Wharton Stories

The MBA Fund Is Supporting Student Startups Across Top Business Schools

After his own experience starting a business, Sieva Kozinsky, WG’20, established The MBA Fund to help connect MBA student entrepreneurs from top business schools with investors.

Finding investors and raising capital can be one of the hardest parts of starting a new business, along with a host of other anxieties that come with building a start-up. Sieva Kozinsky, WG’20, set out to make this process easier when he came to Wharton with a vision of creating a fund to support student entrepreneurs. Thus, The MBA Fund was born.

Starting Out

Sieva was born in Ukraine and moved to California at the age of 2, where he grew up with parents who were both doctors at the heart of tech innovation in San Francisco.

“I wanted to be a doctor, so I started volunteering at health clinics,” Sieva said. 

He began his undergrad education at UC Santa Barbara and went down the pre-med track, but everything changed after he decided to take an entrepreneurship class as an elective. His professor had co-founded a successful startup and during the class, brought in other founders to share their insights into raising capital and formulating business models. Being exposed to these inspiring stories helped Sieva come to a realization. 

“It’s not something I’d ever considered before this, but through the stories they shared, I saw myself doing something similar,” he said. “Even though I didn’t really know how to start a company, I thought that I wanted to try this and that it’d be better suited for me than being a doctor.”

Exploring Entrepreneurship

While in school, Sieva shifted away from healthcare to focus more on entrepreneurship. He started his first business in junior year after noting a lack of good course management products. He helped create a platform called StudySoup that would allow students to better share study materials. StudySoup grew to be used by more than 300 colleges and universities with  a monthly user base of more than one million students. Sieva raised $2 million in venture capital for the company and even participated in the 500 Startups accelerator.

After six years with StudySoup, Sieva began exploring new ways  he could apply his startup experience. Living in the Bay Area, he was an angel investor in some smaller companies, and weighed in on his friends’ business ideas because he liked the process of finding companies to invest in. But he wanted something new, so he applied to Wharton as an MBA candidate.

Building the MBA Fund

Sieva focused on starting his first business: StudySoup. Back in his junior year of college, there was a lack of good course management products, and so he saw an opportunity to create a platform that he licensed to universities and professors. It remained relatively small until they expanded the business to help support students in their classes — what was once just a course management application became a network for students to share class notes and tutor others.

Eventually, StudySoup grew to be used across over 300 campuses by a monthly user base of more than one million students. After completing his undergraduate education, Sieva raised $2 million in Venture Capital for the company and even participated in the 500 Startups accelerator.

The MBA Fund

The MBA Fund’s first pitch competition in 2019.

When Sieva came to Wharton, he knew top VC funds were looking for deal flow, so he decided to combine his unique access to the best companies on campus with funding from the alumni base. He came up with the idea for a small venture fund that eventually became The MBA Fund.

The premise of the fund is to be a support and mentor network for founders who are current students or alumni at Wharton, Harvard, or Stanford. Sieva’s personal experience starting StudySoup in college also inspired the idea to provide startups with guidance and mentorship. 

“I had a lot of questions and faced a lot of challenges which I could have easily overcome if I had some good mentors in place,” he said.

Having started the Fund about a year ago with other MBA students from Harvard and Stanford, Sieva believes that the secret to its success is truly the community. Alumni from Wharton, Harvard, and Stanford — which include the founders of DoorDash, Trulia.com, and AlphaSense — serve as mentors to give back to their alma maters. A team of on-campus student investment partners operates to find exciting startups, build relationships with founders, and make funding decisions as part of an investment committee.

Most of the capital was raised from alumni from these three schools, some of which was put towards the Fund’s first pitch competition in May last year on Wharton’s Philadelphia campus. Undergraduates and MBA students across Wharton, Harvard, and Stanford pitched in rounds to VC investors like Contour, NFX, and Bain Capital. At the end, just under $1M was allocated to 15 companies.

“The responses we received both from our sponsors and companies that participated in our competition were overwhelmingly positive. We’re definitely running it again next year,” Sieva said.

Sieva (fifth from the left) with Wharton classmate and on-campus investment partner Jacob Conger (first from the left) and pitch finalists at 2401 Walnut.

As for Sieva’s own entrepreneurial pursuits, he is currently working on some other startups that took inspiration from conversations he had with classmates and business models he had seen in his classes at Wharton, with support from resources like the Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship Group and 2401 Walnut, a study and meeting space for students. He plans to continue to grow The MBA Fund, and probably start another business or buy another startup.

In any case, he foresees engaging in some form of entrepreneurship. “It’s in my genes,” he said. “I don’t really have another option.”

 Jonathan Lahdo

Posted: February 13, 2020

Wharton Stories

Daymond John on Focus, Fashion, and Finding the Right Mentor

The Shark Tank star spoke candidly with students competing at Wharton’s first 24-hour IDEATHON 2020.

When he was 20 years old, Daymond John learned how to sew in his mother’s basement because he wanted to make clothes catered to the budding hip hop scene. His perseverance eventually led to the founding of international apparel company FUBU and a seat on ABC’s Shark Tank, where he would help numerous startups find their own success.

This January, John visited Wharton and Penn students at Wharton’s first-ever IDEATHON 2020, a 24-hour retail challenge hosted by the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center. He joined Wharton lecturer and Engineering Entrepreneurship Prof. Jeff Babin before a crowd of aspiring entrepreneurs to discuss growing through failure, mental health, and how focus — personal and professional — can be an invaluable tool.

Interview Highlights

When FUBU began to see adoption by other markets — by the Japanese market, by the grunge market — was there anything you did to take advantage of that?

John: I took their money, and then I took their input. I started off with 10 color shirts and five logos. Sixty to 65 percent of your sales are always going to be black; another 20 percent is going to be white. So what did I do? I cut out eight other colors.

The kids all wanted extra large and XXL at that time because people had been wearing baggy clothes. No guy wanted to wear a shirt that said “small” on it. So even though it was small, I’d cut the tag out and put “extra-large” on it. Whenever I was selling T-shirts, they wanted embroidery and not screen print. For sweatshirts, they wanted screens, but not embroidery. I just started getting narrow and deep on the product.

