Summer Stints in MBA Entrepreneurship

As Memorial Day weekend gets underway and the unofficial start to summer begins, sunshine and sandy beaches are the last thing on the mind of Michael Kijewski. Like so many other graduate business students, Kijewski, who just completed his first year at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, has his mind on his MBA.

For most full-time MBA students, the summer months are a time for paid internships with high-profile companies that will set the stage for more permanent employment. But for Kijewski, the summer has opened a window of opportunity available to only a handful of students: the chance to pursue an entrepreneurial dream.

Kijewski and three other Wharton students received a $10,000 Wharton Venture Award so they can dedicate the summer toward building their start-ups. $10,000 is awarded to two undergraduates and two MBAs for a total of $40,000 in entrepreneurial start-up money.

“The Wharton Venture Award will allow us to focus on building a great product this summer, instead of focusing on how we’re going to pay our bills,” Kijewski said. “But the benefits of winning the award aren’t just financial. It’s a huge vote of confidence from the entrepreneurial community at Wharton, which goes a long way with our investors and early customers.”

In this case, the customers are hospitals as Kijewski and his three business partners (all non-Wharton students) seek to fully develop GrayCAD, a product they are calling the next generation of software designed to help hospitals assess radiation safety.

With Wharton’s financial support, Kijewski and his team will revamp their company website, perform product testing, and take their product on the road to introduce it at industry trade shows. By the end of the summer, the young entrepreneurs hope to add at least one enterprise customer to their clientele, and at least two hospitals.

“This may be an ambitious goal for us since we’re not releasing our product until the end of the summer.” But Kijewski and his team aren’t letting that stop them from trying.

A New Generation of MBAs

It may come as a surprise that a student from a school such as Wharton would exert so much energy toward something other than Wall Street, but the people at Wharton say Kijewski represents a new generation of MBAs.

“These ‘millennial’ students grew up during the Enron era,” says Deputy Vice Dean J.J. Cutler. “After witnessing historic events like Enron and the financial crisis, they’ve made plenty of observations. They’re much more skeptical of big business and much more socially conscious. Social responsibility is far more prevalent and there’s more interest in smaller business.”

At Wharton in particular, this can help explain the record number of students who are pursuing entrepreneurship instead of the traditional Wall Street positions. According to Cutler, at this year’s graduation Wharton had four times more students than last year who were starting their own companies.

“With 800 plus students per graduating class, there are still plenty who are pursuing jobs in consulting, investment banking, and so forth, but we’re also seeing a significant number of students starting their own companies in social media, e-tail, technology, and biotech. The numbers are still small because Wharton is such a big school, but four times as many students as last year shows a major shift.”

The Booth School at the University of Chicago is seeing similar trends with an influx of students applying to its Entrepreneurial Internship Program (EIP). “Through 2008, we funded 18 positions in our EIP program each year,” says Tracey Keller an associate director at Booth’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship. “Applications to this program had been increasing steadily for years, but we had a huge increase in 2009. We currently average 36 students who participate in EIP.”

  • MK

    Most people wouldn’t start working on their startups full time unless they had sufficient funding to pay themselves a living wage. But it is true that keeping your personal burn-rate as low as possible increases the odds of you being able to pay yourself enough to get by.

    And none of the entrepreneurs I know in my MBA program have “rich families” that are paying for their education. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t appear to be the primary driver of entrepreneurship. The opposite may even be true.

  • I took a 1 year leave of absence from Cornell to build my startup full-time. In most cases, MBAs who dive into entrepreneurial ventures right out of b-school would have started working on their ideas even before joining the program.

    I raised the angel round while in b-school and am now drawing a salary as well that helps pay-off the loan. It’s not true that everyone who starts up is rich alread;, it just takes ten-folds more courage than looking for a job. No doubt, it’s a risky path but that’s when the rewards can be high.

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  • Anon

    I would like to see P & Q do a follow up story on just how exactly MBA entrepreneurs go about paying for their education…especially if their start up fails.

  • Catherine

    I’d be really interested in knowing how people are able to pay back their loans as well if they start a company right out of school. Are there debt forgiveness programs for people who start companies as well? Do they tend to also work while working on their start-up?

  • Bruce Vann

    Good question, Anon. Maybe some of them are independently wealthy and didn’t take out loans in the first place. idk. but that is a good question.

  • Anon

    I would like to pursue entrepreneurship as well, but I have no idea how these people in the article are going to pay back 160000 in their b-school loans?
    I would imagine that pursuing an MBA might be counterproductive if someone wants to be an entrepreneur.