Wharton is an incredibly innovative place, and I’ve seen many classmates entering business plan competitions and developing great products. With a background in entertainment business development I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur, but since I arrived at Wharton the desire to stretch myself and see what I can achieve has grown ever stronger. Lucky for me, the school offers some of the best ways to learn innovation and experience entrepreneurship in action.
Domestic Modular Course at Wharton SF
Over this winter break, I joined another 50 Wharton full-time and executive MBA students for a week in a Domestic Modular Course at Wharton’s San Francisco campus for the Design of Web-Based Products and Services course. This unique academic experience has transformed the way I see innovation and myself. The course is designed and taught by renowned professor Karl Ulrich, who has taught many successful entrepreneurs in the past and invested in or invented a number of websites and products himself (among other cool things, Karl designed the world’s best ice-cream scoop, and the famous scooter Xootr favored by Steve Jobs and celebrities alike.
The week-long course is designed to emulate the real-life innovation process and uses the innovation tournament process for idea selection. Before the course started each student had to submit five web-based startup ideas and comment on other people’s submissions.
When we arrived in San Fran everyone had selected his/her top idea for a 60-second pitch in front of the class followed by a round of voting for the best ideas. Once the votes were in, the top half of the ideas get to continue.
The people whose ideas aren’t selected will join a selected team and the tournament repeats the next day. Throughout the competition we also listened to amazing startup founders and learned essential internet tools for launching new products. On the fourth day we presented the final eight projects with their prototype website/app ready to be viewed by the rest of the world!
Discovering My DNA as an Entrepreneur
My idea was to create a mobile app for giving gratuities—I often don’t have cash with me and find the traditional tipping interaction awkward. It’s also not ideal for service employees who depend on tips in an increasingly cashless society. Wouldn’t it be easier if tipping is done through several easy taps on your phone? It turned out that this idea touches on a common pain point and gained lots of traction on the first day. But to stay in the tournament I had to continuously refine the app—its features, user experience, design, revenue model, etc., to make sure it best solves the problem and is easiest to understand.
As the course progressed a problem arose: Nobody on my team had much experience building apps or websites, so how were we going to make our prototype? Thankfully, professor Ulrich introduced us to a world of amazing tools for prototyping and demonstrating apps. Through simple graphics made in Powerpoint we created interactive app demos, a basic but functional website and even a commercial video demonstrating how to use the app. After purchasing the domain name, our “company” website is officially live. You can check out our idea and the seven other cool startup projects that made it to the final day of the competition here.
Professor Ulrich’s course put me on a fast track to understanding the process of launching a startup and helped me understand my own DNA as an entrepreneur (yes, I now know that I can be one!). But innovation courses like this at Wharton also teach you about creating influence, leading teams, project management, strategic analysis, and much more. If you have some entrepreneurial spirit burning inside, you’ll find Wharton just the right place for you to get the skills and support to achieve your highest aspirations.
Posted: January 22, 2016