Start Me Up! Booth’s Pre-MBA Startup Summer Program

Prior to business school, incoming MBA students generally take the opportunity to explore long-delayed passions, discover new corners of the world, or earn a few extra paychecks. This year, 70 Boothies (nearly 12% of the class!) achieved all three as part of the school’s groundbreaking Startup Summer program.

A uniquely Booth experience, the program connects incoming Booth students with Chicago Booth alumni who have founded and currently run early-stage startups. In pure win-win fashion, students are exposed to the startup environment and paid a summer stipend while organizations benefit from an infusion of talent.

For more about this exciting Booth experience, let’s hear from our very own Michael Kovach and David Noel, who worked at a Palo Alto-based startup over the summer!

For context, tell us a bit about your background.

Michael: I’m a product of the Midwest, raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and educated at the University of Michigan (Go Blue!). After graduating with a concentration in finance and business strategy, I spent five years crisscrossing the country as a strategy consultant, specializing in medical technology and digital health. I enter Booth excited to transition from advising clients on growth and innovation to taking a more hands-on role in building the “next big thing.”

David: I’m making my way from sunny Miami, Florida, but have spent the better part of the past year in Houston, Texas. I studied economics and finance at the University of Central Florida and worked at an investment bank upon graduation. From there, I made a drastic career switch, transitioning to a creative agency where I crafted digital strategies for e-commerce companies. I am really excited about the flexibility offered at Booth and I plan to tailor my experience towards venture capital and entrepreneurship.

What attracted you to the Startup Summer Program?

Michael: I viewed Startup Summer as an exciting and risk-free way to test a new function (product management), a new work environment (early stage startup), and a new geography (West Coast), while making a meaningful impact on an emerging company.

David: The opportunity to work at a startup and gain mentorship from a Booth alum while getting paid was too much to pass up. Silicon Valley is the mecca for tech entrepreneurship and I wanted to use my summer to get in the middle of the action and see for myself what all the hype is about! This also served as a chance to explore a region of the country I have never been but may want to end up in after Booth.

What did the process look like? What happened next?

Michael: Chicago Booth, in collaboration with the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, vets opportunities at early stage companies founded by Booth alumni. This year, David and I had the good fortune to sift through nearly 110 potential roles in 18 cities and 10 countries around the world! We each submitted resumes and cover letters to up to 10 participating entrepreneurs, conducted phone interviews, and eventually opted to join Siva Kumar, ‘84, at Next Force Technology (NEXT).

David: When Michael and I applied for the roles at NEXT, the company was in “stealth mode,” which made it particularly intriguing to me. During my phone interview with Siva, I learned about the company’s unique approach to building a platform that fulfills the needs of both hourly workers and the businesses that employ them. I was completely sold on the idea, and excited to help bring the company’s product to market! Siva must have interviewed close to a dozen other candidates, and I would like to believe that it was my passion and buy-in that ultimately resulted in the opportunity to join the team as a summer intern.

Tell us about your experience at NEXT.

NEXT is a Palo Alto-based company that helps businesses effectively manage their hourly workforce while empowering employees to earn more and lead better lives. The startup’s people-centric mobile application allows workers to better manage their schedules, improving flexibility and retention while reducing short-staffed shifts. You can read more about the company here!

Michael: Upon arriving in Palo Alto, I focused primarily on product management, for which I designed, tested, and launched consumer incentive campaigns to increase platform adoption and activity. As time passed, I sought opportunities to contribute on other fronts: I developed an ROI calculator for the sales team, revamped the company’s pitch deck, enhanced a customer-facing white paper, and launched a series of internal Lunch & Learns to boost knowledge transfer and team camaraderie. Needless to say, it was an exciting and productive summer!

David: This internship allowed me to apply tools and skills from prior experiences, but in new and exciting ways. Michael and I were given the opportunity to shape our internships–a hallmark of the Booth experience. As a digital strategist, my assignment was to come up with creative ways to acquire new customers. To do this, I launched the company’s very first Google Adwords campaign, designed eye-catching flyers for physical and digital dissemination, and automated onboarding processes to save the team valuable time.

Michael: David and I also had the opportunity to go on site visits to both nearby customers (through which we witnessed the product in action) and prospective ones (for whom we provided walkthroughs and solicited real-time feedback). NEXT employees often work remotely, and we frequently organized off-site working sessions at our favorite nearby coffee shops.

David: All in all, this was a fantastic experience because we weren’t pigeonholed into only seeing one aspect of the business. Since the company hierarchy is flat (the whole team sits together in one room), we were able to gain exposure to other functions within the organization (e.g.,finance, HR, legal, customer success, and operations). We learned a great deal about the hard work that it takes to run an early-stage startup, and we both hope to be in the position to invest in them some day.

What did you take away from your Startup Summer experience?

Michael: What I found most valuable about my experience was that it validated several hypotheses about what I want for my future. I learned that I love the West Coast, that product management excites me, and that I am comfortable in a less structured environment. In the process, I also picked up hard skills (for example, experience with advanced analytical tools and insight into a new industry) and a few soft ones as well (including working remotely, communicating via Slack, and wearing t-shirts to the office). Moreover, my Startup Summer experience gives me confidence and credibility (and a few quality memories) going into the school year.

David: Thanks to Startup Summer, I was able to work with a lean and dynamic team, while simultaneously taking advantage of opportunities outside of my internship. I learned that it is important to be resourceful while in the Bay Area as expenses can definitely add up. I found alternative ways to get around, including purchasing a bike and opting to catch the bus to work instead of the train (it added 40 minutes to my commute but saved $2 on every trip). I also used this opportunity to visit as many Silicon Valley tech companies as I could. Through a combination of networking with fellow Booth summer interns and monitoring our Booth Tech Group Slack channels, I had the privilege of visiting the offices of Netflix, Apple, Twitter, Lyft, YouTube, Kapor Capital, and Silicon Valley Bank. Exposure to these top technology and investment firms reinforced my desire to be in the Valley after Booth.

How can I get involved in Startup Summer?

For additional information, visit the Startup Summer homepage and check out a recent write-up in Poets & Quants. If you have specific questions, email Gorana Kolar, Senior Associate Director at the Polsky Center (gorana.kolar@chicagobooth.edu).

If you want to learn more about the specific Startup Summer experience, Michael and David are happy to chat further. Feel free to reach out at mkovach@chicagobooth.edu or dnoel00@chicagobooth.edu.

Leave a Reply