Deepa Mahajan WG’14 interned at Nomi in New York, NY

2013-2014 Startup Internship Award winner, supported by the Neff Entrepreneurial Intern Fellowship fund

How did you find the position? 
Introductions through First Round Capital and MBACM

What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer? 
To learn from successful entrepreneurs with significant experience. To build something at a small sub-20 person early-stage company. To gain inspiration from the founders, engineers, and other coworkers to start my own business.

What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
CrunchBase, a database of startups that can be found at, lists 176,391 startups. For those of us interested in working at a startup the sheer number of possible opportunities is incredible. The three month internship is a unique opportunity to pursue a passion, explore a new territory, or develop specific skills we need for the next steps in our lives.

I am frequently asked why I chose to go to Nomi for the summer and what process I used to find the right company. I’ll go into my process below. Keep in mind that you have 8 if not more months to find and approach the right company. There is little to be gained from rushing – take it slowly. Each of you will have different gaps to fill – skills to gain, connections to make, introspection to do. Find your biggest gap and focus your time on overcoming it.

Understand the problems you want to solve
During my first year at Wharton I kept a list of problems, solutions, ideas, or interesting facts that I learned during the many talks, classes, and events we get to participate in. Your peers and the resources provided at Wharton are incredible – be thoughtful, be smart, and take advantage of them.

Around Q3 I began distilling that list into the general buckets of underlying problems that piqued my interest. I settled on two major mission statements:

1. How can retailers bridge the gap between the online consumer and the offline consumer?

2. Continuing Education. How do we make education a life-long process?

With two specific areas in mind, I told everyone who was willing to listen about them. I learned, the easy way, that the Penn community is tremendous. Being focused, clear, and passionate about one or two things helps people help you – a number of Wharton students, undergrads, and friends helped connect me with experts in these spaces.

Clearly define the criteria of a job you want.
With thousands of companies to look at, I knew I would need to define clear acceptance criteria. Some examples of mine include:

1. Fewer than 30 employees?

2. Experienced founders?

3. A strong, clearly defined mission?

An execution strategy that was thought out (it is surprising how many people “wing it” or wait for the market to tell them what to change)

This made it easy to get to the bottom of things quickly, an introductory phone call with a founder or employee always touched on all four criteria and if one was not met I would move on.

Find a way to help – why does a startup need you

Make sure you know one or two ways you plan to contribute. If you don’t know what you bring to the table, odds are neither will the entrepreneur looking to hire you. No amount of personality or networking can overcome this. Think of it as practice for building your own company. This is a way to make sure you know your value proposition, you can market yourself, you understand your “risk” and you know how to overcome those risks. Learn about the company’s needs and growth trajectory through investors, employees, and founders. This should happen before you begin the talk for a job.

In fact, if you know how you add value, your job “interview” will likely quickly turn into a great conversation because your target startup knows you are passionate, capable, and useful.