“There is an advantage of being in the market where you want to implement an idea.”

Siddharth Shah, WG’17, was already an entrepreneur in India when he applied to business school. He’d begun a financial service startup and one in mobile gaming, and the success of those companies led him to Wharton. He had plenty of ideas, but he needed to know more about business to scale his entrepreneurial efforts.

“I’m from an engineering background, and I also needed to learn leadership and management skills,” he said. “I came to Wharton for the global exposure. If I want to internationalize my company, if I want to get more clients or partners globally for my company, it made more sense to come to a global program.”

Now he has the knowledge and contacts to launch or grow a business from Philadelphia to Mumbai – and anywhere beyond.

Multiple Ventures, Singular Focus on Entrepreneurship

Siddharth, an entrepreneurial management and finance major, dove into Wharton’s academics and entrepreneurial resources to develop two different ventures in different industries.

The first business, Fermento, could happen only at Wharton. Siddharth was a member of a student team that won Penn’s 2016 Y-Prize competition. Sponsored by the Wharton’s Mack Institute for Innovation Management, the contest challenges student teams to propose commercial applications for technology invented by Penn researchers. Co-founders Shashwata Narain, WG’17, Alexander David, GEng’17, and Siddharth answered with Fermento, which speeds up the beer fermentation process using microfluidics technology from the biochemistry lab of Professor David Isadore.

His second and newest venture is Date My Closet, a peer-to-peer fashion rental platform for the Indian and U.S. markets.

“It’s an Airbnb for fashion, which allows women to rent and lend luxury clothes or High Street fashion and accessories,” Siddharth said. “So many women have excess inventory lying in their closets that they don’t really use more than once. There’s no peer-to-peer in the market. Most rental players are renting from designers and second-hand consignments.”

Unique Ecosystem for Launching a Startup

Siddharth and his Date My Closet cofounder, Sakhi Gandhi, WG’17, came up with their idea in a brainstorming session, the same way Siddharth and his Fermento cofounders thought of their unique technology application. Entrepreneurship is in the air and water of Wharton’s ecosystem.

“I didn’t even know about all the resources of Penn before I came here,” he said.

Although Siddharth’s teams performed well in the Y-Prize and Wharton Business Plan Competition (now the Penn Wharton Startup Challenge, where his earlier mobile gaming venture advanced to the semifinalist round), he found that much of the value came not from winning, but from competing.

“The sheer number of competitions we have here helps us make our pitch better and get feedback from the judges,” he says. “There are incubators and accelerators you can apply to. Every week you find something new happening.”

Two-Way Perspectives on the U.S. and Indian Markets

The diversity of backgrounds at Wharton opened up new ideas in the classroom and out.

Said Siddharth, “Coming from a different country has helped in terms of understanding different markets and how ideas can be applied to them.”

This summer, he’s home in India working on Date My Closet for a fall launch. He’s building his backend operations and team in India, while using Wharton knowledge, resources, and relationships from his first year.

“There is an advantage of being in the market where you want to implement an idea. Before I came to Wharton, I wouldn’t have thought of launching this idea in the U.S. I couldn’t have done it,” he said. “Now I can. I have the entire Wharton and Penn community to leverage help from.”

Siddharth has formed close friendships with classmates via his work on the Welcome Committee and his biggest “stretch experience” – Wharton Dance Studio. He’s also bonded with friends during travel experiences to Texas, Colombia, Germany, and Austria.

Wharton even helped him gain perspective on his home country. One of his favorite classes was a Global Modular Course held in India, where as a Wharton student he had access to people and resources that would have been closed to him if had he never come here.

“It was amazing,” he said. “I met so many VCs, startups, industry professionals involved in entrepreneurship in India, where I want to be long term, and getting perspective from them firsthand was great.”

Plans for His Second Year

“In my second year I’m going to take independent studies or entrepreneurship courses that let me work on my business and get feedback at the same time from peers and professors,” Siddharth said. Already professors have been his most valuable resource. Siddharth cited Professor Eric Bradlow’s Dynamic Marketing class as being the most relevant to his startups.

He’s going to keep his ventures rolling until he can devote himself full time after graduation. In the meantime, he’ll avoid the call of recruiting, as he discussed last year in a Wharton Journal article he wrote about how to avoid the pull toward a less risky career path.

“I know a lot of friends felt pressure because doing a startup on your own involves a lot of uncertainties,” he said. “Wharton teaches you that it’s OK to fail. The joy of starting your own company exceeds the risk that it will fail. I’m working on both Fermento and Date My Closet, but at the same time, I’m flexible to pivoting to new ideas if any opportunities arise.”

But don’t call it a fallback.

“I don’t want to have fallback options,” Siddharth said. “I want all of my businesses to succeed.”

– Kelly Andrews

Posted: August 2, 2016

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