Jonathan Nipper WG’12 interned at Rivian Automotive in Rockledge, FL

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

How did you find the position?
I found the position through our very own Wharton network. When I arrived at Wharton, I knew I wanted to work for an automotive start-up. There aren’t a lot of those around, so I searched for second years with similar backgrounds. I came upon a couple who had worked for Rivian in the past, and began my conversation with the company through them.

What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer?
As someone who is passionate about the automotive industry, it is difficult to find related entrepreneurial experiences. Most companies in the industry are enormous. My motivation was to find something that could fit both of my interests, the automotive industry and entrepreneurship.

What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
Start talking to people in your industry of choice early. Start-ups may not recruit until later than most established companies, but if you make a connection with them early, you will be the first person they call. A great way to talk to people is through second years who have worked in similar positions/industries.

About the Summer Experience
This summer I worked at Rivian Automotive in Rockledge, Florida. Rivian is a start-up automotive company, hoping to revolutionize the way that cars are manufactured. They are very different from other new automotive companies (e.g. Tesla) in that they are innovating around the structure and manufacturing of the vehicle, rather than the powertrain (i.e. electric vs. gasoline). The company was pre-revenue and had less than 100 employees.

Having come from the consulting world, one of the first things I noticed was the difference in culture. There was no dress code, there were no expense reports and there were no early Monday morning flights. The people at the company were also very focused on the industry (read: gearheads), and the majority of the employees were either engineers or designers. This often meant that, at times during the workday, I would be working right alongside an engineer who is doing a tear-down of a competitor vehicle, or a designer creating sketches for a new vehicle design. It was great to feel so immersed in the experience and the company.

I worked (along with two other MBA interns) as a direct report to the company’s CEO and CFO. As one might imagine, the capital to start-up an automotive company is significantly larger than most other new companies. Thus, my main role has been to assist in fundraising – very large fundraising (i.e. tens of millions of dollars). This has meant a lot of different daily tasks, from contemplating the deal structure of a potential foreign investor, to delving into an operational model for the company’s future manufacturing plants. Working at such a small company, I have been able to get a really good sense about what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Looking back on the recruiting decision making process for the summer internship, my advice would be to just go for it. Even if you don’t end up becoming an entrepreneur yourself, the experience is invaluable. You will get experience in finance, dealing with financial models and term sheets. You will get experience in operations, working to improve the new company’s processes. You will get experience in marketing and sales, trying to get the word out about the company. In short, you will be a utility player. This will give you an experience that you simply can’t find in a large company.