What key things do you look for in people you do business with?

When I look at entrepreneurs, I look for people who know all the things they don’t need to do. I look for people who know their numbers, are very, very clear, and have some level of sales and conversions. A sale doesn’t have to be a physical transaction. A sale can be that you have a video 10 million people watched, and that’s an actual contribution. And I need to know that I like the person. Do I like you? Will I be able to sit next to you for eight hours a day, five days a week, for the next five years of my life?

Two men in suits conversing on stage with balloon decorations in the background

Why are you learning TikTok?

I’m learning about TikTok because those 15-year-old kids will be 25 in 10 more years, and I’ll be selling them something. I need to know how they operate. We’re at a time where you can reach every single person you want with the palm of your hands. There’s going to be 10 more TikToks between now and 10 years from now. But if you understand the fundamentals of how this community is speaking and communicating with each other, it’s easier if you’re going to move on to other platforms.

Not everybody watching Shark Tank is an entrepreneur. What do you want them to take away from what they’re seeing?

If you see someone like me, a dyslexic kid who got left back and never went to college, and see that I could make it, it means anybody in the world can make it. You just have to apply yourself. 

Don’t let anybody tell you that entrepreneurship is glamorous. You work 80 hours so you don’t have to work 40 hours as an entrepreneur. Everybody thinks you walk on water. You have to listen to your staff and all your customers. You can’t tell anybody that if we don’t get another account, we’re out of business next month, because everybody will leave. So mental health is something that’s important.

A group of people posing for a photo
John with student participants, mentors, and other industry leaders at the IDEATHON 2020 on January 25.

Student Q&A

What kept you motivated?

I had started several businesses prior to FUBU, and I failed the businesses because I was doing it for the wrong reason. I was doing it because I thought I’d get rich quick. But I loved it, and the business called me back. When I would sell somebody a shirt and I would see them later on they would go, “Man, you know what? I was looking for you forever and I can’t find the shirt anymore.” And that kept bringing me back, because I would have dressed people for free for the rest of my life if I could.

Can you speak to us about the benefits of having a college degree in business for going into entrepreneurship?

I think it’s critical to have a business degree, and to understand finance and how things operate. I think you’re also buying into a community of people who are like-minded, people who are driven, people who know how to complete tasks at a certain time and are dedicated. The fundamentals of business never change. I didn’t know the fundamentals when I started my business. And that’s why I failed all those times.

How do you find a phenomenal mentor and how do you sustain that relationship over decades?

First of all, find people that you want to be mentored by and find out what’s in it for them. My first mentor externally was a man who operated a corner store in my neighborhood. You would not necessarily think that this person was a business genius, but if you successfully have a small business in a neighborhood for 20 years and dealt with inflation, competition, disruption, technology, and everything else, you know the fundamentals just like the person running General Mills. You find mentors in various open areas. It could be spiritually, it could be health-wise, and for various other things.

What’s in it for the mentor though? I’ll give you an example. I love pets. I’m on the board of the Petco Foundation. Somebody came to me one day and said, “I want you to mentor me, but here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to donate four hours of my time to a local shelter to help save animals. All I need from you is a one-hour call a month, just to ask you some questions.” Absolutely. No problem. 

— Gloria Yuen

Posted: February 10, 2020

Wharton Stories

7 Ways for Students to 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 2020 semester.

Penn and Wharton students: Start the new decade by learning more about the intersection of social impact and business. From exciting programs with the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, events with industry experts, diverse courses, and more, here are a few opportunities to explore this semester.

1. WISE Fellowship

Make meaningful social impact with this paid research and consulting fellowship. WISE Fellows will work with the Philadelphia Zoo, Penn Medicine, WIRED (an impact investing database), and more this semester. WSII is recruiting new Fellows for three of those projects — explore open projects and apply by January 27.

2. 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-focused startup. Three awardees will receive funding ($5K–$50K) to sustain the development of their venture, connect with a global network of supporters and advisors, and travel to Switzerland for a weeklong networking and learning session. Learn more and apply by February 1.

3. Social Impact Courses at Wharton

It’s not too late to sign up for a class! 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, including Prof. Katherine Klein’s Knowledge for Social Impact, a class that examines two critical challenges in the U.S. today: 1) barriers to college access and completion, and 2) recidivism and barriers to employment following incarceration. This class is open to students across Penn, not just Wharton students.

4. WSII Bendheim Externship with Firework Ventures

Firework Ventures (a new venture capital fund) is seeking one grad student to help build their fund. Advances in automation, digitalization, and AI are changing the economy at a rapid pace. Firework Ventures — co-led by Ashley Bittner, a Wharton MBA alum and current WSII Bendheim Fellow — sees this as an opportunity, and invests in entrepreneurs helping people thrive in this changing economy by focusing on the “human side” of the future of work. In addition to working with a Wharton alumna, you’ll source and conduct due diligence on potential investments, work on market mapping, and engage with entrepreneurs. Apply by January 31.

5. Nazarian Social Innovator in Residence

Every year, we invite a leader working in social impact for a multi-day visit at Penn. While they are on campus, Nazarian Social Innovators engage in a range of activities, including meeting with and coaching students individually, hosting small-group events, and leading discussions or workshops. Stay tuned: more information about this year’s Innovator in Residence will be announced soon — sign up on our student email list to be in the loop. In the meantime, check out this video with last year’s Innovator, Joey Hundert, CEO of Sustainitech.

6. Pop Up Lunches and Events

Over the last year, we had engaging discussions about impact investing and responsible business with special guest speakers. We heard from Vincent Stanley (Director of Philosophy at Patagonia), Dr. Dinah Koehler (Executive Director of Sustainable Research at UBS), and more. We’ll send you updates throughout the semester as other industry experts join us on campus.

Space is always limited, so be sure to RSVP early. Sign up to be in the loop on events.

7. 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.

