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Bringing Business Ideas to Fruition

The Wharton Venture Initiation Program (VIP) gives University of Pennsylvania students the opportunity to bring a business idea to fruition through the help of seasoned advisers, educational programs and networking sessions, and EMTM students are using this invaluable resource to launch innovative new enterprises. Dan Hughes’11, Brendan McCorkle’11 and Michael Crossey’12 are behind three projects chosen for the competitive program last fall. We will be tracking their progress in a series of articles.

Dan Hughes
StoragebyMail

An alternative to traditional self-storage, StorageByMail offers customers downloadable prepaid shipping labels, centralized storage space and online tracking. Dan Hughes first came up with the idea when he moved to Manhattan a decade ago and struggled to store his belongings in a diminutive apartment. “The units at Manhattan Storage were nicer than my apartment and it just didn’t make sense — why should I rent a second apartment? The idea to create storage at a remote warehouse stuck with me and over time I built on it,” Hughes says. When he enrolled in EMTM in 2008, Hughes had been developing StorageByMail as a side project and he was ready to leave his job in advanced advertising and focus on the business full time. “EMTM attracted me because it seemed like a good program for entrepreneurs and I knew I wanted to apply for VIP even before I enrolled,” he says.” So far Hughes has been leveraging VIP’s resources to cultivate investors and obtain legal advice. “These investors wouldn’t be available to me had I not been in the program; I haven’t built a multimillion-dollar company before. Being affiliated with EMTM, Wharton and VIP gave me the credentials I needed.” Hughes hopes to secure funding within the next few months. The challenge going forward will be to prepare the company to accommodate a rapidly-expanding customer base. That includes hiring additional personnel and streamlining systems for billing and customer support. “I’m looking to VIP to help me move from the early phase to a large-scale operation and help me work through the associated challenges.”

Brendan McCorkle
Textaurant

With his company Textaurant, Brendan McCorkle offers diners an updated, more functional way to stay in touch with the maitre d’ stand. “What we’re trying to do is redefine the interaction between patrons and restaurants, especially in busy places that don’t take reservations,” he says. Through Textaurant’s SMS platform, diners can be notified remotely when a table opens up, allowing them to go offsite rather than wait in a crowded vestibule. Unlike pager systems at chain restaurants, texting allows for a two-way communication, so that diners can reschedule their table or fill in a feedback survey after the meal. So far the Company, helmed by McCorkle and two Boston-based partners, has piloted the service at three sites in Boston and they’re looking for a fourth in Philadelphia. “I started EMTM in August and when I told people I was working on Textaurant they told me to apply for VIP. With VIP I would get many of the advantages of a traditional incubator, but more mentoring and entrepreneurial education,” he says. So far McCorkle has availed himself of on-campus office space in Vance Hall and networking with fellow student entrepreneurs. VIP’s advisors Jeffrey Babin and Rob Weber have helped him prepare for the funding stage of the business. In the short term he’s working to refine the product; a medium-term goal is funding; and by next summer he hopes that Textaurant will begin to bring in revenue. “I’m working on getting proper benchmarking and market research in place so we can really define what our market will be,” he says. “The advisers have helped me target people we hadn’t thought about as well as new features we can incorporate, so we can go beyond the pager concept to our own market space and come up with a product that’s more game-changing.”

Michael Crossey
MG Legal Solutions

While working as a corporate attorney at Morgan Lewis, Michael Crossey encountered many technology-based companies and began to consider ways in which he could integrate technology more holistically into legal practice. Last fall, he left the firm and set up his own practice, Crossey Law Group, and simultaneously began to develop a legal technology company, MG Legal Solutions. MG’s software solutions can reduce legal costs for customers by minimizing hourly fees for paperwork while Crossey Law Group offers more bespoke services to clients. At EMTM, Crossey partnered with another student, Kevin Matthews, and VIP seemed like the perfect venue to build their business. “We had the legal expertise but needed mentors when it came to the technology aspects and growing the venture, learning the economics behind software as a service,” he says. Crossey has been looking at options for developing software in house and licensing already-developed solutions. He hopes to introduce two products this year: an application to help companies comply with statutorily required public notice advertising laws, and another to help with the creation and management of online minute books. Through VIP, Crossey and Matthews have found a Wharton graduate cofounder and Crossey is now serving as outside counsel for several VIP companies. “VIP puts us in an environment with other entrepreneurs — not just to learn from their experience but also to offer our own legal insight and find out what entrepreneurs are looking for. In a consulting firm you would pay several hundred dollars an hour for access to what you can get at VIP for free.”

 


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Dan Hughes

“Investors wouldn’t be available to me had I not been in the program; I haven’t built a multimillion-dollar company before. Being affiliated with EMTM, Wharton and VIP gave me the credentials I needed.”

Dan Hughes, EMTM’12
Vice President, Product Management
Visible World
New York, NY

Brendan McCorkle

“The advisers have helped me target people we hadn’t thought about as well as new features we can incorporate, so we can go beyond the pager concept to our own market space and come up with a product that’s more game-changing.”

Brendan McCorkle, EMTM’11
Sales Manager
Textaurant
Philadelphia, PA

Michael Crossey

“In a consulting firm you would pay several hundred dollars an hour for access to what you can get at VIP for free.”

Michael Crossey, EMTM’10
Co-Founder and CEO
MG Legal Solutions
Philadelphia, PA

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