2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Jenn Burka, Yale School of Management

Jenn Burka

Yale School of Management

“Passionate about pushing the limits of my comfort zone and always looking for my next adventure.”

Hometown: Gaithersburg, MD

Fun fact about yourself: I traveled to all 7 continents during my time working on cruise ships

Undergraduate School and Degree: Duke University, BA in Art History with a concentration in Architecture

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Marcus Samuelsson Group, Director of Strategy & Development

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Equal Ventures (NYC) and the Perennial Fund (Boulder, CO)

Where will you be working after graduation? To be decided

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

* Founding member of Fishbowl Ventures (Yale SOM’s soon-to-launch impact fund)

* Second-year leader for the Yale MIINT (MBA Impact Investing Network & Training)

* Career Leader for the Food, Agriculture, and Beverage (FAB) Club

* Admissions Guide

* Spring 2021 consulting project with Mark Bittman, developing a business model for a more equitable and sustainable restaurant

* First-prize winner of the Regional Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC) for due diligence and investment of MentorWorks

* First-prize winner of the Deloitte Net Impact Case Competition, focused on creating a viable business model for Conservation International’s Wildlife Management Analytics system

* Fall 2019 consulting project with Connecticut Brewer’s Guild, advising microbreweries on sustainable practices without affecting their bottom line

* Teaching Fellow for Rollups, Consolidations and Programmatic Acquisitions; Managing Small & Medium Enterprises; and Private Capital & Impact Investing

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am extremely proud of my efforts to launch Fishbowl Ventures, Yale SOM’s first student-run impact investing venture fund. This fund, which will provide students with an educational and experiential opportunity to learn about impact investing and venture capital, was created in response to significant demand from students for impact investing opportunities. Yale SOM, given its mission to educate leaders for business and society, is well-positioned to become the leading business school for students interested in the growing field of impact investing. My efforts this past year included developing operational protocols, building partnerships with prominent impact investing funds for sourcing and due diligence opportunities, securing the investment committee, and achieving support from prominent alumni, faculty, and senior administration to launch the fund in the next twelve months. It is beyond rewarding to know that I have created a program that will enrich students’ experiences while here at SOM and strengthen the impact the investing community for the future.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? After a promotion at the restaurant and media group that I worked at prior to business school, I found myself in charge of opening a full-service restaurant, something I had never done before. Opening a restaurant is something akin to building a startup. There is a plethora of moving pieces across finance, operations, marketing, human resources, and culinary that need to be put in place on time and within budget. For nine months, my time and focus were consumed by opening this restaurant and learning about how all the departments worked together, and it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever built. Besides its being named one of the 30 best restaurants in the state in 2018, knowing that I had stepped up during a time of institutional change is something I am so proud of, especially when I see the impact that the restaurant has on the surrounding community and the guests that dine there.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose SOM because I was drawn to the mission to educate leaders for business and society. This aligned well with my thesis that in order to create the most change, ESG (environmental, social, and governance) initiatives must also be financially viable. I also saw that because of this mission, SOM tended to attract a student body that likewise shared my views and would come from more impact-focused backgrounds. Given that a large part of the business school experience is learning from your classmates both in and outside the classroom, I felt SOM best cultivated a group of students from whom I would want to learn.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Overall, I feel very happy with the way I approached my business school experience. However, I do think that I would have approached my living situation a bit differently. This may be a symptom of pandemic hindsight, but I chose a smaller apartment closer to school over a larger one with outdoor space that was a bit farther away. In retrospect, being able to entertain outdoors would have made this second year much easier! Even pre-pandemic, I had very limited space to host dinner-party potlucks, which became one of my favorite parts of socializing at school. Small get-togethers are often the times that I really got to meet new people or learn more about a classmate’s goals and ambitions.

What is the biggest myth about your school? When applying to SOM, I kept hearing that this was the business school most integrated with its home university and that we would have the opportunity to take classes anywhere at Yale. This was something that excited me about Yale, as I wanted to take sustainability classes at the School of the Environment and also take advantage of the prestigious law school. I imagined that I might spend my second year taking classes entirely outside the business school. Once I arrived, I was pleased by how integrated SOM really was with the larger Yale community. Not only was I able to take classes outside of SOM, I was also able to attend events at other graduate programs and at the college as well. I utilized the Yale Art Gallery, attended theatre productions at the Yale Cabaret, and volunteered at the Yale Farm. The thing that did end up surprising me was that as I learned more about business and finance, there ended up being so many classes I wanted to take at SOM that I took far less classes outside of the business school than I had originally expected.

What surprised you the most about business school? While I knew that I would make new friends during school, I honestly didn’t think I’d connect with my peers the way I have. The intellect and thoughtfulness of the people I have met make me excited to continue to deepen our relationships and experiences in the years to come, and I know I’ve made some lifelong friends in these past two years.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Rather than trying to change my story to what I thought MBA programs might want to hear, I decided to dig into my experiences and aspirations with the belief that the program that I would thrive in would recognize the value in my career. I did utilize resources such as Poets&Quants and MBA Mission to help translate my achievements into the business school language, which was a helpful primer to creating the type of resume that has benefited me since I got to school.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Michael Solotke, MB/MBA.

Michael was one of the members of my learning team, and I always admire Michael’s intellect, work ethic, and passion for helping others. When working in teams, he is excellent at making sure all voices are heard and included while also continuing to push forward to meet deadlines efficiently. He inspires me to be a better person and to achieve my goals. He also throws an excellent brunch get-together.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? As a second year, I felt fortunate to have a close-knit group of friends to weather the pandemic storm. While so many members of the SOM committee stepped up to try to recreate some of what we were missing in a hybrid environment, I am aware that one of the biggest losses has been the random interactions in the classroom and at networking events that we can’t get back. It has definitely felt harder to stay engaged in the Zoom classroom, and we lost all International travel opportunities. That said, I have worked hard to find activities that allow me to meet new classmates that I would otherwise not have the opportunity to meet. One positive of COVID-19 was that it forced me to slow down and spend more time focused on the things I was passionate about (because it wasn’t worth being on Zoom for anything less than that!).

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My dad was an entrepreneur and small business owner through most of my childhood, and I saw firsthand but how hard he worked—but also how rewarding he found his career. I can remember him pursuing an executive MBA while I was in elementary school, and I saw clearly how much this changed his career trajectory and way of thinking about business. When I told him I was considering an MBA, he offered his complete support and encouragement, and I hope to continue to make him proud in my post-MBA career.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

Become a partner at an impact-focused venture capital fund investing in sustainable food systems

Get asked to be on the investment committee panel of judges for the national MIINT competition and continue to be involved with shaping future impact investors

What made Jenn such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Jenn has consistently personified Yale’s mission of educating leaders for business and society. As a leader of the Impact Investing Club and MIINT, she has committed herself to SOM and others in the community, while continuously striving to achieve her career goals within the impact investing space. The most salient reminder to me of Jenn’s commitment to the mission and the space of impact investing came as the co-host to this year’s MIINT competition. The consistent energy and focus for the success of others is something that will stay with me when I think of Jenn, and something that will continue to permeate within the growing space of Impact Investing at SOM.”

Michael Colelli
Career Coach
Yale School of Management


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