The Wharton Investment Competition Sparks a Passion for Finance

by Diana Drake

This month’s podcast guest may be familiar to some of our Wharton Global High School Investment Competition fans. Mojmír Zálešák and his team from Novy PORG high school in Prague, Czech Republic, took third place in last year’s Global Finale, becoming one of the first teams from Europe to ever place in the annual competition.

As we prepare for our 2024 Learning Day and Global Finale this week on April 19 and 20, we welcomed the opportunity to talk to Mojmír, not only about his past experiences in the competition, but also what has happened in the year since we last saw him on Wharton’s Philadelphia campus. As you’ll hear, what a year it has been! The competition opened incredible opportunities for Mojmír and his teammates to explore their love of finance even further.

Be sure to click on the arrow above to listen to our conversation with Mojmír! An edited transcript appears below. 

Wharton Global Youth Program: Hello and welcome to Future of the Business World. I’m Diana Drake with the Wharton Global Youth Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Each month on Future of the Business World, we meet an inspiring young entrepreneur who is mixing up passion, grit and curiosity to start something new in this world.

Today’s guest is an ideal fit for the month of April, known in different parts of the world as Financial Literacy Month. Less than a week ago, Mojmír Zálešák published an article in the Czech Republic edition of Forbes magazine about the level of financial literacy in Czechia, his home country located in Central Europe.

We knew about Mojmír’s love of finance long before he hit the magazine stands. A year ago, his high school team Novy PORG competed in our Wharton Global High School Investment Competition global finale, traveling to the Wharton School in April 2023 to compete against nine other finalist teams. Novy PORG ended up winning third place in the global competition. That victory opened up lots of opportunities for Mojmír and his teammates, including a spot for him in the Czech Forbes 30 under 30 list.

Mojmír, welcome to Future of the Business World!

Mojmír Zálešák: Hi, thanks for having me.

Wharton Global Youth: All right. So here we are a year later. And we’re preparing for a whole new cohort of investment competition finalists to visit campus in a few weeks. You’ve mentioned that the Wharton Global High School Investment Competition changed your life. I’d love to know how? In what ways has our investment competition been transformative for you and for your teammates in Prague?

Mojmír: So, kind of a funny story is that the Wharton investment competition is how I started with investing, because the competition introduced me to the role of finance and investing, and with its interactive nature, it also allowed me to gradually fall in love with it. And I’ve competed ever since. So, that was since I think like 2019, when I first started competing. And some of the biggest takeaways [that] me and my teammates [have taken] away from all the years we’ve competed is that investing in general is just not purely about the numbers and the fundaments and the DCF models and so on. But it’s also about tying it with macroeconomic trends. And that influences the individual sectors, and the financial space as a whole, and therefore also influences our investment strategies. And also, as part of this competition journey, we realized that it’s essential to build the right group of people around you that can allow you to grow not only as a person, but also as an investor or in a professional way.

Wharton Global Youth: Have you had specific opportunities unfold in the past year?

Mojmír: Yeah, definitely. When we came back in April, after winning the first place, we got a lot of media attention. A lot of local outlets started writing about us. And people and institutions started noticing us. Well-known investment bank J&T here in the Czech Republic noticed us and they offered us a summer internship, which is something they haven’t done in the past. So, it was unique in this in this manner. It was an amazing three-week-long program, where we got to visit different parts of the bank, ranging from stock trading to bond trading and private equity, and where we got to speak with all the top experts from the field and also received some tasks for completion. This was a great indulging experience that not only opened our eyes, because before that we only thought about stocks, but when we came out of J&T, we realized [that] there are all these other financial instruments that we can use. And we also started sharing that with our members in our investment society. And after the internship and the completion of the assigned tasks, I think they quite enjoyed our company and liked our work. So, we were offered a chance to open our own retail fund called J&T Next Gen that opened this January. We serve on the advisory board and come up with all the different investment ideas. I think that’s probably the biggest experience, as we have the chance to work alongside one of the best portfolio managers here in Czechia, Michal Semotan. And we also get to apply all the knowledge that we’ve gained through our investment society and your competition in practice at higher volumes. I think that’s the greatest piece of experience currently.

