Two Wharton Venture Initiative Program (VIP) teams pitched their tech startups at the B-School entrepreneurship showcase in San Francisco, co-sponsored by leading business schools.

A key differentiator between a good and great entrepreneur is the ability to sell one’s ideas and concepts. An entrepreneur should clearly explain the purpose, mission, and vision for their startup and draw in a crowd with minimal words. A good pitch is likable, but a great pitch convinces the audience that the startup is what’s needed in the world.

B-School Disrupt is an entrepreneurial networking event that is quickly becoming a highlight of the fall semester in San Francisco. Co-sponsored by four of the leading business schools in the nation — Babson, Berkeley Haas, Stanford, and Wharton — the event features short-pitches from aspiring student entrepreneurs and seasoned alumni. Each pitch team presents their vision to their peers and a panel of esteemed alumni. The panelists, in turn, offer insightful feedback on their business model and offer suggestions to improve their pitches.

The group of judges poses in front of the four school banners.
The B-School Disrupt judges pose in front of the four school banners.

How It Started

One highlight of this event is the relationships that participants form with their entrepreneurial colleagues. B-School Disrupt is unique in that it sheds light on what’s being developed and offers inspiration to those looking to progress in their professional careers.

The competition, now in its third year, started from humble beginnings: the showcase grew from a few email exchanges to one of the greatest showcases of upcoming entrepreneurial talent on the West Coast.

Andrew Trader, W’91, WG’99, recounts his involvement with the inaugural event. “I was asked to be a part of a panel for this new event, and I didn’t understand what it was at first,” said Trader. “I realized that I wasn’t supposed to know because it was new, but it was exciting to see this unfold.”

This Year’s Competition

Each year, Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship selects two teams, one student and one alumni, as representatives for the event. The first team, ConnectED Mobile, founded by Andie Kaplan, WG’20, keeps international students connected by providing mobile plans at affordable rates. The rapidly-scaling startup has already expanded to more than 24 schools across the nation, including those participating in the event.

“It’s exciting to be here and be able to share what we’re doing with some of the schools pitching tonight,” said Kaplan. “We’re excited to see supporters from Stanford and Berkeley in attendance.” ConnectED is currently in Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship’s VIP-Xcelerate incubator, reserved for the University’s most promising startups.

Andie pitching ConnectEd Mobile to judges.

The second team, Gridline AI, co-founded by Mike Lunati, WG’13, developed a platform that uses AI algorithms to streamline corporate finances. As a Bay Area alum, Mike is currently involved in VIP-SF, Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship’s West Coast incubator. Operating out of the Wharton San Francisco campus, VIP-SF provides access to the vast resources of the region and attracts alumni looking to explore or reinvent through entrepreneurial means. For Gridline, B-School Disrupt offers a chance to bring its platform to the masses.

An interesting part of B-School Disrupt is that the participating companies have a common denominator: technology. It is nearly impossible to build a startup without a tech component, especially as today’s society has become so tech-dependent. And yet, that’s where the similarities end. Each of these companies uses tech to solve different pain points across various industries. From fintech to medical devices to AI-backed audio software, the varying applications made this particular B-School Disrupt one for the record books.

Andi Kaplan (second from left) and Michael Lunati (fifth from left) with other student/alumni ventures.

“The caliber of the companies pitching here every year is really really high,” said Trader. “I love that this event is so inclusive amongst the schools.”

For a few short hours every year, the competition venue buzzes with conversations around ideation, funding, scaling, prototyping, development, and other core concepts of entrepreneurship. It captures the essence of the startup ecosystem in the Bay Area — a mix of creative talent fueled by a desire to solve current issues. Hopefully, B-School Disrupt has the makings of an annual tradition.

— Taylor Durham

Posted: October 11, 2019

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