Summer Stints in MBA Entrepreneurship:
As Memorial Day weekend is underway and the unofficial start to summer begins, sunshine and sandy beaches are the last thing on the mind of Michael Kijewski. Like so many other graduate business students, Kijewski, who just completed his first year at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, has his mind on his MBA.
For most full-time MBA students, the summer months are a time for paid internships with high-profile companies that will set the stage for more permanent employment. But for Kijewski, the summer has opened a window of opportunity available to only a handful of students: the chance to pursue an entrepreneurial dream.
Kijewski and three other Wharton students received a $10,000 Wharton Venture Award so they can dedicate the summer toward building their start-ups. $10,000 is awarded to two undergraduates and two MBAs for a total of $40,000 in entrepreneurial start-up money.
“The Wharton Venture Award will allow us to focus on building a great product this summer, instead of focusing on how we’re going to pay our bills,” Kijewski said. “But the benefits of winning the award aren’t just financial. It’s a huge vote of confidence from the entrepreneurial community at Wharton, which goes a long way with our investors and early customers.”
In this case, the customers are hospitals as Kijewski and his three business partners (all non-Wharton students) seek to fully develop GrayCAD, a product they are calling the next generation of software designed to help hospitals assess radiation safety.
With Wharton’s financial support, Kijewski and his team will revamp their company website, perform product testing, and take their product on the road to introduce it at industry trade shows. By the end of the summer, the young entrepreneurs hope to add at least one enterprise customer to their clientele, and at least two hospitals.
“This may be an ambitious goal for us since we’re not releasing our product until the end of the summer.” But Kijewski and his team aren’t letting that stop them from trying.
A New Generation of MBAs
It may come as a surprise that a student from a school such as Wharton would exert so much energy toward something other than Wall Street, but the people at Wharton say Kijewski represents a new generation of MBAs.
“These ‘millennial’ students grew up during the Enron era,” says Deputy Vice Dean J.J. Cutler. “After witnessing historic events like Enron and the financial crisis, they’ve made plenty of observations. They’re much more skeptical of big business and much more socially conscious. Social responsibility is far more prevalent and there’s more interest in smaller business.”
At Wharton in particular, this can help explain the record number of students who are pursuing entrepreneurship instead of the traditional Wall Street positions. According to Cutler, at this year’s graduation Wharton had four times more students than last year who were starting their own companies.
“With 800 plus students per graduating class, there are still plenty who are pursuing jobs in consulting, investment banking, and so forth, but we’re also seeing a significant number of students starting their own companies in social media, e-tail, technology, and biotech. The numbers are still small because Wharton is such a big school, but four times as many students as last year shows a major shift.”
The Booth School at the University of Chicago is seeing similar trends with an influx of students applying to its Entrepreneurial Internship Program (EIP). “Through 2008, we funded 18 positions in our EIP program each year,” says Tracey Keller an associate director at Booth’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship. “Applications to this program had been increasing steadily for years, but we had a huge increase in 2009. We currently average 36 students who participate in EIP.”
Booth’s EIP program offers two opportunities for students interested in entrepreneurship: work and gain experience at a start-up or venture capital firm, or work on their own start-up. Students who choose to gain experience at a start-up or venture capital firm spend 10 weeks in the summer working on tasks that may include re-writing business plans, presenting to investors, performing market research, and exploring alternative opportunities for financing. Students then receive credit for their summer internships by taking an internship seminar in the fall quarter of their second year.
During the school’s 2010 EIP program, participating students included the co-founder of a new fast-casual Indian restaurant and another student who interned with the popular email marketing company, Groupon.
Cutler, who also oversees Wharton’s admission office, career management, and financial aid, says this new generation of students also coincides with a new outlook incoming students have for pursuing the MBA degree. Nowadays, he says, “B-school is not for business only. It’s a way for those who seek to become better leaders to acquire general management skills.”
This was the case for Matthew Edmundson, a first year student at NYU’s Stern School. Prior to b-school Edmundson worked for five years at Mapendo International, an NGO that works to protect refugees in Africa. “In my role I spent much of my time in refugee camps and urban areas across Africa working with organizations to identify at-risk refugees. I came to business school because I saw huge potential for poverty alleviation in many of the places I had worked; places that had essentially been ignored by the private sector. I wanted to learn as much as I could about how businesses worked and gain entrepreneurial skill sets.”
A Summer in India: Putting Classroom Skills to Good Use
This spring, Edmundson took a class at Stern called Social Innovation Incubation in which the goal for the course was to develop a for-profit business that would also benefit society. He and his classmates traveled to India for a “deep-dive” into a number of industries. While there, Edmundson and classmate, Jennifer Tsai, took on the issue of maternal health. Together, they spent weeks doing research, visiting doctors and nurses at public and private hospitals and rural clinics, in addition to businesspeople, entrepreneurs, journalists, and teachers.
“One issue we quickly saw that was a tremendous challenge for pregnant women was anemia,” says Edmundson. “Twenty-five million women are pregnant in India each year, and depending on where they are, 60-80% of these pregnant women are anemic, meaning they have too little iron in their bodies, leading to birth complications and in some cases severe development challenges for their children.”
During their first trip to the region, Edmundson and Tsai worked on new ways to combat and market anemia prevention to pregnant women. Now, over the summer the pair will work with doctors and researchers in Bangalore to further the cause.
Although they aren’t receiving MBA credits for this work, by the end of the summer Edmundson and Tsai hope to develop and test prototypes for new ways of delivering iron to pregnant women in India that is safe, effective, and culturally appropriate.
Asked why they would pursue an opportunity like this as opposed to a more traditional summer internship, the two agree, “This is why we went to business school; to bring novel entrepreneurial, market-based solutions to long-standing public challenges in the hopes of making a difference.”