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Pursuing a Career as an Entrepreneur

Join us for a live chat with Chicago Booth current students and Career Services staff. Get your questions answered from students who are pursuing careers as an entrepreneur or within a start-up. Ask about the resources available to help students learn about, prepare for, and land jobs as an entrepreneur or with a start-up. Find out about curricular choices, school resources, student groups, peer and alumni mentorship, recruiting preparation, and more. 

Chat Transcript

Guest: How prevalent are startup company positions in formal, on-campus recruitment? Is most recruitment done through informal channels (e.g. student-organized events)?

* Andrea Sanchez: While many of your interactions may happen outside of the Booth campus, we do help facilitate various opportunities to engage. If we are speaking to early stage Startups, we host two Startup Networking Night Events in the autumn and spring. Startups are invited to engage with students and students will be notified as to which startups are attending in advance. There are also student led Treks that go out to various cities (this year Chicago, and SF) and provide students opportunities to meet with startups at various stages. These Treks are led by student groups, but supported by Career Services and the Student Life office. Typically, representatives from Career Services will attend with the students. You will also find job postings through the Booth Job portal. The Polsky Exchange is a startup hub and working space that provides workshops and engagement opportunities. Therefore, there are various ways to connect with startups at Booth as well as through the alumni network.


Guest: Thank you all so much for hosting this chat. I'm wondering if you can share a bit about how, and when, most Booth startups form. Do students typically come to campus looking to scale an idea they've been working on, or to start something new?

* Sid Dube: A number of students are using the Booth MBA to pick up the skills required to build out an idea that they came into school with. We also have several students who take on the Entrepreneurship track, which consists of a great set of classes like Entrepreneurial Selling, New Products & Services, Application Development etc. to build out your ideation skills, and help you narrow down your next big idea!  The New Venture Challenge is a great way to join or start a team to try out a new idea and experience the possible challenges and benefits your idea could have.


Guest: What are some of the most popular Fintech related classes?

* Kallie Parchman: Thanks for the question! The programming around Fintech at Booth is rapidly growing. One of this winter’s most popular classes was The Fintech Revolution taught by Professor Luigi Zingales. The Fintech student group also officially launched this year and already has great programming lined up for this year and next.


Guest:  I'm very interested in pursuing a career as an entrepreneur. However, my focus is on entrepreneurship through acquisition, not on opening a start-up from scratch. I've been thinking about what summer job would fit this goal. My current opinion is that the best would be a small company where I can practice operations and real execution (I come from 6 years in Private Equity). Are there options like that? What would you recommend to me?

* Erika Mercer: Thanks for your question about entrepreneurship through acquisition. The Polsky Center has a suite of programming around ETA, including a course on ETA (which explores the search/acquisition process, as well as the challenges/opportunities of operating a small company as a young CEO), an annual ETA Conference, and workshops on topics related to ETA. We strongly encourage students interested in ETA to intern at a small company during their time at Booth to hone their operations experience, and the Polsky Center works with the Career Services Office and ETA student groups to identify these kinds of opportunities and post the job descriptions to Booth's job board. If you have additional questions about ETA, please feel free to reach out to me at erika.mercer@chicagobooth.edu.


Guest: I am interested in creating my own social enterprise. Do Booth students typically work with both the Polsky Center and the Rustandy Center, or do they tend to work with one over the other?

* Ally Batty: Hi there, you can definitely work with both the Rustandy Center and the Polsky Center. And in fact, we are located right next to each other at Booth! The Rustandy Center has many programs (Social New Venture Challenge, Tarrson Fellows, etc.) that address the unique aspects of starting a social enterprise, and the Polsky Center has tons of resources for entrepreneurs across sectors. We can work with you to help you figure out which resources will be most helpful to you at your stage in the entrepreneurial process.


Guest: Within the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, is OpenImpact only for those looking for an idea for their social venture or does it provide resources for students who already have an idea, but are looking for help growing their idea?

* Will Gossin: We think of OpenImpact as our skills and methods program for anyone interested in learning how to start a mission-driven organization. Students/faculty aren't required to have an idea when they participate, but certainly could. Each session focuses on helping an existing nonprofit or government agency solve an urgent operational challenge. Therefore, you wouldn't get to use your idea or work on it in the session itself. The sessions have focused on issues ranging from: Opioid epidemic, prison recidivism, coordination of healthcare, early childhood education, and environmental data monitoring.


