Tangen Hall is referred to as the physical “start here button” for aspiring Penn entrepreneurs and innovators. Made possible by the AKO Foundation, the charitable foundation established by alumnus Nicolai Tangen and his wife, Katja, the building houses nine studios and labs that support hands-on activity such as design, prototyping, building, and scaling ventures. Located on the northeast corner of 40th and Sansom streets, Tangen is a major student-focused development. The building’s design is sensitive to urban and campus contexts.
“The ‘start here’ approach is echoed in our mission of democratizing entrepreneurship for all students at Penn,” says Lori Rosenkopf, vice dean of entrepreneurship and Simon and Midge Palley Professor of Management at the Wharton School. “Our goal is for it to be the entry point in each Penn student or alumni’s entrepreneurial journey. We want students to find us and know that if there’s any concept, idea, or venture they are interested in building—or simply want to know more—they can get started here.”
Tangen also is the home of Venture Lab and is a partnership by the Wharton School, Penn Engineering, and the Stuart Weitzman School of Design. This is consolidates Penn’s startup ecosystem and provides experimental learning to all Penn students. Even without a technical background, Penn students can access the tools and advisors to help transform their ideas into businesses. Venture Lab Executive Director Trang Pham says their mission can be summed up with three “I”’s: “Inclusion, innovation, and integration.
“The integration aspect of Venture Lab can be found in the support from three of the schools and their respective leaders. The innovation aspect comes from watching the students build and develop their concepts while seeking to solve the societal challenges of today and looking ahead towards the future,” she says. “Inclusion, however, is arguably one of the most important aspects of Venture Lab. We want students from all backgrounds to feel that entrepreneurship is for them. They can grow their enterprises big, but they all start small, and anyone can start it.”
And in March, Venture Lab announced a $10 million commitment from Ellen L. Hanson and Richard E. Perlman, Wharton Class of 1968. The contribution will establish Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition and support other programming at Venture Lab.
A campus makerspace
Designed by KSS Architects and developed by the Hankin Group, Tangen Hall’s structure of precast concrete and shades of green glass offer a transparent view into the innovation culture at Penn.
The first floor of the building is home to three of the five innovation spaces operated by Penn Engineering. These spaces are intended to teach students to use physical tools to prototype and test their ideas.
“The first floor, or lobby, of Tangen Hall welcomes students, staff, faculty, and alumni to see how far entrepreneurship has come at Penn,” says Irina Yuen, senior director of Venture Lab. “The building is the first of its kind to house several unique programs with the purpose of bringing together the various schools that were once siloed but supported the entrepreneurial ecosystem in various ways. From the Fabrication Studio to the Retail Lab to the main piece of the furniture competition, visitors are greeted with what we believe is a wonderful first impression of our community.”
The Fabrication Studio seats more than 50 people and provides access to analog tools with low safety concerns, such as, hammers, pliers, and wrenches. There are also six 3D printers and a variety of saws, grinders, and sanders.
“The Fabrication Studio is the largest makerspace of its kind on campus and can hold up to 70 students at one time,” Taylor Caputo, Integrated Product Design (IPD) lecturer and director of the engineering studios at Venture Lab. “The space is primarily used by students in the IPD program. However, we’re open to all students to learn about design and prototyping. We have instructional training and safety courses that students can sign up for, even if they have no prior knowledge of design and our talented team of student technicians are available to assist seven days a week.”
Also on the first floor, students can do spray painting in the Digital Realization Lab which houses three industrial laser cutters, and a wazer (also known as water jet cutter).
“The Digital Realization Lab is something that engineering students have always wanted to see come to life at the University,” Caputo says. “Our space contains the only in-house spray painting station for students to decorate and design their prototypes and our laser cutters have been used for a variety of wood, soft metals, and plastics.”
Across from the Fabrication Studio is the Retail Lab. Initiated in fall 2021, the lab serves as a showroom, displaying products from alumni brands in a retail setting.
“Retail Lab operates as a flexible retail space to showcase successful alumni and student ventures and provide active learning opportunities,” says Valentina Goutorova, director of the Venture Initiation Program. “There are eight alumni brands currently on display and students have the opportunity to meet with founders during live events—Retail Lab Founders Forums. We are working with nine student ventures this semester. They receive mentorship from alumni advisors, use space to interact with customers, and test prototypes during the pop-up events. Our goal is to eventually help students understand and experience the retail environment through launching their startups using the space.”
