Aug. 6, 2013 8:30 am

Inside Wharton’s new summer incubator space for MBA-led startups [PHOTOS]

The incubator, said Zach Simkin, was "born out of total need." Simkin helps organize Penn's Founder's Club, a university-wide club that supports student entrepreneurs. He and co-organizer Carlos Vega kept hearing about MBAs who were struggling to find office space for the summer, Simkin said.

The team behind Alloy Health takes a basketball break in the common area at Wharton's 2401 Walnut Street student space.

If Wharton‘s MBA program is producing nearly three times the amount of entrepreneurs as it did five years ago, where are all these startup founders holding court?

They now have their own incubator in Center City West, for the summer, at least.

In January, Wharton opened a space at 2401 Walnut Street for its MBAs to use for study sessions, club meetings and conferences. Later that spring, Wharton heard from two students that what MBAs really needed was office space. So Wharton opened up the 2401 Walnut space’s many offices, free of charge, to its student entrepreneurs. As of last week, sixteen startups called the spot home. (And don’t forget that Ticketleap and Curalate are headquartered in the same highrise.)

The incubator, said Zach Simkin, was “born out of total need.” Simkin helps organize Penn’s Founder’s Club, a university-wide club that supports student entrepreneurs. He and co-organizer Carlos Vega kept hearing about MBAs who were struggling to find office space for the summer, he said, and spending money on a space at a local incubator wasn’t really an option for most of the pre-revenue startups.

The space is the first of its kind off-campus, said Vishal Bhatia, associate director of student life at Wharton. It’s convenient for students, many of whom live nearby and now don’t have to travel to University City. The space also offers five conference rooms equipped with video conferencing capabilities and whiteboards, and the views of the Schuylkill through floor-to-ceiling windows don’t hurt, either.

The incubator also offers a more professional feel than working out of an apartment or a student building on Wharton’s campus, said Simkin, who plans to use the space’s largest conference room for an important meeting for his stealth-mode startup.

Of course, as with most incubators, there’s also the added bonus of community. While the space felt quiet on the rainy afternoon that we visited, one startup took a basketball break in the common space while, in the room next door, a group prepared swag bags for incoming Wharton MBAs who would arrive that weekend.

It’s not clear what will happen to the incubator once the school year begins, since Wharton previously dedicated the space to graduate study sessions, Bhatia said. But the incubator will definitely re-open next summer, he said.

The team behind Matt and Marie’s Modern Italian Sandwiches in its Wharton office space.

Below, an incomplete list of the MBA-founded startups that are in the 2401 Walnut Street space for the summer:

  • PocketFlock, which offers an address book that updates automatically
  • DigiPuppets, which aims to bring finger puppets into the digital age
  • ZumiCare, which connects babysitters and families that need them
  • Professor Word, which helps students learn new vocabulary with a browser-based tool and is also a GoodCompany Group summer accelerator participant
  • Kickir Studios, which offers web development for startups
  • Alloy Health, which provides clinical analytics for pediatricians
  • Prince and Baron, which offers custom menswear
  • Matt and Marie’s Modern Italian Sandwiches, which sells high-end Italian deli products
  • Tesorio, which uses an algorithm that helps big companies pay vendors sooner

Startups can use this room inside Wharton’s incubator space for meetings.

One tenant at 2401 Walnut Street is a bespoke menswear shop called Prince and Baron. The startup is moving toward ecommerce.

The pair behind Digipuppets is working to bring finger puppets into the digital age.

Zach Simkin (center right) and his startup, still in stealth mode. Simkin was one of the students who asked Wharton to create office space for startups this summer.

Juliana Reyes

Juliana Reyes began as lead reporter at Philly in July 2012. Previously, she was a city services beat reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News, as part of a project called “It’s Our Money.” She is learning to drive, learning to bike (in the city) but is an expert at taking SEPTA. She grew up in North Jersey and Manila, Philippines but she left the tropics for Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in linguistics. She now lives in West Philly.