Guest: What options are there in Booth to learn entrepreneurship in practice? Classes, Labs and other opportunities to really experience entrepreneurship before we actually try it in real life?

* Meghan Kinney: We have a strong focus on learning through doing in our entrepreneurial education. Some classes I'd point out would be: the New Venture Challenge (which is a class you get credit for), Entrepreneurial Discovery, Entrepreneurial Selling, and New Venture Strategy. On the PE/VC side, the PE/VC Lab Class allows you to get course credit while experiencing an internship in PE/VC. You can read more about classes here: https://polsky.uchicago.edu/course-list/ Another way that students get great practice while in school is by helping classmates who have ideas. Many first years who are still working on their own ideas go through the New Venture Challenge as a teammate for second years who need help. It is a great way to get experience and build community.


Guest: Thanks for hosting this chat! Wanted to ask if there were any opportunities, you pursued the summer before your first year at Booth through alumni in order to build a stronger background to pursue a role w/startups down the line?

* Sid Dube: I spent a significant amount of time working with $100+ Billion firms until I joined Booth. It was only once I came to Booth and started having conversations with classmates who were entrepreneurs, that I realized the pluses of working with start-ups. That being said, several classmates who were looking to transition into new roles or drastically switch careers took a couple of months out before Booth to intern with startups to experience the work culture and atmosphere.

Regardless of whether you’re looking at startups, it’s always helpful to intern with a startup immediately before Booth to experience a new environment which you could further pursue during your time at Booth.


Guest: Thank you all for hosting this chat! Sid and Kallie - are you both starting your own companies or do you plan to recruit to work for a startup?

* Kallie Parchman: Thanks for the question! We both will be joining start-ups for the summer (although I do plan to start my own company at some point in my career).  We do have many classmates who are starting their own currently as well and Booth has a multitude of resources to support that – some are taking those companies through the New Venture Challenge, others through the Polsky Accelerator, and others through some of the great classes we have that help entrepreneurs scale their business models.


Guest: Which courses (e.g. Building the New Venture, New Venture Strategy, etc.) have you found to be the most helpful in building your entrepreneurial knowledgebase and/or preparing you to work for a start-up?

* Kallie Parchman: Thanks for joining us and for the question!  Entrepreneurial Discovery, taught by Adjunct Professor Mark Tebbe, was an incredible class that reinforced my interest and exploration into entrepreneurship.  The class is geared toward first year students (from many different professional backgrounds) and focuses on how to discover customer needs in the market, and then develop a solution to solve that need.  It was honestly transformative for me, and I often referred to it in my start-up recruiting search.  I am currently also in the Venture Capital lab, and that has been very helpful in helping frame what drives success in young start-ups.


Guest: Are any of you pursuing entrepreneurship through acquisition? What are the best options that Booth offers in that regard? What do you guys recommend me to do to address that objective in Booth?

* Erika Mercer: We have many resources designed for students pursuing entrepreneurship through acquisition. You can refer to my post above, and visit our website at https://polsky.uchicago.edu/programs-events/entrepreneurship-through-acquisition/ to learn more!


Guest: What has your experience during traditional recruiting season been like?

* Sid Dube: Startup recruiting is typically just in time recruiting which means most companies start releasing job postings late December / January and a large number of them even do March / April recruiting. However, we utilize the traditional recruiting season to network and build connections. As an international student, I spent more time reaching out to Booth alums in startups trying to understand the dynamics and express my interest and reasons as to why I was switching industries. These conversations help you solidify your passion for the space and give you a perspective on the culture that is extremely different from company to company. So, I would say it’s as busy as traditional recruiting, however applications come out much later.


Guest: I would like to know more about the NVC. In which semester does it take place? And should students bring business ideas to be developed there or do they gather in groups and have an idea together in class?

* Erika Mercer: Thanks for your question about the New Venture Challenge! The NVC kicks off in the autumn term, when we run various networking and pitch events designed to help you build your team and get feedback on your idea. You apply in the winter term, and if your team is accepted into the NVC, you then enroll in a spring-term course, where you go through several rounds of pitches to investors. The NVC concludes in late May with a big demo day. Some students apply to the NVC with existing businesses that they started working on before Booth, and others apply at the concept stage with an idea they developed while at Booth.


Guest: Thank you for chatting with us! Sid and/or Kallie, if you recruited for an internship within a start-up, did you find that companies were more open to you filling roles that had a similar function to your background or were there key skills that seemed to be appealing even if you were making an industry and function pivot?

