By Janice Lam, MBA ’23 | MBA Core Fellow
Sloan is undoubtedly the ideal business school for those embarking on an entrepreneurial journey. As someone who transitioned from a technical consulting background to pursue entrepreneurship, I have fully immersed myself in the entrepreneurial ecosystem at MIT and Sloan. By sharing insights into the valuable resources I have utilized, I hope to help you navigate and design your journey.
Entrepreneurship can take on many forms, such as founding a company, joining a startup, or investing in promising ventures. In this blog post, I will explore each of these paths and provide insights on how to approach them.
Before embarking on any entrepreneurial journey, it is crucial to know yourself and your strengths. The goal of exploration is to identify and focus on what you are truly passionate about. Through self-reflection, you can determine which path aligns with your goals and aspirations. Are you someone who thrives on building something from scratch? Do you possess the resilience and determination to take an idea from zero to one? Alternatively, do you prefer the challenge of scaling a company and bringing a proven product to market? Or do you have a broad interest in exploring potential solutions to a problem space rather than focusing on one specific area? The answers to these questions will help guide you toward the appropriate pathway.
If you have a passion for creating something from scratch, along with the resilience and commitment to see it through, and the mental fortitude to navigate uncertainties, risks, and challenging times, then being in school presents an excellent opportunity to build your own startup. This is particularly true at a place like Sloan, which provides a robust support system for founders. In my experience, the school fosters a unique environment where many students choose to dedicate their summers to working on their ventures, rather than succumbing to the pressure of joining a big organization.
The knowledge and creativity you are surrounded by will help you turn your passion projects into real business ideas. Whether your idea is based on a problem you’ve experienced personally, something you encountered in your previous work experience, or a technology you discovered at MIT, you can take advantage of the resources around you. Consider brainstorming with others, attending venture creation classes (both within and outside of Course 15), and seeking feedback from people who are willing to help.
The people around you will be your co-founders, team members, advisors, and sounding board. Be intentional with your search by identifying people who share the same problem space, by attending Pitch2Match events hosted by The Martin Trust Center and the Sloan Entrepreneurship Club, and by staying active with student clubs. Keep an open mind and take advantage of opportunities to meet new people who can help bring your business idea to life.
MIT offers a wealth of resources for aspiring entrepreneurs. You can apply for non-dilutive funding through programs like MIT Sandbox, get started with introductory startup programs like StartMIT, take entrepreneurial classes and programs like MIT Fuse, participate in summer accelerators like DeltaV, join industry-specific startup programs like MIT Nucleate for Biotech, and participate in events hosted by iHQ. You can also compete in pitch competitions like the MIT 100K, participate in mentorship programs like the VMS program, and gain access to venture capitalists who invest in MIT startups, like the E14 Fund.
During my IAP in the first year, I joined the StartMIT program, which provided me with a comprehensive understanding of the various stages of founding a company. Through this program, I also had the opportunity to meet my cofounder from Course 6.2. We were grateful to receive funding and mentorship from the Sandbox program, which helped us become semi-finalists at the MIT 100K Accelerate.
Finding the right co-founder can be a challenging process, and it’s important to be transparent about your hopes, working style, and goals for the startup. Effective communication and alignment are key to building a successful partnership. Inevitably, tough conversations may arise, and mentors can provide valuable insights based on their experience to help navigate those situations.
Joining a startup is a fantastic opportunity for those looking to gain experience and learn about the ins and outs of entrepreneurship without shouldering the full risk of being a founder. As a joiner, you can play a crucial role in scaling a successful product or service from 1 to 100 while honing the skills essential to becoming a founder or investor in the future.
There are numerous opportunities to explore and find your niche within the startup world during both the school year and summer. The CDO job board, LinkedIn, and student club newsletters all offer a variety of formal in-semester and summer internship roles. During IAP, you can participate in the Disciplined Entrepreneurship Lab and work with a startup for a month to get a taste of startup life.
As you approach the summer months, the CDO and the Sloan Entrepreneurship Club will host startup career fairs, which are excellent opportunities to connect with potential employers. But don’t limit yourself to these options. Take advantage of resources like Pitchbook and Crunchbase to identify startups that align with your interests and values. Once you’ve created a list, use warm contacts to make introductions or even send cold emails if you can clearly articulate how you can contribute to their team.
To land your ideal role in a startup, I highly recommend reading Entering Startupland by Jeffrey Bussgang. This insightful and informative book not only covers the various roles within startups but also provides actionable advice on how to position yourself as a strong candidate and navigate the unique hiring processes of startups. Drawing on his experiences as both a startup founder and a venture capitalist, the author shares valuable insights from both sides of the hiring process. Overall, this book is a must-read for anyone seeking to break into the startup world.
Above all, remember that building relationships is key to success in this field. Keep in touch with the connections you’ve made, manage your pipeline with diligence, and be open to refining your list based on your interests, market trends, and new opportunities. With dedication and persistence, you can find a fulfilling and rewarding role as a joiner in the next rocket ship.
Many MBA students are drawn to the role of a Venture Capitalist after graduation, as it offers exposure to explore various startup ideas within an industry or a particular thesis. The VC role can be an excellent fit for those who enjoy networking with founders and researching and evaluating potential investment opportunities. However, landing a role in VC after graduation can be challenging and requires a lot of self-driven effort and discipline.
Establishing relationships with VC firms can increase your chances of success. This can be achieved through in-semester fellowships, summer internships, or by working with the firms’ portfolio companies. On campus, you should look out for VC internship opportunities, which usually have openings ranging from a month before the semester begins to mid-Fall.
VC internships typically fall into two categories. The first involves assisting the investing team with research and due diligence on startups in their pipeline. To distinguish yourself as an intern, consider developing your own investment thesis in a sector where the firm specializes, demonstrating your deep domain knowledge, and showcasing how you can offer unique insights to help identify successful investments.
The second type of internship is akin to being a campus scout, where you support student founders by referring their startups to the VC based on factors such as industry, stage, and check size. This role requires building a strong brand on campus and launching a pitch competition to facilitate rapid investment turnaround. To excel in this internship, it’s crucial to be deeply connected to the campus startup ecosystem and have strong relationships with student founders.
Several prominent VCs, such as NFX, Rough Draft Ventures, and Pillar VC, have established fellowship programs that you can look into. You can also find VC job postings on the CDO job board or through the VC/PE student club newsletter.
MIT provides abundant entrepreneurial resources, and utilizing them effectively through self-awareness and strategic planning can pave the way for charting your entrepreneurial journey. Good luck and enjoy the process!
Janice Lam is a 2nd year MBA; she is the President of the MIT Sloan Entrepreneurship Club and an Investment Fellow at a seed stage VC firm, NFX.