VISIT THE WHARTON SOCIAL IMPACT WEBSITE FOR MORE WAYS TO STAY CONNECTED.

— Nisa Nejadi

Posted: January 14, 2020

Wharton Stories

Kiersa Sanders: Beating the Odds and Finding Community

Without support, it can be scary to take risks in your life and career. For Kiersa Sanders, finding a community at Wharton made all the difference.

Once in a while, you meet someone who you can tell is destined to make a real impact on the world, no matter what obstacles stand in their way. Kiersa Sanders, WG’20, is one of those people.

It’s the reason she was named this year’s $25,000 Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Fellowship Scholar. And it’s why Kiersa’s hard work has translated into an impressive resume, which begins with her time in high school in South Seattle.

“Seattle was a really interesting place to grow up. South Seattle was one of the most diverse zip codes in the country in terms of languages spoken,” Kiersa said. “Some of my closest friends were Vietnamese, Laotian, Filipino, and Mexican. It’s just a really big melting pot of immigrants and I love that about it.”

Kiersa grew up in a single-parent household, the third of four siblings. Around 15, she decided to help out her family with a job at Team Read, a nonprofit focused on eliminating the reading achievement gap among elementary schools in low-income communities by pairing them with high school student tutors. (Kiersa would go on to become a lifelong supporter of Team Read, joining their Board of Directors and advocating for the nonprofit at Seattle Public School Board meetings.)

Kiersa giving her acceptance speech as a scholarship winner at the Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference gala. Photo credit: KEES2LIFE

Taking Shape

Kiersa was the first of her siblings to graduate high school, but after graduation, college wasn’t on her radar. She worked for a startup parking company as an operations manager, working 40 hours a week. After two years, though, her ideas about college began to change. Her professional interactions at the parking company and the encouragement of a friend led her to enroll at Seattle Central Community College when she was 21. For the following two years, she worked from 9 to 5 at the parking company and took classes at night, studying accounting. Paying for college herself was “brutal,” Kiersa said.

She got through it, though, and graduated with an associate’s degree. But the idea of getting her bachelor’s degree was starting to form in her mind. In 2011, she took the plunge, becoming a student in the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.

Entering A New World

“Transferring into the University of Washington was a whole new world for me,” Kiersa said. “Although the University of Washington was not as diverse as the neighborhood I grew up in, I still had an amazing experience. I had professors who took me aside and helped me, and I was able to get an internship early on.”

While interning in Deloitte’s accounting department, and attending both Yale’s Global Pre-MBA Leadership Program and Harvard Business School’s Summer Venture in Management Program, Kiersa was exposed to consulting as a pathway to getting her MBA. She graduated from UW at the top of her class in 2014 with a job offer in Deloitte Consulting’s Strategy and Operations department.

She took it. She worked on mergers and acquisitions in the tech industry, traveling throughout the Bay Area and South Korea for three years, before getting serious about pursuing an MBA.

“I wanted the ability to get out of Seattle. I felt I had reached the max of how far I was going to go in the city. I realized that an MBA would allow me to lean into who I was meant to be,” she said.

Coming to Wharton

Kiersa completed the MBA Prep Program through Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) in 2017, which allowed her to get a broader view of the schools with MBA programs, including Wharton.

“I went to Explore Wharton, which is the event they have in September before you apply, where they have people of color come and talk,” Kiersa said. “I hadn’t really thought about Wharton, but that was the first time I realized I wanted to go to the school.”

It was also her first introduction to Wharton’s African American MBA Association, or AAMBAA, which supports the development and continued achievement of students of African descent at Wharton.

Finding Community

Kiersa, top row, fourth from the right, poses in a fun photo with other members of AAMBAA.

“I met members of AAMBAA on a visit to Wharton before I even applied. Everyone was super helpful and welcoming. It definitely felt like a family right away,” she said.

In 2018, Kiersa got the call from Wharton saying she was accepted to Wharton as a Class of 2020 as an MBA candidate.

“Getting the call from Wharton was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. I was finally seeing my hard work come to fruition, and I couldn’t wait to move to Philly to join the community I met at Explore Wharton,” she said. “Joining AAMBAA was a no-brainer.”

The weekend before Pre-term her first year, she went on a weekend retreat the AAMBAA ‘100 Series’ chairs organize for members where students heard from Wharton alumni who spoke about the group’s history and legacy.

“I hadn’t heard of other schools that had this type of group for black students. It made the transition into Wharton much easier because felt like I already had a home base,” Kiersa said. “It was super easy to pour myself into the AAMBAA community because every day I’m just so thankful to be here.”

Inspired by her experience during that first year, Kiersa now serves as 100 Series Co-Chair, helping to organize four events supporting students throughout the year.

Starting Up

In addition to its extensive resources, AAMBAA exposed Kiersa to a wide professional network and business opportunities. It’s how she met her current business partner, Theresa Shropshire. The two quickly became friends over an interest in fitness – specifically, how to navigate strength training as women in gyms where the weight section is often occupied by men.

“Walking out into the weights area of a gym can be very intimidating. So, we decided to work out together,” she said. “When we went to the gym and started lifting, we had a lot of women come up to us and ask if they could work out with us. We thought that we should just create something to help women learn how to strength train.”

During her first year at Wharton, she was an intern at Vista Equity Group, a leading software private equity firm, and worked on growth strategy for a wellness-focused software company. So, Kiersa knew this idea could work.

Thus, a start-up was born. Temporary working title? Builtable. Elevator pitch? It’s like theSkimm, but for fitness and strength training.

“It’s a newsletter you get to your email inbox that’s really short and easy to read,” Kiersa said. “The type of content you can expect is exercises demonstrated in the form of short videos or gifs, new Instagram fitness accounts for you to follow, or a comparison of different resistance bands.”

Kiersa credits her association with AAMBAA and Wharton’s black community in helping her build confidence, and act on her desire to pursue entrepreneurship.

“My risk tolerance, before coming to Wharton was very low. But, having a community and feeling supported has been super helpful. Having all these incredible women around me through AAMBAA has been amazing,” she said.