Wharton Global Youth: Wow, that is amazing. So tell me how this Next Gen fund actually works. Are you selecting investments? How are you going about it?

Mojmír: Yeah, so me and the four guys, Jonas, Filip, Herbert and Jan, who competed with me in the in the Wharton competition, serve on the advisory board — with Michal Semotan being the portfolio manager, so he has veto power. However, the six of us together come up with the individual investment theses and ideas. Usually, we separate individual sectors between us and see [if there are] interesting companies that could fit into the strategy of the fund, which is rather more risk-prone and focused on modern technology, and also tying it with alternative data like patents, government contracts, and so on. And then we just present. It’s the same process like in a competition, when you come across an interesting stock, you prepare a simple presentation of the pitch, then you pitch it to the other guys and say, ‘Well, I think there’s an opportunity here.’ Then you delve into the company more to see whether there’s some kind of upside; whether you see potential in it. And then basically, we all together decide whether it is a fit for us or not. Every vote has an equal weight among the six of us; however, Michal as the portfolio manager, if we come up with a silly idea, he has the veto power. So, he’s there to guide us through the entire process, and he serves as our mentor.

Wharton Global Youth: It sounds like you are definitely using your quantitative and qualitative analytic skills. Is that right?

Mojmír: Yeah, it definitely is a combination of both, tying it with the macro trends. And also, some of the alternative data we find.

Wharton Global Youth: Wow! What an excellent follow-on from the competition. I heard before [that] you mentioned bringing it back to “our investment society.” Can you tell me more about the Novy PORG Investment Society that’s right at your school?

Mojmír It’s an investment club that was started by Otakar Kořínek. (He’s actually one of your students at Wharton right now) in 2019, and I was one of the first members to join. He eventually gave me the leadership position when he was leaving. And what’s important to mention is that the Novi PORG Investment Society, or in short, we say NPIS, is under the umbrella of a larger club called Econet, which I lead as well. And it was started by Otakar as well, so I that over, as well. It’s an economic and financially oriented club organization that seeks to increase financial literacy among the youth here in Czechia.

We have different ways we do that. We currently have over 140 members, and apart from the investment society, where we compete in your competition, we teach the basics of stocks, bonds and option analysis, write reports, and [publish] our monthly newsletter, The Raging Bull. But we also then engage in writing and publishing economically and financially oriented articles in local media, like Forbes, and other well-known media outlets here in Czechia. And [we’ve also] organized debates with exclusive hosts that [have] attracted over 140,000 viewers since we started. I think that has been pretty effective. Also, what we started doing as of late is engaging in international collaborations, which was made possible again because of our experience with the Wharton investment competition, where we made some friends at the Global Finale. And so we now are in partnership with the [Thomas] Jefferson High School, who are the last year’s winners, where we combine our European and American perspectives, to analyze prospective stocks, and then we publish reports together, or we’ll publish our first report together, hopefully in May or June. And that I think might be interesting for some people.

“Coming up with functioning long-term strategies is more challenging than ever. And even with today’s advanced technology – like AI models — they can’t really even comprehend some of the logic of the markets.” –Mojmír Zálešák

Wharton Global Youth: Excellent. So, a really fruitful collaboration there with the U.S. team. Your recent Forbes article, which I mentioned in the beginning, suggests you’ve also become somewhat of a financial literacy champion. You talk about the accessibility of investing for young people in the article. And it also highlights a quote from famous investor Warren Buffett: “If you don’t find a way to earn money while you sleep, you’ll work until you die.” What do you hope other teens might take away from your article? Do you want to inspire more young investors?

Mojmír: When I was writing the article, I think my main aim was to simply encourage more young people to take up an interest in investing, because I think it’s still a problem here in Czechia. [This is in part] because of the educational system here, which is something I’m also speaking about publicly in different media outlets. I think there some changes need to be applied, even though I think it has gotten better in recent years. But still, financial literacy is not really present [in our schools]. I just want to show people that it’s not as daunting as it may seem. Because of all the immense resources in today’s digital world, which on one hand may seem a little overwhelming, but on the other, it makes it a whole lot easier to start [investing]. In addition to that, I also want to emphasize that it’s important, or I would say, even essential to start at an early age to take big advantage of the compounding effect, and also instill these kinds of financial habits that will help you in the future and that will allow you to take care of your future self and your future well-being.