Gathering spaces for teams big and small
The second floor is a 2,700-square-feet colloquium which fits 200 people and is the single largest space in the hall. It is a co-working space for student and alumni leaders in Penn’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This location facilitates interaction, promotes community-building, and fosters interdisciplinary collaboration for the benefit of all Penn startups.
“The colloquium has become our center’s communal gathering space,” says Jill Anick, the acting director of Tangen Hall. “There’s students meeting in groups and utilizing the whiteboards to map out their concepts or just meet their friends for lunch and dinner. It’s become our preferred place to meet and interact with students and alumni that come to learn more about Tangen Hall.”
The second floor also holds the Food Lab. It’s a test kitchen that’s more than 800 square feet with commercial-grade equipment. Here, students can test out recipes for their food and beverage startups.
The third floor is called the Founder’s Suite with smaller team rooms; select rooms are allocated for student use. Along with 36 seats, the suite is envisioned for advanced startups. Tangen also has 16 smaller team rooms and venture pods, equipped with state-of-the-art livestream technology to facilitate experimentation and collaboration.
“The Founder’s Suite is reserved primarily for students in our Venture Initiation Program [VIP],” Goutorova says. “In our previous spaces, we were limited to perhaps one or two classrooms to accommodate more than 500 students who wanted to have space to meet and develop their ideas. Now, we have an entire floor, and the students can be found using the entire space to connect with members of the VIP community, pitch to investors, and interview potential teammates. According to our students, the increase in space has been very much appreciated and needed for a long time.”
Snider Consulting is co-located next to the Founders Suite on the third floor. Snider is a rigorous, on-campus elective consulting program that offers students opportunities to develop their consulting skillset while making an impact on startup clients, according to Director Erin McGowan.
“We have a dual mission to provide affordable, professional services to startups and professional-level consulting experience to Wharton students,” says McGowan.
The fourth floor supports a lot of hands-on prototyping—similar to the first floor but with more sophisticated equipment—and media production. The Digital Design Studio on this floor will lead communications for Venture Lab while also operating as an in-house creative agency to help student and alumni startups with their branding and marketing needs, according to Taylor Durham, director of marketing & digital studios.
“Our focus is to assist growing ventures in specialized cohorts, with hands-on assistance in establishing their brand identity and content marketing strategies,” Durham says. “To date, we’ve worked with more than 20 ventures in the program on various graphic design, web design, and video production needs. Our goal is to expand our team to better assist all the ventures in the program as Venture Lab continues to attract more enterprising students from the Penn community.”
The fifth floor is the Jay H. Baker Retail Center, the Harris Family Alternative Investments Program, and the Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance. The sixth floor is home to Wharton Computing and Internet Technology.
“While Venture Lab operates on the first, second, third, fourth and seventh floors of Tangen, the fifth and sixth floors are occupied by our fellow Wharton colleagues,” Anick says. “The fifth floor is open to students in Venture Lab that may be interested in learning more about these programs, such as the Stevens Center which recently launched its Cypher Accelerator focusing on blockchain technology. The sixth floor is occupied by Wharton Computing, which supports the school’s IT infrastructure needs.”
The seventh floor houses two structured active learning rooms. The Summit is on the penthouse floor and is an inviting co-working space ideal for collaboration. It leads to the rooftop terrace, which, along with the adjacent active learning rooms, are used to host major entrepreneurship and innovation events at Penn.
“The Summit is another one of the desired places within Tangen for students to meet and work on their ventures,” Durham says. “It’s become somewhat of a desired photoshoot space and we’re envisioning that lots of founders will want to have their team photos taken there.”
In total, Tangen Hall serves as a toolbox for Penn students and alumni to turn innovative concepts into scalable and sustainable businesses. Each floor has resources to support a hands-on, learning-by-doing approach to entrepreneurship.
Homepage video: Located on the northeast corner of 40th and Sansom streets, Tangen Hall serves as a toolbox for Penn students and alumni to turn innovative concepts into scalable and sustainable businesses by supporting hands-on, learning-by-doing entrepreneurship.