It’s no secret that Wharton cultivates a lot of entrepreneurs. More and more, students are thinking about how they can create businesses that also create positive social and environmental impact.
These social entrepreneurs often seek two key elements when launching their businesses: funding and a strong network. The Jacobs Impact Entrepreneur Prize (managed by the Wharton Social Impact Initiative) offers first-year Wharton MBAs the opportunity to access those two resources, and so much more.
David Lawrence, WG’21, Divya Balaji Kamerkar, WG’21, and Alan Wang, WG’21 received the Jacobs Prize last year. While their three startups are in different industries and different stages of development, they all agree that the Prize provided vital support. Here, they reflect on how the Jacobs Prize advanced their ventures and why first-year Wharton MBAs should apply for the award.
Tell us about your venture.
Lawrence: Roadmapped’s mission is to help students graduate and fulfill their potential. Roadmapped is an online learning management platform helping college students improve their academic performance by providing integrated course deadlines and enabling self-regulated academic planning, goal setting, and performance management. I am most excited about the idea that with the right support tools, at-risk students can achieve success.
Balaji Kamerkar: Pinky Promise aims to remove the stigma and judgment associated with sexual and reproductive health information, products, and services. Pinky Promise is a mobile app with a proprietary gynecologist-verified chatbot that provides instant, evidence-based answers to a wide range of common reproductive health questions and symptoms that women face but are too hesitant to discuss. It also connects women to each other in a confidential manner for peer support and community. I am excited about the potentially transformative impact that this app can have on the health of women in India, and in helping them feel more empowered to take care of it!
Wang: Project Refresh empowers refugees to build relationships with others in the community by hosting ethnic pop-up dinners and cooking lessons. I am most excited about working with refugee and immigrant chefs from different countries who are passionate about food. This venture was based on a club that I co-founded as a college student and I am excited to take it to the next level as a sustainable business.
Why did you apply to the Jacobs Impact Entrepreneur Prize?
Lawrence: The Jacobs Foundation was a strong fit for me because its leadership and Fellows so clearly share the belief that evidence-based experimentation is the key to sustainable social impact. I am an incurable policy wonk, so this empirical approach spoke to me.
Balaji Kamerkar: I had tested a few hypotheses for the Pinky Promise app but I was in need of a lot of guidance. I also felt that it would be motivating and inspiring if I could connect with a community of people who are interested in driving businesses towards social impact, since social entrepreneurship is still a niche space. I realized that the Jacobs Prize would really provide me the support and community I am looking for, so I decided to apply!
Wang: I wanted to incubate a social impact project to empower refugees in Philadelphia. The venture would help refugees better integrate into the community by sharing their passions for cuisines from their own culture. I was drawn by the opportunity to connect closely with other social impact entrepreneurs at Wharton as well as being part of the broader Jacobs network.
How has the financial award helped you with your venture?
Lawrence: The Jacobs Prize has been critical to supporting further research, initial prototyping, and design, and turning the concept into a tangible reality that is being tested by students.
Balaji Kamerkar: The award has significantly helped us hasten the pace of our product development! We were able to pay for a front-end and a backend developer to develop our app, which is almost ready for its first beta test. It also helped us pay for a designer who fine-tuned the app’s UI/UX.
Wang: The Prize is helping me think about expanding the scale of operations by renting commercial kitchens and venues for cooking sessions. However, the recent lockdown and surge in COVID cases has unfortunately paused plans to organize in-person cooking sessions and dinners for the near term. Post-COVID, I hope to use the fund to work with multiple refugee chefs and organize monthly dinner series featuring ethnic cuisine for members of the Philadelphia community.
Tell us about your experience with the Jacobs Foundation’s global network.
Lawrence: The network is as deep as it is wide. Colleagues in the Jacobs Foundation have advised me on an array of topics, from data storage processes in universities to pedagogical metrics. I have also enjoyed the camaraderie and support of other Jacobs Fellows on a similar journey, particularly during a pandemic. Being part of this network is not just measurably useful for my venture; it also reminds me of my mission and values.
Balaji Kamerkar: Jacobs Foundation provided me the opportunity to attend SOCAP — a virtual conference series designed to increase the flow of capital to social good. I met many impact investors who are interested in Pinky Promise’s growth and fellow entrepreneurs who work in fem-tech. The Jacobs network also contains many Fellows who are working in both healthcare and design. Staying in touch with them helped me refine my ideas when the app was still in the ideation stage. Even in a virtual setting, we regularly chat over WhatsApp and Zoom!
Wang: I expanded my perspective and learned about the different types of business ventures and research that other Fellows are pursuing. I appreciate the fact that I can reach out to any Fellow in the network to learn more about their ventures—I get to connect with people whom I would’ve never been able to meet.
What has been your most memorable moment as a Jacobs Fellow?
Lawrence: Swiss Week (an annual event for Jacobs Fellows normally held in Switzerland) was remote, which was initially disappointing — until it became clear just how much I had in common with other people in the Jacobs community! Everyone was passionate and social-impact minded. Since then, keeping in touch with colleagues has been a pleasure.
Balaji Kamerkar: At SOCAP, I joined a breakout session dedicated to the topic of gender lens investing. Female entrepreneurs of color face unique challenges in raising capital and finding the right mentorship. I heard from many female investors and entrepreneurs about their belief in supporting women-led companies and the work they are doing to move the needle. I was encouraged to hear about the deliberate learning lens that many large funds are adopting to better support female entrepreneurs. Many investors and founders reached out to me after this session and I continue to be in touch with them!
Wang: My favorite moment as a Jacobs Fellow is definitely getting to know the other two Fellows from Wharton better and learning more about their ventures.
Why would you encourage 1st year MBAs to apply for the Jacobs Prize?
Lawrence: Absolutely apply. It has been a transformative experience that I would recommend strongly. The leadership at the Foundation wants to be your thought partner, they want to connect you with people who can help you, and they want you to have an impact. I applied with only a well-researched concept, but they saw promise in it, and I am grateful to them. You will meet fascinating, passionate people and they will offer you their friendship and useful advice.
Balaji Kamerkar: I benefitted immensely and would strongly encourage anyone with an idea that combines both business and social good to apply. The network provides opportunities to connect with and learn from like-minded Fellows from all over the world. Through connecting with other Fellows, it is also a powerful platform to expand your business geographically and conceptually. Finally, the Jacobs Foundation team provides mentorship and unique relationship-building opportunities like conferences or connections to relevant people to help advance your ideas. Feel free to connect with me if you want to chat about this wonderful opportunity!
Wang: I would encourage 1st year MBAs to apply because it is a great opportunity to be plugged into a tight-knit community of other social entrepreneurs at Wharton, while being part of a larger global network. Furthermore, applying for this Prize will allow you to truly examine whether the venture idea you are pursuing is something that you are passionate about, and develop an action plan to turn the idea into a reality. It is also a great Prize to apply for regardless of which stage of the start-up journey you are on.
MBA Class of 2022: Apply for the Jacobs Impact Entrepreneur Prize by February 1, 2021.
— Nisa Nejadi
Posted: December 16, 2020