When you hear “Silicon Valley types” discuss the colleges that produce the best and brightest of the startup world, Penn’s name is certainly mentioned. The real question is, why is it not on top of the list?
Granted, Stanford’s proximity to Silicon Valley gives it a leg-up, but why should Harvard or MIT usurp us in the race for the definitive east coast equivalent?
On both Business Insider’s and BestColleges.com’s rankings of the most entrepreneurial schools in the nation, which employed different criteria, Penn finished fifth. Impressive, but that’s not where you would find it on the list of schools that produce the most investment bankers.
Which is quite curious, considering how great Penn really is for starting startups.
William Fry, a senior in the College and Wharton and the founder of SolutionLoft, was awarded the 2017 President’s Innovation Prize by the University. SolutionLoft’s stated goal is to bring the power of software creation to everyone with a proprietary code engine that enables code to be re-used, making the development process simpler and more accessible.
The prize awards his business $100,000 in funding and $50,000 as a living stipend.
Fry told me, “At Penn, you have the best resources in the world for free. You literally have experts in every field. From professors to Ph.D. students, even other undergrads. The financial resources are also a big plus. We’ve gotten $18,000 in equity-free grants and the $150,000 prize.”
Additionally, Fry is being mentored by Professor Jeffrey Babin, who teaches engineering entrepreneurship in the Engineering School.
On this academic front, Penn also has an edge.
The engineering entrepreneurship program is led by Professor Tom Cassel, whose class I’m in right now — as in, this semester; I’m not writing this article in class, I promise.
The class is very interesting and provides a number of excellent speakers, such as Ted Schlein of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and Iqram Magdon-Ismail, co-founder of Venmo, who came to class on Monday. Magdon-Ismail, interestingly, took the class himself.
It is certain to pique the interest of, if not outright inspire, any potential entrepreneurs.
But in order to really find out what makes Penn such a great school for startups, I founded one myself.
Stemming from my boiling anger at the slowness of traditional delivery apps, I decided to start a new one here in University City that promises to deliver snacks, drinks, beauty products, home essentials, medicines and more in under five minutes.
We call it Pronto. We do it by putting together a container of almost 100 items and storing them on the backseats our drivers’ cars. Then, you just order the items you want, the nearest Pronto driver gets to you and delivers your items. If we’re ever late, for every second that we take beyond five minutes we donate a cent to charity on behalf of our customer, so if it’s a minute late, that’s 60 cents.
After working on it for six months, we now have a team of eight and have been live for two and a half weeks, and we have successfully made 90 percent of our deliveries in under five minutes.
I couldn’t possibly think of a better place to start Pronto. When we needed to bring in a new team member to help us with logistics and organizing the drivers, we were able to find a very smart undergraduate through the Wharton Supply Chain Organization.
When it came to finding customers, Penn is also an ideal place for several reasons: First, students here are not particularly fond of wasting their time. The average Penn student does not have much time to spend waiting around for their order to arrive, and so it makes them a natural fit for our product.
But even more to the point, Penn students are willing to try new startups, because they’re innovative and open to new ideas and ways of doing things. That makes them the ideal first customers for any consumer-facing startup launching on a college campus.
For students who may fear that they lack the resources to help start a business here, Fry notes that there are “tons of organizations that act as on-campus accelerators to push you along with a cohort of other student entrepreneurs, from VIP-X to PennApps Accelerator to Weiss Tech House.”
This is why everyone should help start something at Penn.
As Fry said, “You have little to no downside and almost no opportunity cost. The downside of failing is limited and you learn a ton.”
He’s absolutely right, but to push Penn to the pinnacle of the collegiate startup charts, more students have to be helping co-found companies. At Pronto, we’re always looking for more people to jump on board with smart ideas and suggestions.
This is the time to test your smartest ideas.
I hope everyone gives it a go.
REID JACKSON is a College junior from New York and London studying political science. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Common Sense” usually appears every other Thursday.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.