Student spotlight: Business competition is too good to resist

David Valger

David Valger is working for this year's Wharton Business Plan Competition.

Photo by Daniel R. Burke

The temptation to start his own business is mighty for David Valger. The 29-year-old first year MBA student has participated in two start-up companies and has his own start-up in the development stage.

But now he’s trying to keep his mind focused on his studies.

To put off the temptation of leaving school for another start-up opportunity, Valger is working this year for the Wharton Business Plan Competition instead of participating in it with one of his own business start-up ideas.

“If I participate this year and get funded, then I’m at a crossroads,” said Valger, the competition’s director of external marketing. “Do I leave [Wharton] to run the company or do I let someone else run it for me?”

Last year 185 teams, entrepreneurial adventurers like Valger, entered the contest, which provides not only prize money for the best business ideas but also pairs companies with mentors—business executives or venture capitalists—to help students figure out what steps they must follow to take their businesses to the next stage.

The competition, begun three years ago by the program now called Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs, has helped dozens of start-up companies to raise funds and helped hundreds of companies gain exposure to venture capitalists, Valger said.

And this year, the contest has a new wrinkle: For the first time, it will offer a special “track” in partnership with the Graduate School of Education to encourage participation by students with education-related business concepts. Any business idea related to the education of students—kindergartners to high school seniors—will be eligible to compete for the new “education-track prize” of $10,000 as well as compete for the $60,000 total in general prize money given to the best business plans.

Behind the new prize is The Goldman Sachs Foundation, Valger said. Goldman Sachs is also one of the supporters of the general competition.

The competition is open to any Penn student who plays an active role on a team that is starting a new business. Last year, 178 Wharton students and 167 non-Wharton people participated, including 63 students from Engineering, 25 from Medicine, 19 from Arts and Sciences and four from Law, said Ann Stamer, associate director for Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs.

A team that has already raised $25,000 or earned revenues greater than $100,000 is not eligible, Valger said.

Valger, the son of two dentists, came to this country from Moscow in 1980, and was destined for dentistry until he got his first taste of entrepreneurship, working for an early-stage company during a one-year interruption in his undergraduate career at Binghamton University. He’s confident he’ll have a good idea when he permits himself the pleasure of participating in next year’s competition. “There’s no shortage of ideas,” he said. “The challenge is to choose the right idea at the right time.”

The other prizes for this year are:

— First place for the best business plan, $25,000
— Second place, $15,000
— Third place, $10,000
— Finalist prizes, $1,500 each
— Wharton Undergraduate Award, $7,000
— Three Phase I Prizes for most innovative business concept, $500 each

The Phase I entry deadline has passed, but new entries can still be submitted by the Phase II deadline, Jan. 25, 2002, said Stamer.

For more information on the Wharton Business Plan Competition, go to

Originally published on November 29, 2001