The First University of Pennsylvania Start-Up Career Fair

by Beth Olson, Penn Career Counselor

In 2012, the Spring Career Fair at Penn featured a balcony full of start-up employers eager to talk with Penn undergraduate students. The interest and energy were so strong that we launched our first stand-alone Start-Up Fair on February 21, 2013. Over 700 students and 70 employers shared information and explored the possibility of working together. There were two panel presentations featuring several of the start-ups at the fair—entrepreneurs willing to share their stories and offer advice to an eager audience. 


The companies at the fair were diverse and included brand new companies founded by MBAs and undergrads from Wharton/Penn, some of whom are finalists in this year’s Wharton Business Plan Competition. They also offered a broad range of job and internship opportunities: from Android developer to business development; data scientist to advertising analytics; hacker to leasing agent; graphic design to marketing analyst; strategic operations to software developer; food scientist to sales; and apparel design to technical writing. My favorite job title was “Wearer of Many Potential Startup Hats.” Tech skills were definitely desired, but a student’s desire for “a life experience” and “to solve real-world problems” was what many companies were seeking. 


Some of the companies sent recruiters, but many brought their leadership—founders, presidents, CEOs, CTOs—as well as vice presidents, and directors of engineering, product development, social media, and marketing.  There were reps who knew Penn well, and those who came only because they’d had their first Penn intern last year (who was “awesome”). Companies from Philadelphia and California competed with employers from New York City—each armed with why their community was the best: “more exciting,” “less cut throat,” “more start-ups,” or “a better city.”


Real Food Works in Conshohocken had my favorite corporate advertising with their handmade sign taped to one of our boxed lunches: “Do not eat food like this.” Some of the best career advice I heard came from Matt Kubicina of BaubleBar: “Make sure you work where you will learn a lot from the people around you.” Royce Abrams (Wharton Undergrad 2010) from Warby Parker was looking for “students with experience who know what they want and are willing to do what it takes.”

In short, the employers confirmed that they were seeking an entrepreneurial spirit. They want people with passion, people who want to get involved at the ground-floor level, people able to work with ambiguity, people able and interested in working on many different projects—in short, people seeking a challenge. Any takers?


BethOlsonBio: Beth Olson is a Penn Career Counselor. She has worked with Wharton undergraduates, School of Engineering students, Arts & Sciences undergraduates, and with the Pre-Health team. Beth came to Penn from Columbia University, where she worked primarily with graduate students. She also worked with alumni of all ages at Columbia and Yale University, where she was a career counselor for undergraduate students during the bust! Following her B.A. in International Studies and graduate work in Russian History, Beth worked for many years in publishing. With experience in large and small for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, she enjoys helping students identify and realize their career goals.


Beth Olson’s Recent Career Services Blog “Start (Up) Your Career!”