Volunteer Spotlight: Sid Radhakrishna, WG'20

Laurie Jensen, Associate Director of Global Clubs, interviewed Sid Radhakrishna, WG’20, for this edition of Volunteer Spotlight. Sid has served as President of the Wharton Energy Network since September 2020.

LJ: What is your greatest achievement since graduating from Wharton?

SR: It has only been two years since graduating from the full-time MBA program, so I do hope that my best years are ahead of me! That being said, I think my top achievement so far has been breaking into the energy industry as a newcomer.

I wanted to use my Wharton experience to pivot into an industry with fascinating, interdisciplinary challenges where I could drive far-reaching impact. That turned out to be energy, a sector experiencing significant transformation. Inspired by my summer internship at Breakthrough Energy Ventures, I realized during my last semester that I wanted to help scale an emerging technology solution as a “company builder.”

Energy has a steep learning curve because of the extensive background knowledge one must bring across finance, technology, and policy. Then COVID-19 turned my recruiting efforts upside down. But with hustle and some luck, I landed a role on the finance team at Form Energy, where we are building energy storage for a better world. Specifically, we are developing a new class of cost-effective, multi-day energy storage systems that will enable a fully renewable electric grid year-round. Technologies like ours will be crucial for decarbonizing our economy and addressing climate change. It is exciting to wake up every day and know that my work is changing the world for the better. 

LJ: How have the Wharton Energy Network’s scope and goals evolved from when it was founded over a decade ago?

SR: When Wharton Energy Network (WEN) was founded in October of 2009, the energy industry was in a much different place. Cleantech 1.0 was going through its boom–bust cycle while America’s shale gas revolution was about to hit its stride. At that time, there was a clear delineation between conventional (fossil) and alternative (solar, wind, hydro, nuclear) sources of energy. WEN tried admirably to serve these very different constituencies, but the fragmentation made it difficult.

One of the big themes of the past few years has been a broad recognition that the energy transition is happening. It is no longer a theoretical concept promoted by niche players. Climate change is a “now” issue, as extreme weather events have made clear. There is a strong business case for action, both in terms of the opportunity to build industries of the future by scaling cutting-edge innovations, as well as the need to manage the financial and operational risks that climate change poses. Markets have responded swiftly to these macro trends—billions of dollars of institutional capital are flowing into renewable energy deployment and next generation technologies.

When I took over as President of WEN in September 2020, we pivoted our focus to embrace these trends. We hosted events on hot topics like electric mobility, offshore wind, tax equity financing, venture capital, and climate tech. We also publish a regular newsletter where we share insights published by the Wharton and Penn community and spotlight alumni who are leading the charge forward. I strongly believe that if we can equip Wharton alumni with better insights and stronger networks, then humanity has a better shot at solving the climate crisis before us.

LJ: Can you explain how the Wharton Energy Network approaches corporate sponsorships?

Our board pursued a methodical approach to corporate sponsorships. I’d recommend the following steps to alumni club leaders, based on our experiences at WEN —

  • Even before going out for sponsorships, establish a vision, mission, and strategy for the club. If you already have one, make sure it’s current and reflects the goals of the current leadership team. This will be foundational for you to cultivate more lasting connections.
  • Have a person on the board responsible for sponsorships. Like with many companies and nonprofits, capital raising does need CEO attention to be successful. For us at WEN, it was a joint effort between myself as President and our Treasurer.
  • Form a board-level working group who can brainstorm warm connections of fellow alumni. For industry clubs, target top firms in your industry; for regional clubs, target companies with a strong presence in your local market. Divvy up the outreach and start setting up calls. Then as our Treasurer says, “dial for dollars.”
  • Remember that vision-mission-strategy work I suggested you start with?  Now you have a compelling way to talk about your club and all the exciting things on the docket for the upcoming year. 
  • Get to know the priorities and pain points of your contacts. Do research in advance whenever possible. How can your club provide value that solves for one of these? For example, it could be marketing with a captive audience of prospective customers, or it could be facilitating recruiting opportunities with Wharton talent. Help them see your club as part of their organization’s success.
  • Tier sponsorship levels based on different value offerings. Actively iterate what is included in each tier based on feedback you get during conversations with prospective sponsors.
  • Have your paperwork ready. Common things you will be asked for include your club’s EIN, a sponsorship agreement, and bank account information. Simple as it sounds, having these ready to go conveys professionalism and speeds up the time to close money.
  • Deliver value to your sponsors. Follow through on everything you promised. Treat them like beloved customers. Give your sponsors a strong reason to sign up for another term of commitment.

LJ: Looking back at your term as president, what accomplishment are you most proud of?

What I’m most proud of: Bringing WEN back as a viable alumni club, and doing so during the pandemic.

When I took over WEN, it had been more or less dormant for two years. I was motivated to make it an important pillar of Wharton’s energy and climate community, having been engaged deeply on campus as a student.

The most important thing I did was recruit a new volunteer board. Without their passion and persistence, we could not have achieved as much as we did over the past two years. Big thanks to: Warren Wang, Lemar Brown, Mark Boyadjian, Katie Gardner, Nic Renard, Dan Sheehan, Gautam Suresh, Hayley McCurdy, and Zach Goldstein.

We successfully executed a lot of behind-the-scenes work to lay important foundations for an effective alumni club. This included a full mission-vision-strategy refresh, ratifying new bylaws, getting a bank account, securing insurance to prepare ourselves to host in-person events, and raising $20,000 in corporate sponsorships.

When we launched a member survey, we learned that Wharton alumni want to hear cutting-edge insights from industry leaders. This has guided our programming north star ever since. One silver lining of the pandemic was the embrace of virtual events. This was a boon for WEN, as in-person meetings can be difficult for a club like ours with 4,700 members distributed worldwide. Zoom enabled us to feature a broader array of alumni speakers who are executives at leading firms and host virtual networking sessions that help our members grow their networks.

The new-and-improved WEN has been met with a positive reception from alumni. Many have reached out personally to ask, “how can I help?” Our board deserves a lot of credit, as they have embraced the opportunity by stepping up to organize events and curate the community. We found that other Wharton alumni clubs were excited to collaborate with us too. For example, last year, we partnered with the Wharton Club of Houston on an event with Greentown Labs, a leading climate tech startup incubator that recently launched in Houston. This year, we have an event series going on with Wharton Alumni Angels focused on emerging trends in energy technology and investment.

LJ: What advice would you give to a new club volunteer?

SR: I would give two simple pieces of advice. I think these apply whether you are a board member or just helping out as a volunteer. 

  • Find your why. Look within to why you want to volunteer. What do you want to contribute? What do you want to get out of the experience? It’s okay to admit your “selfish altruism”! Clarity here will help you set realistic expectations about your commitment, both to yourself and to your fellow volunteers.
  • Follow through. Everyone is busy. We all get it. By volunteering, you are giving your most precious resource: your time. However, if you commit to doing something, do it! It goes beyond you. It builds trust among the Wharton alumni community that we can rely on each other’s word.