Wharton Alumni Network at Its Best

Wharton alum Josh Kopelman with his Wharton Entrepreneurship Alumni Achievement Award.

Wharton alum Josh Kopelman with his Wharton Entrepreneurship Alumni Achievement Award.

In early January 2005, Wharton alum Josh Kopelman W93, founder of half.com and First Round, was spending the day as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Wharton Entrepreneurship, meeting one on one with Penn student entrepreneurs for 30 minutes each.

During that day, then Wharton freshman Nat Turner W08 walked through the door to seek Josh’s counsel on his campus food delivery business. At the end of their half-hour together, trading entrepreneurship stories, Josh leveled with Nat and then offered him an interesting invitation:

“I don’t like your business, but I like you. Will you intern for us?”

Nat took that internship, and when as a junior, he founded and gained traction with his new business, InviteMedia, Josh’s firm eventually became the first investor—and was well rewarded when InviteMedia sold to Google for $81 million in 2010. Now Josh has invested in Nat’s new venture, Flatiron Health.

This is the story Josh told at our recent alumni dinner in San Francisco, where Wharton Entrepreneurship and our board of advisors awarded Josh the 2015 Alumni Achievement Award.

There are many reasons I never tire of hearing Josh and Nat’s story. A big one is that they met as participants in one of our programs. But even more, it is incredibly satisfying knowing that the relationship went so far beyond that 30 minutes. This is the much-vaunted Wharton network at its best. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely path, and it’s friendships like theirs that ease the solitude—as well as provide the knowledge, and sometimes the capital, to turn an idea into a company.

As Josh put it at the Wharton alumni dinner in October, “You go to Wharton as an EIR (Entrepreneur in Residence), and you never know where the conversation and relationship will go.”

I also love that this is what Wharton Entrepreneurship means to Josh—that when asked to accept an award and make a speech, he chose to emphasize a relationship that traced its way back to us. We take pride in and have a strong track record of facilitating such connections through our programs. And while the alumni and students themselves are responsible for recognizing mutual interests and leveraging those connections in mutually rewarding ways, we know at Wharton Entrepreneurship that we are part of the catalyst that makes it all happen.

It doesn’t surprise me that Josh thinks of this mentoring relationship so fondly. In a sense, that’s what First Round does in the startup world. As he said, “I feel that I’m fortunate because although First Round is a venture firm, it’s also a startup—it’s an interesting company because we get to partner with the Nat Turners of the world and help them succeed.”

Of course, Josh also told some other great stories and shared some pithy insights into entrepreneurship in general. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “The first 18 to 24 months are a magical time in a startup’s life. So many early decisions are made then that are important for that venture.”
  • “It’s so easy to phone it in. The value of hard work is incredibly important as an entrepreneur. “
  • “Venture is a very humbling business. You look at all of those decisions you had such conviction about and that turned out to be wrong.”

Editor’s note: The original version of this article appeared on the Wharton Entrepreneurship Blog on Oct. 23, 2015.





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