A Day in the Life: Student Startups

The 2013 Wharton Business Plan Competition is in full swing. We spent a few minutes with two of the competitors to see what it’s like to be in their shoes.

By Matthew Brodsky

These are heady days for competitors in the Wharton Business Plan Competition (BPC). Phase II just ended on January 25 at 2 p.m. EST. By then, all contestants submitted their business plans. Now, only 25 teams will be chosen to progress to Stage III and the semi-finals. The top eight teams will then compete in the Venture Finals, where they present their ideas live in front of a judging panel. The inaugural Perlman Prize will be awarded to the students whose business plan is judged at the Finals to have the greatest potential, and carries a total winnings purse of $45,000.

Lisa Lovallo

Lisa Lovallo

Despite the pressures of the impending Wharton BPC deadline—and the daily to-do lists of their businesses and classwork—we were invited to speak to two contestants: second-year Lauder MBA/MA Lisa Lovallo of the international recruiting firm Hemishare and sophomore Daniel Fine of Glass-U (and other startups).

Lovallo explains her business as a traditional recruiting service with an innovative twist: Hemishare looks to place top talent into Brazilian startups.

She got the idea for Hemishare during her Lauder immersion in Brazil where she quickly identified the problem of local companies: a dearth of young talent.

“I had come to business school wanting to start a company, and, here, I was presented with this,” she recounts.

Daniel Fine

Daniel Fine

She has been working on this company since coming to Wharton, so she does not even really consider it a startup. She already has a business plan and is garnering attention in Brazilian media. For her, the BPC is more about fine-tuning her business plan, improving her website and social media presence and, if Hemishare were to make it to the Finals and some award money were to come its way, purchasing the tracking and database software needed to operate a recruiting firm. It’s not like Lovallo has spare time to spend on just any competition.

“I generally tend to be very busy,” she states.

Finding the right recruits consumes much of her time. She started by finding candidates on campuses but realized a wide net was not the best approach. She needed to find pockets of people who had the traits valued by entrepreneurs and VCs who already know Portuguese or are willing to learn it. Hard work has paid off as Hemishare is now earning word-of-mouth credibility. Hemishare’s first 200 candidates came through Lovallo’s network but the next 300 have come looking for her.

Then there is the travel. After her Brazil immersion, she went to Brazil three times last year—including for the  summer and  and has plans another couple of trips this semester.  This spring, she is working toward a partnership with a Brazilian VC to place a “decent number” of these candidates. This coming summer, she could be there the entire season.

While she is still on campus for her last semester, here is what a typical day looks like for Lovallo:

7:00 – 8:00 a.m. – Skype call with client in Brazil

Lovallo and her business partner, Larissa Freire, in front of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro

Lovallo and her business partner, Larissa Freire, in front of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro

8:00 – 9:00 a.m. – Emails from my desk, then from the bus to campus

9:00 – 10:30 a.m.  – Work out at gym

10:30 – 11:00 a.m.  – Plan for meeting with Intern

11:00 – 12:30 a.m.  – Meeting with intern (a junior at Penn in the M&T program) to discuss workstream and plan

12:30 – 1:00 p.m. – Lunch, review case interviews, emails

1:00 – 2:00 p.m.  – Give practice consulting case to first year student. It’s DIP week!

2:00 – 3:00 p.m.  – Plan for meeting with Hemishare’s newly minted Engagement Manager

3:00 – 4:30 p.m.  – Meet with Engagement Manager

4:30 – 5:30 p.m.  – Plan recruit marketing strategy and Brasileiríssimo Challenge (upcoming marketing campaign)

6:00 – 7:00 p.m.  – Meet with MBA student representative of the Dorm Room Fund

7:00 – 7:45 p.m.  – Walk home in the snow!

7:45 – 8:00 p.m. – Answer emails

8:00 – 9:00 p.m.  – Update Wharton eClub newsletter over dinner

9:00 – 11:00 p.m. – Work on Wharton Business Plan Competition Phase II submission

11:00 p.m.  – 12:30 a.m. – Homework for class tomorrow

12:30 – 1:00 a.m. – Review Tuesday’s calendar and prepare, and wrap up to-dos for the day

When we spoke with Daniel Fine, weeks before the Phase II deadline for the Wharton Business Plan Competition, he was contemplating entering two business plans: one for his custom sunglasses company and another for a venture capital fund he’s exploring. His day is not that of a typical undergraduate divided among classwork, friends and a startup— his time is split among multiple companies. His life has been this way since he was 11 and he launched a charity to fund diabetes research after his brother was diagnosed. Fine’s charity, called Team Brotherly Love, has raised $1.6 million to date. In addition, he has printing, tutoring and consulting businesses.