Wharton Global Youth: you have immersed yourself in this world since 2019. It’s amazing to hear. I’m curious just what aspect of investing in the stock markets you have found most challenging?

Mojmír I think, especially my friends in the society would agree that I think in recent years, but probably in the entire history of the stock market, the most challenging aspect of it [has been] predicting the future. Because as we’ve seen in the last couple of years, there’s a high sense of irrationality in the markets, I would say, or certain behavior that we’ve never seen before. Coming up with functioning long-term strategies is more challenging than ever. And even with today’s advanced technology – like AI models — they can’t really even comprehend some of the logic of the markets, and they don’t really function in the long-term. So, that really just shows how difficult it is to read today’s market. And I think that’s the most challenging aspects.

Wharton Global Youth: Alright, let’s switch for a moment to talk about Mojmír the entrepreneur. You are the co-founder of Sportegy Futures and Teramite. Tell us more about these startups and how they relate to other areas of your life?

Mojmír: Let’s start with Sportegy Futures. It’s an agency or a company that I and three other people started a little over one and a half years ago. The story behind it I think is rather interesting. In the summer of 2022, I decided to go to the Harvard secondary school program for two months, where I took a class that was called IP Laws and Startups. And we had a task to come up with our own startup, basically. Before I went to the U.S., I had a discussion with my squash coach about how sport opens up many doors in the U.S., especially at prestigious universities, because what’s so special about the American system is that they really support athletes, and they encourage sports, which is, I think, really unique. And it makes the entire process much easier, especially for international students.

I was looking for all sporty options we had here in Europe and Czechia and I couldn’t really find any good ones. I thought, there’s a hole in the market and we can fill it. I then took the task at Harvard as a test trial. I came up with the idea and pitched it to my classmates and to the professor. They had some feedback, but I think they liked the idea. So, when I came back a month later, the agency had launched.

Basically, our mission is to help as many talented student athletes as possible to achieve their American dreams and study at prestigious U.S. universities under scholarship programs. And we also want to motivate more people to go to the U.S. as well. And [we want to] show them that there are different possibilities that can be done. Many people here are scared of the costs, or the distance or the environment as a whole. So, we’re trying to familiarize that for them. I’ve shown them there are different resolutions to this and it can be done.

That’s Sportegy Futures. The other project I launched during COVID with my close friend, Patrik Čermák. He’s my classmate. During COVID we really got interested in blockchain technology, not like cryptocurrencies, specifically, but the technology behind it, and how it works. We find it really intriguing and we believe that it has many, many applications in today’s world. When we started diving into the space, we realized there were two problems. The first one was that most people didn’t really understand blockchain technology and what it was. And they had false impressions of cryptocurrencies. And the other one is that there’s distrust in the system, because of all the scams that happened and because the entire market is unregulated.

So, we decided to come up with an initiative called Teramite that would serve both as an educational project, but also provide our users with the ability to try basic crypto functionalities hands-on. We co-programmed a platform that allowed them to try all the functions, risk-free; the tokens had no value, they were fake. They were sent to them when they registered to play around with through our platform, and familiarize themselves with the environment. We also competed with the projects Kickstarter, where we won first place, and we received $25,000 for us to launch it. And to build the platform, which was successful in the end. And so now the project is running.

But there have been some struggles, especially with introducing the main idea behind it to people because [just] as they do not trust the entire system, they do not trust us. They do not believe when we say to them that it’s risk-free, it’s just a trial platform, it’s a fake crypto exchange, we won’t take your money. We’ll just send you fake tokens and [you can] play around with them. It’s hard for them to comprehend. They just think we’re somehow trying to take their money. That’s been a challenge we have to overcome. But I think it has worked.

Wharton Global Youth: You have such a diversity of interests. I’m wondering, where’s the intersection? Have you experienced the power of communication and collaboration? How do we bring together your interest in investing and your entrepreneurial endeavors?

