Mitt Coats M’17 interned at Oncora Medical in Philadelphia, PA

2015-2016 Startup Internship Award winner, supported by the Neff Entrepreneurial Intern Fellowship fund

How did you find the position? “Networking”
“Networking”
I found my position through the medical school. A friend and senior MD/PhD student started the company about 1.5 years ago. By the time I joined, they had built enough of the product to begin focusing on pilot programs in various hospital systems. It was serendipitous for me to work with them, however I had been looking for opportunities like this throughout the spring. For students looking for positions, the most important thing is to be proactive and curious: go to events, arrange lunches, join communities.
What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer? Desire to build a digital health startup.

My motivation for working at a start-up was to gain experience in digital health and software development. I knew from my time studying medicine and organizing PennApps Health that I wanted to create new software systems for health. This conviction led me to explore alternatives and begin investing in digital health technologies. I wish everyone would take the time to work with a startup in order to understand the risk and sacrifice required to create all the tools, devices, and services we enjoy. Whether I start my own company, or join another digital health team, understanding the principles of creation cannot be overvalued.

This conviction led me to explore alternatives and begin investing in digital health technologies. I wish everyone would take the time to work with a startup in order to understand the risk and sacrifice required to create all the tools, devices, and services we enjoy. Whether I start my own company, or join another digital health team, understanding the principles of creation cannot be overvalued.

What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer? Go all in and own it.
Building something new is really hard and scary. Even if you are working with a startup for a few months, you will feel this in the atmosphere. It is the perennial elephant in the room, especially when the inevitable lows and challenges continue each and every day. Whether the company is trying to raise money, secure needed sales, hire new talent, solve a hard technical challenge, or find appropriate working space, you will see and feel the fragility of the adventure. My advice is to embrace and love the instability.

Large companies actually face all these same challenges, and if they are publically traded, many of these concerns are magnified by irrational fear and exuberance of the markets (i.e. other people who don’t work at the company). However, when you’re working for a large law firm or Facebook, you and your immediate colleagues are mostly insulated from the stresses placed on top decision makers.

At a startup however, you will see the CTO and CEO every day. You will read their body language, sit in meetings, perhaps be responsible for the needed sales, and have valuable feedback on hard technical challenges. For these reasons, you will bear a measure of the stresses placed on startups. This is both scary and hard.

It is scary because you will have no one else to lean on, or blame. If you are tasked with a certain challenge, then you own it. If you fails, then it is your fault. There is no bureaucracy or team to blame. And there are a million ways you can miss your mark. Much like trying a new athletic move or piece of music, you will stumble around and constantly fail. However, if you commit to owning your work and improving every day, then your successes will be all yours. It will not be because of the machinations of a large company or hiding behind stronger members of your team. Nothing in the world gives a more amazing feeling. Embrace the scariness of being exposed and commit to your work.

Working at a startup is really hard, because you actually have to produce valuable things. This is really hard, because facetime and long hours simply do not work. Unlike school or working at large companies, there is no way to look really good at getting nothing done. This means you will have to work really hard to get anything out of working at a startup. However, it rarely requires strokes of brilliance to make valuable things. 99% of the time making something amazing is a product of your persistence and passion. If you devote yourself, then you will produce something really valuable. And this is the best feeling in the world.

Often people allow the scariness and difficulty of startups to hold them back from fully committing to their work and the startup (…and life in general.) My advice to students who want to get a lot out of the summer is to embrace the uncertainty and fully commit to your projects. No one at a real startup will care about your grades, family pedigree, school diploma, or cool friends. Successful startups require real results, so your focus must be on how your work can produce valuable things — sales, code, designs, organization, new hires, etc. This expectation will make you feel vulnerable, because there are no places to hide. If you are brave and persistent, this exposure will force you into honing your skills and taking full responsibility for your production. Whether you’re working at a startup or Fortune 500 company, nothing is more important to your career.