Powering Startups Across Europe

By Aviva Brooks W86 WG90, professional public-speaking and pitch coach and country co-leader in France for Wharton Alumni Mentors for Startups

Illustration of Aviva Brooks

Aviva Brooks W86 WG90

One of the biggest draws for me in becoming involved with Wharton Alumni Mentors for Startups (WHAM) is the connections we’re creating between alumni and the businesses they’re helping. Founded by Jérôme Nollet WG85 and Jérôme Le Grand WG96, WHAM is an initiative that pairs alumni with ventures across Europe for short-term mentoring, typically in the form of advice on the startup’s strategic plan or a pitch for investors.

The thought is this: Startups are a critical source of innovation that have the potential to change the world. Likewise, Wharton alumni have the knowledge and training needed to help these businesses succeed. In our eyes, there couldn’t be a better match — it’s just a matter of making that match.

I joined WHAM toward the start of the pandemic, when the group was still in its early days and at a time when — thanks to the group’s founders — it had several volunteer mentors on board. However, the initiative still needed startups to take part in the program. That’s where I came in, reaching out to accelerators and incubators, which today are a main source of participating startups and which we find are grateful for the resources we provide to their businesses.

As of late summer, WHAM has more than 145 volunteers in Europe and has set up more than 40 mentoring relationships. We facilitate an initial two-month mentoring period between the startups and our alumni volunteers, and — perhaps as testament to the connections we’re creating — we see many of those relationships extend beyond our program. Since the start, we’ve envisioned ourselves as a truly continent-wide initiative and for that reason brought alumni clubs across Europe on board early. From the clubs, we’ve recruited WHAM country leaders — like me, representing France alongside Jérôme Le Grand — to help us spread the word about our program and make connections. Their support and the enthusiasm of our volunteers has been essential to the success of the program.

Although we’ve operated during the pandemic for much of our existence, we know this is just the beginning of a longstanding relationship between our alumni network of business experts and the entrepreneurs who are poised to shape the future.


Saving Lives (Including Mine)

By David Fajgenbaum M12 WG15, Penn Medicine assistant professor, Center for Cytokine Storm Treatment & Laboratory founding director, and Castleman Disease Collaborative Network co-founder/president

Illustration of David Fajgenbaum

David Fajgenbaum M12 WG15

I’m so proud and grateful to be a part of Wharton’s 100,000-strong alumni network, and not just because it literally saved my life. It has also continued to support our work to chase cures for Castleman disease, COVID-19, and beyond.

Let me explain a bit more. During my third year of medical school, I became ill with a rare disorder called Castleman disease. I experienced multi-organ failure and received my last rites when my doctors didn’t think I would survive; I nearly died four more times. Between relapses, I began conducting research and learned that the greatest hurdles to finding a cure weren’t medical problems. They were business problems: the lack of an overarching strategy, limited collaboration, and inefficient spending.

I established the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network and went to Wharton to gain skills for overcoming these hurdles. My classmates joined the fight by donating their time and talent. Together, we raised more than $40,000, created an online network to engage more than 5,000 patients and loved ones, and coordinated multi-institution collaborative studies that have led to major breakthroughs. Twenty of my classmates spent more than 3,000 combined hours volunteering on the CDCN leadership team, and another 200- plus classmates donated funds. Together, we grew the CDCN into a Wharton-powered initiative that applies business principles to accelerate research.

When I graduated in May 2015, I was approaching my longest period of remission (17 months) and barreling toward the average life expectancy for my disease. But thanks to my classmates, I had more hope than ever. I was on an experimental treatment regimen based on our research findings, and we were poised to advance research even further. As of today, countless other patients are alive thanks to our work. I’ve been in remission for 90.73 months — I refuse to round up, because I don’t know how long my treatment will work, and I refuse to round down, because I’m so thankful for every moment.

Now, we’re applying these principles to other diseases, including COVID-19. In March 2020, we launched the CORONA Project, which is the world’s largest effort dedicated to identifying and advancing treatments for COVID-19 and was used to select treatments for the largest COVID-19 trial to date.

