A Wharton School program is looking to provide students with a glimpse into what it takes to succeed as a 21st-century entrepreneur.
Since its inception, the Wharton Entrepreneur-In-Residence program — which is currently underway — has given more than 1,700 students an opportunity to meet one-on-one with a variety of entrepreneurs in different industries such as retail, technology and social entrepreneurship.
Students sign up for 30-minute mentoring sessions with an entrepreneur during which they can discuss their projects, ask questions and receive advice. The program also hosts group luncheons, where students can interact with entrepreneurs in a larger, more casual setting.
This spring, the biannual program features several prominent entrepreneurs, including Zynga co-founder and 1991 Wharton graduate and 1999 MBA recipient Andrew Trader, as well as Integral Molecular founder and 2001 Wharton MBA recipient Benjamin Doranz.
Wharton senior Tyrone Thomas, founder of Samba Sauce, said attending a past mentoring session helped him gain insight into how entrepreneurs are able to achieve success with their products.
“You can’t turn down an opportunity to meet with the veterans in this field,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to connect with alumni and get their insights to see what it takes to build a successful company.”
Though the program emphasizes mentoring and relationship building for student entrepreneurs, mentors equally benefit from the experience, according to Emily Cieri, managing director of Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs.
“When I talk to the entrepreneurs, they enjoy their time as much as the students do,” she said. “They are really invigorated because there’s always a new, exciting conversation.”
While the program allows students to network with other entrepreneurs, it also ensures that students are going in the right direction with their own projects.
“Starting a company is like reinventing the wheel, and so to the extent that I can ask people who have been in my shoes, that helps me see around corners,” said MBA candidate and School of Engineering and Appplied Science graduate student Samir Malik, the co-founder of 1DocWay, a company that allows patients who cannot make face-to-face appointments with their doctors to seek help through video appointments.
Malik added that his mentoring session helped him save time and energy in making sure his company was headed in the right direction.
For some, the EIR program has come full circle.
Nat Turner, a 2008 Wharton graduate and co-founder of the online advertising buying platform InviteMedia, has played the role of both participant and mentor in the program.
Turner, who participated in EIR when he was a freshman at Penn, returned to campus last year to speak with students about his experiences as a professional entrepreneur.
“It wasn’t so much to ask about companies’ ideas, but more about making connections and building relationships,” Turner said.
Turner, whose company was acquired by a subsidiary of Google for a reported $70 million in June 2010, noted a growing trend in young entrepreneurs, as well.
“It’s exciting to see more and more students starting their own companies,” he said. “You would expect MBA students to do startups and that’s great, but I would really like to see more undergraduates take advantage of things like EIR and other programs.”
Thomas added that the EIR program has been one of the highlights from his time at Penn.
“It’s bringing in everything you learn from all your courses more so than any other project or anything else I’ve ever done,” he said. “It really requires you to jump out of your comfort zone.”