From Google to Uber, stories abound of great ideas turned into multi-billion-dollar successes. But what about the gritty processes that got those companies where they are today? David Hsu, Wharton’s Richard A. Sapp Professor of Management, gives students an on-the-ground look at the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial process in his new course, Venture Acceleration Lab. Now in its second year, the course for MBAs and undergraduate seniors examines the hustle and hard decisions needed to grow startups. The course, says Hsu, provides “a ringside seat to all the complexities associated with not just starting, but scaling a new venture.”

To facilitate that up-close experience, Hsu pairs students with early-stage mostly Penn-affiliated entrepreneurs looking to take their startups to the next level. Last year, students worked with artificial intelligence concepts; this year, the focus is on health-care startups. “The ventures are still figuring it out,” says Hsu. “Students work on projects that get to key issues around scaling up.” Ventures in this spring’s cohort include allergy immunotherapy startup Curex, wearable-technology maker Cogwear, and NeuroKappa Therapeutics, a developer of medications targeting opioid receptors.

Hsu also brings on investors, operators, and other experts to provide guidance on the core issues the students and ventures tackle together. “They’re a really important part of the course,” Hsu says. “They’ve seen the successes and the failures.” Informational materials from the syllabus, an additional resource for the semester, give students — and enterprising alumni — new ways of thinking about entrepreneurship.

YC Library

This database from early-stage venture capital firm Y Combinator houses a mountain of videos and other content with crash courses on practically any topic students may encounter during the semester. “It’s a self-serve model,” says Hsu. “They can learn more where they feel weak or want to get another take on a topic.” Among the highlights, OpenAI’s Sam Altman, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and other famous founders impart advice, while Y Combinator executives deliver pointed lessons for building a billion-dollar company through the library’s Startup School curriculum.

Masters of Scale

Hosted by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, this podcast gets to the crux of the course through interviews with accomplished entrepreneurs, including former MetricStream CEO Shellye Archambeau W84. “It’s about the key instances that allowed entrepreneurs or a founding team to bring their concept to the masses,” says Hsu.

a16z Podcast

Another resource from an influential early-stage venture firm, Andreessen Horowitz’s flagship podcast is a series for listeners seeking deep dives on specific topics. From the interpretability of artificial intelligence to the complexities of the electric grid, “They don’t shy away from bringing in technical domain experts,” says Hsu, “and move quickly beyond what you might read in the popular press.”

“To Disrupt or Not to Disrupt?”

Disruption isn’t the only route to becoming a flourishing venture, argues this article from MIT Sloan Management Review. “All too often,” says Hsu, “people think that successful ventures or entrepreneurs need to disrupt the industry incumbent.” Instead, companies can be companions, slotting themselves into an established company’s value chain rather than trying to start their own. “It’s a perfectly valuable venture to be a complement to Apple or Amazon and add some value to them,” says Hsu.

How I Built This with Guy Raz

From its start as an NPR podcast, How I Built This has put a spotlight on the doubts and challenges entrepreneurs face throughout their journeys — and the convictions that have pushed them through it all. Featuring both household and lesser-known names, the podcast “tells the human story,” says Hsu, who recommends the series to his students for that grounding reason.

“Start-Ups That Last”

Companies likely won’t achieve scale if they don’t have the right foundations to support growth — a critical lesson conveyed in this Harvard Business Review article. The piece posits that ventures must be capable in four key areas if they hope to scale: having specialized experts in areas such as marketing and manufacturing, building out a solid management structure, establishing big-picture goals, and focusing on company culture. “A lot of times, people are just trying to run fast,” says Hsu. “You can’t run fast without thinking about these things.”


Published as “Supercharge Your Startup” in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of Wharton Magazine.