By: Samantha Burns (Penn ‘18), Jason Shein (Penn ‘17)
Today, we’re re-launching the Weiss Tech House Innovation Fund at the University of Pennsylvania.
IF is a student-run, mini venture capital fund that offers non-dilutive funding to student-founded Penn startups. We provide current Penn founders — across all of the university’s undergraduate and graduate schools — with funding amounts ranging from $500-$2,000, depending on their specific needs, to develop their innovative ideas.
Since being founded in 2003, IF has spearheaded a mission to promote, cultivate, and support student entrepreneurship in the Penn community. We look for founders who are dedicated, demonstrate passion for their ventures, and attack viable market opportunities. Our funding and resources enable our portfolio companies to build-out their products, acquire pilot customers, and secure angel or pre-seed funding.
Over the past 5 years, we’ve been lucky enough to partner with 50 companies, founded by Penn’s brightest, most innovative, and forward-thinking students, to help them accelerate their companies’ growth trajectories. These companies have shown how technology can disrupt a wide array of industries, ranging from Financial Services to Biotech.
We’re proud of the diversity and breadth of founders in our portfolio. In the past 5 years, the majority of the 100+ founders we’ve backed have been Wharton undergraduates, followed by Engineering undergraduates and Wharton MBAs. One third of our founding teams include female entrepreneurs, which is 10x the Silicon Valley standard. Many of our founders have also gone on to start new companies or have become instrumental in other tech companies or venture capital firms.
Taking a look back, we found that IF-backed companies used their funding mostly for R&D, server costs, and operations costs. Leveraging IF’s network and resource base, our portfolio companies have partnered with top-tier professors (Kartik Hosanagar, Karl Ulrich), angels (Marissa Mayer, Mark Cuban), accelerators and incubators (Y Combinator, Dreamit), and institutional VCs (First Round, Andreessen Horowitz, Felicis Ventures), among others.
Along the way, our companies have also won prestigious awards, such as the Penn’s President’s Innovation Prize and the Y-Combinator Fellowship. They have also acquired customers and established partnerships with organizations including Independence Blue Cross, Expedia, Staples, IBM, and various Fortune 500 and 1000 companies.
Today, we’re still incredibly excited about the future prospects of our portfolio. Over 50% of our companies founded in the past 5 years are still operating, and 7% have been acquired. Our previous founders still partner with the Innovation Fund to promote student entrepreneurship on Penn’s campus.
This academic year, we’ve already funded 4 companies on campus:
Sanguis: Empowers patients to monitor their health with portable, inexpensive, and at-home blood count testing.
Twine Labs: Provides people analytics software that helps Fortune 500 companies reduce employee turnover through internal mobility.
SolutionLoft: Provides an on-demand scripting platform that gets customers the data they need.
Bright Idea: Offers free LED upgrades in exchange for a share of future customer savings.
Today, we’re relaunching to not only build on past success, but also to engage the Penn entrepreneurship community in the following new and exciting ways.
New Investment Team Structure
We’ve downsized and restructured our investment team of project managers, which consists of 8 project managers across Penn Engineering, Wharton, and the College of Arts and Sciences, and has a 50/50 gender split. Project managers have always mentored companies through the application and funding process, and now they also have distinct roles across marketing, sourcing, and outreach, among others. This will help us engage a larger community, broaden our network, and provide more value to our founders.
New Value Add
Alumni: Our alumni founders and investment team members will mentor current portfolio company founders, host an “office hours” sessions, and engage with our community by writing guest posts with us.
Mentorship from Philly Tech & Industry Leaders: We’re establishing partnerships with local founders, angels, incubators and accelerators, and VCs to provide advice, mentorship, and connections to our portfolio.
Legal Assistance: We’re establishing partnerships with local lawyers who will help our founders through a mixture of pro-bono and discounted legal services.
Hiring: We help our portfolio companies hire top-tier student talent.
Deck & Pitch Mentoring: We host deck creation and pitch practice sessions to help our founders communicate their businesses effectively to investors and the broader tech ecosystem.
Workspace: Our founders have access to workspace at the Weiss Tech House.
New Website, Application, and Blog
We’re currently in the process of redesigning our website to better reflect our previous success and current work, in addition to making our interactions with applicants much more efficient. We created a new, shorter application (please apply!) that we hope will be more attractive to founders. Additionally, we’ll be posting a new story almost every week (during the academic year) about sectors that interest us, portfolio companies, and general thoughts on the broader technology landscape. Our current and alumni founders will also be writing for us from time to time. Please throw us a follow here on Medium and a like on Facebook 😊
To these ends, we’re hosting an official IF relaunch event on February 3rd. We hope that all Penn students, faculty, and local industry leaders excited about technology and entrepreneurship will join us to welcome and engage with current and past IF founders, local entrepreneurs, and VCs.
We’re so excited to further engage with you all and look forward to continuing to build the Penn entrepreneurship community by your side!
Sam & Jason
Special thanks to our IF investment team, portfolio, and community for their contributions to this post. Thanks to Dan Cahana, as well, for the great work on the graphics.
As we continue to work on redesigning our website, applicants should apply via this link and should reach out to us via email with any questions.
Weiss Tech House Innovation Fund is dedicated to funding, promoting, cultivating, and supporting student entrepreneurship in the UPenn community. Working on a startup? Interested in partnering? Want to get involved? Drop us a line at apply.innovationfund at gmail.com.