* Kallie Parchman: Great question, and very applicable to my journey. I came from investment banking and strategy roles, and came to Booth to both pivot function and industry. Start-ups are generally very open to filling roles if you can convey how you can be a value-add to the team; the only exception may be for very technical roles. Key skills and traits that start-ups look for in general are critical thinking skills, digging dip into data / analytics, and being able to work well under ambiguity.  If you can share how you demonstrated those traits in your prior experiences, then it can be very transferable. For those pivoting, I suggest also demonstrating your interest in the space or initiatives you have taken to explore the space, as that shows well / shows commitment.


Guest: I want to learn how entrepreneurial center at Booth could help international student establishing start-up successfully in emerging market such as South East Asia?

* Meghan Kinney: The Polsky Center has a variety of programs to support students no matter the stage of their startup. If you have a general interest in entrepreneurship, we bring in great speakers and mentors who can tell you more about the field - if you have an early-stage idea, we have programs and classes to help you learn how to test the idea and figure out if it is viable to pursue - if you are ready to launch your business, we have programs and classes that can help you think about sales, pricing, and customer acquisition. We have alumni from all over the world, so we're happy to connect you to entrepreneurs and investors in our network who may live or work in the area you want to build a business. One of our startups that won the New Venture Challenge a few years ago does business in Central/South America https://research.chicagobooth.edu/nvc/portfolio/roomva


Guest: Are there internship opportunities at startups at Polsky Center?

* Erika Mercer: Thanks for your question. Yes, we run several internship programs. Startup Summer is a program we run for pre-MBAs to get experience working at startups during the summer before they join Booth. It's a great way to get integrated into Booth's entrepreneurial network before starting your MBA. Another program, the Entrepreneurial Internship Program (EIP), provides students with stipends to work at startups based anywhere in the world during the summer between their first and second year. You can read more on the EIP here: https://polsky.uchicago.edu/alumni-resources/entrepreneurial-internship-program/. There are also several lab courses that include hands-on work with startups - the New Venture Lab and Social Enterprise Lab are examples.


Guest: Other than the social entrepreneur in residence, how does Booth work to connect entrepreneurs to other leaders in the social sector?

* Will Gossin: The Rustandy Center serves as the hub for alumni and students interested in social and environmental challenges. We offer 1-3 programs each week throughout the year including: skill workshops by outside experts, the Social Impact Leadership Series, lunch and learns with practitioners, and collaborations with executives through the OpenImpact studio-workshop series. The social entrepreneur in residence and impact investors in residence offer one-on-one coaching on launching or funding a venture or navigating career decisions.


Guest: Thank you for the information Ally! It is great to hear that the Polsky and Rustandy Centers work closely with one another. Are there mentorship opportunities and resources available for female entrepreneurs?

* Ally Batty: Hi, there are lots of mentorship opportunities and resources available for female entrepreneurs. Both the Polsky Center and the Rustandy Center have entrepreneurs/social entrepreneurs in residence, who are available to meet with students on campus and provide feedback on start-up ideas, insights on launching a start-up or looking for a career in start-ups, and other mentoring. The school also has a scholarship for female entrepreneurs called the Herman Fellowship, which you can read about on the Polsky Center page here: https://polsky.uchicago.edu/scholarship-funding/.


Guest: What are some of the key ways entrepreneurs engage with either the Polsky Center, Rustandy Center and/or Career Services as Alumni? Not only to engage with students but also as a resource.

* Meghan Kinney: I can answer for the Polsky Center - we think of ourselves as a lifelong resource for students. As you know, some of our students launch companies while at Booth - but a great many more become entrepreneurs a few years after they have left school. In either case, we act as a great connector to the Polsky network (other entrepreneurs and investors, too). Recently, the Polsky Center opened an incubator/co-working space near campus (https://polsky.uchicago.edu/polsky-exchange/) - and many of our alumni choose to stay in touch by working out of this space and taking advantage of its fab lab, programs, and mentor meetings. A few other things we do: alumni are always encouraged to come back to attend or speak at our big entrepreneurship conferences each year (https://polsky.uchicago.edu/programs-events/seedcon/) and we run programs specific to alumni entrepreneurs with growth-stage companies (https://polsky.uchicago.edu/alumni-resources/alumni-entrepreneurs-growth-forum/).


Guest: I'm interested in developing an entrepreneurship venture at Booth. If the idea has potential, what type of support does Booth offer post-graduation from the MBA?

