Wharton Entrepreneurship Summit ReviewBy Ethan Aldrich
The 2018 Wharton E Summit brought together world class executives, panels of venture capitalists and start up founders, and a startup pitch competition filled with some of the most innovative MBA founded startups across the country.
Growth, growth, growth!
The first panel brought on growth executives Brian Rothenberg of Eventbrite, Casey Winters of Pinterest, and Elena Verna of Malwarebytes. Every startup wants growth, but these experts delved into grwoth hacking and metrics to help uncover what drives healthy growth in a venture-backed company.
The key takeaways from the panel were:
- Product teams often become annoyed with growth teams’ intrusive analysis of the features they were building and questioned what value they were adding outside of friction. Casey Winters reminds us that showing the value in the growth team early is extremely important to its success. Not only do you need to consistency and insightful metrics, you must communicate with the company the value of a growth team.
- Elena Verna reminds us that a growth team needs data to thrive, but this is an impractical request for early stage startups. Thus, she emphasized gut beliefs for growth in the early days and how important feature development and product market fit is before trying to rapidly grow a product.
- Brian Rothenberg built on these points by pointing out Eventbrite didn’t have a growth team until they solved product market fit and retention. He also emphasized that simply trying new ideas won’t create a strong and smooth growth pattern. They valued ensuring all new features outperformed current offerings and had impact on real long term growth.
Invest in AI early, but invest with caution
The second panel brought us AI venture capitalists Brandon Reeves of Lux Capital, James Hardiman of DCVC Capital, Lisha Li of Amplify Partners, and Caroline Duffy of AIFund. You’d be pushed to find a fund nowadays not looking at AI investments, and these panelists helped clear the air on the state of the investment field:
- Tech is still chasing problems. Each of the panelists emphasized time and time again to avoid the classic tech chasing a problem startups. When it comes to the rest of the world, users want products that improve their lives, and businesses want products that deliver value.
- Your product needs to show real impact because AI dropping no longer works; investors are looking for proven real world applications and teams with domain experience.
- Investors believe AI will change the world, but the actual applications and real impact is still being developed. Dream big, but prove yourselves along the way.
A fireside with the cofounder of the most comfortable shoe on earth
Allbirds Co-Founder Joseph Zwillinger came in for a fireside chat and brought us some of the most realistic and upfront advice he could:
- Branding is not your identity. Allbirds is not a famous brand because it is a sustainably made venture backed shoe company. Allbirds is a brand because its product and story have resonated with people
- There is little room to iterate and test in the consumer industry, you need to put an idea forward and deliver the best product you can to build a resonating brand
- Hustle and tell your vision to find a team. Joseph was relentless in hiring the best talent for positions he knew the least about. His advice was to hire those you yourself would work for and don’t stop pushing your vision for the brand and company.
Activity companions, nail salon trucks, and getting paid to play games
The summit concluded by bringing us 10 startups back to back from the top students at business schools from the likes of Stanford, UPenn, MIT, and Carnegie. Here were the top picks:
- Mon Ami, the pitch competition winner, brought us a platform to aid dementia patients in social isolation. This Stanford startup brings activity companions to dementia patients and collects commission fees for using their platform. This social impact startup has seen a 100% customer retention rate so far and is looking to rapidly grow their solution.
- Runner up Acention from UPenn is looking to follow in the footsteps of the likes of HQ Trivia and actually pay its users for playing games. You start out with a penny on their platform and wager your money to compete in multiplayer games with other users for a chance to win even more money. Their ad based revenue streams bring in over a penny per ad, which allows them to stay sustainable. They have over 32,000 games already played on the platform and are looking to add new games every two months.
- Stanford startup TIPS is looking to consolidate and catalyze on the 13 billion dollar nail salon market by bringing mobile locations to women and men looking for nail services. Their platform will allow easy booking, payment, and most importantly, 30 minute service brought to your location. They are currently targeting professionals and upcoming professionals at college and company campuses. Their business model allows them to set up new locations quickly and be profitable within a few months.
Joy Zhang (left) and Madeline Dangerfield-Cha (right), Co-Founders of Mon Ami
The other start-ups in the competition included: TaskUnite (Penn), Waffle (MIT), UniCoin (UPenn), Aavia (MIT), Findtech.co (Carnegie), Ajaib, Phrase health (UPenn)