Wharton EMBA Alumna Returns to Campus as Business Plan Competition Judge

For Wharton MBA Exec alumna Maxine Gowen, staying connected with the School is very important. Most recently, the founding president and CEO of Trevena, Inc., a privately held pharmaceutical company located in King of Prussia, Pa., came back to the Philadelphia campus as a judge in the final round of Wharton’s Business Plan Competition. We asked her to talk about her interactions with the School and why she stays involved. Here’s what she said:

“Wharton’s Executive MBA program changed the course of my career and therefore my life! I am immensely grateful for that and want to help others have the same experience so I try to stay involved.


Growing up in the English education system, I studied to be a scientist from the age of 16. I had a successful academic career and then moved to GlaxoSmithKline to do drug discovery. But after eight years there, I wanted to broaden my opportunities. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I changed my direction, but I knew I needed a change of direction and that an MBA from a school like Wharton would help me take that next step.

Wharton made a huge difference in helping me to understand how the world works and about all aspects of running a company. It gave me a great deal of confidence to believe I could go into an entrepreneurial role and be successful.  It also sent a strong signal about my intentions. I had been talking before the program about moving into a more generalist role and was met with quizzical looks. But as soon as I graduated, everything changed and I was being considered for completely different positions that were much more aligned with my interests and capabilities.

After the EMBA program, I became a managing partner at SR One, the VC subsidiary of GSK. That was a fantastic next step for me to use both my skills as a scientist and my MBA. Then, I was recruited back into GSK’s R&D organization to start a new division which was developing a new model for R&D within the company.  After a few years there, I decided I really wanted to be outside of a big company and take on a more entrepreneurial role, which is when I left and founded Trevena.

Since graduating in 2002, I’ve tried to come back to Wharton every year. I’ve been a guest lecturer in two or three EMBA classes, have attended conferences, and participated in career workshops with Executive MBA students. If I can help anyone have the experience that I have had, then I love to do that. And to be associated with the faculty, students, and administrators at Wharton is a pleasure and honor.

This year was my first experience with Wharton’s Business Plan Competition and I was blown away by the quality of the presentations that were made that day. To present a real business plan for a real company in 10 minutes is incredibly difficult and I know because sometimes I have to do that myself. To make that presentation engaging and believable is very challenging and all of the teams did very well and it was enjoyable to listen to them.

The toughest part was trying to rank the business plans. This year, there were a lot of plans for healthcare companies, which is a very high-risk and highly regulated industry with incredibly long timelines. It was challenging to bring together the disparate backgrounds of the judges to a place where we all felt comfortable with our final ranking, but the company that won first place, Cortical Concepts, was a clear winner to everyone.

I loved being a judge and would certainly come back to do it again. Staying connected with the School provides such an ongoing benefit for me. And it’s easy to find ways to be involved that are a lot of fun!”

Thanks to Maxine for sharing her experiences and her time!