Kiersa said she never would have imagined she’d be a Wharton student working on a start-up.

“I would have never felt as confident if I hadn’t come to Wharton. I don’t think I would have thought of entrepreneurship at all if I hadn’t come to Wharton,” she said. “It’s been a journey. I could have never envisioned this future for myself, and that’s why every day is exciting.”

— Emily O’Donnell

Posted: January 10, 2020

Wharton Stories

How a Chess Champion and Wharton Grad Excels at Entrepreneurship

“If you are a smart individual who can detect patterns and opportunities, you don’t need to come from a pedigree to found a startup,” Wharton alum and Steignet founder, A.J. Steigman said.

Chess is all about strategy. No one knows this better than A.J. Steigman, founder of Steignet, international chess champion, and an alumnus of the Wharton MBA Program. We caught up with him to discuss how his company has evolved, how business school benefited him in the long-term, and his advice for aspiring student entrepreneurs.


You were an entrepreneur far before you came to Wharton. Can you tell us a bit more?

A.J.: I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. Ever since I was a kid selling lemonade at my lemonade stand, I have had an innate drive to succeed. My competitive chess background developed my pattern recognition capabilities, which helps me detect trends.  Combined, these traits have always helped me identify startup opportunities. 

An example of this was during the financial crisis, retail companies were getting hammered, but Nike was doing well. I realized that this was due to inelastic demand from the sneakerhead and streetwear community. Officially, my first venture was after Merrill Lynch Investment Banking when I founded one of the top Nike stores in the U.S. at the Hardrock Hotel & Casino in South FL. I was 25 years old and built that to a few million revenue-run-rate, in the first year of operations — all while in a retail recessionary environment.  We had numerous celebrity clients, and it was a 3,000 square foot Grade A location. I realized the potential of the industry and decided to do an online version of the brick-and-mortar store. That is when I founded Soletron. 

Soletron was a VC backed startup that I grew to the top 0.3 percent of all sites worldwide on traffic that we eventually ended up exiting to the industry leader Karmaloop, the world’s largest online street retailer at the time.

What initially drew you to Wharton?

I knew that achieving a Wharton MBA would provide me the proper education and infrastructure to maximize my skill sets and to develop into a better entrepreneur. I have always read about prominent successful Wharton entrepreneurs, and I have always been inspired by them. In fact, Soletron had Tom Austin, W’93, co-founder of AND1 Basketball on its board, and I always had an appreciation for pioneers such as himself who founded it at school.

Furthermore, I have always been inspired to go to Penn/Wharton ever since I was a child, as my mother Robin Frey is an alum (CW ’75, GED ’76). She has always been a positive influence in my life. Growing up she would tell me stories of her great experiences at Penn, and I always knew that I wanted to be a part of the community someday. Most importantly though, she always instilled in me the value of an excellent education. In my mind, the caliber of students, professors, and resources at Wharton are truly the best, and this is what drew me to apply to the institution.

At Penn, you readily immersed yourself in the entrepreneurship community attending programs, workshops, boot camps, etc. How did you utilize those resources?

The resources at Penn are unparalleled, and I am very appreciative of that. I was graciously accepted into VIP-C and then VIP-X. Both are the incubator and accelerator tracks of the Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship’s Venture Initiation Program. VIP-X gave me the proper resources to launch Steignet. We received complimentary AWS credits, free legal drafting, office space, and mentorship. Steignet was also accepted into the Detkin IP Clinic which helped my initial IP filings. Our counsel Richard Cohen, W’92, is a partner at Duane Morris and he was introduced to me through VIP-X. Richard is still our counsel and was very kind with his advice and billing flexibility to allow Steignet the opportunity to be where it is today. 

Prior to attending Wharton, I researched all the prominent MBA programs and their respective real estate programs. In my mind, the Wharton Zell/Lurie real estate institution is the best in the country. They have a fantastic mentorship program where you get matched with prominent Alumni who volunteer their time to help students out. I was fortunate to be matched with two prominent Zell/Lurie mentors – Stanley Middleman and Chris Mundy who were very helpful in helping me launch Steignet. The connections, mentorship, and academic course materials of the program are unparalleled, and it was very instrumental in helping me launch Steignet.

Your latest startup Steignet is focused on the real estate market. How does one build a startup in the real estate industry?

If you are a smart individual that can detect patterns and opportunities, you don’t need to come from a real estate family or pedigree to found a startup. In fact, I would argue that a fresh perspective from someone outside the industry or asset class is what propels innovation. I took a lot of negative and incorrect feedback from “experts” that the single-family sector was not a scalable or an investable asset class. In hindsight, my conviction proved to be more accretive than conventional commercial real estate plays, and unbeknownst to me, I was shadowing the same investment thesis of the Blackstones of the world.  My advice is to find your niche, always be a contrarian, and to be self-aware when an opportunity manifests itself. The rest is up to your execution and proper timing. 

Steignet recently closed a successful $1.3M Seed round. Can you tell us about the experience?

It was a great outcome. We have very prominent investors in our cap stack — in fact most of our investors, and advisors, are actually Penn/ Wharton Alumni. Their involvement and participation helped to make this happen. I am very fortunate to have such prominent Penn / Wharton investors that include: Beth O’Brien, Alan Potamkin, Chris Mundy, and the Stanley Middleman family.  Furthermore, I am also very appreciative that most of my initial seed backers were my WG’18 classmates. It means so much to an entrepreneur when your friends believe in you, the vision, and financially get your back by supporting your dreams.

Any advice for aspiring student entrepreneurs?

The most important advice that I can give, is to never give up and to always believe in yourself. Startup life can be very difficult mentally, and the entire company rests on how the entrepreneur deals with handling adversity. Every day there are going to be skeptics and naysayers that will tell you a myriad of reasons why your business won’t succeed. Prospective investors will try to deflate your dreams and aspirations, tell you that your valuation is too high, or that you don’t deserve it. Employees will be apprehensive about joining your startup given the risk/reward profile, and even your friends and family members will always be concerned for you and will want you to take the “easy” and “safer” corporate path. The bottom line is don’t let this negative feedback distract you from your internal convictions and dreams.

