The Wharton Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has always been known for “helping businesses start, grow and prosper,” but now more than ever, it is beginning to extend its entrepreneurial expertise to the Philadelphia startup community.
As the managing practice leader of the Wharton SBDC, I have found working at the center to be an invaluable experience that has taught me how to utilize my Wharton education beyond the classroom.
Last month, I had the opportunity to work with Karina Sotnik, the senior consultant for the UPstart program within Penn’s Center for Technology Transfer, and a team of five SBDC consultants to co-sponsor the AppItUP Fall Event Challenge.
AppItUP is a University-wide initiative spearheaded by UPstart, the Penn business incubator that works with faculty, staff and students to develop a strategy around company formation with an emphasis on collaborative research. Founded in 2010, UPstart has launched 57 companies, raised $15.5 million and created more than 50 jobs. UPstart’s most recent project was AppItUP, a new challenge designed to gather the best mobile app ideas from the Penn community and connect them with the funding and technical resources to develop their proposed products. The competition yielded more than 185 ideas across 11 schools at Penn from students, professors and physicians. A team of local investors evaluated the ideas and chose 10 semi-finalists to deliver a live pitch at a final event on Nov. 22. On that Friday, the semi-finalists not only presented to the investors, but also to professional software developers who volunteered to design free prototypes of the winning apps.
I was captivated by the diversity of the submissions, which ranged from Clear Sight, an app that makes echolocation easier to learn and use, to Beans, a taste-based recommendation service for specialty coffee blends.
At the end of the AppItUP event, each software partner selected their favorite app for development, with the semi-finalists breaking the tie if two developers chose the same app.
The goal of AppItUP is to turn the five winning ideas into sustainable companies. The AppItUP team will continue to support the winners by helping them identify entrepreneurs who possess the skills to manage the product development process.
UPStart intends for AppItUP to be an annual event with the hope of cultivating the entrepreneurial spirit at Penn, one app at a time. As the Penn startup community continues to grow, there needs to be more events like AppItUP to provide students with the chance to take risks in a supportive environment.
As co-sponsors of the event, my SBDC team and I had the chance to assist local entrepreneurs in a different capacity. Unlike our typical work of evaluating the operational efficiency of established businesses, AppItUP allowed us to interact with startups still conducting market research and solidifying business plans. We learned that we can better serve our clients by providing recommendations that encourage them to adopt the boundary-pushing mindset of startups.