Wharton MBAs Working at Startups in Record Numbers

By Michelle Hopping, Director, Employer Services, Wharton MBA Career Management

When Wharton MBAs look for an impactful summer internship, more and more students are finding opportunities in the startup space – including, but not exclusively limited to, consumer internet (OneFineStay, GoodReads), e-commerce/retail (AHAlife, Birchbox, baby.com.br), consumer goods (The Honest Company, Lot18), and enterprise software (Yammer, Addepar). It has been exciting to see the growth in the number of students choosing a startup for an internship – 61 students in the class of 2013 – a 45% increase from the previous summer.

In speaking with startups to share student interest and talk through how to fill hiring needs with Wharton MBAs, I’ve heard loud and clear that busy startup CEOs and product teams have long to-do lists and need great people.

So what’s in it for a startup to bring a Wharton MBA on board for 10-12 weeks in the summer? A fairly meaty project can be completed by someone with some new perspective, a demonstrated passion for your company and your space, and a drive to make an impact. Plus, it’s a bit like a 10-week interview.

One student interned at Palantir in the D.C. area this summer, modifying their technology to be useful for tax agencies. He created a proof of concept using Palantir as a tool to investigate tax evasion and transfer pricing fraud, and he eventually sold the technology to their first tax client, taking the team from an unexplored vertical to a successful sale in three months.

Some students have successfully stretched internships into longer term work, staying in touch with companies over the course of their second year of the MBA program, and sometimes transitioning part-time work into a full-time role upon graduation. One example is a Class of 2012 grad who interned at TaskRabbit over the summer of 2011, when the company was 25 employees, and spent his three months there working with senior management to create a detailed operational plan and financial model for a national rollout to eight new cities. He also created an online store, project-managed designers and engineers, and led online ad buying with measured results. After staying in touch throughout his second year of the MBA program, he started at TaskRabbit after graduation in Business Development.

MBAs interested in joining startups are scrappy and smart and can add value at early-stage as well as mid- to late-stage companies in areas of Business Development, Operations, Product, Marketing, Analytics or Finance.

In Operations & Business Development, students have accomplished projects in:

  • Improving lead generation process & reducing sales stage times
  • Analyzing/developing solutions to bottlenecks and inefficiencies in a work process
  • Creating a playbook for expansion into a new market/location

In Product Management or Marketing, students can work on:

  • Creating preliminary specs for a new product offering
  • Making recommendations for spinning off product categories into standalone marketplaces
  • Developing a competitive landscape on how email-targeting helps segment the user base
  • Effectively positioning yourself in relation to a new competitor

In Analytics or Finance, students can help by:

  • Leveraging customer analytics  data to reallocate budgets
  • Improving pricing strategy

Students source their internships in a variety of ways, such as the Wharton Entrepreneurship Startup Auction, job postings through MBA Career Management, alumni networking, career treks, and by pitching project ideas to recruiters at companies.

Michelle Hopping
is Director, Employer Services in Wharton’s MBA Career Management (MBACM) office and serves as point person for startups interested in recruiting Wharton MBAs. During her time at Wharton, she has grown Wharton MBACM’s startup and VC relationships and job opportunities for students. She recently facilitated the recruiting-related efforts for Wharton’s Semester in San Francisco pilot program this fall, including participation from Bay Area startups, VCs, and incubators.

Twitter: @michellehopping