“In a classroom setting, it’s concept; but at Venture Lab, it’s execution. Because I know how important receiving that validation was to me as a young founder, it’s so rewarding to offer that back in turn at Venture Lab today.” – Shanel Fields, WG’23

Imagine you are an undergraduate Wharton student with a brilliant idea for a new business that you are certain will change the world. But you’re eighteen-years-old, and no amount of funding opportunities or pure creative talent can compensate for your lack of experience. You don’t know where to go or to whom to turn for hands-on help with your new business. So, you decide to show up at Venture Lab, Penn’s Wharton-led incubator that supports and educates bright-minded entrepreneurs and accelerates companies.

Life at Venture Lab’s Tangen Hall. (Image: Venture Lab)

Venture Lab is where Wharton and Penn students alike are welcome to participate in the program’s suite of business-building services. Perhaps you’ll decide to apply into Venture Lab’s VIP pipeline, which is a multi-level program with a three-month intensive dedicated to accelerating a business through workshops, industry insights from experts, and a focus on the nitty-gritty details of running a venture and building a brand. You can also converse in depth with one of Venture Lab’s Entrepreneurs in Residence, a talented team of successful program alumni back on campus to provide tailored guidance to Venture Lab’s current crop of students and founders.

After all, at Venture Lab, there is a whole team of dedicated staff, faculty, and Wharton alumni who are committed to helping you realize your dreams. 

Founding principles

At Venture Lab, students are welcome to book time with industry experts, like current Entrepreneur in Residence Rui Jing Jiang, W’18, who entered the VIP pipeline as a freshman before graduating as the founder and CEO of Avisi Technologies, a company developing nanotechnology aimed at treating glaucoma. Jiang remains passionate about helping young entrepreneurs find their footing today. “I love helping students realize they can start a company, and they shouldn’t be afraid based on their age or their looks or their backgrounds and work experience,” Jiang explained. “To be courageous and do something you feel passionately about is the advice I tell every student I meet.”

Jiang speaks on a next-gen founders panel at the 2023 Life Science Intelligence U.S. Emerging Medtech Summit. (Image: Life Science Institute)

Because she remembers the initial intimidation she encountered at the prospect of building a business from the ground up, Jiang is an advocate for the considerable value she found in Venture Lab’s real-world pressure-testing of ideas as an Entrepreneur in Residence. “When I started with the program as a student, now I’m on the flip side as an alum and offer one-on-one sessions with students,” Jiang said. “I remember so clearly being in their shoes, with me asking the same types of questions. ‘How do I identify the right customer markets? How do I launch a pilot, get funding?’ I especially enjoy speaking about my journey through guest lectures on campus, whether it’s in a Wharton classroom setting or with Venture Lab itself.” 

This unique ecosystem approaches entrepreneurship hands-on, providing the entire Penn community with Wharton-syndicated guidance on how to launch brands and create companies from tip-to-tail. 

Expanding access and opening doors

Venture Lab’s Director Valentina Goutorova notes that she sees the success of this ecosystem reflected in the program’s high levels of alumni engagement. “We’ve worked with probably 1,000 students in the past twenty years, and we see a lot of them coming back,” said Goutorova. “They reach out and participate in our programs as Entrepreneurs in Residence, functioning as alumni judges and alumni experts, which is perfect because entrepreneurial interest is only going to rise. We’re opening our doors wider than ever before.” 

In addition to this unprecedented access to entrepreneurial learnings and high-level networking opportunities, Venture Lab and their Entrepreneurs in Residence system provides guidance to its student participants. Another current Resident is Shanel Fields, WG’23, founder and CEO of MD Ally, a company that allows dispatchers and first responders to connect non-emergent calls to social services and telehealth in real-time. 

Fields in Philadelphia, where she launched her career as a student. (Image: Aaron Ricketts)

As another alumna of the Venture Lab VIP pipeline and a current Entrepreneur in Residence, Fields champions the program’s emphasis on practical engagement over theoretical discussion. This is because Venture Lab facilitates an execution-oriented environment that encourages participants to step beyond theoretical knowledge, instead validating their ideas through real-world interactions with business leaders from across the country. “This shift from conceptualization to validation is a critical step in the entrepreneurial journey,” said Fields. “In a classroom setting, it’s concept; but at Venture Lab, it’s execution. Because I know how important receiving that validation was to me as a young founder, it’s so rewarding to offer that back in turn at Venture Lab today.” 

Building an entrepreneurial community 

This outcome is echoed by other current Entrepreneurs in Residence at Venture Lab. Another Resident, Justin Silver, WG’19, attended Venture Lab information sessions shortly after arriving on Wharton’s campus to earn his MBA. There and within days of his first encounter with the Venture Lab team, he also met his co-founder in fellow Wharton student Rooshy Roy, and they teamed up to start AARVANI, a skincare company built on the foundation of “ancient Indian beauty rituals.” 

Silver teaches aspiring entrepreneurs from Venture Lab’s classroom. (Image: Venture Lab)

Silver attributes much of the success he and Roy achieved with AARVANI to the mentorship and exposure he received from the Venture Lab team, particularly in the way that the program fostered the duo’s direct engagement with alumni mentors, advisors, and potential customers. This unique structure and ease of exposure to true expertise empowered the two founders to receive immediate feedback and iteration on their business plans and related proposals for their company. 

Now, when Silver returns to campus for his Entrepreneur in Residence sessions with Venture Lab’s current crop of students, he is giving back on that goodwill that Wharton alumni extended to him and Roy at the outset of AARVANI. “When we were students, we were very on top of connecting with alumni, and how amazing it was that they rewarded us with their knowledge,” Silver recalled. “Back then, Venture Lab connected us with entrepreneurial alumni who helped us craft our entire brand’s journey. Because I know the benefit of connecting alumni to talented students who want help with their current ventures, it’s my pleasure to step into that role.” 

“Proof of concept”

With over twenty-million dollars raised since their companies’ respective foundings, Fields, Silver, and Jiang keep coming back because they believe in Venture Lab’s mission. From delivering inspiring keynote speeches to sitting down with young founders for hours in 1:1 development sessions, their dedication also speaks to that which is displayed by Venture Lab in all of their dealings with students and burgeoning brands, and a team that’s committed to driving innovation and pushing for excellence. 

“The Wharton brand might be built on being analytical and data-driven, expectations which traditionally align with big-name firms,” said Wharton’s Vice Dean of Entrepreneurship Lori Rosenkopt. “But if you look at the big players in tech and entrepreneurial spaces, from LinkedIn to Google, we see Wharton across the board. This is proof of concept for the power of a Wharton education in these rising industries, and where Venture Lab really helps our students excel.”

Through a curriculum that emphasizes execution, validation, and iteration, Venture Lab prepares entrepreneurs to navigate the complexities of the field’s shifting business landscape. Whether it’s through the VIP pipeline or hearing directly through experts via the Entrepreneurs in Residence program, Venture Lab melds Wharton’s standards for academic excellence with the tangible, changing realities of day-to-day entrepreneurship. Through these principles, Venture Lab sees that the journey from idea to enterprise is not a path that students ever walk alone.

– Grace Meredith

Posted: April 18, 2024

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