* Andrea Sanchez: There are several opportunities for support through the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation while a student and opportunities for you to engage post Booth. There are workshops and courses that will help support you as a student. As a Booth alumni you are offered continued support to Career Services coaches, opportunities to post on the Booth Job Board, and some resources. You are also able to continue engaging with Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation as an alum if interested.


Guest: Sid and Kallie, are you members of the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital club? If so, could you provide more information about the activities there?

* Kallie Parchman: Thanks for the question!  I am one of the co-chairs for EVC for 2018-2019, so glad you asked!  We are one the biggest clubs on campus, and host many different events and activities over the course of the year. Our club offers resources for those interested in investing as VCs, those interested in starting their own companies, and those looking to join start-ups. For example, in the fall we host a Venture Capital “boot-camps” to take students through the entire VC landscape and recruiting process.  We host many lunch & learns throughout the entire year, bringing in founders, start-ups, investors, professors and more.  Each fall, we also host our annual conference, SeedCon. We lead start-up and Venture Capital treks to San Francisco and New York throughout the year.  Additionally, we host start-up brunches to connect students interested in start-ups and facilitate sharing opportunities.  Socials happen once a quarter as well, which are a fun time to connect with other club members. And much more! 


Guest: Can you talk about what kind of resources Booth offers to people with ideas who lack the technical and financial resources to build out their idea or prototype?

* Meghan Kinney: A few options: Booth offers a joint degree in Computer Science - so you could pursue something like that. You can also take an introductory course on Ruby on Rails as a Booth student - that class is great and it is called "Application Development." The team that won the New Venture Challenge two years ago started as a project in that class. Finally, we encourage a lot of networking with the Computer Science School, undergraduate college, etc. - teams form all the time via networking events and quick pitches. As for financial resources, the Polsky Summer Accelerator provides funds for entrepreneurs to work on their businesses over the summer. The New Venture Challenge also gives funding to the finalists of that program. Finally, our entrepreneurship classes at Booth help teach you how to test your idea to determine if it is viable to work on. Demonstrating viability can help with team recruitment and fundraising. Good luck! https://polsky.uchicago.edu/programs


Guest: Sid and Kallie - which professional student groups at Booth have been most helpful to prepare you for your summer internships?

* Kallie Parchman: Thanks for the question!  For me, the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club and the Booth Technology Group were most helpful.  They each hosted many panels throughout the recruiting process, and it was tremendously helpful to hear from many second years – they are such a great resource, and I am always so appreciative of the time they give back!  The groups also put together “interview families”, which are small groups that allow you practice interviews live.  Finally, they also share many resources through their newsletters such as previous interview questions, books / articles / podcasts, and connect with alumni (who are also tremendously helpful throughout the entire process!).


Guest: Can you talk a bit about the resources provided within OnRamp?

* Will Gossin: OnRamp is an advanced training workshop for teams admitted to the Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC) accelerator course in the spring quarter. It is designed to give students a shared conceptual foundation in the key elements of a new venture and how to understand the investor mindset as they begin to prepare their first round pitch. This past year we structured the workshop into two categories: Product Development and Ops/Investor Mindset.


Guest: At the Polsky Center, what are the resources available for students to learn integrating social enterprise with traditional business model in practice? What are majors and activities for aspiring entrepreneurs to learn social enterprise model and impacts?

* Will Gossin: There are many opportunities to gain exposure to the skills and perspectives necessary for launching or developing a social enterprise. It is our perspective that the skills and approaches are not especially different from a rigorous business toolkit. There are, however, often unique challenges to addressing market/beneficiary needs when creating a social venture. Our students gain experience translating the business toolkit to those problems in courses offered by associated faculty of the Rustandy Center, through the many (and growing) student groups interested in impact, and our social entrepreneurship programming (SNVC, OpenImpact, Stalking Horse Group).


For students with a special interest in the entrepreneurship mindset, you may concentrate in entrepreneurship. Most students will have 3-4 concentrations at graduations (could include Finance, Strategy, and Marketing)


Guest: Do you guys find that Booth entrepreneurs utilize the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the city of Chicago (outside of Booth)? If so, what are some of the main resources they take advantage of?

* Sid Dube: Most startups in the city of Chicago have a connection to Booth through alumni. Even outside of Booth, I've had positive responses from startups that are happy to have an initial call or first meeting based on the Booth brand. We also organize startup week where over the course of a few days we visit startups in the city of Chicago in order to learn more about the ecosystem. Several of the classes bring in guest speakers who are part of the C-Suite or are founders of these startups and they are more than willing to have conversations.


