Get a ‘GRIP’ on Wharton’s Alumni Network
- by Bennett Sultan
I spent the summer participating in the Wharton Global Research Internship Program (GRIP), conducting research across India and China. While exploring the startup ecosystems in these countries, I found something I was not looking for—a massive Wharton global network.
I now marvel at the sheer number of responses I received from the alumni community over the course of my summer. After finding their contact info through WhartonConnect with search terms including “Entrepreneurial,” “Startups” and “Venture Capital,” I began to send out my cold emails. I had never met or been acquainted with these people. But the responses told me something very different.
Immediately, I could feel the difference in class years fading away, and we were soon like old neighbors who shared more than just memories of a sprawling campus in the heart of Philadelphia. I found myself signing emails genuinely thanking them for their generosity, as if their kindness was often unfounded, or so I thought. From offers to take me out to coffee or lunch, to providing their personal cell number if I needed help, I was, to put it bluntly—shocked—by their response.
My travels started in May in Bangalore, or the “Silicon Valley of India.” There, I made plans to meet with as many tech business representatives as possible, from the hottest startups like Flipkart and Snapdeal to large multinational technology corporations like LinkedIn. Most of those visits happened due to my affiliation with Penn or Wharton.
A notable visit was with Tina Goyal Chulet W06, a graduate of Wharton and founder of Waltzz, a popular dating app tailored to the cultural tastes of her target market, India. After walking me through the startup ecosystem she has come to know intimately, the conversation took an unexpected turn. At this point we were well over the half-hour we had allotted on our calendars, and as employees dropped in to ask her questions, I insisted that I could be on my way. But our conversation continued, giving us the opportunity to venture into other topics. Tina’s role slowly transformed to that of an adviser, asking me about my passions and prospects and providing personal anecdotes to support her suggestions. I left her office, stepping back into a rickshaw, with a brilliant smile, thinking about the Wharton alumni network. By the next morning, I was spending another two hours over a hotel breakfast with a recent ambitious alumnus who has been leveraging this network himself.
My connections continued in China. During my second week in Hong Kong, where I was spending my time at a B2B accelerator in Quarry Bay, I posted to the internal messaging system, Slack. Almost immediately, Kim (Nguyen) Leitzes W04, founder of ParkLu, was headed my way. The greeting was one I would expect after a flight across the world to visit a good friend. In a way, I guess I was. It was decided immediately that she would take me to grab some local cuisine. In addition to all of the rich dialogue I had with alumni, after every meeting, I received critical introductions to further my research.
I was always told how valuable my network would be on so many occasions, but this summer I was able to experience it. Now, in frequent conversations, I find myself boasting about this global network whose breadth and depth I have only begun to explore.
Editor’s note: The original version of this post first appeared on Wharton Undergraduate Program’s Student Voices blog on Sept. 24, 2015.