The Wharton Impact Venture Associates (WIVA) program gives students hands-on experience in impact investing. Four students reflect on lessons learned from assessing real impact venture capital deals.

Classroom theory is a solid foundation, but in fields like impact investing, nothing beats real-world experience. By allowing students to work on real impact venture capital deals, the Wharton Impact Venture Associates (WIVA) program shows students what it’s like to be an impact investor.

Launched in 2018, WIVA is Wharton Social Impact Initiative’s impact investing educational program. Wharton and Penn graduate and undergraduate students get hands-on training in sourcing companies that have a social impact mission, learn how to conduct rigorous due diligence, and connect entrepreneurs with potential investors, creating opportunities for real impact investments.

 Four WIVA students reflect on takeaways from year one:

Rishabh Tagore, C’19 on Expanding Intellectual Horizons

“WIVA expanded my imagination. During my time in the program, I was exposed to a wide variety of tools, technologies, and ideas that entrepreneurs used to create positive impact. I had not even conceived of many of these approaches before: an AI trash sorter, a platform to help municipalities adapt to floods, or even a tool for dental diagnostics in underserved areas. WIVA gave me the opportunity to learn from these entrepreneurs firsthand, and showed me the diverse intellectual foundations behind many promising startups. For me, this is the true value of a program like WIVA. In my academic studies, I rarely have the opportunity to quickly and rigorously learn about such a diverse range of fields. But WIVA is different—it allowed me to interact with the people who are at the cutting edge of their fields, and will soon shape the world that we live in.”

Penny Zhou, WG’20 on the Need to Rely on Industry Experts

“When it comes to technical products or those in complex ecosystems such as medical devices, a general investor’s mindset might not be enough to understand all the nuances that might make that product successful in the market and hence, lead to a successful investment. WIVA has been fortunate to have experts in the healthcare space, including Penn Med, to get additional perspectives for its healthcare deals. In conversations with these experts early in the due diligence process, I learned that while a product may be innovative and effective, it still might not make economic sense in the overall healthcare ecosystem after taking into account the different stakeholder relationships. Of course, the importance of talking to experts is also critical in many other industries outside of healthcare. I’ve seen firsthand the importance of building strong relationships with knowledgeable professionals and hope to continue to do so in my future investing and professional career.”

Saidi Ding, WG’19 on Why Patience is a Big Asset for Investors

“One of the biggest lessons I learned from my WIVA experience is that patience is a big asset. When I first started sourcing startups with impact visions, I wondered how many replies I would receive after sending out 20 cold emails to potential companies. It frustrated me when no one replied or if someone replied saying that the company was not fundraising at the moment. But slowly I realized the way to increase response rate is to assess the fit and timing issue in the first place. For example, student founders or founders backed by university resources were more willing to connect with us. As for another example on timing, I heard back from a startup six weeks after I reached out—when the startup just kicked off fundraising. This lesson then helped me strategize my full time recruiting in my second year of MBA—I told myself to be patient and wait for the opportunity that best fits me. After all, looking for a job is like looking for an investment target—the market will reward patience.”

Mustafa Cicek, WG’20 on the Importance of Good Leadership

“Since joining WIVA, I experienced a sense of pride and achievement. I quickly contributed to the design of the fund structure and organized a team-wide valuations training. At the same time, I learned about social impact and sustainable fund structures, participated in high level negotiations, and interacted with prominent WSII team members. WIVA helped me understand the importance of having good leadership by questioning each investment from an impact perspective for the good of the common society. WIVA also taught me that despite differences in our close-knit team, everyone has at least one thing in common: making a positive impact.”

Posted: August 23, 2019

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