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Huntsman Hall on Feb. 26, 2021.

Credit: Alexa Cotler

Eight weeks into their annual Incubator program, members of the Wharton Undergraduate Healthcare Club reflect on their experience, which is slated to conclude in early April.

Started in 2018, the WUHC Incubator program allows teams of students interested in healthcare, biotech, and life sciences to attend interactive workshops and speaker events hosted by healthcare executives and industry experts. The program culminates in a final start-up pitch competition where students propose solutions to a current healthcare issue.

This year, 16 teams — composed of students across all schools — are participating in the Incubator program. Any member of the Penn community can attend speaker events, but the workshops are limited to those participating in the pitch competition.

Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences & Management sophomore and Incubator Chair Katherine Liu said that this year's pitch competition will be judged by BioPhy Chief Executive and Scientific Officer Dave Latshaw and BioPhy Chief Financial Officer and President Steven Truong among other unconfirmed judges. The winning team will be awarded a cash prize and potentially be connected with venture capital firms. 

Liu said the program was started to bring more opportunities specific to undergraduates at Penn interested in healthcare in a low-stakes environment.

“Oftentimes opportunities are offered to MBA and medical students, so it's hard for undergraduates to compete with them to get those resources,” Liu said. “The Incubator is designed to be exclusive to undergraduate students to provide them with a platform.”

Liu added she believes that the program's non-selective, exclusively-undergraduate nature allows Penn students interested in healthcare start-ups to learn more.

College first-year and Incubator participant Eric Lee said he has always known he wanted to explore start-ups and found the program to be the perfect opportunity. 

“The Incubator team has been so hard at work scheduling excellent speakers and events for all interested students. I’ve learned a lot from workshops and observing my peers in WUHC Incubator, and every time I attend a workshop, I feel a burst of motivation to work on my project,” Lee said. 

College first-year and Incubator Committee member Allison Li said her favorite speaker event was the keynote by Sunil Budhrani, the CEO at Innovation Health. 

“[Budhrani’s] journey was incredibly unique and inspiring, and it’s amazing hearing insights from someone working directly in the intersection of medicine and business,” Li said. 

Olivia Canalejo — College sophomore and WUHC Incubator Committee member — said the program gives students valuable exposure to industry leaders, such as executives from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

“It’s giving people access to some of the most important people in the healthcare industry who are giving first-hand information on their career paths and how their work has impacted the world,” Canalejo said. 

Some students join the Incubator with pre-established start-up teams, while others form teams during the initial sessions. Liu said that the program hosts a variety of events, such as speed dating, to help students organize themselves into teams.

“Around five start-up teams didn’t know each other at all before the incubator,” Liu said. 

For Liu, the best part of working in the WUHC Incubator is watching how different perspectives within each team drive creativity behind final pitches.

“Even though they come from different educational backgrounds, they still converge in terms of the healthcare interest they have,” Liu said. “Being able to have the opportunity to meet new people and work together can really lead to innovation.”