunity, “WIVA has been a tremendous team to connect with. They understand our impact as well as the way our target market is rapidly growing right now, with more consumers attuned to the ways their purchases affect both people and planet. We’re thrilled to have partnered with WIVA to advance wearwell’s growth.”

Check out wearwell and their seed campaign on the crowdfunding platform Republic. 

— Karan Naik and Katie Ardiff

Posted: June 24, 2020

Wharton Stories

Wharton’s First Prism Fellow Prepares to Join the MBA Community

“I hope the fellowship encourages even more LGBTQ professionals to apply to Wharton and consider how they can give back to the LGBTQ community.”

When Colan Wang was 13-years-old, he spotted a plain sheet of paper hanging in the school library. The modest poster advertised a free, after-school program for young people questioning or struggling with their sexuality across Ontario. The LGBT YouthLine promised confidential, anonymous support over the phone. After a few weeks, Colan wrote down the number and worked up the courage to call. 

“I remember just feeling right away from the very first call that the person I was talking to was a friend who understood where I was and what I was going through. It just felt so good having someone listen to me and affirm my experiences and how I felt at that time,” he said.

For the rest of high school, Colan called the LGBT YouthLine every week. Those conversations affirmed his feelings and proved that he wasn’t going through this alone. And soon, his vision for the future began to materialize.

Colan rose to the top of his class in high school and, in 2015, graduated with distinction from Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ontario. After graduating, he pursued a career in the financial services industry, stopping at Deloitte and then TD Wealth, where he works as a business consultant. Around this time, he reconnected with LGBT YouthLine and joined their board of directors as Treasurer. Colan oversaw the nonprofit’s financials, rolled up his sleeves at fundraising events, and represented YouthLine at events like the annual Toronto Pride parade.

“After a fundraising event one evening, I stayed behind to wash dishes. One of the attendees approached me and said how much YouthLine meant to her. As a teen, she had lived in a smaller town and didn’t have a strong support network, and YouthLine had filled that gap. Her story was so like mine that I felt like I had come full circle,” he said.

Colan’s work with YouthLine inspired him to find ways to bring his values and experiences to his day-to-day professional life.

Paying it Forward

At TD Wealth, the Gender Identity Evolution Management Project (or GIEM for short) had been in progress for some time. The objective was to provide a more inclusive experience for clients with diverse gender identities and expressions by using a client’s gender-neutral title, preferred name and pronouns across written, digital and in-person communications.

The project had top-level support, but it had several technological, regulatory, and policy complexities to overcome. When Colan heard about GIEM, it immediately resonated with him and he jumped at the opportunity to take it on and build the project from the ground up.

“I had friends who were misgendered when they were interacting with their banks and I could tell how painful a process it is for people to go through,” he said. The problem was simple for Colan to explain to his colleagues: “If someone has a name that they want to be called, we should respect that person’s identity and try our hardest to use that name”.

Colan (third from left) with a few of his TD Wealth colleagues after a LGBTQ employee resource event he co-led in 2019.

Colan has worked tirelessly over the last two years to lead the GIEM Initiative within TD Wealth. He worked with government agencies and the accounts, operations, and technology teams within TD to better understand the possibilities and limitations. The entire strategy would be supported by effective training resources for employees to understand how to address people with a preferred name and using pronouns in an appropriate manner.

He also added his own pronouns to his email signature and encouraged his friends and colleagues to do the same. This small gesture spoke volumes and led coworkers to ask how they could support the project. Since 2018, TD Wealth has made significant progress and continues to work through the implementation of the project.

Pursuing a Business Education

Colan wants to make a career out of financial advising and wealth management. He’s especially drawn to the ways he can help people navigate some of the most important life decisions — buying a home, saving for retirement, paying off debt, and making investments. He’d like to find ways to broaden access to financial planning resources for underrepresented communities.  deepen his knowledge of both financial services and gain new leadership skills, he saw business school as the next natural step. Wharton stood out for its deep investments in both areas.

“I wanted to attend a business school that would allow me to explore analytics and how we can use big data to transform existing industries, particularly heavily-regulated ones. I was impressed by Wharton’s flexible curriculum and the large investments the school has made in its analytics programs,” he said.

No matter which school Colan attended, a diverse and welcoming environment was at the top of the list. When he was researching business schools, he noticed that Wharton was one of the only schools to include the percentage of students who identify as LGBTQ on the annual MBA Class Profile.

Wharton MBA students celebrate at Out4Biz’s annual Rainbow Pub event.

Colan experienced the community values first-hand when he visited campus for LGBT Visit Day. So many prospective and current students attended Out4Biz’s “Ask Me Anything” panel discussion that he could barely get a seat. Even more surprising to him was the number of straight allies speaking up and asking how they could be better allies to their LGBT colleagues. “I was really, really happy to see that question asked because it showed the level of support that’s available at Wharton and how people are really there for each other not just professionally, but also in the personal ways as well,” he said.

By the time he left Philadelphia, Colan was connected to a number of current students who kept in touch throughout the application process. “Being on campus, meeting current students, and chatting with the Admissions team all helped me see myself spending two years at Wharton. I remember going to the MBA Pub later that night with current students and just laughing for hours. That’s when I knew I needed to go to Wharton,” he said.

Coming Full Circle

When Colan wrote his application essays, he naturally included his past advocacy work at YouthLine, the Gender Identity Project at TD Wealth, and his ambition to help marginalized communities. Unbeknownst to him, a new fellowship had been established by Jeffrey Schoenfeld, WG’84 to support one MBA student in the LGBTQ community per year with a full-tuition scholarship.

“As one of very few ‘out’ MBA students entering Wharton in 1982, I truly marvel today at how far LGBTQ recognition and integration have become embraced by the broader business community,” said Jeffrey. “I am also mighty proud that Wharton  has emerged as a leader in building the most diverse class among leading U.S. business schools, and feel privileged to support LGBTQ student leaders through their MBA journey.” As it turns out, the Wharton Fellowship Committee was looking for someone just like Colan.

“This was not something that I had expected,” he said. “I was already super happy to be applying to a school that published statistics on LGBTQ students and had such an active LGBTQ community on campus, so I was really, really surprised, shocked, and happy when they told me on the phone that I was admitted and I was awarded the Prism Fellowship.”

These days Colan is preparing to wind down his work at TD Wealth to join the Wharton community this August — no matter what format it will take. In many ways, he’s already an active member. Incoming students who met at either the Winter Welcome Weekend or on Wharton HQ or have been hosting virtual meetups and coffee chats to stay connected and learn more about each other. As Colan looks to the future, he’s hopeful about the long-term impact of the Prism Fellowship.

He said, “I hope the fellowship encourages even more LGBTQ professionals to apply to Wharton and consider how they can give back to the LGBTQ community. From making our workplaces more inclusive to mitigating bias in AI, there are numerous ways to support the LGBTQ community, and Wharton values each and every one of them.”

— Mike Kaiser

Posted: June 3, 2020

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