It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “entrepreneurship is in the water” when students describe Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives. Indeed, entrepreneurship is a significant interest among many EMBA students at the San Francisco and Philadelphia campuses. We asked a few of our entrepreneurial alumni to tell us about the value of a Wharton MBA for their ventures and their startup experiences. Here is what they said:

Ataata logo

Michael Madon, WG’14 and Tim Jackson, WG’14

Campus: Philadelphia

Industry: Cybersecurity

Background: Previously, Tim ran his own accounting practice and had experience with an internet startup. Michael was an executive in the Treasury Department, where he helped develop strategies to identify and mitigate cyber risks and vulnerabilities.

Why an MBA: “I founded and ran organizations large and small in the Army and Treasury, yet I knew enough to know that while some skills overlapped, success in the private sector required a different set of tools,” says Michael. Tim was working at an alternative energy wind turbine company, overseeing the accounting and finance functions. To do something broader, he sought an MBA.

Current Venture: When Michael and Tim came to Wharton’s EMBA program, they didn’t know each other much less plan to start a business together. Two years after graduation, they launched Ataata, a security awareness platform.

Value of an MBA: “Michael took a job in the private sector after graduation and was hearing feedback from security officers that they needed more people to be aware of what is happening with cybersecurity. One thing that kept coming to mind from Marketing classes at Wharton was that you shouldn’t sell what you make, but rather make what you can sell. The market was saying that this is what we want to buy. Eventually, we realized that this is what we should be selling and we could form a business around it,” says Tim.

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Silver Lining logo
Rel Lavizzo-Mourey, WG’15

Campus: San Francisco

Industry: Retail

Background: “After college, I did some consulting before going to acting school and working as an actor in New York City. That got me into the media world where I helped relaunch Honey magazine. I learned a lot about startups and fundraising there. I also met the owners of Minx, a company launched by two women who design and produce nail covers. I joined their team in San Diego, and we gained a lot of traction with celebrity clients.”

Why an MBA: “I had the idea for Silver Lining prior to coming to Wharton, but I knew I needed more business knowledge to really be successful as an entrepreneur. Knowing the hurdles facing startups, I wanted an MBA to be able to tackle the challenges that I would inevitably face.”

Current Venture: Rel founded Silver Lining Bespoke, a luxury outerwear company as a Wharton student in 2014. “The coats have an element of secrecy, as one side is traditional and the other side is wilder. The idea for the Silver Lining brand is to highlight the idea that ‘it’s what is on the inside that counts’ and to send a message of inner beauty to our customer.”

Value of an MBA: “You don’t need an MBA to start a company, but I’ve seen from first-hand experience that you do need an MBA to grow a company. I invested in a Wharton MBA because I know there is a lot of value down the line. All entrepreneurs get to the point where they hit a wall and need help getting over that wall. That help will come from having a formal business education as well as the Wharton network. Also, the Wharton MBA adds a lot of credibility to your resume. It shows people that you know what you’re doing and where you’re going.”

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Guru Hariharan, WG’14

Campus: San Francisco

Industry: E-Commerce Analytics

Background: “Shortly after coming to Wharton, I transitioned from my job at eBay to founder of Boomerang Commerce. I had conceived the idea for Boomerang after observing the increasing digital divide between e-commerce giants like Amazon and other retailers. It was Amazon’s analytical abilities that really set it apart. I wanted to offer all retailers the advanced analytical capabilities needed to survive and succeed. The specific goal of the company was to create a big data retail analytics platform to help next-generation e-retailers drive smart pricing and assortment decisions.”

Why an MBA: “I wanted to earn an MBA to learn the tools of the trade to become a CEO. I had spent my career as a technical employee at companies like Amazon and eBay, but I wanted to learn how to oversee an entire business. I also had an idea for a venture that I wanted to develop.”

Current Venture: Guru founded Boomerang Commerce Inc. in 2012 as a Wharton EMBA student.

Value of an MBA: “Being at Wharton throughout the startup process was very beneficial. First, my classmates were a great resource. I was able to get advice on everything from how to talk to CEOs and CFOs to product pricing. Second, I was able to target many of my classes to areas specific to my interests. For example, I took several courses on economics, pricing, and marketing. I was able to build in knowledge from those classes into the product.”

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Shelley Boyce, WG’95

Campus: Philadelphia

Industry: Healthcare

Background: Shelley worked as a pediatric surgical nurse before becoming executive vice president and director of a medical company.

Why an MBA: Shelley wanted to formalize her business education.

Current Venture: Shelly founded MedRisk in 1994 and currently serves as executive chair of the company, which is a leader in physical rehabilitation solutions for the workers’ compensation industry.

Value of an MBA: “I didn’t have plans to become an entrepreneur when I came to Wharton, but while there I gained the skillset, toolkit, and confidence to become an entrepreneur so when the opportunity came, I felt well prepared to take a risk.”

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Thundermark Capital logo
Gleb Chuvpilo, WG’17

Campus: Philadelphia

Industry: Venture Capital

Background: Prior to Wharton, Gleb built several startups, including one that was accepted to Y Combinator. He also helped build Ride, a TPG Growth portfolio company that enables coworkers to find each other to carpool with an app.

Why an MBA: Throughout his prior roles, Gleb noticed a recurring theme: a knowledge gap in business development. “I wanted to get an MBA to fill that gap and learn what it takes to run a business.”

Current Venture: “I’ve been involved with several successful exits and given advice to VCs who are friends. I decided to make that more formal, giving capital as well as advice.” He founded Thundermark Capital, a venture capital firm which invests in early-stage technology startups in artificial intelligence, robotics, and computational life sciences.

Value of MBA: “I have the engineering and operational expertise, but the Wharton EMBA Program validated my skill set in the eyes of investors. It would have been much harder for me to start as an emerging fund manager without Wharton on my resume.”

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Posted: February 23, 2018

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