How These Stanford GSB Students Broke the Rules with Their MBA Summer Internships
Molyneaux loved her Branch internship as a whole, and it really helped her focus on what she wanted in her post-MBA job. After graduating in spring 2017, she took a position as head of growth for Oakland-based Even Responsible Finance, a personal finance app. “I ended up in a fintech startup but working domestically,” told us. She realized from her experience at Branch that was really passionate about the impact sector and also really loved management—specifically managing diverse teams. “The emerging market hypothesis was one that didn’t work out as well,” she conceded—and that’s precisely why she tested it out first.
Kicking the Tires at the Intersection of the Food Industry and Sustainability
Yi Zhuang, now nearing the end of his second year at Stanford, also chose an internship that would give him the chance to kick some tires. “I knew before I even came to the GSB that I wanted to spend some time exploring the intersection of the food industry and sustainability,” he told us when we spoke to him toward the end of last summer. “I didn’t know quite what that meant, but I wanted to direct my time at the GSB toward testing out my hypothesis.”
Coming from a Chinese family, Zhuang said, cooking and food in general has always been a big part of his life. And it’s also a very interesting time for the industry. “A lot of investors are looking to invest in companies that look at our food system in a different way,” he said. “So it’s not only something I am interested in, but it’s a pretty exciting time to be focused on the industry.”
He thinks it was a post on the Eater food blog where he first heard about Brigaid. A former head chef from Copenhagen’s renowned Noma Restaurant had launched an organization that aimed to transform school lunches in the United States by bringing in full-time, professionally trained chefs to make food from scratch in school cafeterias.
“I went through my own network to find someone who could give me a warm lead,” he recounted. “I found somebody who knew somebody and would make that intro.” He discovered that Brigaid was willing to take on help, especially given the stage they were in. “I wanted to do something that was challenging, and I was able to convince them to bring me on as an extra voice in the room as they made some of their bigger decisions,” he said.
As he courted the Brigaid opportunity, he also explored an internship at Impossible Foods, a company working to develop a plant-based protein to rival meat. “They were drastically increasing their commercialization efforts,” Zhuang recalled. “That role would have been much more similar to what I was doing in my previous career—a general go-to-market strategy.”
Instead, he spent the summer in New London, CT, helping Brigaid with everything from fundraising to deciding what kind of entity the organization should be to more tactical initiatives like a website redesign and creating a recipe bank for chefs to use.
Impossible Foods would have been the safer, more traditional route to go, said Zhuang. “It’s a really well-funded company, and it would have a clearer choice in terms of having an option for me to return after school,” he told us. “But in terms of thinking through the kinds of skills I wanted for the summer to supplement what I already have, I think I reached the right conclusion.”
Zhuang returned to Stanford for his second year with an expanded scope for his job search in some regards. “I’m willing to look at earlier-stage companies than I would have been otherwise,” he said. “I have a much better sense of what questions to ask or information to look for to screen earlier-stage companies.” But in other ways his search has narrowed. “Having worked at Brigaid, I definitely plan to pursue something in the school foods space,” he said. He’ll also remain in touch with Brigaid, because while there might not be a position he wants immediately upon graduation, he’s open to considering how to make a longer-term career with them work.
Learning About Venture Philanthropy
For Sarah Rahman, MBA ’18, social impact has always been at least one of her interests. “When I was thinking about where I might want to intern, I knew I wanted an organization that was innovative, mission driven, and making a genuine and significant impact,” she told us. She also wanted a place where she could apply the skills she was developing in business school along with those she honed over six years working in consulting. Looking through this lens, she landed on the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2), a venture philanthropy organization that draws funding from the private sector to innovate in the social space.
“I think of the MBA internship as a unique opportunity to do something you may not get a chance to do at any other time,” Rahman said. Though she has interest in working in the social impact space at some point in her career, she’s not necessarily targeting it immediately post graduation.
“The social sector is not the most traditional path for a business school student—it’s a very different world and for obvious reasons you don’t get paid as much,” she said. “But through programs like SMIF, Stanford makes it feel like it is financially feasible.”
At any point during the internship recruiting process when you’ve found an organization you are excited about, you can submit a form to the CSI explaining what the nonprofit does and what your role there might be, Rahman explained. “As long as your organization is eligible and can commit to providing mentoring and leadership support to an intern, they will fund you to go do it. It’s a really unique thing about the GSB.”
SV2 took Rahman on as an intern and immediately put her in the driver’s seat for an initial feasibility assessment for ventures it was considering funding. She got to evaluate proposed ventures’ potential target audiences and applications, financial viability, any possible tradeoffs. “SV2 thinks very critically about the ideas it considers funding—is it the best use of resources, what impact will it make, etc.,” she explained.
“Because the social sector can be constrained in terms of its resources and how it hires, when they bring in interns it’s often because they really need meaningful work to be done—which means you very often will find that you are working on something really challenging, meaningful, and that you get to drive,” she continued.
In SV2, she found a truly flat and collaborative organization that allowed her to work closely with the executive director and several other leaders. “You really get mentorship from not just one person but from a few different people who are all really incredible leaders and have their own unique perspectives.”
The SV2 model isn’t set up to offer full-time positions to its summer interns. “It’s not a feeder to a full-time offer the way that many traditional internships are,” Rahman said. And she’s still not even sure she wants to pursue full-time work in the social sector until later in her career. “I will definitely consider the social sector as one option—and a very compelling one—but for me it will be a balance between pursuing new challenges and things I want to learn and what is financially feasible,” she said.
Stay tuned for the conclusion of this two-part series, in which we’ll highlight additional non-traditional MBA summer internships. Hear from students who spent their summers working in education and public policy/politics as well as a handful of students who literally chose their own adventures—using the summer to work on individual and team ventures with social goals.