When I visited the Weiss Tech House, one of the first things I noticed was a note scribbled on the white board: “Take a chance on the us. We are the 3%. 97% of startups fail.”
Indeed, Weiss- Labs is an incubator for entrepreneurship and innovation at Penn that is incredibly successful. Started this semester by co-founders, Guthrie Gintzler and Ernest Tavares, Weiss Labs has created a community of support and guidance for budding entrepreneurs at Penn. The first cohort of 7 teams, selected out of 70 applicants, meets for weekly meetings to give each other updates, and feedback and learn about different aspects of entrepreneurship from speakers who are leaders in their fields– anyone from lawyers to venture capitalists.
Guthrie and Ernest in part created the incubator to battle the risk-averse and pre-professional Penn culture, which sometimes prevents students from pursuing their entrepreneurial aspirations. “A lot of people who have good ideas are too afraid to take a break off from their internships and work on their good ideas because it breaks some sort of social code […] It’s oftentimes better to work on your idea and follow your passion even if you’re taking a year off. And companies at the end of the day respect that a lot more than people think”
When Guthrie and Ernest were trying to probe what makes an incubator really successful, they heard that the main thing is creating a tight community. But it’s more than just a community for entrepreneurs; it’s also a family. Guthrie joked, “Pledge Weiss-Labs.”
When I spoke to Michael Raevsky, one of the co-founders of Root– a wall outlet attachment that controls, monitors, and optimizes your energy consumption using artificial intelligence– he confirmed that one of the greatest benefits of being part of the group was the support, structure, and feedback he received.
The week I visited Weiss Labs, I sat in on a guest lecture from star lawyer, Michael Crossey, from Baer Crossey, on the legal aspects of entrepreneurship. He gave practical advice on the legal do’s and don’ts of entrepreneurship– do incorporate as soon as possible and do make contracts early but don’t choose the wrong entity and don’t promise more than you can do.
I spoke with Juliano, a co-founder of WeTrain, an on-demand and affordable personal training service. He came up with the idea over beers with his cousin when he took an Uber home and was talking about how convenient it would be to have a similar service for trainers. The app allows you to schedule training sessions “now” or “later” for 30 minutes or 60 minutes for very affordable prices, only $25 for a full hour.
I also spoke with Rohan Shah, one of the co-founders of Slice Capital, a mobile crowd-funding platform for nonaccredited and accredited investors. Currently a rising sophomore, he came up with the idea his senior of high school after noticing that the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that there would be changes to regulations and laws surrounding investment and startups which would allow nonaccredited investors– basically investors like you and me– to invest in startups. His app allows small business to raise up to a million dollars annually in non-accredited investments. His team carefully selects the startups that they perceive have high value. The app has been named as the 2nd coolest college startup by Inc magazine and already has close to 10,000 interested investors.
The incubator has had amazing success. Guthrie said, “It’s been incredible to see where the teams have started and where they are now. I mean we have teams that started out with no sales, and I think we have 4 teams now that are selling. And that’s a huge success. Getting to that first sale is 1 in 3,000. We have two teams that were in Inc magazine’s coolest college startups of the year, and we had one team that officially made it to second place.”
Weiss Labs will be having a summer program that will begin on June 6th. They’ll be accepting around 20 people for a really intensive summer incubator session. Participants will be visiting offices of entrepreneurial spaces, venture capitalists, law firms, etc. The program will bring in speakers every week and hold fun bonding activities such as dinners and happy hours. If you’re interested, applications are due May 1st.
Apply here: https://weisslabs.typeform.com/to/Yn98sj