“We wanted to solve one specific problem inside of Wharton — this person-to-person matching problem. Then we found that the fundamental technology that underlies the product can be applied to a whole host of other issues.”

This summer, while most Wharton MBA students disperse on internships between their first and second years, Joseph Quan and Nikhil Srivastava, both WG’17 Entrepreneurial Management majors, work in a sunny corner office high above the Schuylkill River in 2401 Walnut Street. The two second-year MBA students are leveraging the summer to work on their venture, Twine — one of 25 student startups using the free office space over the summer through a joint effort between the Entrepreneurship Club and MBA Student Life.

It’s fitting that the team is working on Twine in a Wharton space, since the business idea emerged from something Joseph and Nikhil observed during their first year. One advantage of a large, diverse school like Wharton is that whatever interests you, whatever your background, you’ll find others who share it. But the flipside is that it can be easy to surround yourself with people who are similar, when the bigger advantage of diversity is learning about other perspectives.

This observation turned into Twine’s progenitor, ClassmateMatch, a student-run initiative founded by Joseph, who recruited several Wharton volunteers onto the team. ClassmateMatch used analytics to foster individual connections between students who have compatible interests but otherwise might not get acquainted.

ClassmateMatch  announced their program by publishing infographics that show which professional and cultural clubs overlap and which are siloed.

“You come into Wharton with diverse goals and diverse sets of experience, 50 different countries,” said Nikhil, who has worked as a derivatives trader and as a product manager at iSENTIUM in New York. “It’s an amazing opportunity to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t meet. And yet three months, six months into your experience, you tend to be surrounded by people who are also investment bankers or went to undergrad with you, or who are from your region. One of the things you find in large organizations is that you may have numerical diversity, but not true diversity if the members of different groups don’t interact.”

Wharton MBAs are combatting that tendency with Return on Equality, a coalition of student leaders that nurture inclusive practices across lines of difference. The ClassmateMatch  initiative uses an analytical approach for the same goal, then drives face-to-face meetups in a socially frictionless way.

“In a school of 1,800 people, there are 70 to 80 percent that you haven’t discovered,” said Joseph, a California native who most recently led strategy and partnerships for a Nike Innovation team, “You can’t have coffee chats with every single one. We wanted to create a seamless way to do it — give five or six recommendations for people you should meet every single month.”

In ClassmateMatch’s first year, over 1,000 Wharton MBAs participated.

Turning Inspiration into a Business

After rolling out ClassmateMatch to Wharton students, the team saw other applications for their matching technology.

Said Joseph, “We wanted to solve one specific problem inside of Wharton — this person-to-person matching problem. Then we found that the fundamental technology that underlies the product can be applied to a whole host of other issues.”

Twine 2

Twine’s first internal client was Wharton Admissions, which used their technology in their Yield Enhancement Program, which connects alumni to admitted students to answer the students’ questions about Wharton and encourage them to accept Wharton’s offer of enrollment.

“When you create relationships between applicants and alumni, it fosters a stronger sense of community and it drives people’s decisions to come to Wharton in the first place,” said Joseph.

“Twine and I worked together behind the scenes very closely, and their contributions helped to save me a good amount of manpower time,” said Shannon Connelly, director of external engagement for Wharton Admissions and Financial Aid. She’s planning to work with Twine again in the next admission cycle.

Devoting Summer to Hitting Key Benchmarks

Joseph and Nikhil are developing Twine in house over the summer with several Wharton resources, including the Venture Initiation Program, an Innovation Fund award, and the MBA Student Life workspace.

Twine is working towards business benchmarks, while growing their engineering and business development teams, drawing recruits from Penn Engineering and Med. Joseph and Nikhil are currently working with Student Life to find a way to use Twine matching technology to power certain activities, such as small group dinners. They’re currently serving several corporate clients, where they’ve powered programs for corporate employee and alumni networking, mentorship, and internal mobility.

Wharton Solutions to Global Opportunity

One of their early clients, a Fortune 1000 technology company, came through a contact they met at the Wharton People Analytics Conference.

“The use case is slightly different but very much under our umbrella,” said Nikhil. “One of our corporate clients is using our product to match their most promising employees with internal job openings.”

Wharton academic faculty have been instrumental for Nikhil and Joseph as they grow their business. They’ve worked with Professor Cade Massey, using their algorithms to create matches in his Negotiations class. Professors Adam Grant and Pete Fader also provided valuable insight as the team was launching Twine. They are also drawing from the body of research from Wharton, including people analytics studies and work from Professor Stew Friedman about introducing true diversity into teams.

“Fundamentally, this is a company that could only have started at a school,” Joseph said. “We were trying solve a networking problem at school  and we had a thousand people willing to test it out a solution with us. It’s the perfect incubation area.”

“We wanted to use Wharton’s power to solve something that started as a Wharton problem,” Joseph said. “We now believe this is an industry problem, a global opportunity. We are taking ideas and technology from an academic center of excellence and applying them more broadly.”

Said Nikhil, “We’re following the same vision, but now we’re dreaming a little bigger.”

Posted: July 22, 2016

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