2015-2016 Neff Entrepreneurial Intern Fellow
I’ve never been very good at being bored. My whole life, I’ve always found activities to occupy my time—from building larger and more complicated Legos to devouring more books, playing more sports, and volunteering more hours. I am a senior at Penn now, studying Chemistry and minoring in Modern Middle Eastern Studies. Last spring, due to my interest in healthcare, I decided to find a summer internship in a healthcare start-up.
After months of searching for companies, applying for internships, and interviewing, I found myself working at AllazoHealth, a healthcare tech start-up in New York City. AllazoHealth, founded by Penn graduate Clifford Jones, is improving medication adherence rates by predicting which patients won’t take their medications and intervening—thus preventing those patients from becoming non-adherent. Improving medication adherence rates lowers annual healthcare industry costs by the billions. I was one of five people that arrived at the communal workspace in SoHo every morning, one of five people working endlessly to build a successful company, and one of five people with the responsibility of making sure A
llazoHealth reached its full potential. If there’s one thing I learned this summer, it’s that there is always more to be done. It was exactly what I needed. Working at AllazoHealth this summer was a humbling, stressful, rewarding, and challenging experience—and I would advise everyone to try it.
My day-to-day responsibilities can’t be classified, because my work changed drastically every single day. In one day, I could apply for AllazoHealth to exhibit at healthcare technology conferences, order a box of Nature Valley bars for the office, tweet about the importance of medication adherence, and design a PowerPoint sales presentation. I learned to take criticism positively, to set tangible goals, and to think strategically about absolutely everything. If at the beginning of the summer I would apply to one hundred conferences, something that seemed so mindless to me, by the end of the summer I was making complicated Excel sheets with pricing, audience, location, and stage time, in order to prioritize the three conferences that would get AllazoHealth the most sales opportunities at the least cost. Then, I would show Clifford those three conferences instead of throwing a hundred conference names at him—and together we would decide which ones to attend. CEOs of start-ups are busy people, and I quickly learned that making decisions and then asking for the final “ok” was going to be a crucial part of my internship. It was scary and exhilarating, but that much more fulfilling.
Another key lesson from this summer is that the founder of a start-up has two jobs: to run a company and to manage people. I found that the latter was much harder than I expected. Some days, Clifford simply did not have time to give me an assignment. He had to help code the algorithm while taking phone calls and holding meetings, and I knew from his Google schedule that I would be on my own that day. Those days were the ones I enjoyed the most. Those were the days when I took a step back, looked at the company, found a missing piece, and pledged to fix it. It was up to me to make the most of my summer at
AllazoHealth, to move the company forward as much as I could in order to gain the most experience from my internship.
I realized that the core of any company is the distribution of tasks between people, and the successful continuation of those tasks over time. When you see a car on the road, you see the car as a whole moving forward. You seldom stop to think about the bolts, screws, fuel, and mechanics of what is actively moving the car forward. I found that working at a start-up was similar to stepping inside the mechanics of a car—you get to experience the least important and most important tasks, the early morning and late-night hours, and the workplace politics and collaborations that play a role in moving the company forward.
Working at AllazoHealth this summer added fuel to the entrepreneurial fire in me, but it also opened my eyes to the pragmatic difficulty of starting a company. I realized that collaboration is crucial to success and that, whether I liked it or not, I had to learn to rely on others. I was surprised to learn that the most important tasks seemed menial, but required careful attention because a company, like any machine, is really the sum of its largest and smallest parts. I was amazed at how rewarding it felt to feel like I was adding tangible value. I was humbled to work next to some of the most intelligent people I had ever met, and still feel important. Finally, I quickly understood that there was always more to be done, that there is always more to be done—that being bored is simply not an option.