I had the chance to share my journey through my memoir, Chasing My Cure: A Doctor’s Race to Turn Hope into Action. It has been so special to see it reach so many people around the world and become a national best-seller. My only regret is the name: It should have been called Chasing Our Cures, because it has involved so many colleagues from Wharton and beyond, chasing cures for me and so many others.


Unlocking Career-Defining Opportunities

Illustration of Sid Radhakrishna

Sid Radhakrishna WG20

“As I neared graduation, COVID-19 turned my recruiting efforts upside down. The Wharton alumni network was crucial for helping me break into the energy industry during this unprecedented time and land a dream role scaling breakthrough innovations that tackle climate change.”

Sid Radhakrishna WG20, finance and business operations associate at energy storage company Form Energy and president of the Wharton Energy Network, an alumni club with more than 4,500 members


A Family Affair

By Becky M. Elrad W89 and Michael A. Elrad W89

Illustration of the Elrad family

From left: Debbie Elrad, Lynn Elrad (wife of Ken Elrad W65), Sam Elrad, Martin Elrad W61, Becky Elrad W89, Max Elrad W18, Michael Elrad W89, Jack Elrad W21, Linda Margolin, and Stephen Margolin

When the Great Depression cut short Sidney Elrad’s dream of being the first member of his family to graduate from college, he made it his mission for his two sons, Martin W61 and Ken W65, to benefit from a Wharton business education. Marty’s son Michael W89 met Becky Margolin W89 at Wharton, and we married. Two of our sons, Max W18 and Jack W21, have continued the family legacy at Wharton, ignited by their great-grandfather’s dream.

Michael serves on the Wharton Undergraduate Executive Board, and Becky works with the Wharton Undergraduate staff to help develop and scale programming for the Wharton Industry Exploration Program. In 2007, our family created the Elrad Family Endowed Scholarship, which has already benefited several undergraduate students and, hopefully, will enable these students to begin Wharton legacies of their own.


Foundational to My Success

By Vikram Bakhru WG09, chief medical officer at Circulo Health

Illustration of Vikram Bakhru

Vikram Bakhru WG09

From the day I joined Wharton’s MBA program up to this very moment, my career has been shaped by fellow students and alumni. I initially applied to Wharton to learn the skills I needed to better manage the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children, a nonprofit I started in 2002 to bring medical care to underserved communities. After experiencing a few years of exciting growth, I decided that I needed to boost my business acumen to help me better lead the organization’s expansion.

Following my first year of the MBA program, a classmate told me of an opportunity with venture capital firm Osage Venture Partners, which was looking for a summer associate with a medical background. With some convincing and an interview with David Drahms WG05, now a partner at the firm, I found myself at Osage for the summer, an experience that ended up changing my professional trajectory. It was there that I fell in love with the entrepreneurial way of thinking — how investors assess businesses, manage teams, and more. The connection with David, as facilitated by my classmate, was my first true taste of the value of the alumni network.

About three years after graduating from Wharton, while working at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, I was contacted by James Maxfield WG10. He was putting together a global health business, and I became his company’s chief medical officer. From there came a head-spinning flurry of opportunities and connections. Sarah Russell WG11 alerted me to a position with First Opinion, a telemedicine startup. I spent a few years as chief operating officer there before Lauren Lisher WG09 made inroads for me at recruiting firm Oxeon Partners. Their incredible team led me to a role as COO and CFO of ConsejoSano, a patient engagement platform focused on Medicaid.

That brings us to today and Circulo Health, a Medicaid insurance company where I’m CMO and head of partnerships and strategy. Here, I share Wharton bonds with Lucy Yin GEN19 WG19 and Sally Poblete WG00, the latter of whom initially introduced me to our company’s president.

All this is to say that at each inflection point in my career, Wharton alumni have been pivotal recruiters, matchmakers, and door-openers. Their willingness to connect and advise — let alone think of me — for these fulfilling positions is something for which I will always be grateful. Even more, I’m excited now for the opportunity to do the same for the next generation of Wharton grads.


