In our “What I Learned at…” series, MBAs discuss the tools and skills their business schools provided as they launched their careers.
Moran Amir, commonly referred to as “Mo” by her peers, is a second year at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the co-founder of ADORNIA Fine Jewelry, the online destination to learn about and shop for fine jewelry. By applying innovative editorial content and fashion merchandising to the fine jewelry segment, ADORNIA reintroduces the art and tradition of jewelry to a modern generation of women. In Part 4 of this series, Mo explains how the school’s Entrepreneurship Club fostered her interest in both following an entrepreneurial path with ADORNIA and building a female start-up movement at Wharton.
During the third week of pre-term at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, a busload of entrepreneurially curious first years—including me—descended on New York City to attend the Wharton Founder’s Retreat, sponsored by the Entrepreneurship Club. We first years were given an opportunity early on in our Wharton experience to meet other recently graduated Wharton entrepreneurs and start thinking about potential business ideas. From that day forward, I loved the entrepreneurship community at Wharton and felt a strong connection to the particular rebellious and productive energy these individuals possessed. Even before meeting my business partner, Bex, I realized that my peers at Wharton represented fertile soil among which to brainstorm, evaluate and collaborate on ventures such as my company, ADORNIA Fine Jewelry.
The recent demographics at Wharton speak to a significant start-up trend. The Entrepreneurship Club at Wharton, popularly known as the eClub, is one of the largest professional clubs in the MBA program, consisting of more than 400 members. Roughly 40% of my incoming class slated entrepreneurship as their career focus at Wharton. I looked around the room at the Founder’s Retreat and saw a sizable number of Wharton start-ups getting off the ground. Its status as the preeminent finance school notwithstanding, Wharton that day for me became a start-up of start-ups. Though I learned later that year in my introductory finance course (“Finance 601”) how to quantify risk, I learned through the eClub how to embrace it.
At the entrepreneurship retreat, I also happened to notice a ubiquitous interest in consumer-retail ventures among recent female graduates and peers. A full 45% of my class is composed of females, the highest female admittance rate ever for Wharton and across the board for any MBA program. The increased affinity for entrepreneurship was dovetailing with the rise of female acceptance rates at Wharton. These two trends have helped advance innovation in gender-biased fields such as beauty and fashion, which have been historically neglected by an overwhelmingly male Silicon Valley. I started to do more research on entrepreneurship and gender and came across some startling statistics. The Venture Capital Human Capital Report indicates that women represent only 8% of founders of venture capital–backed companies. A mere 3% of all Y Combinator founders have been women. While traditional venture capital has failed to cross the industry gender divide, ADORNIA and other ventures started by female MBAs seek to fill in the gaps.
Currently in our second year at Wharton, Bex and I have taken the mission to our home front at Wharton. We see an opportunity through ADORNIA to carve out a space at Wharton for female entrepreneurship. To aid our cause, we have enlisted powerful Wharton female alumnae such as Denise Incandela, chief marketing officer for Saks Fifth Avenue, whom I had met during my first year at Wharton at small group dinners and career talks. The female alumni network has helped ADORNIA navigate everything from trademark questions to effective social media campaigns. Leveraging the Wharton brand and my retail connections also brought me together with successful female entrepreneurs from outside the Wharton community, such as Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. Alexandra, a Harvard Business School graduate and one of the founders of Gilt Groupe, became the first member of ADORNIA’s advisory board last spring and has since then provided critical advice to the company. Bex and I found endless wisdom in Alexandra and learned how her success with Gilt Groupe helped directly nurture other successful female start-ups such as Birchbox and Rent the Runway. Like Alexandra, we hope to inspire other women to not only buy ADORNIA fine jewels, but also to follow in our footsteps.