Taylor Durham of Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship

Posted: January 7, 2020

Wharton Stories

10 Myths About Wharton’s MBA Program — Debunked

Wharton MBA Director of Admissions Blair Mannix debunks 10 of the most common misconceptions about the application and the full-time MBA Program.

If you’re interested in Wharton’s full-time MBA Program, you’ve likely encountered some inaccurate information during your research.

To separate fact from fiction, Wharton MBA Director of Admissions Blair Mannix debunks 10 of the most common misconceptions we hear about the application and the full-time MBA Program.

1. I don’t have a background in finance or consulting, so I won’t be considered.

The biggest misnomer in the MBA admissions landscape is that you have to come from a finance or consulting background. Wharton accepts students from an array of backgrounds, including non-profit, government, military, energy, and technology industries. The employers who come to campus are increasingly diverse. We admit students who will make the most of our community. Because of the diversity and breadth of the Wharton culture, community, and career resources, our programs are not exclusive to finance and consulting.

2. If I apply during Round 1, I’ll have a better chance of being accepted.

Wharton has three rounds. The number of applicants and the admission rate per round is almost identical during rounds one and two. Therefore, your chance of being admitted is nearly the same. If you feel your application is ready for the Round 1 deadline, go ahead and submit. If not, submit it during Round 2. Round 3 is different in that, depending on the talent yield during the year, the class can have fewer admissions.

3. Admissions can’t possibly read all 5,000+ applications and essays.

We read every application. To do so, we employ 40 part-time application readers who are Wharton MBA alumni or who have professional backgrounds in admissions to ensure that every application file receives a thorough and fair review.

4. My undergraduate academic record isn’t strong enough, so I shouldn’t apply.

We want business school to be a place where you stretch yourself and take risks. To do that, we admit people who have made mistakes, taken risks, and failed. We understand that you are more than the sum of your academic record. So, please apply.

5. I’m an undergraduate and I don’t have enough work experience yet to apply.

Admitted students have an average of five years of work experience, and so their experience levels vary. We admit students who have only worked for two years, and students who have worked for 12 to 16 years. It’s not about your years of experience. It’s more about where you are in your career.

If you’re concerned you don’t have enough work experience to apply, Advance Access is our deferred enrollment program for current undergraduates. Undergraduate seniors or graduate students in their final year of study can apply to the Wharton MBA, work for two to four years, and then join the MBA Class with a guaranteed spot.

6. Once accepted, Wharton students are too competitive and I won’t fit in.

This is not true. Students tell us all the time, “This place was totally different than what I thought it was going to be. I thought Wharton was competitive and cutthroat, but it’s actually really not. Everybody’s really nice.” There is a false perception that Wharton has a competitive culture.

7. If I visit campus, it will improve my chances of being accepted.

If you visit campus, it will not improve your chances of being accepted. Not all students have the money to visit campus — let alone visit more than once. In order to ensure the fairness and accuracy of admissions decisions and decrease bias, we do not factor this into admissions decisions.

8. If I go to business school, I’ll be pigeonholed into a career in finance.

Look no further than the 2019 MBA Career Report to dispel this common myth. While 35.8 percent of the MBA class went to work in the financial services industry and 25.1 percent for consulting, the remaining students accepted full-time offers in a wide range of careers such as technology (14.9 percent), health care (4.3 percent), and consumer products (3.4 percent).

9. If I go to Wharton, I’ll be committing to living on the East Coast after graduation.

Refer again to the 2019 MBA Career Report. Yes, 39.3 percent of graduates chose to accept jobs in the Northeast region, but the next most popular work location was the West Coast, for 26.1 percent of 2019 graduates. Overall, students are open to following their careers wherever the opportunity exists.

10. Wharton focuses on finance and consulting, and doesn’t offer social impact, NGO, or nonprofit program options.

There are many resources for students interested in social impact and nonprofit work.

The Wharton Social Impact Initiative (WSII) is our cross-disciplinary center for research, training, and outreach to strengthen business-based solutions to social and environmental challenges. WSII’s programming includes the WISE Fellowship and Wharton Impact Venture Associates (WIVA) among many other resources. The McNulty Leadership Program Lipman Family Prize Fellows and Nonprofit Board Fellows are both opportunities to get involved with the Philadelphia community and the social sector. Also, Wharton offers more than 30 classes with a social impact focus and student clubs, such as the Wharton Social Impact Club, that are dedicated to this career path.

The Wharton MBA program has a wide variety of academic options. We believe that supporting a student population with a diverse range of backgrounds and work experience enhances our community at large. Whatever you’re interested in and wherever you come from, we hope you’ll consider applying to the Wharton MBA Program.

Erin Lomboy, W’21

Posted: December 13, 2019

Wharton Stories

How This MBA’s Thesis Project Led to a Job Promoting Hockey in China

Image: Louis Gilbert, G’19, WG’19, visited the Great Wall of China with Alex Ovechkin during their during five-day tour of the city.
Currently a media strategist for the NHL, Louis Gilbert, W’19, continues to draw from his Lauder experience researching the popularity of baseball in Asia.

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 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.”

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

Louis credits his Lauder thesis project — also known as a Global Knowledge Lab (GKL) — for his current role. “Without the GKL I wouldn’t have my job right now.”

Researching Baseball in Asia

Although he conducted research in China as an undergrad and is a long-time sports fan, Louis didn’t put those interests together until he started thinking about his Lauder thesis.

“Something that had always been on the back of my mind is why basketball in China is so unbelievably popular, while a sport like baseball is not,” he said. “Baseball is huge in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, and yet there’s really no existence of it in mainland China. That was the start of the question.”