For one of his latest exploits—Glass-U—he was thinking about things he liked (sunglasses) and realized that no one made sunglasses with the colors of various colleges. The idea was like one of these ‘why didn’t I think of this’ epiphanies, Fine says, but it turns out nobody had.

“Entrepreneurship is fun, but also it’s, if I’m not doing this now, somebody else will,” he explains.

Glass-U at the Rose Bowl

Glass-U at the Rose Bowl

Glass-U has enjoyed early success. He already landed the rights to the Rose Bowl and has his sights on other big-name sporting events. For distribution across campuses countrywide, he is in the process of setting up a network of 90+ “gurus”—campus reps that will work on commission to market custom or generic frames.

His other new possible company is called The Millennial Fund, a VC fund that would provide capital of $500 to $50,000 to entrepreneurs under the age of 30, as well as resources and mentorship.

At the time of our interview, Fine was contemplating entering both new companies into the BPC. For either, the chance to complete a business plan, practice his pitch and open up new networks are well worth the effort to enter and compete.

It’s not like he has the time.

“It’s basically me,” he says about Glass-U. “That’s what gets me every day.”

Yes, what gets us is that this one-person team can accomplish all this at 19 years of age. As evidence, view his typical daily schedule:

11:45 a.m. – 12:40 p.m. — Respond to emails, texts and missed calls

12:50 – 1:45 p.m. — Gym

1:45 – 1:55 p.m. – Shower and hustle to leadership meeting

2:00 – 2:40 p.m. – Get sidetracked on way to meeting by one of my best friends from home (also my co-founder to NexTutors) who needed to talk.

2:45 p.m. – Meeting with an interested investor, who ended up running 15 minutes late (but ran into a friend and caught up with them while waiting)

3:15 – 5:05 p.m. – Meeting with the interested investor

5:05 – 5:20 p.m. — Catch up with some other friends who were in the same café

5:20 – 5:35 p.m. — Respond to some messages and walk to next appointment

5:35 – 6:15 — Meeting with one of my best friends at Penn, who is interested in coming on board Glass-U, to figure out the business relationship

6:20 – 7:10 p.m. — Fraternity chapter meeting and dinner

7:20 – 7:35 p.m. — Update from interns on the standing of their weekend projects

7:35 – 8:30 p.m. — Meet with three other friends to discuss a new venture (two are joining the team for a different initiative and a third is shadowing)

8:35 – 9:20 p.m. — Web developers come over to go over potential designs and priorities for the new Glass-U site.

9:20 – 10:15 p.m. — Respond to some emails and go over the meetings with the shadow (as well as discuss life and school with him, as he is a close friend)

10:20 – 11:40 p.m. — Do research on people whom I’m meeting with in NY later this week

11:40 p.m. – 12:10 a.m. — Catch up with roommates who just got back from working

12:15 – 12:30 a.m. — Edit bio to send as a profile request

12:30 – 12:35 a.m. — Send a few emails for people to connect with tomorrow

12:40 – 1:20 a.m. — Talk to agent in China regarding orders that are set to ship prior to the Chinese New Year

1:20 – 1:40 a.m. — Print out slides for class

1:40 – 2:15 a.m. — Fill out application for additional licenses

2:15 – 2:40 a.m. — Design wireframe preferences for website

2:40 – 2:55 a.m. — Converse with Chinese agent over questions he has

2:55 – 3 a.m. — Respond to Web developers questions

3 – 3:05 a.m. — Snack time!

3:07 a.m. — Write out my “A Day in the Life” schedule for Wharton Magazine

Editor’s note: Want to find out how the 2013 Wharton Business Plan Competition turned out? Who won? Watch our video, “ZenKars and the 2013 Wharton BPC: Student Entrepreneurs Day in the Life.” 

 

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