In the Wharton MBA Program for Executives, students build strong relationships with their classmates across cohorts. Known for its diverse community of professionals from all over the world, Wharton cultivates an environment which sparks innovation, supports budding entrepreneurs, and fosters collaboration. We ask Josh Mackanic, WG’18, and Brandon Cohen, WG’18, to share how they reconnected post-graduation to launch CivilGrid, a promising start-up in the construction and utilities industry.
A Startup is Born
Josh Mackanic was steadily advancing through the ranks at Pacific Gas & Electric Company when he enrolled in the Wharton MBA Program for Executives.
“I applied to the San Francisco cohort with a few different career aspirations in mind, and ultimately decided to put my energy into starting a company,” says Josh. “In the second year of the program, our class chooses from hundreds of elective courses to tailor the curriculum to our own interests. I chose to enroll in elective courses like Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Strategy, and Competitive Advantage, which provided me with the opportunity to experiment with different business concepts.”
After exploring dozens of startup ideas, Josh drew from his 10+ years of experience in the construction industry to develop the business plan for CivilGrid.
“When developers decide where to build, there are so many factors to assess,” Josh explains. “Will they need to replace a transformer to build on a certain street corner? Will they have to run a new water main down five blocks to make a location work? CivilGrid consolidates all the data that civil engineers and project teams need to plan construction projects into one single platform. Think of it as Google Maps for construction.”
A few years after graduating with highest honors as a Palmer Scholar, Josh leveraged his entrepreneurial skill set, launching CivilGrid while maintaining a full-time job. When he reached out to the Wharton alumni network for help with developing a prototype, several classmates referred him to fellow engineer and Wharton grad Brandon Cohen.
Building Lasting Connections
A civil engineering project manager by trade, Brandon Cohen enrolled in Wharton’s EMBA program to gain a more holistic lens on business.
“A few years after I earned my degree, I started doing a lot of side projects; tinkering with electronics, learning how to code… it was then that I started thinking about entrepreneurship. I was kicking around ideas with friends when a few of them said, ‘You gotta talk to Josh.”
Although they enrolled in different cohorts and lived on opposite sides of the country, the Wharton grads had met before. Beginning with orientation week on the Philadelphia campus, students from the Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Global cohorts meet in person several times and get to know each other throughout the two-year program.
“Brandon loves technology,” Josh says. “He’s not a traditionally trained coder, but he built our first few demo beta products and can code exceptionally well. After about six months working together part-time, we decided to take the plunge and go full-time with CivilGrid.”
It became clear quickly that the two worked well together. While Brandon took the lead on software engineering and product development, Josh handled raising capital and recruiting a diverse team.
“Josh led all the fundraising, and he has done an incredible job,” says Brandon. “We raised a pre-seed round of $2.2 million in institutional capital which carried us through to today and allowed us to fine-tune our technology further. Now we have a strong, viable product which is gaining traction with our customers in the construction and utilities space. Moving forward, my biggest focus is data; sourcing, storing, analyzing, and managing all the data.”
Looking to the future, the Wharton grads plan to raise more funding, build additional features and functionality, and implement a proactive sales campaign for CivilGrid.
“As we expand the CivilGrid team, our focus is to accelerate our scale of motion and start driving toward the kind of metrics we need to raise the next round of funding,” Josh says. “Ultimately, we aim to expand beyond California and provide CivilGrid to more civil engineers, developers, and construction firms across the country.”
Advice for Prospective Wharton EMBA Students
As they reflect on how the Wharton EMBA program impacted their careers, Brandon and Josh encourage future students to embrace the personal connections they make while at Wharton.
“My advice for future Wharton EMBA students is to take the coursework seriously, but also take every opportunity to get to know your professors and classmates on a deeper level,” says Brandon. “The faculty are not just experts in their fields; they’re also mentors who want to see their students succeed. Similarly, your classmates represent some of the best and brightest minds from all over the world. Embrace the diversity of thought and backgrounds within your cohort and learn from as many people as you can.”
— Kendra King
Posted: August 31, 2023