Mojmír: When I was building my portfolio of activities over the years, I’ve never really had a set plan, I would say I just engaged in activities that made sense to me. And where I saw potential. When I was interested in investing and increasing financial literacy, I first joined and then led Econet and NPIS. And also because of my newly found interest in the financial world, I started, for instance, learning about crypto and the blockchain, which led me to starting a project with Patrik, Teramite. And then when I was researching all kinds of the possible ways I could apply to U.S. universities, because I played squash competitively for seven years, I wanted to get there through sports, as well. So, I started researching on the topic and realized there’s a hole in the market here in Czech Republic. That led me to Sportegy Futures. It tied this financial world with this business world and entrepreneurial world. Even though it may not really seem like that on paper, the intersection has always been there. It has been the intersection between my passion for finance and investing, helping others in achieving their dreams, as well as expanding my own horizons and learning new things.

Wharton Global Youth: Yes, and of course, innovation, right? That brings it all together. You were telling me that you have exams coming up and you’re about to finish your high school career. What’s next for you?

Mojmír: Well, I hope to go to a university. Right now I have options to go to Italy and the UK or the U.S., but I’m still waiting for some decisions in the USA. I’ve been waitlisted at Wharton and [the University of] Chicago, so I’m waiting for the decisions to come. Luckily, I have other great options, as well. I hope to go study abroad, gain some experience there, and then we’ll see what happens next. And of course, while I’m at the university, I would also like to continue to engage in and grow the projects I’ve started and that we’ve talked about, and maybe even expand them internationally. We’ll see how that goes. That’s in the plans for next year, especially with Econet and NPS. I believe I will be able to do so even though I’ll be out of the country, because I’ve built a really great team around me here in Czechia and I think we’ll be able to do it. Time will tell.

Wharton Global Youth: All right, let’s end with our lightning round. Please answer these questions as quickly as you can. Your all-time favorite investment and why?

Mojmír: I would say (this may come as a surprise) Lantheus Holdings (LNTH). It’s actually a bad investment, well, not a bad investment. But it taught me a lesson because it dropped by more than 30% during one trading session. It taught me a lot about crisis management and controlling my emotions in intense moments, which I value probably the most. So it wasn’t my best investment, but it definitely taught me the most.

Wharton Global Youth: You told Forbes magazine that you hoped at one point in your life when you were younger, to someday be a chef. What is your favorite food to cook?

Mojmír: I would say probably some surf and turf. I like to cook steak with gumbo, shrimps and rice, probably my favorite.

Wharton Global Youth: A podcast, book, or movie you recently enjoyed that you want to share?

Mojmír: There’s a lot, but probably the movie that comes to my mind is the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with Jim Carrey. Or I recently saw the Spaceman with Adam Sandler. I think that’s a pretty good existential movie. And it actually has a Czech background, so I found that interesting.

Wharton Global Youth: What is something that you hope to learn that you don’t yet know?

Mojmír: At the moment, I think I’m working on learning more about option trading, because that’s a new space for me. And I would like to understand that a whole lot more in the future.

Wharton Global Youth: Something about you that would totally surprise us?

Mojmír: I think a lot of people don’t know that I like to write poetry.

Wharton Global Youth: Other than winning third place, your favorite moment from your trip to campus for the investment competition?

Mojmír: I would have to say probably visiting and spending time with our mentor Otakar Kořínek. And some of our other friends from Czechia that are studying at UPenn.

Wharton Global Youth: You are starting your own business-themed talk show. Who is your first guest and why?

Mojmír: I think I even mentioned this in Forbes magazine, but I would really like to meet and talk to Larry Fink, who’s the CEO of BlackRock. I think it would be intriguing to get insight into the man running a company or a conglomerate at this point that essentially controls a ninth of the world’s economy. I think it would be a really interesting conversation.

Wharton Global Youth: Mojmír, thank you for joining us on Future of the Business World!

Mojmír: Thank you for having me.

Conversation Starters

How did the Wharton Global High School Investment Competition open up opportunities for Mojmír Zálešák? How have he and his teammates built upon their learning?

Help Mojmír troubleshoot his struggles with Teramite. How can he and his co-founder overcome the struggles they’ve had with trust for their platform? Post your ideas in the comment section of this article.

Mojmír has built quite a portfolio of activities over the years. What do they suggest about identifying and pursuing your passions? What do you take away from this conversation about truly living into what interests you?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *