“So we’re not talking about an incubator for chickens,” laughed Weiss Labs Incubator co–founder, senior Guthrie Gintzler (M&T ’16), “An incubator is a place where a bunch of start–ups can come together and grow their ideas.”
The vibe was casual on Thursday afternoon as representatives from seven student–run teams rolled around on colored chairs, intermingled with other tables and waited for the presentation to begin. The afternoon’s speakers were fromRobin Hood Ventures, a venture capital firm with a focus on Philadelphia start-ups. The topic was presenting a killer pitch. All groups got an opportunity to pitch after the talk, promoting their start–ups which marketed everything from fresh–tasting toddler food to personal trainers. The youngest team boasted three Wharton freshman, while other teams were pursuing their MBAs.
When I sat down with Gintzler in a lime green room off to the side, he informed that before winter break, the space had been a storage closet.
Gintzler, who spends 10-30 hours at Weiss Labs a week, said, “There was no Weiss Labs six months ago.”
While the senior pursuing a dual Wharton Engineering degree had enough to fill his senior spring, he noticed that there was a major need for start-up support at Penn, particularly within Weiss Tech House, which was launched in 2003.
“It’s a way to get these companies together, get them to understand where they are in their business, in the perspective of something outside their app, outside of their computer, outside of everything they’ve been focusing on,” he explained, “Because when you’re a co-founder, a lot of times you have your head down, and you’re just running with your idea. You can’t forget that there’s this giant world out there that is your customer.”
Direct financial support is not an element of the incubator, as Gintzler himself is wary.
“Kind of the biggest problem at Penn is that we give our students money and they never learn what are the most important skills, which is selling your business. You have to learn how to sell your business to people beyond Penn,” he said.
That being said, Gintzler pointed out that teams get, “feedback from other people on other teams, mentorship resources, space, coffee, everything that [they] need to make [their] venture succeed.”
For the seven start–ups in the spring class of Weiss Labs Incubator, boasting “a lower acceptance rate than Harvard,” Gintzler explained, “we don’t need to provide our companies money because we provide them with all the resources they need to go out and raise it for themselves.”
One of the start-ups, Slice Capital, has been nominated for an award in Inc. Magazine, while Patos Shoes has grown so quickly, founder Fernando Rojo (W '18) plans to take next semester off to focus on the brand.
While the acceptance rate and spring class may seem intimidating, Gintzler promised that, “the online application is really simple,” and encouraged new start–ups to apply for the summer and fall classes.
As for Pittsburgh–native Gintzler, he won’t be leaving Philadelphia for long. Beginning his graduate studies at Penn in the fall where he'll obtain a masters in robotics, he was happy to announce, “I’m definitely not done," though, “I’m going to have someone else to be the head.”
“You can’t just have a baby and expect the baby to swim the next day,” he laughed, “It’s going to be really good that I’ll be here next year so I can act as a booie.”
For Gintzler, who credits roommate and co-founder Ernest Taveres III (W ’16) for everything the incubator has achieved so far, he looks forward to pursuing a career based in both leadership and teamwork.
“I want to be an entrepreneur or a venture capitalist,” he explained, “I just have a love for innovation and business strategy. It’s so cool figuring out these business problems.”
Asked if he ever has downtime, Gintzler looked back with fondness on St. Patrick’s Day and spring break in Punta Cana.
“And I am definitely gonna be at fling,” he promised.