The Semester of the Entrepreneur
- by Michael Taormina
When I left a comfortable corporate job at JP Morgan to pursue entrepreneurship at Wharton, people thought I was a little nuts. Once at Wharton, when I decided to leave the sacred halls of Huntsman for the inaugural Semester in San Francisco (SSF) program, the consensus was once again that I had gone a bit crazy.
Welcome to the life of an entrepreneur. You have to make decisions that are right for you, whether other people see the value or not. Fifty-six second-year MBAs joined the SSF program, which offers an opportunity for full-time MBAs to study at the state-of-the-art Wharton | San Francisco campus for the current fall semester.
As we look to connect with the Silicon Valley ecosystem, the SSF program truly has something for everyone: close proximity to West Coast Wharton alumni, San Francisco’s financial community, industry conferences like TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF, Sand Hill Road venture capital firms, incubators and the booming crop of startups throughout the Valley.
The program has also been invaluable to students working on launching their own ventures. Last fall, with fellow students David Klein and Jessup Shean, WG’12, I co-founded CommonBond—a platform that provides lower-cost, fixed rate financing to graduate students by sourcing capital from alumni, who in turn earn a competitive risk-adjusted return and substantially impact students’ lives.
Through Len Lodish’s Entrepreneurial Marketing course, I was able to partner with a full team of MBA students who helped to further enrich CommonBond’s marketing plan in light of the company’s upcoming launch at Wharton in late November. Through David Wessels’ Venture Capital & the Finance of Innovation class, I honed my skills at valuing a pre-revenue company, which helped my startup secure a VC term sheet in early October. Through Z. John Zhang’s Pricing Policy, I learned how to best approach setting price points for our loan products just in time for launch at Wharton.
Complementing the course content is an impressive speaker lineup of entrepreneurs, executives and venture capitalists, including First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman, W’93, and Maveron’s Amy Errett, WG’88.
The resources on hand for student ventures don’t end in the classroom with traditional course instruction. The Wharton Venture Initiation Program (VIP), the school’s educational incubator, has a bi-coastal setup, allowing students to enter the program while out in San Francisco and providing existing VIP members from Philadelphia with access to a talented team of West Coast advisors and with opportunities to connect with WEMBA student entrepreneurs.
Not to be overlooked is of course the chance to enjoy life in beautiful San Francisco and its surrounding area—especially for a lifelong East Coast inhabitant like me. Students have already traveled to Napa Valley, Yosemite, Redwoods National Park, Alcatraz and other popular Bay Area destinations.
The SSF program is quickly solidifying itself as a must for any Wharton student serious about embarking down on the entrepreneurial path or teeing up a future career in the Bay Area. As our adventure continues to unfold, I look forward to passing along the many insights, successes and connections we experience along the way.