Louis teamed up with two classmates — one from Japan in Lauder’s Global track and the other Japanese-American specializing in Japanese — along with advisors Prof. Ron Granieri and sports consultant Mireia Lizandra. They began by reaching out to a G’15, WG’15 [KK3] 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, Louis learned that baseball has an extensive history in China, but it lost popularity after it was banned during the Cultural Revolution. But MLB asked if their team would be interested in expanding their research to India, where baseball wasn’t really being played or watched on TV.

Louis’ team ended up writing their GKL while consulting for the MLB on whether growing baseball in a new market would be worth the effort.

Not only did their research contribute to MLB’s decision to open a new office in India, the completed GKL was 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 was talking to MLB for a while about working with them, I met people at the NBA. I was able to have these conversations despite not having a professional background in sports or international strategy.”

While recruiting, he attended a Wharton Sports Business Club networking event in New York and met an alum who introduced him to his current boss at the NHL.

Weeks later Louis was interviewed, and eventually, offered a full-time position. “When I had my interviews, I knew what I was talking about because I had spent so much time thinking about the issues.”

Louis Gilbert, G’19, WG’19, at the MLB in China.

Growing into the Lauder Community

At first, Louis wasn’t sure he fit in with his peers. “My classmates were people who had lived in seven countries or spoke six languages. One had worked five years in Beijing and I thought: ‘Wow, this person had a real international career.’”

Then he went on a regional summer immersion with his Lauder classmates before MBA Pre-Term.

“We spent two months in Asia, and socially that was an unbelievable experience,” he said. “Some of my closest friends in Lauder came out of those two months and have remained my closest friends. Over that summer, I realized that I did fit in, that no one was questioning if I had enough international experience or not.”

He added: “It all started to click when I started working on the GKL. Lauder gave me an opportunity to do this 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.”

— Gloria Yuen

Posted: December 10, 2019

Wharton Stories

Stephanie McCaffrey: Finding Herself Again After Soccer

After an illness cut her promising soccer career short, Stephanie McCaffrey talks about starting over and finding herself again in the process.

Stephanie McCaffrey, WG’21, has had an eventful two years.

Earlier this year, the 26-year-old former professional soccer star announced her retirement from a successful athletic career due to a debilitating illness.

“I went from having my body be a superior tool that had driven my entire career to having it be something that was holding me back. All of a sudden, I was much less capable than the average person,” Stephanie said. “That adjustment was pretty hard.”

Since high school, soccer had been her life. She was named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference First Team twice as a forward for the Boston College Eagles. After graduation from BC in 2015, Stephanie went pro. and later joined the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, scoring a goal in her first game against Brazil.

Stephanie was selected fifth overall in the National Women’s Soccer League Draft and played for the Boston Breakers for a year before being traded to the Chicago Red Stars in exchange for four draft picks in 2016.

Megan Rapinoe celebrates with Stephanie McCaffrey after she scored a goal during a USWNT Women’s International Friendly soccer match against Brazil at Orlando Citrus Bowl on October 25, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.

Stepping Away from Soccer

But, in the spring of 2018, the day before a game against the Houston Dash, Stephanie felt some numbness in her face. She worked with the Red Stars’ medical staff to figure out why and received a diagnosis: a neurological virus that would go on to shut down her entire body. Stephanie worked hard over a grueling few months to regain full health, but eventually, her doctors advised her to retire from professional soccer in March of 2019.

“After a long and trying battle with a neurological illness this year, my doctors, family, and I have decided it is not in the best interest of my health to continue playing professional soccer,” she wrote in a press release at the time.

Starting Over

Stephanie said retiring was one of the hardest decisions she’s ever had to make. Over the following year, she did a lot of soul searching to make peace with her choice.

“During my recovery, I had to figure out who I am outside of soccer,” she said. “It forced me to look into parts of myself that played second fiddle to soccer for a long time.”

Stephanie explained that because professional athletes’ lives are so public, there are “a lot of points of outside validation and reward from things that may be unhealthy.” Social media can amplify the validation. Before she got sick, Stephanie would spend a lot of time reading the comments on her social media accounts.

“I read all of these things that thousands of people were saying about me who I didn’t even know. And then when I got sick, I realized none of that matters,” she said. “I was able to then better understand and embrace my values, thinking about what I actually wanted to achieve as a person and what was important to me.”

She thought about women’s empowerment. She thought about Hidden Gems Soccer, the non-profit she founded to connect young girls in under-represented and low-income communities with professional soccer athletes. And she thought about applying to Wharton’s MBA program.

Coming to Wharton

This summer, Stephanie started as an MBA candidate seeking a concentration in finance and social impact. So far, she’s been impressed with the experience.

“I’m just completely surrounded by every opportunity you can ever imagine. The academics here are amazing,” she said, adding that outside of class, she’s learned a lot from her classmates.

“It’s just been crazy to me how helpful everyone is. Two of my classmates who are in private equity each took three hours out of their day to help me prepare for a growth equity interview,” Stephanie said. “I’ve just been so pleasantly surprised with how open and generous people are with sharing their experiences.”

She said she’s eager to take advantage of the school’s many student groups as well, having already joined Dorm Room Fund, a student-run venture capital fund to support start-ups, Entrepreneurship Club, and Wharton’s Middle East and North Africa Club (MENA) — a nod to her Lebanese roots.

Wharton is helping her work toward longer-term business goals, she said. She hopes to expand Hidden Gems to every city with an NWSL team, and hire a team to run the non-profit, while she focuses on building businesses that advance causes close to her heart.

“I personally believe that for women, there’s no true equality without financial equality,” Stephanie said. “And I think one of the best ways I can drive Hidden Gems forward and play a role in women’s empowerment is to do something like going into private equity or real estate — traditionally male-dominated industries — and just pull as many women over the fence as possible,” she said. “Wharton provides a great path to getting there.”

As for whether she’ll play soccer again, Stephanie said it’s on hold for now, as part of her recovery, but she could never fully stay away from the game.

“I’m not quite 100 percent yet, but I’m feeling much better,” she said. “And I think part of my emotional recovery from this illness is going to be finding a way to integrate soccer back into my life.”