Supporting Diversity in Entrepreneurship

Illustration of Theresa Shropshire

Theresa Shropshire WG20

“As a Black woman, I always thought it would take me at least five years post-MBA to start my own business. The support I received through coffee chats with alumni and organizations like Wharton’s African American MBA Association made it possible for me to take the leap instead of waiting for the ‘optimal’ time. In our first year of business, alumni invested in our pre-seed round, connected us to corporate partners, and provided advice. We are extremely grateful for the alumni community’s support, and I’m excited for more of my classmates to join our team in the future.”

Theresa Shropshire WG20, co-founder and CEO of Nalaverse, a Black-owned, women-led mental wellness community


Doing Well by Doing Good

By Robert Hornsby WG00, co-founder and chief financial officer of Jobomax Global

Illustration of Robert Hornsby and Ameet Dhillon

Robert Hornsby WG00 (left) and Ameet Dhillon WG00

The Wharton alumni network has been central to the success of Jobomax Global, a company I co-founded in 2014 to provide high-quality, affordable housing in West Africa. From investors to advisors to our leadership team, alumni have offered vital support to the business at every step of the way.

Early on, backing from the network came in the form of foundational investment from classmates who were interested in the work we were doing — making the dream of homeownership in West Africa possible for diaspora clients by removing obstacles to finding land and reliable local construction managers. One such early investor, Ameet Dhillon WG00, is now our financing partner for the homes we build, securing capital at affordable interest rates for our clients through his company, US-Africa Housing Finance.

More informally, we’ve received invaluable advice from alumni who have deep experience in Africa. For example, Buddy Buruku WG08, a financial-sector specialist at the World Bank, has shared knowledge on questions of financial inclusion on the continent and this year joined our advisory board to continue providing her expertise. We’ve also gained key insights and connections from investment summits hosted by the Wharton Club of Africa and the group’s channels for communicating with other alumni.

We’ve even had the opportunity to tap Wharton’s most recent class of graduates, bringing on Alexander Tounkara WG21 as senior vice president of finance to assist with the next step in our growth: attracting institutional investors as we expand further into West Africa. Another key player was Mamady Doumbouya W76, who founded the company with me and Jonathan Halloran seven years ago — and who passed away in 2018. It was Mamady who encouraged us to pilot the Jobomax concept in his native Guinea, where he had personally encountered many of the homebuilding challenges we’re addressing for our clients.

In many regards, it is thanks to Wharton alumni that we have experienced so much success in trying to solve this critical housing problem in Africa. Our work, in more ways than one, is truly a Wharton alumni family affair — and all the better for it.


Building Bonds That Last a Lifetime

Illustration of Elizabeth Song Wilkins

Elizabeth Song Wilkins WG86

By Elizabeth Song Wilkins WG86, practice administrator at Circle Veterinary Clinic and Wharton Magazine MBA Class of 1986 Correspondent

Dave Bigelow WG86 joined me a while back as a Class Notes correspondent for this magazine when he submitted great notes and photos of a past Reunion. I myself assumed the role in 1998, the year I married David Wilkins V86, as a way to remain involved with the alumni network after leaving my board position with the Philadelphia alumni club. As co-representatives for the MBA Class of 1986, Dave and I have had the pleasure over the years of collecting updates for print that have connected classmates and fostered sustained bonds, many of which have lasted the 35 years since graduation. As a former high-school cheerleader, I find cheering on my extraordinary classmates comes naturally.

With our class spread out across the globe, the updates we have collected have helped classmates find others in their areas, like Mick Huffstutler WG86 and Frank Holding WG86 in Raleigh and Jeff Hewitt WG86 and Kirk Hachigian WG86 in Houston. We’ve also occasionally reunited long-lost friends — even from other classes. Fellow Yalies David Model WG85 and Mary Ann Thomas WG87 had lost touch when Dave read about Mary Ann in our column. I was glad to reconnect them.

