Craig Isakow (WG’08): at Energy Innovations

2007-2008 AMBASSADOR OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Did you make it to the employer information sessions? Have you dropped your resume yet? Did you get on the interview list?” My classmates met a blank stare when they asked me these questions in the weeks and months leading up to DIP (Designated Interview Period) week. For me, Wharton was not about the big name firm but about finding a great summer opportunity at a start up. I believed interning at a start up would help me understand if I really was an entrepreneur, if I would enjoy such an unstructured environment, and if Clean Technology and Renewable Energy would provide the personal fulfillment I sought from a job.

In January 2007, I put my money where my mouth was, and flew to California during DIP week. While my classmates were stressing about what tie to wear and how to answer the tough case questions, I was sitting on my friend’s couch in San Francisco trying to set up meetings with VC’s, startups and anyone who would talk to me about clean technology and entrepreneurship. My pitch was simple, I am a talented Wharton MBA who is passionate about Clean Tech and will work for cheap. By the end of the week, I knew a few things: California is way more fun than Michigan; I made the right choice to skip DIP week; and though I did not have a job, I did have a framework.

While my classmates were stressing about what tie to wear and how to answer the tough case questions, I was sitting on my friend’s couch in San Francisco trying to set up meetings with VC’s, startups and anyone who would talk to me about clean technology and entrepreneurship.

The framework was simple – in the world of start ups there are two types of companies. First, there are companies with great ideas and developing technology, but no commercial products. In the Clean Tech world this includes companies that focus on Cellulosic ethanol (sticks to gasoline), algae to bio fuel (algae to diesel gasoline), and hydrogen fuel cells (hydrogen to electricity). These companies have a lot of scientists, not a lot of business folks. The business folks spend their time predicting market sizes, looking for partners, and raising money. Second, there are startups that have a product, but are looking to grow production and sales. The business people are working hard on everything from financing to websites to production. When I returned to Philadelphia, I knew I was looking for a company that fit the product ready to sell profile.

I also decided I had to somehow hedge the risk of working with a company that might not be around in a few years. (I worked for John Kerry, my record was not so hot.) The best way to do that was to join a company that had a big name VC behind it.

So now I had my ideal internship criteria: 1) clean tech; 2) company that sold stuff; 3) company that had a big name backer; 4) a position in business development (no more spreadsheets for me); and 5) a high energy, successful entrepreneurial CEO.

Luckily, I found my dream job at Energy Innovations. Energy Innovations is one of California’s fastest growing installers of solar systems, as well as the designer of some of the world’s most sophisticated solar concentrators. They were already selling products successfully, having completed the installation for Google, the largest solar PV installation at a US corporate headquarters. EI is funded by MDV, a top VC firm, and is part of Idealab, one of the world’s most prolific business incubators. They were looking for marketing interns, and their CEO is a young, proven, energetic entrepreneur and their Chairman, Bill Gross, is famous for his vision. As an added bonus, they had a bunch of scientists developing new concentrator technology, so I was also able to see the science type of start up first hand.

Every day I learned something new about the industry and entrepreneurship.

The internship fulfilled all my hopes and more. My manager gave me a huge amount of leeway to analyze markets, develop marketing strategies, and implement marketing plans. I had the opportunity to interact with customers and create a pipeline of deals. The excitement of helping to build a business made every day special; every day I learned something new about the industry and entrepreneurship.

Without the support of Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs, as well as the encouragement from the entrepreneurial community, I do not know if I would have had this once in a lifetime experience. Working on a solar project as part of the Venture Initiation Program (VIP) gave me the knowledge I needed to secure a great internship in solar, and the monetary support made the decision easier. I would encourage anyone thinking of entrepreneurship to blaze their own trail, the rewards are worth it, and you get to skip DIP week along the way