2009-2010 Startup Internship Award winner, supported by the Wharton Entrepreneurship Advisory Board
After reaching out to various alums at VC firms and speaking with entrepreneurs in my class, I finally settled on an opportunity in Shanghai, China. This internship opportunity was brought to my attention by Marcy Bevan, the Director for Admissions and External Affairs at the Lauder Institute. Marcy had known that I was looking for start-up opportunities in the Bay Area and in China. She connected me with a Wharton/Lauder alum, Paul Bergman, who had recently informed her of his new project. As a Lauder student in the Chinese track, this opportunity suited not only my entrepreneurial interests, but also my language development for my MA in International Relations.
Previous to Wharton, I had worked at Citigroup and Lehman Brothers. Due to my finance background, I wanted to experience a completely different industry over the summer. I had always thought of myself as entrepreneurial and one of my goals in coming to Wharton was to be an active participant in the entrepreneurial community in order to gain skills and a network to start my own business in the future.
The start-up company I worked for this summer, Lihar Ltd., is a new natural foods company, based in Shanghai. During my summer internship, we were preparing to launch a series of dessert products, baked goods, and beverages. The mission of the company is to “Deliver the earth’s essence to consumers seeking delicious and wholesome tastes, through ready-to-eat creations, transparently produced, from traceable ingredients.” We strived to identify organic suppliers of our required ingredients, partner with local import agencies, and hired a local marketing agency to help us create a brand. In addition, we negotiated with local vegetarian restaurants in order to secure prime retail space. Although my title as a summer intern was “Business Development”, since this was a start-up, I did everything from product testing, creating operations manuals, researching retail space, and suggesting marketing strategies.
One of my most interesting experiences at the start-up was just observing the challenges a foreigner had in starting a new business in China. Lihar employed three local Chinese and three foreigners, including myself. The cultural differences created interesting interactions amongst the group and we brought many diverse viewpoints on a wide variety of issues. In addition, Paul also faced both negative and positive bias when negotiating with suppliers, local officials, and potential partners. This brought both challenges and benefits to the start-up. While we might have paid for some equipment and machinery at a higher “foreigner” price, we also benefited from quick processing by local authorities who favored foreign businesses.
Overall, my experience at this start-up was eye-opening, exciting, and a great learning experience. In general, I would advise the next group of first years to explore and experience something new over the summer to broaden your skill set and knowledge, and to stretch your boundaries. As for those specifically interested in start-ups, there are so many opportunities out there, knowing your priorities, whether it be geography, industry, or function, is helpful in focusing and getting the most out of your internship. After Wharton, I am targeting to be in the Bay Area to focus on cleantech early or late-stage ventures. I am happy to share my entrepreneurial experiences at Wharton further and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.