— Emily O’Donnell

 

Posted: December 2, 2019

Wharton Stories

Learning by Doing Is the Future of Impact Investing Education

At October’s SOCAP Conference in San Francisco, a panel discussed MBA demand for impact investing education and training programs like the MIINT (MBA Impact Investing Network and Training).

A team of Yale students had a lot to be excited about when they won first place at last April’s MIINT competition. Co-produced by Wharton Social Impact and Bridges Impact Foundation, the MIINT is a leading impact investing training program and competition for business school students around the world. The Yale team beat student teams from more than 30 other business schools and secured a $50K investment in the impact company they pitched (EVmatch, a peer-to-peer network for electric vehicle charging).

Six months later, at the SOCAP conference, the Yale MIINT team reconvened and joined Heather Hochrein (Founder of EVmatch), Jennifer Walske (Assistant Professor and MIINT advisor at UCLA), Adwoa Asare (MIINT Program Manager at Bridges Impact Foundation) and Sandi Hunt (Managing Director of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative) to speak on a panel about the importance of impact investing education.

Reflecting on the MIINT, the Yale team said that the competition was about more than winning a trophy. It provided these students (and 600 of their business school peers from all over the world) a competitive edge and deep knowledge for a career in impact investing. “MIINT was an extremely rigorous program,” said Martha Deeds, Yale MBA for Executives student. “I especially appreciated how experiential the MIINT was, taking us through the entire deal flow and sourcing process. It was very helpful in reinforcing the theory and concepts I learned in the classroom.”

“I can definitely say that, had I not gone through the MIINT curriculum, I would not have known half the language used on the first day of my internship,” said Leah Yablonka, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies alum. “I really can’t speak enough of the rigor of this curriculum. And now, as I think about my full-time job, what’s top of mind for me is how I can contribute to fostering this pipeline for other students.”

But the MIINT’s value wasn’t limited to students — entrepreneurs from the companies that were pitched benefitted, too. Looking beyond the obvious perk of receiving a $50K investment into her company, EVmatch’s Heather Hochrein said: “The due diligence was quite comprehensive. They of course used documents I already had prepared, like our pitch deck, P&L statement, financial statements. But there were also some new things that I had to put together for them — a few appendices, various tables, certain things that they needed. These documents have been particularly useful for me for other due diligence.”

She added: “It was useful to see how they wrote about my company in their investment memo. It made me think about how I could recycle some of that language and framing, and how maybe I could position the work we do in different ways for different audiences.”


The Panel

Left to right: Leah Yablonka (Yale), John Palfreyman (Yale), Jennifer Walske (UCLA), Heather Hochrein (EVmatch), Martha Deeds (Yale), Vinnie Caruso (Yale). Top row: Sandi Hunt (Wharton Social Impact Initiative), Adwoa Asare (Bridges Impact Foundation).

Student demand for impact investing experience continues to soar, but not all schools offer impact investing classes or programs. Adwoa Asare from Bridges Impact Foundation discussed how the MIINT continues to expand globally. Starting with just Wharton and Harvard in 2011, the MIINT now has over 30 participating schools all over the world, including NYU, Oxford, Yale, UCLA, INSEAD, London School of Economics, and more.

The list of schools participating in the MIINT is impressive — yet also limited by the current size of the MIINT program. The panel discussed how receiving this impact investing training was a transformative opportunity, and how students beyond these 30+ schools might be interested in accessing that opportunity and the benefits it provides. “Participating in the MIINT was a real privilege,” said Yablonka. “It came from the fact that I had the opportunity to go to Yale, also a massive privilege. So, I’m thinking about how to help build an impact investing talent pipeline especially for folks that maybe didn’t have that exceptional privilege to practice these skills in school.”

“MIINT is the best program I never heard about when I was in graduate school,” joked Asare, who attended the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, which was not a MIINT participant school. “I basically bootstrapped my own MIINT. I got my professors to put on a seminar for impact investing. I pulled together a program that sort of looked like the MIINT without the structure or academic support.”

Asare also discussed the power of bringing impact investing education to students who typically don’t have access to programs like the MIINT. “I want to find those students who were like me at their schools, who either didn’t go to a very large school or didn’t have access to impact investing education,” she said.

Asare has been attending conferences (including the National Black MBA Conference and Prospanica Conference) and talking with students about impact investing. She believes that even just increasing word of mouth about the field of impact investing will help close the knowledge gap about it — it’s the knowledge gap that creates the access barrier, she said.

It’s not just a barrier to access impact investing education. There is also a barrier to land an impact investing career. Even if all business school students around the world receive impact investing education, the fact is that the number of jobs in impact investing, especially impact venture capital, is quite limited.

Because of this reality, many graduates work in traditional finance or consulting before pivoting to a career in impact. And many other graduates don’t pivot at all. Regardless, impact investing training can still benefit students who don’t land impact careers.

“Even if students don’t work in impact investing after graduation, we believe that students who participate in the MIINT or learn about impact investing are more likely to bring an impact lens into their career,” said Sandi Hunt, managing director of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative. “Change will happen as more and more people consider, even prioritize, impact — whatever industry, role, or company they’re working in.”

Visit Wharton Social Impact to learn more about impact investing.

— Nisa Nejadi

Posted: November 26, 2019

Wharton Stories

9 Alumni Changemakers Working in Social Impact

Each year, Wharton Social Impact Initiative works with hundreds of students, supporting them in their quest to launch a high-impact career. Meet nine alumni making a difference through their careers in business and finance.

There has been a major shift in the standards used to guide and evaluate business and finance. Years ago, the assumption was that profit and purpose were antithetical. You could pursue one or the other, but not both.

That’s no longer the case. An ever-increasing number of investors, consumers, employees, and business leaders now believe that you can and should pursue both profits and purpose.

Each year, the Wharton Social Impact Initiative (WSII) works with hundreds of students, supporting them in their quest to gain experience, hone their skills, and launch a high-impact career. Our student opportunities include impact investing training, social impact consulting, research, pitch competitions, internships, loan forgiveness, and start-up funding.

