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Credit: Cindy Chen

After a new analysis affirmed Penn’s status as one of the top schools for aspiring entrepreneurs, Penn students and professors discuss how various initiatives enable students to succeed in their business pursuits.

A recent Crunchbase News article looked at the university affiliations of CEOs of startups that have raised at least a million dollars in the past year. According to their data, Penn produced the fourth-most CEOs — 63. 

Harvard tops the list, graduating 148 top CEOs. Stanford and MIT rank second and third, respectively.

This report follows an earlier Crunchbase News piece that demonstrated that Penn produced the seventh-highest number of million-dollar startup founders. In addition, the latest Forbes 400 list ranks Penn as the school with the most billionaire alumni.

Wharton professor Keith Weigelt said that Penn's alumni success can be attributed to different innovation and business initiatives on campus. He cited the President's Engagement Prize, Wharton Entrepreneurship awards, and the Milken-Penn Graduate School of Education’s Education Business Plan Competition as examples of how Penn promotes a campus culture hospitable to startups. 

“At Penn, entrepreneurship isn’t only in the business school; it’s across the University,” Weigelt said.  

2014 Engineering graduate Danny Cabrera said he was heavily involved in Penn’s pro-entrepreneurial atmosphere while he was a student. For his engineering senior project, Cabrera cofounded BioBots (now Allevi), a startup which manufactures and sells 3D printers of transplantable human tissue. Cabrera, who served as the company’s CEO until mid-2017, said that the startup’s success was fostered by the resources available to him at Penn. 

“It was a project really born out of stuff that was going on at Penn,” Cabrera said. “I was working with another Penn student and a post-doc who was building 3D printers and started working on [BioBots] as my senior design project.” 

Cabrera said the financial opportunities that the University provided also contributed to BioBots' success.

The start-up received $5,000 for winning the Weiss Tech House’s Pennvention competition and solicited financing from innovation funds related to Wharton. Later, BioBots saved additional money on rent by relocating the company to the Pennovation Center. 

“We really took advantage of all the resources I could find at Penn to get free money to be able to run with [BioBots],” Cabrera added. “Since there was a couple of thousand of dollars of free money I was able to get my hands on, I was able to build some prototypes and really get the business up and running; and that was basically through Penn resources.” 

2017 Wharton graduate Zach Pelka said how he believed Penn’s, and particularly Wharton’s, curriculum prepares student entrepreneurs. As co-founder and CEO of Paytronage, a business which connects students with creditors who offer Income Share Agreements as alternatives to student loans, Pelka said that Penn and Wharton alumni are extraordinarily well-suited for a professional business environment.

“[Wharton’s curriculum] gives you an analytical framework to really evaluate and solve problems … It’s really just an unbelievable education power.” Pelka said. “I literally used the Wharton template for the final exam that [Wharton Professor Eric Clemons] gave us about how to create a business plan to start [Paytronage].”

Pelka also said helpful networking opportunities were important for his business. While developing Paytronage, Pelka benefited from the advice and resources of past professors, classmates, and a slew of successful alumni.

Wharton professor Tyler Wry attributed the usefulness of the Penn curriculum and professional networks to their multidisciplinary nature. He says they afford student and alumni entrepreneurs the flexibility to branch out into a wide range of markets, even those as distinct as education, finance, and bioengineering.

“The bottom line is that we just have an ecosystem set up that can support just about any type of venture that’s coming through, and that’s borne out a little bit in some of the startups you’ve seen come out in the last 10 years," Wry said.