For M&T junior Adele Li, tech is hardwired into her very being. She spoke about why she chose to join PennApps, the Penn organization that hosts the nation's largest and "premiere" student hackathon.
“Penn is really the base of where this whole hackathon scene originated,” Adele says.
PennApps is a hackathon that lasts for approximately 24 to 48 hours, where the nation's brightest hackers come to Penn's campus, form teams, and execute a project from beginning to end.
“I joined PennApps, because...I was involved in the hackathon scene in high school, and I knew that PennApps was the premiere hackathon–it was the most famous, prestigious hackathon there was,” Adele says. “When I came to Penn and realized how strong of a community PennApps was, I knew I immediately wanted to join.”
"You can think about PennApps being a very Penn–focused event where students organize the event and Penn students attend the event, but it's so much more than that. We cater to students from all around the nation–even around the world–who fly to Penn to attend this event.”
Adele says that directing this event has shown her "what leadership really means." She says she wants to be a positive force that influences her peers but also makes sure tasks get done.
Adele is originally from Saratoga, California, and studies computer science, finance, and real estate at Penn. She was first introduced to Penn through the M&T Summer Institute, which is a 3–week summer program for rising high school seniors interested in the M&T program.
“I think I'm pretty much a representation of M&T through my parents. My dad is an engineer, my mom works in finance, so it just felt like the natural path for me," Adele says.
When she first entered Penn, Adele was mostly interested in venture capital.
“All my friends back home were really interested in computer science, building products, tech. I was more interested in the ideation process or supporting companies, because I think one thing you realize when you're in the tech world is ideas are free–it's all about the execution,” Adele says. “It was really important for me to not only learn about ideas but also, more importantly, how to implement them.”
Adele is the managing director of the Dorm Room Fund, a student–run venture capital firm backed by First Round Capital. The fund is an off–campus organization with branches in Philadelphia, New York, Boston and San Francisco. It manages around $2 million a year, which is then granted to student entrepreneurs across the nation.
“We basically source companies on the university level, and we fund and support students,” Adele says.
She adds that the company does more than fund start–ups–it also provides their founders with mentorship resources. For example, the Dorm Room Fund built a product called VCWiz, which matches students to “like–minded venture capitalists” to fund them.
Adele has also pursued her interest in venture capital during her summers, working at venture capital firms in her hometown as well as working at Katerra, a “new construction tech firm revolutionizing the process from end–to–end.”
She adds that being a part of the company during these formative years drastically impacted her career path going forward.
“A lot of people in Wharton think of real estate as an investing job, you know, real estate banking, but I think of real estate as something that should be accessible to all, something that's going to be incredibly tech–enabled in the future, and something that is going to impact the way we live daily,” she adds. “This could mean the smart home technology that we have in our apartments right now, such as Google Home or Alexa, to the way packages are delivered to us in the future–maybe having a flat roof for drone deliveries.”
Adele is also interested in debt creation and how that has been impacted by the crushing student debt millennials owe. She will be working in distressed debt investing at Ares, a private equity firm, and wants to understand why certain companies succeed and what to do to save the ones who are drowning. Her ultimate goal post–graduation is to help make housing more accessible and financially feasible as a whole.
“Everything that I've been involved with at school (PennApps, Dorm Room Fund) is all about supporting organizations and people when they first incubate an idea: when it's fresh, when it doesn't cost that much money, when it's growing a lot. It's a very uncertain stage where you're helping it grow," Adele says.
Adele herself seems to embody this fresh, innovative mindset. “I also feel like the word entrepreneurship is overrated. You can do these things every single day in your lives," Adele says. "For example, the act of baking a cookie and giving it to your friend is also an act of entrepreneurship. It's an act of giving, it's an act of being aware of the kind of happiness or the kind of emotional response you want to get from other people."
Going forward, Adele will continue to prioritize the people her projects serve over the profits.
“Founding a company or founding a project is not only about saying you raised X amount of money, but it's also about saying here's X amount of people that I've reached," Adele says. "I've been really trying to learn about the way that I can create my own impact.”