Guest: Thanks so much that information on OnRamp, Will. Can you or Ally tell us about some of the ways the Rustandy Center engages with community partners in Chicago?

* Ally Batty: The Rustandy Center engages with Chicago's social impact sector (including impact investors, nonprofits, for-profit mission-driven businesses, CSR professionals, foundations, etc.) in lots of ways. We invite these leaders to speak at events (including small, student-only lunch and learns) and there are some experiential courses that also involve working with community partners. For example, the Social Enterprise Lab (which someone else asked about too) allows students to learn about the differences in managing for impact in addition to financial sustainability. Students in the SEL work on strategic projects for local partners. There are also student group projects and conferences that pull in local social impact players. The Rustandy Center also has quite a few programs for nonprofit board members (Including Net Impact Board Fellows and the On Board conference), so we work closely with nonprofits on those programs. We also have social entrepreneurs and impact investors in residence, who provide mentoring.


Guest: As an international student, are we allowed to start a venture in the US during the time we are studying or right after the MBA? Can we use the OPT period? Is there a visa requirement?

* Will Gossin: It is complicated to answer without more details about your situation. Booth and the University will help students navigate the issues in starting a venture. We recommend you reach out to Leah Rosenthal at Office of International Affairs who works with our students on their visa considerations.


Guest: Can you speak a bit about the Social Enterprise Lab course (or similar entrepreneurship labs)? What types of coursework do those classes consist of?

* Ally Batty: The Social Enterprise Lab combines in-class exploration of business models, management trends, governance and growth in the social sector, with the unique experience to study the challenges of managing a social organization by working on a specific project in selected social ventures. The in-class and project based learning environments come together by sharing and analyzing the project experience through classroom discussion. You can read more about the SEL and other social impact-focused lab courses here: https://www.chicagobooth.edu/research/rustandy/what-we-do/curriculum-courses


Guest: Kallie or Sid, what has been most surprising to you thus far on your MBA journey?

* Kallie Parchman: I would say I have been positively surprised about how much my perspective has expanded since coming to Booth; I expected that coming in, but it has happened even more than I had hoped for. I am constantly in awe of how talented, driven yet down-to-earth my peers are. It is really invigorating to hear from classmates from an incredible range of experiences, backgrounds and perspectives both in and out of the classroom. 


Guest: Thank you so much for helping us with all this information. Is there any feasible means by which an international student with a loan to pay might be able to launch and sustain an entrepreneurial venture during her/his 2 years at Booth (assuming she/he has a great idea that people are willing to invest in)?

* Andrea Sanchez: Yes, as an international student you are able to participate in the New Venture Challenge and SNVC while at Booth. There are also programs like the Entrepreneurial Internship Program where students who are interested in working on their own new venture over the summer can apply. As a student founder, you are able to connect with the EIP to try to post an opportunity for a Booth intern. 


Guest: If someone is looking to be recruited in the short term and build an enterprise at a later point in time, how would you suggest he/she spend/allocate his/her time at Booth and on what key aspects of the Booth experience?

* Andrea Sanchez: You can take courses, you can participate in the EVC student group, participate in the New Venture Challenge and you can attend corresponding workshops and events. You can also possibly explore an internship at an early stage startup.


Guest: If entrepreneurship were one's long term goal, what kind of short-term recruitment path would you say might really help someone build on what one has learnt at Booth?

* Sid Dube: If you have an area of interest or have an idea of the sector you’d like to build out your startup in it’s always helpful to work for a large firm in the industry as it exposes you to the challenges that traditional businesses face, giving you a better understanding of how you could improve your product or service. It will also be easier to approach these companies since you are already passionate about the industry and can make a great reason as to why this company.


Guest: Besides the lab courses, is there any way that a student might be able to work on new ventures or with start-ups in Chicago on a part-time basis?

* Kallie Parchman: There are definitely many opportunities to work with start-ups on a part-time basis outside of labs.  These include the Polsky Center’s Small Business Growth Program and the Business Solutions Group.  Career Services also hosts several “Start-up Networking Nights” in both the fall and spring – these are great opportunities to meet with start-ups in person all at once, and if you find a great fit then can certainly help them out on a part-time basis.  One of the great things about our flexible curriculum is that you can craft your schedule to make doing so be manageable.