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MBA Students: Why Take an Internship When I Can Start a Company?

More and more MBA students are choosing to found or work at start-ups instead of interning at big firms. Can fledgling firms provide students the resources and support that big business can, or is getting in on the ground level enough?
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Could entrepreneurship be taking the place of internships? 

An increasing number of MBA students are foregoing traditional summer internships in favor of a start-up experience, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.

Thirteen percent of this year’s Harvard Business School graduates founded or worked at a start-up last summer—a 4 percent increase since 2011—while 9 percent of both the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford Graduate School of Business’s graduating classes did the same.

“[Students] want a different skill set. They’re looking for a skill set that’s appropriate for start-ups and small fast growing companies, which is quite different from the skill set they’d need for a large company,” Prof. Erik Gordon, who teaches entrepreneurship at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and University of Michigan Law School, told Inc.

Gordon says that an increasing emphasis on start-up experience is changing student attitudes towards risk, as well as what a “successful placement” that justifies a pricey MBA—in previous years, jobs with “a large consulting firm, investment bank, large corporation”—looks like.

But start-up summers aren’t all casual dress codes and late-night pizza orders. MBA students who choose to work at start-ups can expect to earn less than half what those who choose a to intern with big firms take home. In 2012, summer interns from 10 top MBA programs reported earning between $1,600 and $1,900 per week.

Those who founded companies generally took home no salary at all.

Business schools are aware of the financial pressures of entrepreneurship, particularly for those who are already facing hefty tuition bills and mounting loans. Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton each have fellowship-type programs providing students with funding to launch or work at a start-up that couldn’t otherwise afford to pay MBA students.

Applications to Harvard’s program—which awards student $6,000, on average—increased 23 percent in 2012, ultimately funding 81 students.

Gordon sees two responses among MBA students who have spent their summer working for start-ups: those for whom the experience was so positive they have decided to forgo traditional career counseling in the final semester, and those who were put off by the lack of structure and a pre-ordained role.

Still, he says, start-ups have a greater appeal to current MBA students, who grew up seeing celebrity entrepreneurs on the cover of Rolling Stone, than to classes in previous eras.

“We now have a generation of people who think that entrepreneurship is cool,” said Gordon. “They’re not the oddballs. They might have been ten years ago, but today they’re sort of the guys in the vanguard.”

Last updated: Apr 19, 2013




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