Pandemic FinTech Project Takes Top Prize at First Virtual Startup Fest
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At the start of 2020, Drexel University students and Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity brothers Michael Grant Warshowsky and Ben Kestenbaum would meet up weekly after their computer science lab and talk about practically everything, but their conversations would always lead back to one topic in particular: finance.
The two friends would talk and share advice about their investment portfolios and the stock market overall, and in doing so came to realize that there was a trend with their friends and the 18–29 demographic at large entering into the market using commission-free trading apps like Robinhood.
“Due to their financial illiteracy, lack of access to quality financial information that they can comprehend and minimal exposure to financially literate communities, they've begun to fall victim to manipulative tactics,” Warshowsky, a second-year computer science major, said.
He and Kestenbaum, a fourth-year finance and data-science student, set out to change that through their company, WOLF Financial, and their WOLF app. The app offers users a unique social research experience, complete with easy to understand investment analyses, and premium financial content from friends and verified financial content creators. Members of the "WOLF Pack" gain access to a spirited investment community dedicated to making informed financial decisions together.
After going through a few months of competitive analysis and market research to de-risk their critical assumptions, the friends got serious about building out their application in March, coinciding with Drexel’s campus shutdown and mandatory social distancing measures enacted in Philadelphia and across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures also made Warshowsky and Kestenbaum realize their idea was all the more applicable in these new financial and economic circumstances.
“The problem that we identified in January was perpetuated by the shutdown in March, and the need for a solution became much more urgent,” Kestenbaum said. “Once we realized this, we hit the ground running and just pushed it out.”
A business idea born and created out of the circumstances and months of social distancing created by the pandemic became the fitting first-place winner of the cornerstone competition for Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship’s annual Startup Fest, which because of COVID-19 took place virtually this year. WOLF Financial took top prize in the Baiada Incubator Competition, receiving $12,500 in capital to grow their business, office space in the Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship once campus opens up more widely, and free legal and accounting services.
Chuck Sacco, assistant dean of strategic initiatives for the Close School and director of the Baiada Institute, said this year’s Startup Fest gave organizers the unique opportunity to try some new things and learn a thing or two to continue on when the event can safely move back to campus. All in all, the multi-day event held from Oct. 27–29 boasted 15 different events and nearly 350 attendees.
“We not only pulled off a very engaging and successful event, but the online approach allowed us to reach new audiences and speakers that otherwise would not have been possible,” he said. “The interactivity that we built into some of the activities are certainly things that will play out very well on stage in front of a live audience.”
WOLF Financial also took top prize at the Close School’s inaugural Dragon Pitch competition over the summer term, winning $2,500 in funding then. Warshowksy said that they both had a lot of fun and learned something new at each event.
He added that at Startup Fest, they took away a lot from the judges’ questions and feedback, and the elements of live commenting and audience voting that were integrated into the virtual event this year were fun and engaging.
“There are not a lot of other schools that nurture entrepreneurs the way that Drexel does,” Kestenbaum added. “It reassures the decision to come here, and it's very nice to be able to compete with and against such talented groups, great students, and great peers. The networking opportunities are amazing, and to take home this prize is really, really cool.”
With the total funds and free services rendered, Kestenbaum said they plan to focus on software development, personnel, storage, web services, marketing and operational expenses associated with the WOLF app.
“The fifteen thousand dollars is going to help us improve our product in the short run,” he said.
They are already poised to release updates to the app in the coming weeks, including revamped analysis, more customization around sharing your portfolio within the app, and implementing an explore page. The ultimate revenue goal for the app is to unveil a premium subscription offering, but right now the student entrepreneurs are more focused on hiring top talent to build out all of the many offerings they have planned. They are actively recruiting top-tier developers, but would also love to get more Drexel students involved with the future of WOLF Financial.
“We’ve already gone through Drexel's Co-op program and have hired students,” Kestenbaum said. “So, we’d love to continue getting the Drexel community involved.”