It’s been a little more than a year since the Wharton Innovation Fund was created to help transform students’ business ideas into realities
Established last fall by 1959 MBA graduate and former Random House CEO Alberto Vitale, the fund aims to promote innovation among students and faculty at the Wharton School by awarding grants of up to $5,000 to students with fledgling business ideas.
Once a month, a panel of advisers — including Vitale himself — convenes to review the applications it has received for funding. Students submit their proposals via email, but — unlike last year — also have the option to submit supplementary material, such as YouTube videos they have created to explain more about themselves or their projects.
“Sometimes it’s more interesting to see the person behind the idea,” Wharton’s Innovation Group Managing Director Don Huesman said. “If we find that the person looks good but the product doesn’t have legs, there’s still room for us to provide support.”
The program has experienced some other changes in the year since its inception.
“We had a process that was much slower last year, and we tried to streamline the decision-making process this year for granting awards,” Huesman said. “We’ve emphasized student-led ventures and de-emphasized course-based projects.”
Many of the projects funded by this program eventually go on to become fully established companies. One of them, a company now called AdhereTech, developed a “smart” pill bottle that helps people remember to take their medication at the right time during the day.
“The Wharton Innovation Fund has been really helpful,” 2012 MBA graduate Josh Stein and founder of AdhereTech said. “We needed money to help build prototypes of this product, and the fund helped us buy materials to buy these prototypes.”
Another project, created by Wharton and Engineering senior John Foye and Wharton and Engineering junior Ryan Marschang, focuses on creating windows that can develop solar energy. The company is now called Invisergy.
“That our windows generate energy while maintaining transparency is a breakthrough in the smart window or solar window space,” Marschang said in an article in Wharton Magazine.
In the future, the fund will not only attempt to continue fostering creative business ideas, but will also encourage students to pursue ideas that may even seem ordinary at first.
“We want to stimulate people to take that next step with an idea that may have come up in a class or a conversation and make something real out of it,” Huesman said.
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