Meet a few of our WSII alumni changemakers.


Peter Hjemdahl outdoors in a navy tshirtPeter Wang Hjemdahl, W’18

Hometown
Shanghai, China and Kristiansand, Norway

Concentration
Finance and Business Analytics

Program
Turner Social Impact Society (TSIS), President’s Engagement Prize

Current Role
Cofounder, rePurpose Global. Peter helps individuals and companies worldwide take easy and convenient climate action so they can be “PlasticNeutral.”

On a Dream Come True
“My dream of running a social enterprise would have never come true without Turner Social Impact Society. They helped me and my cofounders every step along the way with introductions and mentorship — without which we would have never gotten the $200K President’s Engagement Prize that helped us fulfill our dream!”


 Juliet Zawedde headshot, dressed in white blouseJuliet Zawedde, WG’18

Hometown
Kampala, Uganda

Concentration
Finance and Entrepreneurial Management

Program
Wharton Africa Growth Partners, Wharton Impact Investing Partners

Current Role
Product Specialist, Client and Partner Group, KKR & Co. Inc. Juliet is responsible for raising capital for KKR’s first Global Impact Fund, which seeks to partner with businesses that create value by providing commercial solutions to key challenges facing the world.

On Building Foundational Skills
“I learned foundational skills that have been impactful in conversations with prospective investors and internally within KKR as we work to build our impact business. I am grateful to WSII for the unparalleled access, network, and thoughtful research that has helped shape my career trajectory.”


Josh Mccann, WG’14
josh mccann headshot wearing a suit and tie

Hometown
Darwin, Australia

Concentration
Finance and Entrepreneurship

Program
The MIINT, Wharton Impact Investing Partners, Bendheim Loan Forgiveness Program

Current Role
Associate Syndications Officer, International Finance Corporation. Josh’s team created a platform for institutional investors to invest in a socially impactful debt portfolio in developing economies, attracting more than $8 billion in commitments.

On Learning from His Cohort
“WSII activities allowed me to find a cohort of Wharton students who are using their MBA skillsets to address intractable social problems with rigor and new viewpoints.”


Natalie Au, C’17
natalie au headshot wearing a white tank top with yellow flowers

Hometown
Hong Kong, China

Concentration
Political Science

Program
Social Impact Fellowship (WISE Fellowship)

Current Role
Cofounder, Centre for Gender Lens Investing in Asia. Natalie is helping grow the ecosystem in Asia for using finance as a tool to advance gender equality.

On Changing the World
“Working at WSII made me realize the importance of interdisciplinary work, and the power of making sure gender is incorporated into all aspects of finance. Without the Fellowship, my current think tank wouldn’t exist. WSII equipped me with the knowledge, skills, and courage to take the leap when I saw the opportunity in Asia.”


Matt Stephenson, WG’11
matt stephenson headshot wearing collared shirt and sitting in front of a bookshelf

Hometown
New Rochelle, NY

Concentration
Entrepreneurial Management

Program
Bendheim Loan Forgiveness Program

Current Role
Cofounder and Executive Director, Code2College. Matt leads the nonprofit, delivering access to STEM careers for thousands of minority and low-income high school students.

On Growing with the Community
“It has been incredibly rewarding to benefit from and contribute to this growing community that is motivated to change the world for the better. Hands down, the support that I continue to receive from the WSII network is what I’m most grateful for. Whenever there’s an opportunity to serve, learn, or participate, I hear directly from WSII leadership.”


Julia Enyart, C’10, WG’18, Lauder’18
julia enyart headshot wearing a white top and white necklace

Hometown
Devon, PA

Concentration
Entrepreneurial Management, Africa Regional Studies, and French

Program
Wharton Impact Investing Partners, WISE Fellowship

Current Role
Impact Investing, Research Analyst, Glenmede. Julia analyzes and oversees impact-oriented public market strategies for clients comprising high-net-worth individuals, family offices, endowments, foundations, and institutional investors.

On Guidance from Industry Leaders
“WSII served as my true home on campus. The exposure to thought leaders and industry champions of impact investing and sustainability guided my own investment philosophy and aspirations.”


Robel Chiappini, WG’18
robel chiappini headshot wearing a collared off-white shirt

Hometown
Washington, D.C.

Concentration
Entrepreneurship

Program
Wharton Africa Growth Partners (WAG)

Current Role
Investment Professional, CRE Venture Capital. CRE partners with visionary entrepreneurs building category-defining tech companies in Africa.

On Working Side-By-Side with Investors
“The opportunity to work side-by-side with institutional investors focused on Africa is rare. WSII’s commitment to Africa-centric programming drew me to WSII as a prospective student and is one of my favorite memories of Wharton as a recent alumnus.”


Ashley Bittner, WG’13
closeup of ashley bittner wearing a denim collared shirt

Hometown
Naples, FL

Concentration
Strategic Management

Program
Bendheim Loan Forgiveness Program, WISE Fellowship, Wharton Impact Investing Partners

Current Role
Venture Investor. Ashley invests in early-stage companies focused on human potential, specifically relating to the future of work and education.

On Developing the Skills to Pivot
“WSII helped me develop the skills necessary to transition into early-stage investing. I am also grateful for WSII’s continued support following graduation. I would not have been able to join the Obama Administration as a political appointee without the support of the Bendheim program.”


Michael Wong, W’19
headshot of michael wong wearing a black blazer and black collared shirt

Hometown
Oakland, CA

Concentration
Finance, Management, Marketing and Operations

Program
TSIS, President’s Innovation Prize

Current Role
CEO and Cofounder, InstaHub. Michael develops accessible automation technology for light switches to directly combat energy waste at scale.

On the Amazing Network
“I had access to an amazing network. Being connected to a community of like-minded changemakers allowed me to bounce ideas off of my peers as we encouraged each other to pursue great things. WSII helped me be more courageous and they empowered me to include social impact in all of my decision making.”

— Nisa Nejadi

Posted: November 19, 2019

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