In August 2019, I participated in Pennacle, a pre-orientation program for incoming students. That was where I met Anthony Scarpone-Lambert NU21, a Pennacle leader, nursing student, and budding entrepreneur. We later crossed paths through my investing role at the Weiss Tech House, where he often pitched his startup ideas.
Scarpone-Lambert was a standout nursing student preoccupied with lengthy clinical rotations, yet he co-founded three ventures in his four years at Penn. He launched Text 911 with his classmate Kirti Shenoy to offer accessible emergency texting services. Then he built Nonna, a gift marketplace to make long-term care feel more like home. Most recently, alongside fellow nurse Jennifferre Mancillas, he created Lumify to build a platform of nursing resources, beginning with the uNight Light, a wearable LED light made for health care workers. Lumify earned a 2021 President’s Innovation Prize, making Scarpone-Lambert the first nursing student to win the $100,000 award.
I’ve always wanted to learn more about how Scarpone-Lambert turned his ideas into reality. Recently, I sat down to talk with one of Penn’s most well-known nurse entrepreneurs.
Alexa Grabelle: I first discovered entrepreneurship when I watched Shark Tank and thought that entrepreneurship meant running a business empire. But as I grew older, I realized that entrepreneurship is more than just making a name for yourself and earning profits — it’s about addressing important problems. What’s your definition of entrepreneurship, and how did you discover it?
Anthony Scarpone-Lambert: I think I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I started little initiatives for different problems that I saw, like creating a buddy system to orient new students to my high school or starting a leadership retreat to train students to represent positivity.
I don’t think I contextualized what entrepreneurship meant until my freshman year at Penn when I became friends with Kirti. We were talking at dinner about our shared passion for wanting to make an impact in the world. We started discussing this nonprofit tech concept, Text 911, with the mission of expanding access to emergency texting services.
Nearly 90 percent of startups fail or shut down. What happened to Text 911?
Text 911 was the perfect opportunity because it was very impact-driven. We were accepted into Penn’s Venture Initiation Program, received a grant from Penn Wharton Innovation Fund, and won Penn’s Startup Challenge.
But Kirti got into Y Combinator for her other startup so she dropped out of Penn, and Text 911 closed up shop. We had a mission, and we reached it. I realized I can build something and have it turn into an actual outcome.
You’re one of very few Penn nurses who decided to pursue entrepreneurship full-time. How did you choose this path?
I’m extremely Type A. I built a deck called “Anthony’s Life.” It laid out five different paths that would get me to where I wanted to go. But those paths just don’t work out how you plan, right? Ultimately, Adam Grant’s organizational behavior course helped me realize that for me to feel comfortable taking a chance on myself, there’s power in having multiple backup plans. I applied for consulting jobs, nursing roles, and graduate programs. This settled my Type A craze and allowed me to pursue entrepreneurship.
How did nursing play a role in your entrepreneurial journey?
Being the only nurse in the room is scary, but if you lean into it with confidence, people will respect you more. As a nursing student, I asked patients questions during my clinical rotations. I started seeing a pattern that patients felt a level of discomfort. That led me down a rabbit hole of ideas to make patients feel more at home.
Penn is rich with so many entrepreneurial resources. You utilized several, including Venture Lab, the Penn Center for Innovation and the Penn Nursing Innovation Accelerator. What was your key to success in navigating these resources?
Leveraging resources is the best thing you can do in life. You can’t build a successful company alone. I cannot stress enough the importance of relationship building. In the summer before senior year, my co-founder and I decided we wanted to build a hardware product for Lumify. We’re not engineers. We asked engineering professors and successful founders for help. We figured out how to do it and manufactured our product. I also became a LinkedIn fanatic. I messaged anyone who would talk to me. Some people that I messaged back then are investors now, full circle a year later.
I distinctly remember mentors telling us, “Oh, you’ll never get funding, you’ll never scale this.” Most of this was just noise. If someone told us no, we asked a different person. We never gave up until we found someone who said yes!
I’ve always been skeptical that entrepreneurship can be taught. But then I enrolled in professor Ethan Mollick’s entrepreneurship course. He believes that an evidence-based entrepreneurial education is effective. Do you think that entrepreneurship can be learned?
Entrepreneurship programs are helpful for framing your story. You can be building the most boring thing, but if you can show the market size, customers, and profitability, then you suddenly have this business that people want to support.
Accelerators are beneficial for thinking through your business model, go-to-market strategy, profit and loss statement, etc. But you can always ask a mentor about this. What was more helpful for building Lumify was being able to quickly test the solutions on the frontline as a nursing student. I don’t think that experience of working with your users closely can be taught, you just have to go out and do it.
Many entrepreneurs struggle with how isolating their work can feel. How have you mitigated loneliness?
It is very important to surround yourself with a support system. Being in motivational spaces at Penn was crucial to me believing in myself. Remembering not to compare yourself to others is another important lesson for founders. Every founder has a different path to success. There’s also the importance of having a growth mindset. Asking for help is foundational to life, and not enough people do it.
Alexa Grabelle W23 is a junior from Voorhees, New Jersey, concentrating in management with a creative writing minor. Alexa is the co-director of the Weiss Tech House Innovation Fund as well as a member of Sigma Eta Pi and the Wharton Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Board. She loves the Philadelphia food scene, startups, and dancing.