First Round Elements @Upenn
In a couple weeks I will be graduating from Wharton with an MBA. When I applied, I thought I would leave school as part of the founding team of a new company. Instead, I am joining First Round Capital as a Principal. This is incredibly lucky for many reasons, but one of them is my feeling that companies founded by teams of MBA’s are likely to fail. Over the past two years I have seen MBA’s at Penn (including me) do a terrible job integrating with the rest of the community and therefore significantly lower the probability of start-up success. Having an MBA as part of the founding team may or may not increase the probability of success but I am certain that a team exclusively made up of MBA’s will not hold a candle to a team with more diverse backgrounds. In 2004 Guy Kawasaki discussed the value of an MBA for an entrepreneur here and while I do not agree that there is no value, directionally I am in Guy’s camp.
The successful commercialization of the innovation that lives at Penn and other universities across the country is limited by a lack of institutional support for inner-disciplinary interaction with a few notable exceptions. A recent piece by Sramana Mitra points out that “The Deshpande Center at MIT, the Stanford Technology Ventures Program and the Center for Technology and Entrepreneurship at Berkeley are some notable ones. The successful programs are inside engineering schools, not business schools. But the business schools at these three universities make a concerted effort to participate in commercializing technology developed on their campuses.” (Italics are mine)
I recognize that it is too late for me to form relationships with the talent that lives in all the non-Wharton buildings on campus and bring together the right elements to form a great new venture to pursue after graduation. I also recognize that it is not too late to facilitate this opportunity for others. The partnership at First Round agreed with my sentiment and agreed to sponsor the alpha version of First Round Elements @Upenn. The event was held at the engineering department and lived up to the promise of creating a forum for students to present their ideas and network with interested talent.
The night was all about connecting the right elements to help get tech ideas off the ground at UPenn and to establish a platform that supports the formation of teams capable of validating, disproving or informing the iteration of their hypothesis. My hope is that some of the connections made last night by the 80+ attendees will at least result in the creation of a minimum viable product per the excellent description presented here by Eric Ries and Nivi