Those of you that are launching a small business in the area of life sciences or technology are in luck. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business has decided to refocus its massive small business efforts through a program called Pennovation, a high tech incubator Penn opened in 2016.
After nearly 40 years of providing free and low-cost support services to thousands of small businesses and entrepreneurs, the venerable Wharton Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is closing at the end of July. Wharton is endowed with assets and intellect that might only be matched at Harvard. Arguably Wharton SBCD has been the most preeminent of its kind, with clients benefiting from the aid of accomplished Ivy League business students and professors. The program served between 350 and 550 clients with one-to-one training annually, and another 500 or so with workshops, according to the Snider Research Center of Wharton Entrepreneurship.
I don’t think Wharton SBDC would have shifted gears if the city and its small businesses were not being adequately served. Wharton SBDC, one of 18 in the state, and the first, has arguably been the most preeminent, its clients benefiting from the aid of accomplished Ivy League business students and professors.
Unlike bogus grants for garbage research that typically give academia a bad name, Wharton SBDC provides the services mentioned above at a matching federal cost to the University of about $300,000 a year. In its 40 year history, the Wharton SBDC has helped create and fund some household names that began as entrepreneurs. “Long before the city was populated with privately owned incubators for start-ups, Wharton SBDC was the go-to for businesses just getting started, such as Urban Outfitters, Sabre Systems and Mothers Work, now known as Destination Maternity,” said David Thornburgh, who ran the center from 1988 to 1994.
One can assume that the change in direction was a reflection of human resources, or the lack thereof, that could be committed by Wharton to the public. It certainly isn’t the funding, as $300,000 would be pocket change to the highly endowed university. The void will be filled by two other local universities in Philadelphia, freeing up state and federal funding for sister programs at Temple and Widener Universities.
Ernie Post, state director of the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers, states, “The best solution for ensuring adequate SBDC services remain in your neighborhood is to provide some of the funding from Wharton to Widener SBDC with the expectation that they maintain outreach offices.”
The competition for top-tier business schools is always competitive, and Temple University plans on utilizing its new found small business involvement as a marketing tool, in addition to providing valuable resources to local entrepreneurs. Maura Shenker, director of Temple SBDC, is very excited about expanding their small business community involvement. “I don’t want to sound opportunistic,” Shenker said. “It’s a terrible thing that Wharton SBDC is closing, but I do think Temple is in a great position to help the entrepreneurial ecosystem and support the businesses that Wharton supported.” It sounds like small businesses in Philadelphia are still in good hands.