2018 Best MBAs: Michael Provenzano, Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)

Michael Provenzano

The Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University

“Passionate, focused, respectful, quirky, oblivious, modest, gullible, thankful, sincere, different, organized, inquisitive.”

Age: 27

Hometown: Kingston, New York

Fun fact about yourself: I am obsessed with anything related to space exploration.

Undergraduate School and Degree: SUNY Stony Brook University: Bachelor of Science, Business Management

Where did you work before enrolling in business school?

Company: Applied DNA Sciences, Inc.

Description: A biotech manufacturer of customized DNA for supply chain security.

Role: Project Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017?

Company: Boeing, Space Launch System

Description: The department at Boeing responsible for manufacturing the next rocket that will land on Mars.

Location: Huntsville, Alabama

Where will you be working after graduation?

Company: CubeRover, Inc.

Description: A technology company that aims to commercialize and democratize access to space using low-cost, modular, planetary and lunar rovers.

Role: President

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Co-Founder, President: Students at Tepper for Astronautics, Rockets, and Space (STARS); VP, Career Development: Design and Business Club; Culinary Club Board Member

Patti Grace Smith Scholarship; Healey Leadership Award; Joseph Vitale Jr. Fellowship Fund; Tepper School MBA Merit Scholarship

National Science Foundation Innovation Corps Candidate, TEDx Finalist

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Leading the STARS organization through its inception was an amazing experience, both professionally and personally. We knew graduate students were interested in the space industry, but the educational forum and professional network for students looking to pursue these untraditional careers were lacking. We are so pleased to see how many students took interest in the industry (91 to be exact!) and are even more pleased by the brilliancy and passion exhibited by the students that have accepted full time offers and internships in the space industry since its inception.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Starting and failing in my first startup. In returning to school, it is easy to take this unique opportunity for granted. There are very few moments in our professional career when we can fail and be rewarded for it—the MBA experience is one of those moments. I have had the pleasure to work alongside some of the most brilliant, hard-working people I have ever encountered; and despite our failure to build a business the first time around, we have learned an incredible amount through our endeavors. I would encourage every MBA candidate to become involved in an early stage business during their return to studies. The personal and professional rewards you reap from this experience will change you at your core.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Craig Markovitz. Craig was the founder of a Pittsburgh startup, Blue Belt Technologies, that recently sold for $275 million. Craig is an entrepreneur at heart and is a mentor to our startup team. Along with Professor Dave Mawhinney, he was one of the few professionals who believed in the value of our startup and has advised us through customer discovery, elevator pitches, equity rounds, and everything that has been critical to our business in its early stages. Craig also teaches a handful of entrepreneurship classes that are related to running and growing a lean startup.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Tepper because of its strong experiential learning curriculum, cross-collaborative spirit, and hard-working classmates. The students truly embody the Carnegie Mellon culture and does the expression “my heart is in the work” justice. I would also add that the campus is well integrated across its many globally renowned departments. This is something I immediately noticed during my first visit to campus.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Reflect on what it is you hope to accomplish after your MBA. Truly take a few weeks or even months to think about your dreams and what characteristics you need from an MBA program to lead you there. In my case, Tepper possessed a great mix of experiential learning, cross-collaboration, strong technical reputation, and very diverse and caring classmates. Each of these factors were very important drivers for my long-term goals.

 What is the biggest myth about your school? When most people think about Tepper they think about data analytics and heavy quantitative work. It is certainly true that Tepper has a strong curriculum to support these skills, but there are so many other world class programs our school has to offer. The entrepreneurial ecosystem here changed my life. We have such a vibrant community on campus and in the surrounding Pittsburgh area to interact with and learn from. The intersection of ideas that occur in this community is unparalleled to anything I have seen before.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire?
Anna Lawrence is a classmate of mine with whom I have grown very close with throughout my educational journey. We share deep interests in the space community and both have very similar work ethic. Together we founded STARS and have created two space related startups. In working with her, I have learned a lot from her ability to positively influence others and strategically think towards future milestones for many aspects of our business, club, and even my personal life.

 Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My father is a successful entrepreneur and was the primary motivator behind my decision to pursue business. I remember when he and I sat down together during my application for undergraduate schools and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had taken an interest in pursuing engineering after working with my father in his construction business, but I also admired his ability to create a business from nothing. He advised me to pursue whatever path made me happy, not wealth. That is perhaps the most important life lesson I have ever learned and is one that I aim to instill in others that approach me for guidance.

 If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…an astronaut!”

 If you were a dean for a day, what is one thing would you change about the MBA experience? The timing of this question is pertinent. The Tepper School is currently transitioning into its new home across campus. If I were the dean then I would leverage this rare opportunity to elevate our cross-collaborative culture to unprecedented levels. The new facilities will attract students across the CMU community and I would hope to utilize that interest in creating new experiential opportunities and interdisciplinary interactions.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

1.) Create and run a successful business.

2.) Make an impact in the space industry.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A passionate, good-hearted person, who is not afraid to challenge the status quo.

What would your theme song be? “Rocket Man” by Elton John

Favorite vacation spot: Oahu, Hawaii. Mainly because it offers all of the adventures I mentioned below!

Hobbies? Running, weightlifting, karaoke, skydiving, hiking, scuba diving, video games

What made Mike such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“Michael Provenzano checks all of the boxes one would expect from a high achieving MBA student at a top university. He is intelligent, inquisitive, dedicated and tenacious. However, Michael takes it to an entirely different level with his passion, enthusiasm and, most importantly, his ability to inspire, motivate and lead. My first encounter with Michael was one week into my class when I provided students the opportunity to pitch their business ideas. The pitches consisted of the usual concepts: apps, consumer products, software innovations, robotics, etc…but Michael pursued an idea that most others would only dream about—a lunar transportation company. It was a bold move to propose an idea so unlike the typical projects and I was concerned that Michael would be met with skepticism or outright rejection from his peers. My concerns were completely unnecessary. Not only was Michael able to rally his classmates and form a team, his leadership led to the creation of the largest and most productive team in the course.

Michael assembled students from diverse backgrounds to work towards his vision. I am not so sure that these students were as passionate about the space industry as they were about working with Michael. Within the second week, he and his team applied for and were accepted into the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program, and by the fourth week, he and his team took second place in a campus-wide startup competition. A month later, Michael grew the venture to 12 students and assembled a deep network of advisors to support the effort as it continued to grow. He ultimately leveraged this idea into a viable startup opportunity that he will pursue after graduation (and the team continues to work with Michael, long after the class has ended and on a completely volunteer basis).

These successes are a testament to Michael’s talent and leadership abilities. His influence at Tepper is far-reaching and I’m sure that he will continue to inspire and motivate his classmates, colleagues and partners during his remaining time here and far into the future.”

Craig S. Markovitz
Assistant Teaching Professor of Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship
Tepper School of Business

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF THE BEST & BRIGHTEST: CLASS OF 2018