Why professors can be your greatest advocates

By Samir Malik (Dual Degree MBA and Master of Biotechnology Student)

Coming into the Wharton MBA program, when I started talking to second-year students about how to balance a startup and the academic program, I often heard the refrain “make your classes work for you” which meant to select classes and teams and projects that would somehow further the standing of our company. I’ll be honest though: I didn’t quite see how a business plan or a market analysis would really drive our company forward. We needed to be talking to clients, meeting investors, and closing deals. But the past year has taught me that I was being a bit short-sighted in my reluctance.

Classes at school offer a whole lot more than a channel through which we learn content from a book or professor. We are brainstorming with entrepreneurially-minded students about solutions to pressing problems; we are bumping ideas off peers who have spent years evaluating businesses in previous professions; we are building analytic and communication skillsets that will last the rest of our lives; and some of us are learning the value of hustle and grit to pass the class (two skills oft underrated for entrepreneurs).

But another source of value in our classes comes from our professors. You would not believe their resumes unless you saw them for yourself. These fine men and women who are teaching our classes are exceptionally accomplished. They come from years of industry experience, they sometimes have consulting roles with the country’s leading companies, they develop bleeding-edge strategies and insights into the work of building a successful company, and they have rolodexes like you wouldn’t imagine. The challenge is that often students don’t realize how deep these professors roll, and how much they want to help students succeed. Taking just a few minutes to chat with a professor after a lecture or before class about what I’ve been working on has opened up some serious doors. And these are doors that I had no idea existed during pre-term before I started the MBA program.

Let me give you an example: our startup company, 1DocWay, provides software and services that help hospitals deliver medical consultations to patients in underserved settings. We have a video chat portal integrated with clinical workflows so that a doctor can consult with a patient who may be miles away. One of my classes, Management of Health Care for the Elderly, is taught by Wharton Lecturer, John Whitman (WG’78). However, the course isn’t taught on campus in Jon M. Huntsman Hall. It is taught on site at a range of elderly care facilities across Philadelphia. Each week we would meet at a new facility, tour the location, and chat with their CEO. Not only were each of these facilities potential clients for our company, but of a different order of magnitude, the instructor, once he found out about my business, offered to introduce me to literally hundreds of hospitals and elderly care clinics that he had worked for in the past.

The very first introduction he made was to an organization that manages over 70 facilities and represents a multi-million dollar contract for us. Whether I close that deal is on me. But the opportunity alone to pitch that organization makes every penny and minute spent on business school worth it.

And look, this wasn’t just a one-off story. At least four other professors have made meaningful introductions for us, to clients, advisors, investors and mentors. The professors at Wharton can help you make stuff happen. They want you to succeed–why else would they teach?