Because the MBA classes were so large, we missed meeting many extraordinary people during our time on campus. One of the unexpected pleasures our class has experienced throughout the years is making new friends many years after graduation. Maura McGill WG86 had reached out to see if any classmates had contacts in Tel Aviv, where her daughter would be attending graduate school. Someone mentioned Dan Schoeffler WG86 G87, a fellow Lauder alum whom Maura hadn’t known well at Wharton but who introduced her and her daughter to his cousins near Tel Aviv. That connection, Maura told me, reassured her about her daughter’s safety and gave her the opportunity to discover what a terrific guy Dan is.

We also handle requests to support classmates during challenging times, through encouragement and prayers for those who are ill, bereaved, struggling financially, or divorcing. It has been inspiring and heartwarming to see our class pull together both to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn. It is our hope that our column will continue to enable our class to share highs and lows (and everything in between) for many years to come — in the same way we’ve come together for the past 35.


Still Essential After All These Years

“Whenever I’ve needed to learn something about a particular industry, company, or region, I have always reached out to fellow alums and have never been disappointed. It has been a great way to get firsthand information from smart people quickly and easily. I have contacted probably close to 100 Wharton alumni over the years and have always been able to count on their support.”

Dana Behar WG89, owner and operator of Discovery Bay Investments


Never Far Away

By Mindy Nagorsky-Israel C94 W94, lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

Illustration of Mindy Nagorsky Israel and her Wharton alumna friends

From left: Beth (Azia) Carr W94, Nicole Jacoby W94, Abrielle Rosenthal C94 W94, and Mindy Nagorsky-Israel C94 W94

When I arrived at Penn, I thought my career path was set. My plans took a major turn when I learned from friends and teaching assistants about what investment banking had to offer. I formed a strong connection with my interviewer at Bear Stearns, Ed Rimland EAS85 W85, who called me every day until I accepted his job offer. His insistence — as well as the encouragement of my peers and educators — set in motion a chain of events from Bear to the University of Chicago Law School and, finally, to Skadden, where I practice law today. I’ve been fortunate over the years at Skadden to have an employer that has supported me at every step with roles that have suited me as a mother trying to balance everything. Ed and I lost touch but reconnected a few years ago at a gathering at my house, where we exchanged big hugs and lots of stories.

It was Beth (Azia) Carr W94, Nicole Jacoby W94, and Abrielle Rosenthal C94 W94 who pushed me to take that “big NYC job” after graduation. Having been undergraduates together, the four of us started our careers sharing a city apartment. After two years, we went our separate ways, spreading out all over the country. We’ve since reconnected and started spending time together again, sharing happy and sad occasions, including many Zoom calls in quarantine. These three women were, and are, my support system and are responsible for many of the good choices I’ve made and opportunities I’ve taken advantage of — and also a whole lot of love.

During my first year at Bear Stearns, I went back to Philadelphia to help interview Penn seniors for analyst positions. While I don’t remember this, I met a young man there who had a second-round interview with Bear. A year and a half later, our paths crossed again in New York when Debbie Rebell Moss C94 reintroduced us. We had an instant connection and dated for a bit but lost touch when I went to law school. We reconnected seven years later through the same friend and are now married with three kids. My husband, Ronen Israel ENG95 W95, and I share a love of Penn and Wharton, not just for our experiences and education there, but also for the alumni network that brought us together. Ronen could tell you similar stories about his career, friendships, and family, only the names and faces would be different — other than mine, of course.


There in Times Of Need

Illustration of Kate Yoon and her family

From left: In Ho Kim L17 WG17, Kate Yoon W09 WG17, and son

“After I’d worked for two years in New York post-graduation, my work visa wasn’t renewed. My husband, In Ho Kim L17 WG17, and I relocated with our one-year-old son to Singapore, where we had no ties, and I needed a job. I had always heard stories of how helpful our MBA Career Management office and our alumni are, but the amazing response when I reached out for job leads and life advice solidified how powerful the Wharton network is. It carried me through the journey across the globe, both professionally and personally.”

Kate Yoon W09 WG17, director of corporate development/finance at Mastercard


Published as “The Globe-Spanning, Career-Shaping, Life-Altering, Ever-Growing Wharton Alumni Network” in the Fall/Winter 2021 issue of  Wharton Magazine.