When deciding on a business school, I knew I wanted one with an entrepreneurial spirit; a school that was active in not only teaching entrepreneurship, but living it. I chose the Smith School of Business because of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship and sought out a student position there before even accepting my MBA offer. I felt the energy of innovation and execution and knew this Center could be a game changer in my life….and it has been!
My Advice: Get involved as early as possible. Students don’t realize what a valuable resource the Dingman Center can be for connections as well as insightful, fun, and practical experiences. Make time for it; trust me, it’s worth it!
The Dingman Center is filled with opportunities for student involvement, and of its many programs, I’ve been intimately involved with three: Dingman Center Angels, an angel investor network, China Business Plan Competition, and the Israel Global Technology Entrepreneurship Fellowship, an 8 week summer internship.
Dingman Center Angels
I sought out to be a part of the Dingman Center Angels for the interactions I’d have with both entrepreneurs and investors. I submerged myself in the process that the entrepreneurs take to mold their business plan and pitch, as well as the process the investors take to analyze the companies, provide feedback, and develop the terms of their investment. During my first year, I screened companies applying to the group. I attended Review Sessions and Investor Breakfasts where I was able to hear the investors provide questions and feedback to the entrepreneurs on their pitches and their businesses, guiding my thought processes in terms of analyzing entrepreneurial investments. During my second year as a GA, I learned to quickly assess a business, new product, pitch, etc. to identify the gaps in companies’ plans or strategies. This process helped me understand the entire startup Angel investment ecosystem and assess the investment potential of startups. The relationships I’ve made with the investors and entrepreneurs have also been a huge benefit for expanding my network and providing me access to some of the area’s most influential individuals in the entrepreneurship field.
China Business Plan Competition
The funny part about my participation in the China Business Plan Competition was that I accidentally joined the class. It was an early Friday morning when I was on my way to another Dingman event when someone pointed me in the direction of a nearby classroom. I realized I was in the wrong room, but was taken with the lecture on formulating business plans by a great professor named Dr. Bob Baum. I decided to immediately enroll in the class and what a GREAT decision it was! The China Business Plan is broken into two components: the class and competition/trip. The class gave me hands-on experience in creating a business plan, working with a cross-cultural team, and pitching a business idea to entrepreneurs and investors for feedback. The execution of the entire trip by the Dingman Center was impeccable. We did a lot of sightseeing, but more importantly, we learned about the business environment. China is a high-growth market that is attractive to all international companies looking to expand; what everyone does not understand is the uniqueness of that market. This trip provided insights into the cultural norms, common practices, and challenges. I worked with classmates who quickly became some of my closest friends in the program, learned the ins and outs of writing a business plan and starting a business, worked on my public speaking skills by pitching in front of 100+ people, and had the perk of traveling to China while experiencing amazing food and tourist sites with fun people.
I quickly realized that every interaction I had with the Dingman Center was transformed to the words, “amazing experience”.
Israel Global Technology Entrepreneurship Fellowship
The Israel Fellowship was my next logical step, tying in my focus in entrepreneurship, products, marketing, and international interest. My time spent in Israel was definitely the best experience in my Smith career. Not only did I return to the U.S. with a desire to live in Israel, but I returned with new tools for my toolkit of starting a business and taking a new product to market. We learned the culture of Israel and why they’re #1 for startup creation. In partnership with the Technion (Israel’s MIT), we worked for 8 weeks on commercializing Technion-developed IP. Our class was split into teams, made up of U.S. and Israeli MBAs, and we pitched our novel medical device technology to VCs and angel investors. We were critiqued on the aspects of the pitch and the business model components in order to continually improve. I learned about the intense market research and customer profiling behind commercializing an innovation and created a go-to-market strategy. As in China, we visited a wide variety of companies during our 8 weeks. The visits advanced our learning and understanding of local business practices while helping us make quality connections. There’s no lack of history in Israel and we got to sightsee in all the top locations including the Old City Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada, the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee.
All these experiences have equated to an enhancement in my entrepreneurial knowledge and connections. They are differentiators in my interviews and on my resume. The Israel Fellowship is highly memorable to recruiters and is an instant topic of conversation that sets me apart from the masses of students with more “traditional” internship experiences. The Dingman Center Angels has been a job experience that I flaunt on my resume. It is a GA like no other in the school since it provides a true work-like experience dealing with companies and investors in the community.
My experiences with the Dingman Center helped me learn how to think like an entrepreneur and an investor. They helped me shape my thought processes towards developing a strategy for a business or a product. They helped me learn from others’ mistakes and successes. My only regret is not having video-taped myself prior to being a part of The Dingman Center so that I could show those who hadn’t met me 2 years ago the transformation to what I’ve grown to be today.
Julie Mullins is an entrepreneur-at-heart, searching for the right idea. She spent five years in retail management prior to pursuing her MBA. She hopes to lead a career in marketing for consumer products after Smith.