A CHANCE TO EXPLORE A DIFFERENT PATH
Corey Ritter was the other Startup Summer participant who loved last year’s experience. The Army veteran had just hung up his uniform after eight and a half years in the service when he started at AptAmigo, an online platform for finding an apartment in Chicago. He was one of just three company employees, including founder Dan Willenborg, Booth Class of 2014. Ritter loved the “unstructured” environment and the chance to make a big impact in just a few weeks on the job.
“The experience really helped guide what I did for the rest of the year,” he tells P&Q. “For one thing it really introduced me to the kind of programs the Polsky Center has to offer, and it was a really great introduction to Chicago and a lot of the entrepreneurial things going on in Chicago. This past year I’ve worked with another startup and interned with a venture capital firm and I’m working with a VC firm this summer and likely to work with a startup after school.”
He says the first year of an MBA program is “a whirlwind,” and therein lies the greatest value of Startup Summer: It’s a chance to explore your interest in entrepreneurship when the banking and consulting recruiters aren’t yet knocking down your door — even if you know that you’ll eventually pursue a job in those industries.
“You hit the ground that first year and all of a sudden people are preparing for consulting interviews and banking jobs and you’re trying to figure out what you want to be involved in and what to say no to,” says Ritter, 32. “Having a summer here in Chicago working with a startup and being exposed to entrepreneurial people — especially a guy like the founder I worked with, who’s been out of school for a couple years and just started a company — it gives you a sense of perspective and it helps you choose that riskier option of pursuing something entrepreneurial because you have that context going into the program. So I think it’s very valuable for that.
“I have a few classmates in the program who are doing banking and consulting and more traditional jobs over the summer and probably will do that after school, but the impact of the program is, it helps get people on that path and maybe they’ll come back to it after a couple years working in another job.”
BOOTHIE INTERN TO THE RESCUE
Echoing Ritter, Stacey Kole says the idea behind Startup Summer is that students don’t have a ton of time. “Basically students arrive on campus and the recruiters are on their back immediately,” she says, “so allowing them to do some exploration before they arrive is good for the big companies, because they don’t end up hiring somebody who’s kind of regretting that he didn’t do a startup, and they stay for two years and then they leave — and it’s also good for the startups, who end up with a person who really understands what they’re walking into.”
It was especially good for one startup last year. AgileMD, a San Francisco-based software company, was on its last legs when it was paired with an intern who had a consulting background prior to acceptance at Booth. “They were running out of cash, they were thinking about how to wind down the company, and she said, ‘Can I look at the data?'” Kole recalls. “And she was able to identify benefits and a very tight story to tell for one of Agile’s clients — and the client re-upped, the firm used that re-up to get new business, and AgileMD continues a year later.”
The point of the program isn’t to save Booth-founded companies, Kole says, though that’s a nice potential side benefit. The point is to match the interest of the entrepreneurs and the incoming students, “so the companies get some support and get to give back in mentoring, and we help students learn more about themselves so they make better use of their time at Chicago.”
She adds: “Being part of Startup Summer leads to a situation where students who have questions about his or her focus now have a much greater sense of self-awareness about how to utilize business school. So the ones who leave Startup Summer feeling like ‘I love this,’ they may pursue their own ventures or may very early on raise their hand to be part of a team that somebody else is leading in the New Venture Challenge, or might volunteer with startups in Chicago, and get involved in different activities.
“So I don’t think of this as a ‘program,’ per se. A program suggests that there’s somebody there with care and feeding. We created a marketplace — which is very Chicago! Students applied for these jobs and there were a lot of companies that didn’t end up getting someone because there wasn’t exactly a match.”